Monday February 20th, 2012

1. Roger's recovery: For as often as players bemoan the crowded tennis calendar, the congestion sometimes works in their favor. Have a lousy event? No problem, there's always an upcoming opportunity to rebound. Consider Roger Federer this month. The Great One did not distinguish himself at the U.S. vs. Switzerland Davis Cup dust-up, losing in both singles and doubles.

But the dead rubbers had barely been completed before Federer was off to Rotterdam -- lured, we were told, by a $1 million appearance fee, tax-free -- to compete in the ABN Amro event. Looking like the Federer of old (or the Federer who sailed through the first week of the Aussie Open last month), he won each four his four matches, including a rout of Juan Martin del Potro in the final, to claim his first title of 2012.

2. Rise of Vika: Going on two years now, Tennis Nation has complained about the "WTA vacuum" and absence of assertive players in the women's game. We all know the symptoms: the top-rated player failed to win a major. And those who did, often backed it up by losing in the early rounds of the subsequent event.

Finally, it appears we may have a Queen Bee. Or a Queen Vee, as it were. Fresh from her breakthrough performance at the Australian Open, Victoria Azarenka -- the new No.1 -- sure looked the part in Duabi last week. She simply carved up the draw, culminating with a 6-1, 6-2 evisceration of Sam Stosur in the final.

"It's amazing. I can't believe I could play that kind of tennis today," Azarenka said. "I knew I wouldn't be 100 percent, so I had to change and adjust. I was just surprised today that everything was going in."

There's a lot of tennis left to play this year, of course. And the next major is three months away. But right now, we have a leading actress. (And a bonus, Azarenka has a fan in NFL coach Brian Billick.)

3. Schedule management 101: Given the unprecedented physical demands of tennis -- and the failure of the sport's gatekeepers to address them in a meaningful way -- it falls mostly on the players to trust their instincts and their bodies and gauge their play accordingly. We got a vivid contrast in management this month. When Canada played France in Davis Cup Feb. 10-12, Gael Monfils was sidelined with a knee injury and missed his first singles rubber. After France had clinched the tie and advanced to the next round (earning the right to host the U.S.), Monfils, unaccountably, played a meaningless dead rubber match. By the time Monfils arrived in San Jose, where he was the top seed at the SAP Open, the injury had flared up and he withdrew.

Canada's Milos Raonic, on the other hand, did the reverse. He withdrew from Davis Cup with what was thought to be a slight tear in his knee. A follow-up revealed that the injury was simply some untimely swelling. Raonic opted to play San Jose and offered a glimpse of why he's been pegged for a future Grand Slam. Serving ferociously and playing poised tennis at the critical junctures, he defended his title. He now heads to Memphis, an event he nearly won last year if not for this incredible shot on championship point from Andy Roddick.

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