After the men's final yesterday I seriously needed a drink. Or four.
Novak Djokovic kept the winning streak alive - bringing it to 24 straight matches this season - after he defeated Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in one of the most exciting Sony Ericsson Open finals in my recent memory. It was his second straight defeat of the world's top baller and second straight time he came back from a set down to do it. Regardless of ranking, if he isn't considered the best baller in the world after this opening season streak I don't know who is right now. Let's give it up to him people. *clap-clap-clap*
The start of the match did not portend of things to come with both boys struggling to find rhythm and consistency in their games. The tension was palpable. It was obvious how much badly these two wanted this win and all that comes with it but it seemed to hinder their games at start, a bit more for Rafa than Nole it seems:
Maybe because I was a little bit more nervous than other days, second final, maybe because I never won here and this is the third chance. I played against a player who's playing well, and I lost last week. All of these facts maybe can affect a little bit to be a little bit more nervous, and the serve is a little bit part of that.The second set saw both ballers still struggling with Nole feeling his game a bit more than Rafa. But by the third the shit was AWN. The incredible physicality needed for the kind of shot-making and defense these two can produce was on full display. Did I also mention it was blistering hot? By the closing moments of the match you could see the affect the heat had on Rafole - and they admitted as much afterward - but they kept on gunning for their shots and retrieving like you would expect these two champs would do. By the tiebreak, Nole seemed to be the more focused and calm fighting for a quick lead in the tiebreak before closing it out.
It was the kind of awesome display of tennis we don't get to see every day (hence the post-match drinkfest.) We were treated to something really special and as fans we're better for it. It was a massive exclamation point on this first part of the season.
So now we move to the clay and the biggest question, of course is whether the World No. 2 can continue the streak and transfer his confidence and game to the slippery stuff. He's never beaten Rafa on clay but he's also never been on a streak like this one. But this part of the season is owned by Rafa and he isn't going to budge easily if at all. We all know what stepping on the crushed brick does to the 9-time Grand Slammer and his confidence (think pre- and post-Monte Carlo last season.)
In any case there's a new top rivalry in town and it's not named FEDAL.
Victoria Azarenka had a standout tourney easily dismissing Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva earlier in the week and capping it off by winning her second title in Miami over an erratic Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-4. The Belarusian basher played her typically uber-aggressive style but added quicker movement and some stand out defense. Oh, and some perspective and a new attitude:
Well, you always care to win. What I meant by not caring about losing is not to create such a big drama out of it. If you lose the match, I mean, you just lose a tennis match. It's not the end of the world. You can see so many things happening in the world, and I know it sounds a little bit out there, but look what happens in Japan, for example, and we're here playing tennis, being able to do something that we love. So, I mean, why make a big deal out of it?Uh-huh. To say Vika suffocated Shrieka with her D would be a bit of hyperbole on my part but she made the court seem small enough to coax errors out of the Russian or opened it up enough to crack a winner. She did most things better than the 3-time Grand Slammer on the day and stayed focused and calm even when Shrieka finally began making her move in the second set - a move that was a little too late. Vika was rewarded with the big win and a career-tying 6th spot in the rankings today. I don't know how much this win will help her during the clay season - not her best surface - but confidence is good no matter what.
As for Shrieka, she'll need to wait a little longer for that big win. Her tourney was plagued by bouts of severe inconsistency - solid play mixed with in buckets of errors and double faults. More of the same, I guess. Until she gains more confidence in her serve and it finds the box and its spots with more regularity she'll continue to struggle. But she's in the Top 10 again, so that's something.
[Photo(s): Getty Images]