When Serena Williams won Family Circle Cup 2012, she did so in emphatic fashion. She wasn’t simply good. She looked like a professional toying with amateurs. However, despite lopsided wins over Samantha Stosur and Lucie Safarova, I wanted to see how she would do on clay against a stronger field. Well, after the 2012 Mutua Madrid Open, and her blowout victories over the current #1 and #2 players in the world, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, the questions now turn to what Vika and Masha can do to bounce back. Before I get to that, let me say one thing. As good as she looked, Serena is not unbeatable. Remember that she has been back since before Wimbledon 2011 and hasn’t won a Major since her return. She looked unbeatable last summer all the way through to the US Open final, where she lost to Stosur. She was at Australia and Miami this year, looking good…but not winning the tournament. So while she has looked good her last two tournaments, she is still human and doesn’t win everything.
Basically, Vika and Masha have the same problem. One is #1, Vika, and one has her eyes on regaining #1, Masha. Azarenka is 1-7 against Serena. Despite her career win coming against Serena at Wimbledon 2004, Masha isn’t much better at 2-8. What’s more, Masha hasn’t beaten Serena since the 2004 Tour Championship. 2004! Vika’s lone win was in Miami 2009. Those numbers have to improve or it hurts the legitimacy of their rankings. They don’t have to have winning records against Serena. It’s probably too late in Serena’s career for them to have time to do that even if they somehow start playing Serena better. But they have to be competitive. Kim Clijsters also has a bad record against Serena at 2-7. However, 4 of those losses were tough 3-setters. Justine Henin had a 6-8 record against Serena, but beat her at 3 straight Majors in 2007 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open). And 1 of Justine’s losses was during her comeback when she wasn’t the player she was before. The point is, win or lose, Kim and Justine were out there fighting. Vika and Masha looked lost in Madrid. They looked beaten physically and mentally. What’s more, unlike Kim and Justine, they were not even making Serena play shots.
Serena was great against Vika, nailing 14 aces and 26 winners. But Serena would have won even at 80% of her best. Vika wasn’t even making her play. Azarenka had no aces against 6 double faults. She was even more dreadful with 6 winners against 19 unforced errors. I understand you can’t just get the ball in against Serena…but you can’t spray the ball all over the place either. Serena hit 26 winners? Make her hit 46 winners. You just can’t have a minus-13 winners to unforced error difference. I also understand that the pressure was really on Vika in this match. A loss, especially a bad loss, could in the minds of some, particularly those that don’t follow the WTA closely, wipe out some of what she’s accomplished as being done without having to go through Serena. I don’t agree with that. As I stated, Serena was at Australia. And didn’t win it. Vika did. That said, when Serena steamrolls #1 and #2 in the same tournament, the chorus of “Serena is #1 when she wants to be” is hard to argue against. Vika and Maria at least have to make Serena hit winner after winner after winner. Giving up free points against Serena is not an option. Serena might still win. But in matches that Serena loses, I’ve seen her hit a few errant shots and get out of rhythm. That will only happen if you take Serena deep into rallies. Also, it will test her fitness. I don’t think Serena is in top shape. But it’s not a liability if points are short and matches end quickly. It’s easier said than done, for sure. But we just had a #1, Caroline Wozniacki, who was ranked #1 but seen by some as not the best when compared to the injured and/or part time playing Serena and Clijsters. I would hate for women’s tennis to have another reigning #1 surrounded by the buzz that she is simply a seat warmer for the real best player in the world.