Monday, August 15, 2011

5 Things We Learned In Canada

The tennis was chaotic north of the border last week, but Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams helped maintain the normalcy in the end.

Now the that US Open series hard court season has been essentially compacted into two star-studded events, we're basically half way through the ramp-up. And if last week's results in Montreal and Toronto are any indication, there are some serious fault lines running through the upper echelons on the rankings, both men's and women's.

Perhaps a return to the status quo will begin in force this week in Cincinnati? Surely, the likes of Rafael Nadal, Li Na, Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer and many others are hoping so.

But before we get immersed in the action in Cincinnati, let's take a quick peek back at 5 things we learned in Canada in an attempt to try and make some sense of the tumult.

1. Mardy Fish has a chance to make the US Open semifinals -- Fish was close to breaking Novak Djokovic in the 10th game of the third set yesterday in the Montreal final, and while that in and of itself doesn't mean anything, the fact that Fish was there, pushing the world's best player to the brink, says a lot about how far he's come in the last year or two. Already at a career-high No. 7 in the ATP rankings as of today, Fish is poised to put another exclamation point on his statement-making tennis later this summer in N.Y. Prior to Montreal, Fish in a US Open semi seemed as likely as Celine Dion forming a Sex Pistols cover band, but now that we've seen the level of hard court confusion that Nadal, Federer and Murray are currently experiencing, you have to wonder: Is this Fish's time?

2. Nole and Serena are the favorites heading into N.Y. -- While much of the Tour was falling on their face last week, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were smashing people in the face. Well, not literally, but this was a figurative face-smashing by Nole and Serena if there ever was one. With two weeks left until the US Open begins, it's clear who is in the drivers seat right now.

3. Practice makes perfect -- With the well-chronicled physical demands of the Tour causing top players to choose rest and relaxation over playing smaller events early in the summer, getting through a few rounds in Canada was step one in the acclimation process for many players who had been off since Wimbledon. Now that many -- Federer, Murray and Li to name a few -- have failed in this endeavor, the pressure to win and do some much-needed harmonizing with the hardcourts in Cincy is even more palpable.

4. Petra Kvitova is not Martina Navratilova -- Well, nobody is Martina Navratilova, and even though Petra Kvitova is Czech, lefty, and a Wimbledon champion, that didn't stop her from getting bounced out of Toronto by Andrea Petkovic in her second match (she won only 3 games). Consistency is still a factor for the 21-year-old, but fans of this rare talent can take comfort in the fact that Petra is a big match player who has been to at least the 4th round of all three Slams this year. She may not be Martina, but she should be fine.

5. Venus Williams in not Serena Williams -- While Serena has been busy winning 11 consecutive matches and basically announcing herself as capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound (while hitting second serve aces and doing Oprah Winfrey's nails), Venus has been unable to find her way back onto the court. Serena's big sister disappointed fans when she pulled out of Toronto with a viral illness, then she pulled out of Cincy with the same illness.

It would have taken a serious prognosticator to predict that by August Serena would have won more matches consecutively (11) than Venus has played all year (10), but that is where we are at the moment. Even if Venus does pull herself together to enter the US Open draw, it's hard to imagine her being a difference maker in N.Y.

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