Google Down the Line!: Desert dust up

Monday, March 21, 2011

Desert dust up

There have been comparisons aplenty lately between Novak Djokovic + Caroline Wozniacki. They both have world-class defensive skills (check), enviable footwork (double check) and a love for the big stage (triple check.) Here's another one now: They're both Indian Wells champs with Nole grabbing his second and Woz earning her first.

Nole was already playing like the world's top baller going undefeated on the season as he entered the final against the reigning World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. He had claimed the second spot in the rankings in the semifinals when bested Roger Federer for the third straight time - only the fourth baller EVAH to accomplish the feat (Rafa, Andy Murray, David Nalbandian.) But he had never beaten the Mallorcan Matador in a final in five attempts. You just knew this time could be different, though, based his soaring confidence heading into the match. And it was, with Nole winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The Serb was outplayed in the first set as Rafa pushed Nole around with his superior forehand. But, like all champs, he made crucial mid-match adjustments and began pummeling the Spaniard's backhand with his forehand. He was also able to neutralize Rafa's tricky second serve delivery by upping his footwork and getting around to smack it aggressively. By the third set, the top seed was bleeding errors from every part of his game and couldn't buy a first serve. I guess he was kinda upset:

Now here's where championships are won: Serving at 4-1 and up a double break in the decider, Nole put the clamps on the 9-time Grand Slammer cracking FH winners and pummeling an ace to snuff out any hope of a comeback. No indecision, no shakiness - just pure focus and drive. He was brimming with supreme confidence and wanted Rafa to know. That's how you do it, kiddies.

Wozzi played her usual brand of steady, heady tennis against Marion Bartoli and rolled over the French lady in the first set. Like Nole, the top lady baller's supreme footwork allows her to stay balanced and get behind the ball with enough time to pretty much do whatever she wants with it. By the second set, though, Bart was driving her double-fisted blasts into the corners getting past the Dane's defensive wall and forcing her to go for too much. Inevitably, the fatigue from reaching her first final in the desert (she also suffered a stomach flu earlier in the week) and punishing rallies started to show on the Frenchie. She was able to steal the second set but by the third the wheels were coming off:

Unlike Nole, who knows how and when to shut it down, Woz was broken while serving for the match against an foe who was clearly scraping through to the end. This is an important difference and where Woz will need to improve if she's to finally grab her maiden major. She still gets tentative in key moments, allows her opponents back in and gives them hope for the upset - sometimes they come through big (think Li Na in Oz) and sometimes they don't like Bart. In either case it never seems like it's in her control. Nole's FH is a much bigger weapon as well and he put it to great effect in the final stages of his win; Wozzi's is getting better but is still attackable and lands short when she gets tight.

Big props to the 20-year old for keeping her "head cool" and closing it out 6-1, 2-6, 6-3, though, and earning her first Indian Wells crown. I admit I have been one of those fans who's been on the fence about her chances to grab a major, but after her performance this week, particularly her demolition of Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, I can see it happening. Maybe not tomorrow, but at some point in the coming year or so. A congrats also goes out to Bart who re-entered the Top 10 at No. 10 on the back of her stellar week in the desert.

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