By Chris Oddo/ Monday, October 7, 2013
Novak Djokovic made a strong statement in Beijing, while Serena Williams emphatically whipped the field en route to title No. 56.
Photo Source: AP
The Asian swing is heating up as both tours march closer to their year-end championships. Without and further ado, let's have a look back at the heroes and zeros from Tokyo, Beijing and beyond.
Hero: Novak Djokovic
You have to hand it to Nole. He loses the No. 1 ranking and responds with one of his most dominating performances of the season in Beijing, improving his career record in the Chinese capital to 19-0 with four titles. If this is the type of response we can expect from Djokovic after a very rough spell against Nadal in which he lost six of seven, including the French Open semifinals and the U.S. Open final, then the Nole-Rafa rivalry ought to make for ridiculously compelling/entertaining tennis for years to come.
Big Response: Djokovic Downs Nadal for Fourth Beijing Title
But let's forget the rivalry for a moment and talk about last week's hero No. 1—Djokovic. He capped off a remarkable run in Beijing with a virtuoso serving performance against Nadal in which he only lost six points from the service stripe. How is that even possible against Nadal?
True, it might not have been Nadal's finest match, but six points against a guy who had won 22 straight and 26 straight on a hard court? Just remarkable stuff from Djokovic, and a true indication of not only what he is capable of as a player, but also what he is capable of in terms of dealing with loss, adversity and handling the best player in the world. Nobody can deal with Rafa like Djokovic, and tennis should consider itself very lucky to have a player like him who pushes Nadal and does his part in bringing out the best in the rivalry and the best of tennis.
Zero: Victoria Azarenka
Everybody is entitled to a hiccup, and Vika's long term prospects haven't changed a bit just because she flopped in Tokyo (ailing, in a loss to Venus Williams) and Beijing (dropped a three-setter to Andrea Petkovic), but please Vika, for the love of the game, we need someone at the top who can get to finals and challenge Serena, because clearly nobody else can right now, and it's getting a tad predictable/boring.
Hero: Juan Martin del Potro
The Tower of Tandil was very impressive in taking the Tokyo title, and thanks to his stellar performance, Del Potro has reached No. 5 in the rankings for the first time since 2011, after exacting a bit of revenge on Canada's Milos Raonic in a hard-fought final. Remember, Del Potro lost to Raonic in Montreal in a match where Raonic won a crucial point that he should have lost if he'd have admitted that he touched the net.
READ: Del Potro Giant Against Raonic in Tokyo
On Sunday, in a hotly contested final with the up-and-coming Canadian, Del Potro proved his mettle time and time again, hitting clutch shots when he needed them (he saved three break points in the seventh game of the first set that really felt like set points) and showing that he is so much more than a blistering ball-striker. He's also a calm, cool and collected player when the stakes are high. Look no further than his 16-6 career finals record for proof of that.
Hero: Serena Williams
Not much you can say right now about Serena Williams that could come off as hyperbole. She's flat-out awesome in every way, against all comers, on every surface and on any continent. Last week in Beijing she was her usual ruthless self, reeling off straight-sets victories as if they were going out of style en route to her 56th career title, which perches her just a few measly dollars below the $10 million in prize money mark (no female has ever achieved that lofty level, so leave it to Serena to break new ground).
Istanbul: Sharapova Withdraws, Three More Qualify
It's a given that Serena is a better player than everybody else on tour right now, but what is truly amazing is that she still plays with a chip on her shoulder, seemingly hungry—no, voracious—to win each ensuing match even more than she wanted to win the last one. The woman’s desire to win is simply off the charts. If there was any way to package that desire up and pass it out to the rest of the WTA's top 10, there might be more competition for Serena, but as it is right now, it's Serena's world and the rest of the top 10 is lucky to find a vacancy for a night.
Is Serena the greatest female player to have ever lived? It's a question we are going to hear a lot of, particularly when she wins her 18th Grand Slam next year and threatens for even more. At this point, the debate is multifaceted, but if Williams can keep doing what she has been doing in 2013 for another two to three years, the debate will become more and more one-sided in her favor.
And she gets extra points for smashing a racquet in a way that Pete Townshend could even admire.
Zero: Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov's woes continue, as he was thumped by Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets in the first round at Beijing. The decision to part ways with Magnus Norman and Good to Great was puzzling, and it makes one wonder where Dimitrov's head is at. Perhaps only his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, knows? Still, there is hope for Grigor, as Roger Rasheed has been brought into the fold as his new trial coach this week. It's a good choice for Dimitrov, who clearly needs to rein in his game and focus on grinding rather than dazzling, but if he couldn't do that with Norman and Co. (who've also had so much success with Stan Wawrinka this year), should we expect him to do it with Rasheed?
Hero: David Ferrer
The Little Beast has qualified for London for the fifth time. Well done, David.
Zero: Sloane Stephens
Stephens climbs to a career-high ranking of 12 in the world today, but it's her ineffectiveness (2-12 career) vs. top 10-ranked players that bugs us. That and the fact that she's the only current top 20 player yet to reach a WTA final. Stephens is part hero and part zero in our minds right now. She's incredibly talented and has come a long way in a short time these last few years, but we're going to be hard on her until she starts reaching a few finals and knocking off a few more top 10 WTA players. Her loss 6-3, 6-1 loss to Caroline Wozniacki in Beijing was particularly disappointing.
Hero: Rafael Nadal
He's No. 1 in the world again, after a long, tumultuous battle with injuries and with a rising Novak Djokovic. And he's likely to become the first player in history to regain the year-end No. 1 ranking for a third time. Not much else needs to be said. Forget about yesterday's loss to Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal is the ATP's player of the year and its most inspiring player, all wrapped into one.
Hero: Milos Raonic
Raonic went on an eight-match winning streak that has taken him to the cusp of qualifying for London and placed him in the top 10 again. His progress has been slow at times, but what has never wavered is the Canadian's impressive will to keep learning and making himself a better player than he was the week before. He should be in the ATP's top five, and perhaps even world No. 1, before his career is all said and done.
Hero: Jelena Jankovic
For her effort in Beijing, Jankovic rises to No. 8 in the WTA's rankings (her highest perch since 2011) and qualifies for Istanbul. It has been quite a resurgence for JJ, who is now 45-18 on the year with her 13th career title in tow.