Monday August 15th, 2011

1. Serena, Djokovic reign supreme: Once again Serena Williams illustrates the eternal verity of the WTA Tour: When she is able and willing to play the tennis she's capable of playing, everyone else is vying for second place. Competing in her second event since Wimbledon, Serena again blazed her way to a title, this time at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. In keeping with her eerily familiar pattern, she won some matches handily, fought through a few mid-event struggles (back-to-back three-setters in the round of 16 and quarterfinals) and then cruised home.

In the semifinals, she made easy work of No. 4 Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-3, and in the final, she beat Sam Stosur 6-4, 6-2. In three weeks, she's pared more than 100 spots off her ranking and is down to No. 31. The state of her game (and health) contrasts sharply with the rest of the contenders. Both her sister Venus and Kim Clijsters are injured and will miss this week's event in Cincinnati. Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki suffered still another bad loss last week, this one to Roberta Vinci. Same for Maria Sharapova (who lost to 135th-ranked Galina Voskoboeva) and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova (who won only three games against No. 10 Andrea Petkovic). Upsets happen. So, alas, do injuries. But as things stand today, it's sure hard to imagine a scenario in which Serena doesn't win the U.S. Open.

Meanwhile, here we are in mid-August, and Novak Djokovic has lost just one -- repeat, one -- match all year. It's official: We can start discussing/hyping this as the single greatest season in the history of the men's game. Djokovic won the "his" version of the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Sunday, making history as the first player to win five Masters 1000 titles in one season. While his rivals (such as they currently are) had a hard time finding their games, Djokovic picked up where he left off at Wimbledon. On Sunday, he made like tartar sauce and topped Fish (Mardy) in three sets. The 24-year-old Serb, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, is 29-0 this year on hard courts and 53-1 overall. In a word: wow.

The NFL thrives with "Any Given Sunday," a sense that all the games are unscripted and anyone can win. In tennis, parity doesn't work quite as well. Upsets are great, but only in limited doses. Already hurt by the "simultaneous" format, the dueling Canadian Opens were also ravaged by unexpected results. Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal lost their first matches to Kevin Anderson and Ivan Dodig, respectively. Roger Federer fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the second straight event. The women's draw, as usual, was riven with upsets. Of the final eight players remaining in the two draws, only two were top eight seeds. The consolation was this: In the end, the two best players in the draws won the titles.

2. Grunting rant of the day: Reader Steve Teamkin of New York wins our Line of the Week award. He writes: "This just in: The FAA plans to change flight patterns out of the New York area airports during the U.S. Open. They don't want the shrieking to disrupt the planes."

Yes, grunting/shrieking/caterwauling continued to be a voguish topic in Tennis-ville and Twitter-istan. Even Brad Gilbert weighed in, encouraging administrators to act. Asked about grunting last week, WTA CEO Stacey Allaster had this to say (scroll down).

Draw your own conclusion, but can we agree on this: the transcriber made a great Freudian slip on peaks/piques? I'm not sure the logic holds up here. (Sometimes you make the decisions and changes -- even if players like the status quo -- because the choice is economically, logistically or simply ethically superior.) But at least an administrator has acknowledged the issue. "It's on the radar, yes. We have a hindrance rule. We have a rule."

3. Bring on Cincinnati: For the first time, this week's Western and Southern Open in southwest Ohio will be a "mixed" event, played in an upgraded facility with a new tournament director. The Grand Slam in New York is the "U.S. Open," but this event is more representative of this country. (You haven't lived until you've seen a Global Citizen like Feliciano Lopez walk through a Marriott parking lot on his way to dinner at Cracker Barrel.) More important, the event tends to yield high-level tennis and is the ideal amuse-bouche before the entree that is the fourth major.

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