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Heroes and Zeros: Vika Joins the Rivalry, Raonic Rips Through San Jose Again
By Chris Oddo
(February 18, 2013) --
Another Fantastic week of tennis. Where to begin?
Seriously, we saw
Rafa win his first title since 2012 Roland Garros
become the oldest No. 1 in women's tennis history
, and Milos Raonic
mop up in San Jose
(he closed the doors and said goodnight to the event, too), and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In tennis, there seems to be too much good stuff to keep track of.
Still, we try.
Without any further ado, here are this week's Heroes and Zeros:
Hero: Victoria Azarenka
Faced with the grim reality that she would no longer be No. 1 regardless of the outcome of her Qatar Total Open final with
on Sunday, 23-year-old
responded in the best possible and most uplifting way. She avenged nine straight losses at the hands of Serena Williams with a
gritty, composed three-set victory
over her long time nemesis 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3. Long thought to be a cut below the 15-time Grand Slam champion, and an inactive participant in what many had labeled a "rivalry" (for lack of a better word), Azarenka has continued to evolve as a player despite her failings against Williams.
Now the rivalry that we were all imagining might actually become a rivalry in reality.
Faced with the difficult task of serving out the tournament against one of the best clutch players of all-time, Azarenka drew upon her resolve and avoided a repeat of her U.S. Open failure against Williams last September, when she served for the match and couldn't pull through.
That U.S. Open final was a heartbreaker in many ways for Azarenka, but one thing that it did prove is that the gap between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka was getting slimmer.
Now Azarenka has not only proved that she can play with Serena (we knew that, right?), she's proved that she can also finish her off. That is a huge step for the Belarusian, and if she has her way, she'll make it pay dividends in the not-too-distant future.
Suddenly the tectonic texture of their one-sided rivalry has shifted enough to make us wonder: Maybe Azarenka, at her current No. 2 slot in the rankings, is the real No. 1? It would have sounded ludicrous had I said that prior to this week, but now that Azarenka has won her second title of the season and remains undefeated for 2013, it sounds a whole lot less ludicrous now.
In any event, what transpired yesterday was colossally important for Azarenka. After a series of near misses, thrashings and relegations, she's finally proved that she's a worthy opponent for Williams.
Instead of drudgery, we've got mystery. The No. 1 is up for grabs, Grand Slams are up for grabs, and finally, we have a rivalry.
Zero: American Mens Singles Players
fell in the semis at San Jose, leaving
as the top-ranked North American and the
last player to win in the American tournament's final year
. We can handle taking our lumps from the Canadians in ice hockey, but when it comes to tennis, we just can't get used to it.
Hero: Milos Raonic
The Maple Leaf Missile's
third straight title in San Jose
was an awe-inspiring performance that proves Raonic is still on the right track in spite of his lack of a Grand Slam breakthrough. He faced only one break point on the week, and basically took the racquet out of his opponents hands each and every time he served. It was a truly breathtaking performance by Raonic. He was broken twice in San Jose, in three years!
Zero: Julien Benneteau
The Frenchman is a hero for
in the Rotterdam quarterfinals
and reaching his eighth career final, but he gets a zero for his 0-8 career record in finals after
bowing out as runner-up to
Juan Martin del Potro
Hero: Serena Williams
Serena became the
oldest No. 1 in WTA history
, and raced to the Doha final with big wins over
before finally falling to Azarenka in the final. It was an emotional week for Williams, and more proof that she is one of the greatest women to ever play the game. At 124 weeks at No. 1, the 15-time Grand Slam champion is currently sixth on the WTA's all-time list of weeks at No. 1, and 54 weeks behind
Zero: David Goffin
Goffin was mercilessly thrashed by
, 6-0, 6-0 in Rotterdam. Ouch.
Hero: Rafael Nadal
The King of Clay's
came in Sao Paulo, Brazil, amidst hordes of screaming fans that made his final against
seem more like a Davis Cup match in Spain than an ATP final. The victory doesn't mark a return to tip-top form for Nadal--yet--but it's a huge achievement for the Spaniard in a lot of ways. While he still appears to be a little off-kilter on the court, perhaps playing defensively to ensure that he can win matches without too much strain on the knee, and thereby learning to conserve his health for future clashes with the ATP's elite that will no doubt come, Nadal is proving--slowly but surely--that he is on the road to recovery.
And that road leads to Roland Garros...
Hero: Juan Martin del Potro
The big man is 25-4 indoors since 2012, and he took the Rotterdam title with relative ease, the 14th of his career.
(Photo Credit: AP)
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