April Recap: Fed Cup drama, Novak Djokovic continues tear
We continue recapping the most memorable moments, good and bad, from each month in 2011. January and February were still about figuring out what the year was going to bring and March saw a rattled Andy Murray and the first Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic matchup. April was about Fed Cup drama, Germans on the rise and Nadal-Djokovic 2.0. Got something we missed from April? Sound off in the comments and we’ll compile a readers’ edition at the end of the month.
BTB's 10 Memorable Moments From April
10. We miss you, Sergey: In the first two months of 2011, Vera Zvonareva made the semifinals of the Australian Open and beat Caroline Wozniacki to win Doha. Pretty good, right? Apparently not.
She parted ways with her friend and coach, Sergey Demekhine, at the beginning of April. Demekhine, a former Abercrombie & Fitch model, had worked with Zvonareva for more than a year, helping her reach two Grand Slam finals and ascend to No. 2 in the world. Despite the success, Zvonareva wanted some new voices on her team and brought in additional coaches for advice.
Demekhine took issue with the de facto demotion to hitting partner and the partnership ended. As it turned out, the decision didn't pay off. The Russian never came close to recovering her form, winning only one small tournament (Baku) for the rest of the year. So you fired the coach who was with you through your success (who, in case it wasn't made clear, used to be an Abercrombie model), and the changes didn't pan out? Everyone lost in this decision.
Please enjoy this completely gratuitous Sergey fan video.
9. Freak foot accidents continue: First Serena, now Kim. Clijsters, already struggling with shoulder and wrist injuries, rolled her ankle badly while attending a wedding (no more high heels for you, ladies!), resulting in a severe sprain and torn capsule of the ankle joint. The injury ruled her out of Fed Cup and she raced the clock to heal up for Roland Garros.
How significant was her ankle injury? Belgium played the Czech Republic the following weekend, and what appeared to be a hotly contested tie turned out to be a flop. With Clijsters sidelined, the Czechs cruised to victory. Seven months later, the Czech Republic would hoist the Fed Cup trophy for the first time as an independent nation.
8. The Empress of Serbia: The real drama from that Fed Cup weekend was in Serbia, where the hobbled and beleaguered hosts took on a dangerous Slovakian team anchored by Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova. Two years ago, the Serbians were looking like one of the most formidable teams in the competition, with French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic leading the charge. But those days are over, as both players were going through career-defining struggles. This tie headed into Sunday with the teams even at 1-1, but an abdominal injury forced Ivanovic to retire to Cibulkova in singles, leaving the Slovaks one point away from winning.
But where there's drama, there is Jelena Jankovic, and the elder Serb stepped up to deliver a classic "How'd she do that?" Jankovician comeback. She edged Hantuchova in the fourth rubber 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and then came back out with Alexandra Krunic to rally from a 2-6, 1-5, 0-30 deficit to win the decisive rubber 2-6, 7-5, 9-7. The win kept Serbia in the World Group and added to Jankovic's already-impressive Fed Cup résumé.
7. Donald Young rants on Twitter: Twitter has revolutionized how athletes interact with each other, fans and the media, with players actually preferring to use the medium to cut out the middlemen (the media) and connect with fans. Unfortunately, what often ends up happening is that they forget that Twitter is no different than a press conference. If you wouldn't say it with a microphone in your face, you probably shouldn't broadcast your thoughts to thousands of people on Twitter.
Donald Young learned that lesson the hard way. Young, fresh off winning the Tallahassee Challenger, had his request for a French Open wild card denied by the USTA, which had already arranged a wild-card playoff that included him. After losing to Thomas Smyczek in the final, Young vented his frustration on Twitter. He tweeted: "F--- USTA! Their [sic] full of s---! They have screwed me for the last time! #enoughsaid."
Patrick McEnroe and the USTA immediately fired back, holding a conference call to respond to Young's claims. Young eventually apologized.
6. Victor, Victoria: You never know what to expect when Victoria Azarenka takes the court. She could retire from an undisclosed injury or she can perform at a level that reminds you of why she's a top talent. April saw a little bit of everything from Azarenka.
She took the title in Miami for the second time in her career with a classy display of power tennis, beating Cibulkova, Pavlyuchenkova, Clijsters and Zvonareva to get to the final, where she brushed aside Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-4. There was a noticeable calmness about Azarenka during those two weeks, which she attributed to some newfound perspective gained from speaking with her grandmother during a recent trip home.
From Miami she flew to Spain to take the title in Marbella. Her 11-match winning streak was eventually snapped in Stuttgart when -- you guessed it -- she was forced to retire in the second round with a shoulder injury. "Mercurial" doesn't even begin to capture it.
Highlights from her clash against Sharapova. You may want to turn down the volume if you're at work. Or if your wife is in the other room. Or... just turn down your volume. Trust me.
5. The kids take over: For all the talk of the veterans dominating the WTA Tour, which they generally do at the Slams, it takes young legs to grind out the full length of the calendar. For two months, the Tour was ruled by the top young talent in the game. Wozniacki and Azarenka split the two biggest titles of the spring (Indian Wells, Miami), and then followed it up with wins in Charleston (Wozniacki) and Marbella (Azarenka).
4. Murray finds his legs: If you needed evidence of how out of whack and unexpected 2011 was, all you needed to know was that Andy Murray went two months without winning a set on his best surface (hardcourts) but found his game on his worst surface (red European clay).
The change in scenery and surface seemed to help flip the switch in Murray's head, snapping him out of his post-Austrlian Open ennui. He notched his first match win since January in Monte Carlo and marched all the way to the semifinals, taking a set off Nadal (the first set the Spaniard had dropped in Monte Carlo since 2009) before ultimately losing in three.
3. Rafa back to the winner's circle: Nadal was still the world No. 1 but he hadn't won a title since the U.S. Open in 2010. Naturally, that changed when he landed in Monte Carlo, where he hadn't lost a match since 2005. The Raging Bull captured his seventh straight title, beating David Ferrer in the final. His reaction on match point said it all: He needed this one.
2. German resurgence: One of the biggest stories of 2011 was the rise of the German women. While Andrea Petkovic was the one grabbing headlines through the first part of the year, her compatriots quickly joined her as the Germans began their collective push into the top 30.
Four German women made it to the quarterfinals in Stuttgart in late April, with Petkovic joined by Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges, and Kristina Barrois. This proved to be Goerges' time. She was a bit fortunate, getting a second-round retirement by Azarenka, but Goerges certainly made the most of her luck. She beat Lisicki, Samantha Stosur and Wozniacki en route to her only title of the year.
But the real breakout star for the week in Stuttgart? Goerges' dad, who lived and died with every shot his daughter hit. Adorable to watch.
1. Djokovic doubles up: If Indian Wells cemented the fact that Djokovic was playing at a higher level than everyone else, Miami was where it became fairly clear that he was in Nadal's head. As is the case in their duels, the match was a three-hour epic filled with punishing rallies. The two split the first two sets, with each set being decided by a single break, and neither was able to break the other in the third set, setting up a tiebreak for the title.
That's when Nadal blinked. At 2-2 in the tiebreak, he served a double fault and then proceeded to lose the next three points to give Djokovic four championship points. He was able to save two, but a forehand winner gave Djokovic his second Masters title of the season, completing the Indian Wells/Miami double. Djokovic improved to 2-0 against Nadal for the year and extended his 2011 winning streak to 24.
Relive the final-set tiebreak here:
Highlights from the dramatic match:What'd we miss? Give us your memorable moments from April in the comments below and we'll compile a readers' edition at the end of the month.