By Maud Watson
Business as Usual
Despite pulling out of Tokyo with dizziness, Victoria Azarenka was right back to her winning ways in Beijing. She became the first player since the WTA’s roadmap was introduced in 2009 to win two mandatory premiere events in a single season, and she did so by continuing her mastery over Maria Sharapova on the hard courts in the Chinese capital. Her deep, powerful ground strokes and superior ability to change direction of the ball led to a slew of errors from the Russian, resulting in an emphatic straight-set win for the Belarusian. It’s been a breakthrough year for Azarenka, who nearly has the No. 1 ranking mathematically sewn up, and more importantly, she’s exactly what the WTA has been looking for – a young No. 1 with the results to back it up. There’s still a bit of work to do in 2012, but fans are likely to already be looking forward to what she does for an encore in 2013.
Back in the Hunt
Playing in his first event since his five-set US Open final loss to Murray in New York, Novak Djokovic returned to the winner’s circle last week in Beijing. The indoor hard courts and a mixed field were exactly what Djokovic needed as he returned to competition. In the final, he faced fellow Top 10 member Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and after a competitive first set, it was all one-way traffic for the Serb. Having not played the event the previous year, the points were pure gravy for Djokovic’s ranking. It was the perfect way to kick off what should be an exciting fall, as Federer and Djokovic duke it out to see who will ultimately finish the season as the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
He may have broken “Pistol” Pete’s record for most weeks ranked No. 1, but as expected, that doesn’t mean that Roger Federer is now ready to easily relinquish the grip he has on the top of the men’s game. He took on Stan Wawrinka in the second round of Shanghai, and it was an ugly match from the reigning Wimbledon champion. He struggled to find his game, particularly on the backhand wing, and for the better part of two sets, it was Federer who looked more like the Swiss No. 2 instead of his less-accomplished countryman. But as he’s done so often throughout his career, Federer hung tough, kept going for his shots, waited for his opportunity, and pounced. Once he squeezed out the second set in a tiebreaker, it was smooth sailing for the Maestro. The win put him into the third round, but more importantly, it assures him a 300th week as world number one. With several points to defend from 2011 and Djokovic breathing down his neck, Federer will have to clean up his game if he wants to finish the year No. 1, but for now, congrats to the man from Switzerland on yet another stunning accomplishment.
Now or Never
Fans get frustrated with a player for a variety of reasons. Maybe the player lacks the smarts to strategize, think on their feet, or make adjustments. Maybe it’s maddening to see them unsuccessfully defend a weakness time and time again. Perhaps they get tight when the chips are down. But the most frustrating thing of all has to be when you see a player fortunate enough to have been blessed with both the physical and mental gifts to succeed, and yet through laziness and poor attitude, fail to maximize those gifts. Bernard Tomic has thus far proved to fit the bill of that last category. He has a variety of shots, and he’s shown the ability to think and construct points. Yet once again, after a loss in Shanghai, he admitted that he didn’t give it his all. We’re all for honesty and candid answers, but there are just certain things a player should never confess to. There’s also no excuse for not leaving it all out on the court in that situation, which is all the more disturbing given that Tomic has developed a pattern of this type of behavior. He could be someone great, and fortunately for him, there are a number of former Aussies champions trying to put him on the straight and narrow path. But in the end, the decision to commit rests solely with Tomic, and if he doesn’t make a concerted effort to utilize his talents to their fullest extent sooner rather than later, he’s headed towards the dubious honor of becoming one of the biggest wastes of talent the game has ever seen.
While Tomic looks to try and get his career off the ground, Rainer Schuettler, who hasn’t played since January due to injury and fitness problems, has officially decided to call time on his career. The 36-year-old German isn’t the household name that some of 2012′s other retirees are, but he’s still one to be admired. In fact, Tomic should really take a page out of his book. Schuettler wasn’t a particularly gifted player. He didn’t possess an imposing stature or game. But he made the most of what he was given. He had a tremendous work ethic and drive, and he was rewarded with his share of successes. He’s probably best remembered for reaching the 2003 Australian Open final, where he bowed out to Agassi in straight sets, but he also won the Silver in Men’s Doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens alongside compatriot Nicolas Kiefer. He’s a shining example of what can be accomplished if one’s willing to put their nose to the grindstone. The sport is fortunate that he’s going to continue to stay involved, having just purchased the tournament membership in Düsseldorf with Ion Tiriac to ensure that from 2013 going forward, there will be an ATP 250 event the week prior to Roland Garros. Congrats to Schuettler, and here’s to hoping he continues to enjoy success in his new career endeavors.