Monday May 9th, 2011

1. 34 straight ... and counting: If you didn't quite believe the Novak Djokovic hype before, there's no denying now. Djokovic did not merely maintain his 2011 undefeated streak, winning the Mutua Madrid title, he did so in the most legit way possible, beating Rafael Nadal -- In Spain! On clay! -- in a gripping final. (And he overcame this)

Said Djokovic: "It is a very special day for me because it's the first time I managed to beat Rafa on clay. I've played a great match from the first to the last point. I got to the court believing I can win and that was the only way that I could get a win in the end."

The ultimate test for Djokovic, of course, remains: he still must beat Nadal in a best-of-five match, i.e. the French Open final. But we can hope Sunday was a prelude to Paris. Suddenly, this is the sport's most compelling rivalry.

2. Federer watch: The weekly Roger Federer meter trends upward this week. (We're noticing that analysis here really parallels the current Derek Jeter discussion.) Anyway, badly in need of respectable event, Federer comes through in Madrid. He staves off a match point and beat Feliciano Lopez. (Sure, in his prime, he would never have been in that position. But credit him with pulling through.) Then he keeps going, beating Robin Soderling, one of his better wins in a long while. In the semis, Federer plucked the opening set off Nadal before wilting. Overall, a good week. Yes, we've lowered our standards. But after the Federer-Nadal match in Miami this was a decided improvement. Federer is, clearly, the low man in the "trivalry" right no. Far as we're concerned, though, hold off playing "Taps" on his career.

3. Leading woman? There's blurry. There's murky. And then there's the WTA tableau. The Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters are non-starters for the French Open. Justine Henin is retired. And few others seem to have the conviction to fill the vacuum. Last week in Madrid, top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki lost to Germany's Julia Goerges for the second time in two events. Sam Stosur's abysmal 2011 continues. Same for Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, both former Roland Garros champs. And while Victoria Azarenka reached the Madrid final, she then lost to Petra Kvitova and her monstrous forehand. The upshot: Goerges, now in the top 20, has gone from sleeper to dark-horse contender, though it remains to be seen how she will handle this new notoriety at a major. Kvitova, now in the top 10, is worth watching. Azarenka might still be your best bet. And, realistically, any of a dozen players could win. Which is not altogether a bad thing.

4. Best of Brazil: Who gave Djokovic the best match in Madrid? It might have been Thomas Bellucci, a free-swinging Brazilian who beat Andy Murray en route to reaching the semis. The men's draw doesn't exactly lend itself to dark horses these days. But if you're looking for an Animal Kingdom, 20:1 shot, you could do worse than Bellucci. Especially if Juan Martin del Potro is a scratch (we'll know more in a few days). Bellucci is one of the few players who could make life difficult for the favorites.

5. Wayne's world: Lost in this eventful weekend (poetic justice, perhaps): Wayne Odesnik won the $50,000 Savannah Challenger beating ... wait for it ... Donald Young in the final. Whatever else you might say about Odesnik, credit him for returning to form after his doping suspension. He started the year ranked No. 1,381 and could very well crack the top 100 by the end of the summer. That said, he clearly remains a pariah in some quarters. Playing against Odesnik in the Savannah quarterfinals, Amer Delic rolled his ankle. Said Delic: "If it was any other guy, I would have pulled out right away. Instead I had it taped and kept the match going as long as I could, just so he doesn't have it easy in the second match."

In that semifinal match, Odesnik faced off against Ryan Harrison, the young American. Showing some real moxie, as they say, Harrison maligned Odesnik throughout. Courtside observers tell us that Harrison, quite audibly, called Odesnik a "weasel" and an "embarrassment to American tennis." The two apparently had words after the match as well. Odesnik may have had his suspension reduced for promising to cooperate with authorities. The players, not surprisingly, consider this a breach of loyalty. It'll be interesting to see how Odesnik will be treated at the bigger Tour events -- which he'll be likely to enter if his ranking sustains this trajectory. Stay tuned.

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