Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scream 2

As I have mentioned here before, I used to work on the sports copy desk of the old Arkansas Gazette.

I made many friends during my time there. "Some are dead and some are living," in the words of John Lennon, and one of the living ones, with whom I have reconnected via Facebook, is, as I have told him, the foremost authority on tennis that I know.

I thought of him today when I was watching Maria Sharapova battle Victoria Azarenka in the women's final of the Australian Open.

It was a rematch of a tournament showdown I watched last spring, and the outcome was nearly the same. The 22–year–old Azarenka completely dominated Sharapova and appears to be well on her way to the top ranking in the world.

I wanted to get some feedback from my friend so I e–mailed him after the match, and this is what he had to say.

Of Azarenka, whose victory this morning was her first Grand Slam title, he said, "[S]he's mentally strong enough to win some slam tournaments. She plays big points well."

That was my impression as well. She continues to impress me every time I see her play — and in unexpected ways.

And, perhaps, nothing I saw in today's match made a greater impression on me than what I saw at the end — a triumphant Azarenka dropped to her knees and appeared to be stunned that she had actually won a Grand Slam event.

Never mind that she had completely dominated Sharapova, who has been regarded as a formidable force in women's tennis since winning Wimbledon nearly eight years ago.

Shortly, though, Azarenka's bewilderment turned to pure unadulterated joy as she ripped the sweatband from her brow and threw it into the cheering crowd, then threw tennis ball after tennis ball to the fans.

Her domination of Sharapova had been so complete, in fact, that none other than Chris Evert observed, at one point, that, in her day (and, I would presume, the practice predated her career), it was said that if one player won five consecutive sets (or more) against someone else, the first player owned the second.

And, based on that, Evert continued, it could fairly be said that Azarenka owns Sharapova.

Certainly, based on my observations, that is true. Azarenka beat Sharapova in straight sets in the match I watched last spring — and I thought at the time that it was their first encounter, but, as I understand it, they actually met for the first time a few years earlier. Azarenka won on that occasion, too, which means she has won at least five straight sets against Sharapova.

Of Sharapova, my friend said, "I love watching Sharapova but I don't think she's that interested in winning on the court. She can make more money posing."

Regretfully, that seems to be true.

She's still making noises about wanting to win Grand Slam tournaments, but I have to wonder, especially as Azarenka's star is ascending, if she isn't being drawn to a more lucrative modeling career.

And, frankly, who could blame her?

She is an attractive young woman, and there is always a lot of money for young women who are willing to parlay their physical attributes into bank accounts.

And, if she chooses to dedicate herself to the pursuit of easy paydays, that's fine. It might even be the wisest choice she could make.

Because Azarenka, it seems, is dedicating herself to the pursuit of Grand Slam titles. And, as Geoff MacDonald writes in the New York Times, "she is an attacking, all–court player capable of success on any surface. With her new–found equilibrium on the court, and her fearless competitive spirit, Azarenka will contend for all four Grand Slam titles."

Might be hard for Sharapova to compete.

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