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Best of Three: Murray's stock soars, Clijsters a threat to repeat in NYC


After a few shaky weeks post-Wimbledon, it feels like tennis is back on the proverbial radar. A Best of Three from a fine week on the U.S. Open Series circuit.

1. Come on down, Andy Murray: Yes, there's another big-ticket hardcourt event this week in Cincinnati. But based on last week's results in Toronto, Murray is an early U.S. Open favorite. In the throes of a lengthy slump and in his first tournament after making a coaching change, Murray put on a master class at the Rogers Cup, beating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession to take the title. Ripping his serve, moving gracefully, playing more offensively in the rallies, Murray looked a lot like the player who reached the Australian Open final; and barely resembled the passive counterpuncher who lost early and often between February and July. Says Murray: "Winning a tournament is always great, but it's the first time I beat Roger and Rafa in the same tournament, which is probably the most pleasing thing, and then didn't drop a set against either of them. So it's good for the confidence for the next few weeks."

2. Speaking of coaching changes: Federer ought to be pleased with his week. Thanks in part to a rough schedule, he failed to win the title in Toronto. But under the auspices of new coach Paul Annacone, Federer appeared refreshed and inspired. First, he expressed his desire to win 20 major singles titles; which may have been an off-hand remark but ought to please the legion of his fans concerned about his motivation level lately. Then he summoned some of his best tennis in months. His run to the final included a grudge match win Tomas Berdych -- snapping a two-match losing streak to the Czech -- and a three-set classic against Novak Djokovic. Overall, he ought to leave Canada encouraged by the state of his game.

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3. Lather, rinse, repeat?: As often as we talk about the American players making their mark during the summer hardcourt season, the most dominant player this time of the year might be Kim Clijsters of Belgium. It was this time last year that she inaugurated her smashingly successful comeback by faring admirably in the U.S. Open Series before taking the U.S. Open title. Last week, she was up to her old tricks. In Cincinnati, she beat a slew of solid players -- and caught a break when snakebitten Ana Ivanovic, having suddenly found her game at last, had to retire in their semifinal match with a foot injury. In the final, Clijsters found herself down three match points to Maria Sharapova. Clijsters fended them off and, as it so often happens, completely changed the dynamic of the match. In the third set, Sharapova's serve deserted her, while Clijsters found her GPS on her strokes and cruised 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-2. "I was so close to losing and then this dark cloud came," Clijsters said. "I thought I was hitting well from the baseline with her but my serve wasn't working well. During the delay I had to regroup and refocus, and when we came back to the court I played aggressively and turned it around. I'm really happy to win." Even if the injured Serena Williams returns in time for the festivities in New York -- and the guess here is she will -- it's sure not hard to see Clijsters defending her title.