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By Chris Oddo

Nadal, Acapulco, 2013 (March 4, 2013) -- While Rafael Nadal was pouring his blood, sweat and tears into winning Acapulco, Novak Djokovic was bending over backwards to take his fourth Dubai title in five years. And those blockbuster results were just the tip of the iceberg.

Read up on the Heroes and Zeros of the tennis week that was below...

Hero: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is simply not supposed to be this good this early in his comeback. But on the heels of a 223-day absence from competition, and after just three glowing warm-up events, oh, he most certainly is. Just ask David Ferrer, who suffered an obscene 6-0, 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the world’s greatest clay-courter in the Acapulco final on Saturday evening.

It was Ferrer’s seventh loss in a final against zero wins versus Nadal, and also his fourteenth consecutive clay court defeat at the hands of Nadal. For Nadal, it was his 38th clay court title and the triumph leaves the dirt demon with a beyond ridiculous clay-court record of 266-20 for his career.

Perhaps more stunning than Nadal’s domination of Ferrer (nothing new here, really) was the sheer physicality of the Spaniard’s chops as he methodically marauded him at the venue where he had won three consecutive titles. Nadal moved in and lashed winners on short balls; he stepped back and tattooed inside-out forehands from the tramlines; he traded blows with Ferrer’s best and when he felt the whim, he struck some of the most decisive, most accurate winners, ones that painted the lines with regularity and ones that were hit at improbable angles. These were the shots of a cold-blooded tennis executionist, and they were shots that nobody else in the world but Rafa can execute.



Was this Nadal in full flight? Scary as it sounds, no. But it was a shot across the bow of anybody who might have been harboring the false hope that Nadal would never again be the sheer force of destruction that he once was. The man is a maelstrom in tennis shorts, and now that he’s been back for a month on tour, it’s becoming painfully obvious to the naysayers that he’s got a lot of miles left on the knees, be they cranky, taped, or badly in need of a few injections followed by a prolonged respite.

In short, the reign of Rafa as a brute force the likes of which tennis has never seen and may never see again, is far from over.

Next stop, Indian Wells.

Hero: Karolina Pliskova

The 20-year-old Czech Broke the top 100, rising from 124 to 84, with her first career title in Kuala Lumpur. She rifled 10 aces and took out Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the final, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. Also of note was the fact that Pliskova hit double-digit aces in four of her five matches at Kuala Lumpur, reached 56 aces for the week, and won an impressive 85.2 percent of her first serve points.

Hero: Sara Errani

Errani won Acapulco for the second consecutive year, and she now leads the entire WTA Tour with 18 wins on the season. The feisty Italian didn't drop a set all week, and announced herself, once again, as a threat for the clay-court swing and a player to watch come French Open time.

Zero: Caroline Wozniacki

After reaching the Dubai semifinals in a very fine performance in the previous week, Caroline Wozniacki was unceremoniously bounced by Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang at the BMW Malaysian Open in the first round. The World No. 186 saved a match point against Wozniacki, who claimed she suffered from fatigue, and sought medical attention after the second set. "I was feeling light-headed, but tried my best to keep playing," said Wozniacki. Wang becomes the lowest-ranked player that Wozniacki has lost to since 2009 when she lost to a then-unranked Kim Clijsters in the U.S. Open final.

Hero: Novak Djokovic

The good thing about Novak Djokovic these days is that if you forget to give him any mention one week, you always know that you can just wait until next week to praise him. Djokovic was his usual dominant self on the hard courts in Dubai this weekend, eliminating Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych straight sets to win his fourth career Dubai title and remain a perfect, 2011-like 18-0 on the season.

Zero: The ATP's time violation restrictions

More criticism for the enforcement of the ATP's time violation rule from players this week in Dubai, as both Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro were frustrated by the ambiguity of rulings from umpires regarding time violations.



Hero: Alize Cornet

The Frenchwoman saved 9 match points in her 3-6, 7-6(10), 7-6(2) quarterfinal victory over Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain in Acapulco, and moved up to No. 33 in the WTA rankings in the process.

Hero: Venus Williams

Venus Williams returned to the WTA's top 20 with a semifinal results in Florianopolis. With 2nd-round points to defend at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open and 1st-round points at Wimbledon, it's not far fetched at all to consider Venus a candidate for the top 10 by year's end.

Zero: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The Frenchman dropped a first-rounder in Dubai to Michael Llodra, and blamed it on the umpire. Never a good idea.

Hero: James Blake and Jack Sock

In just two tournaments together as a team, the American pairing has notched one title and one final.

Hero: Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis became the first qualifier to win a title on the ATP tour in Delray Beach and he proved yet again that he is by far the most quotable tennis player on the planet in the process.

Case in point: “Tennis players, they tend to analyze everything too much, you know? There is nothing much to analyze. I can sound really smart and tell you, ‘Yes, I prepared and then I focused on this point and I played this and that.’ For what? You’re not going to think that I’m smarter because of that. I play my game. I do what I can. I try to win and that’s it.”

Zero: Sam Querrey

The No. 3 seed blew a 4-0 lead in the third set against Gulbis in the second round at Delray Beach, then double-faulted on break point while serving for the set at 5-4, and double-faulted twice more on the final two sets of the third-set tiebreaker.

"I'm pretty bummed," he said. Uh-huh.

Hero: Anne Kheotavong

The 29-year-old Brit reached her first career final of any kind after losing in her first 9 semifinals (7 singles, 2 doubles) when she paired with Valeria Savinykh to reach the doubles final in Florianopolis. “It’s only taken me ten years to make a damn final!” she said afterwards, triumphantly.


(Photo Credit: AP)

 

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