Aces and Faults: Federer and Murray win titles as Serena remains on top
Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. While Serena Williams took home the WTA Finals title in Singapore, Roger Federer and Andy Murray grabbed tournament titles and a handful of other players put out great performances.
Serena Williams: Three months ago we were left scratching our heads around the State of Serena. Then she went on a tear. Since that bizarre doubles retirement at Wimbledon, Williams went on to lose just three matches, winning Stanford, Cincinnati, the U.S. Open and now the WTA Finals.
For the third year in a row, Serena raised the season-ending championship trophy and her week in Singapore was a microcosm of her season: sometimes dominant and sometimes shockingly average, but always resilient. Her win over Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals, rallying from 1-4 down in the decisive tiebreak, ignited her championship form and then she rolled through Simona Halep -- avenging her embarrassing loss in group play -- with a 6-3, 6-0 win. She finishes the season with seven titles, her 18th major, and was the wire-to-wire No. 1 rank. Player of the year? You bet.
Roger Federer: Since losing in the fourth round of the French Open to Ernests Gulbis, Federer has made the final or better at every tournament but one, the U.S. Open. He won Halle, Cincinnati, Shanghai and now Basel, with final appearances at Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup. With just two losses in five months and his title run at the Swiss Indoors -- a 6-2, 6-2 win over David Goffin in the final -- he has a very real shot at ending the season at No. 1. The rumors of Roger Federer's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Andy Murray: It's always an adventure with Andy, but one thing has remained constant in his career: give him something to chase and his focus narrows. He left the U.S. Open chasing a top eight finish to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London and has been playing non-stop, winning three titles in the last five weeks. His title run at the Valencia Open included his second straight win over David Ferrer and a victory over Tommy Robredo, where he saved five match points for a 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8) win. He's now up to No. 5 in the Race rankings with just the Paris Indoor Masters left this week.
Simona Halep: The Romanian's debut at the WTA Finals will be remembered for three things. First, she's one of eight players to make the final in their year-end championships debut. Second, she handed Serena her worst loss in 16-years, a 6-0, 6-2 thrashing in group play. And third, after securing qualification after her second match, she still played determined against Ana Ivanovic. Even though Ivanovic grabbed the win, Halep showed resilience and staying power when she bounced back from losing the first set to win the second -- the set that put Serena into the semifinals. The smart play for Halep would have been to conserve her energy for the knockout round and let Ivanovic take that set, and in doing so, knock Serena out of the tournament. But Halep said the thought never even crossed her mind. She lost badly in the final to Serena, but she earned a lot of respect for that move.
David Goffin: GOATfin, Godffin, the House of Goffindor. The 23-year-old goes by many a nickname among fans. He got thrashed by his idol in the Basel final, but Goffin's last three months have been off the charts. He's won 43 of 46 matches since Wimbledon. Yes, many of those were on the Challenger circuit, but the Belgian is now up to No. 22 in the rankings after being ranked at No. 106 at the beginning of July.
Borna Coric: The Croatian became the first 17-year-old to break into the top 100 since Richard Gasquet and the man he beat in the Basel quarterfinals, Rafael Nadal. Into the tournament as a wildcard, Coric beat Ernests Gulbis, Andrew Golubev and Nadal to make his first ATP semifinal.
Tommy Robredo: The 32-year-old Spaniard is quietly having a great fall season and was a point away -- twice! -- from winning two titles. He got nipped in the bud by Murray in the Shenzhen final and then once again saw Murray save match points to beat him in the Valencia Open final. See Best Vine below for an epic handshake after the match.
Caroline Wozniacki: Serena may have taken home the trophy but the WTA Finals belonged to Wozniacki, who played the best tournament of her career. She went 3-0 through group play, beating No. 2 Maria Sharapova, No. 3 Petra Kvitova and No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska. Against Serena she saved a match point spectacularly and then led 4-1 in the third set tiebreak. She got passive in the end and her serve failed her as she tried to cling to that lead, but there are so many positives to take out of the tournament for her. Now for that little marathon thing...
Ana Ivanovic: If someone told you at the start of the season that the Slumping Serb would finish the year in the top five, you probably would have spent the entire season laughing. But after going 2-1 in group play at the WTA Finals, Ivanovic indeed will finish in the top five for the first time since 2008. It's a great reward for her, as she finishes the season as the winningest player on tour.
Singapore: The Lion City put on a great show in their first of five years hosting the WTA Finals. The biggest question regarding Singapore was whether it could deliver the sold-out crowds that showed up in Istanbul. Over the 10-day event they attracted 129,000 vocal and engaged fans. The energy was electric inside Singapore Indoor Stadium. For the first go-round, this was pretty darn good.
Sania Mirza and Cara Black: The duo ended their partnership on a high, saving match points in their first and second matches at the WTA Finals and then routing defending champions Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei 6-1, 6-0 in the final. The champions in Singapore get an orchid named after them. Does anything sound cooler and more frightening than the Black Mirza orchid?
Rafael Nadal: That Nadal even played after being diagnosed with appendicitis right before the Shanghai Rolex Masters is unnerving, primarily because playing through the injury had no purpose. Sure, he picked up a nice appearance fee check at the Swiss Indoors, but his straight set loss to 17-year-old Coric was one of the worst matches he's played in years. Nadal said he made the decision before playing Basel to end his season and have the surgery and he also revealed after the loss to Coric that he never fully recovered from the back injury that hindered him in the Australian Open final ten months ago.
Eugenie Bouchard: She admitted to being under prepared for her first year-end final after a series of injuries interrupted her training schedule. That led to an 0-3 performance through group play, with losses to Serena, Halep, and Ivanovic, in which she won just 13 games. You never want to see an Elite Eight player get outclassed at the year-end championships.
Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei: The No. 1 pair split after the U.S. Open for personal reasons but since they had already qualified for the WTA Finals, they played together to defend their title. But there was something so weird about watching two players go through the whole tournament barely talking to each other.
Murray has saved match points in two finals this fall against Robredo. So here's to the most honest post-match handshake in the history of tennis:
In case you missed it:
- The debate over Halep's decision to give a full effort in her round robin loss to Ivanovic is a tough one. My two cents: a tennis player's goal is to win the tournament, not necessarily a match. For 99.9% of the year those two goals are directly in line with each other. But with an opportunity to both save your energy for a quick 24 hour turnaround and knock the No. 1 player out of the tournament, there's no denying Halep could have been smarter about it, especially after losing the first set. She earned a lot of respect in the locker room, though, which may have been just as important.
Best trophy pose?
• Catch up on the best shots from the WTA Finals here.
• I still can't believe we're talking about Federer finishing the year No. 1. Absolutely incredible.
• It seemed inconceivable after such a consistent season that Milos Raonic would miss out on qualifying for London. And yet, here we are.
• With seven titles, her 18th major and holding the No. 1 ranking from the first week to the last, you'd have to jump through a lot of hoops to argue anyone other than Serena is the player of the year.
• But had Wozniacki gone undefeated, beaten Serena and won the WTA Finals, I think there was a pretty respectable argument for the Dane. No one won more matches after the French Open than she did and, given the circumstances-that-shall-not-be-named, it's a pretty great story.
• The best piece of news coming out of Stacey Allaster's State of the WTA address in Singapore was that the tour is looking to rebrand its Premier Mandatory/Premier 5/ Premier 7/ Internationals tournament nomenclature. Hooray!
• Once again the suggestion of a WTA World Cup came up in Allaster's address. The eight nation team event has yet to be green-lit, but with the schedule as packed as it is and the ITF tying Olympic qualifying to Fed Cup participation, I just don't see how that idea gets off the ground.
• Here are your WTA top eight: 1. Serena, 2. Maria, 3. Simona, 4. Petra, 5. Ana, 6. Aga, 7. Genie, 8. Caroline.
• The journalists in Singapore couldn't help but riff on that WTA "iconic" photo: