Monday November 7th, 2011

We'll go best of five ...

1. Hometown hero: This has not been a banner year by Roger Federer, at least not by the preposterous standards he set for himself over the last decade or so. But Federer got back on the board for the first time since January last week at his hometown event in Basel -- taking the title for the fifth time. In so doing, he showed that, under the right circumstances, he's still a top contender.

While Federer sidestepped potential danger, avoiding both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and beating Kei Nishikori in the final, he took out five opponents with crisp, clinical and precise tennis. In keeping with tradition, he also bought pizza for the ballkids. (Every player should be so lucky as to have a tournament in his or her hometown.)

With the three players ahead of him limping toward the finish line, Federer has an excellent chance to end the year with a forceful statement.

2. Serbian success: It was another disappointing year for Ana Ivanovic, the former WTA Queen Bee who achieved the top ranking in 2008 and then, promptly and inexplicably, misplaced her game and, in turn, her confidence. But for all the dismal losses, there have been occasional glimpses of greatness, and we got one last week as Ivanovic won the Bali event (the WTA's junior varsity championships) for the second time.

In the final, she dusted Anabel Medina-Garrigues of Spain 6-3, 6-0 and then remarked: "I think I played an impeccable match today. Really I didn't do much wrong." We applaud her for A) using the word the "impeccable" and B) showing some much-needed self-confidence. One hopes it continues in 2012. She's too good a ballstriker to struggle as early and often as she does. And she's too sunny and personable not to play a more prominent role in the WTA miniseries.

3. Crashing compatriot: As Ivanovic thrived, her countryman Novak Djokovic faltered last week. Playing at the Basel event, Djokovic struggled with a shoulder injury and was eventually put to pasture by Kei Nishikori, losing their semifinal match 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0.

Sadly, although this was only Djokovic's fourth loss of 2011, it severely hinders his candidacy for the "Best ATP Season Ever" honors. Anything short of running the table in Paris (at this writing he's still entered, but if he withdraws he'll forfeit some $1 million in bonus money from the year-end pool divvied among the top players) and the London year-ender, and the discussion is officially invalid.

The hard-core Djokovites (Djokovicians? Djokophiles? Djokomotives?) are claiming that three of his four defeats were injury-related and therefore are diluted. Most fans, though, won't make that distinction. Nor will history.

4. Kvitova keeps rolling: A week after taking the WTA Championships in Istanbul, Petra Kvitova continued her siege in Moscow. Petra the Conqueror won both her Fed Cup singles matches, helping the Czech Republic defeat Russia and win the Fed Cup for the first time since 1988.

"The Czechs won thanks to Kvitova's superb play," Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev said. "She was just great." Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke beat Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-2 in the decisive doubles match to secure a 3-2 win.

5. Game changers: This is somewhat apropos of nothing, but I heard a great story the other day I thought I would share. During the Istanbul event last week, Tennis Channel commentator Rennae Stubbs asked the eight players the following question: If you could possess one attribute of another player in the field, what would it be?

Caroline Wozniacki immediately answered that she would like Sam Stosur's kick serve. Stosur and Li Na -- fine players, but not exactly twin studies in stability -- both answered that that they would like Maria Sharapova's mental toughness and focus.

Tellingly, two players declined to answer the question, saying, in so many words: I like my game fine as it is; I don't need to borrow from anyone else. Want to guess who? Sharapova and ... Petra Kvitova.

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