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December 11 01:55
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Guest Blog

New # 1 for women; Same Order for men to final

January 29, 2012 | 10:14 AM

I won't spoil the suspense for you here at the top if the news and media haven't reached you yet, and I have nothing to say about the actual play in the women's final as I only saw the winner's face. I dutifully tellied up in the early AM when a long one might have been at the critical juncture (the duty that got me out of bed early was for friends, not tennis). But now I am in transit, without media to watch.

Joker def. Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5

At the conclusion both players knew and spoke of how different this match was from last year's clinical dissection of the UK's hope by the Serbian Usurper. Everyone there knew it, and everyone watching remotely. And - oh boy - did Murray sherpa Ivan Lendl know it - his head getting heavier, his brow sweatier with every set and hour, Ivan may have been wondering about OT (what is his bonus if Andy titles sooner rather than later?). Or fantasizing about where he and his new liege, Andy, would golf after it was ova don unda. The GAP had all but closed.

By the dramatic conclusion of the 5th, replete with Murray come-back from 2-5 to double break point to serve for the match, there was deja vu in the air. Yes, that Joker would somehow win this one, as he did. But also that we might be watching a moment similar to the '07 Wimbledon final when it seemed Rafa was poised to finally break through against Roger at his Bastille (Centre Court), before it was snatched away. It wasn't quite as terrifying to see, for Joker hasn't been dominating for 5 years before we got to yesterday. But there was a real Oh My God moment when it looked like Andy held The Serb by the throat.

This moment came after it had repeatedly seemed that the greatest closer in recent memory had held Murray by the throat:

- in the 3rd set, Novak had 3 set points on Andy's serve at 4-5, before being outplayed in a tight breaker

- in the 4th, Andy's legs were dead, and Ivan's hand had to support his chin

- by the 4th game of the 5th, Andy was out of challenges and out of gas, surrendering his serve without much fight, unable to use the big weapons that he'd used to pry 2 of the first 3 sets from the clutches of The Serbian Strangler (would Bud have used such a loaded nick name for a nice Serb like Novak?).

At 2-5, Andy fought through several deuces and long exchanges, surviving with the help of what seemed his last over head ammo and a few uncharacteristically tight errors from Novak.

At 3-5, Andy broke at love. Joker was worried with reason. He didn't mount much more resistance until he served at 5-5, down 15-40. It was then that his jugular instincts revived with a service winner and, finally, to end a 30 shot exchange to save break point, a FH down-the-line winner.

While Andy would have one more point to break, the Joker of 2011was back to stay, re-bottling the Scotch for another Major. In the pinch, it was still him that stepped up, not Andy.

The toil and drama that lacked only in extended innings and contained a high number or errors and breaks for each man, took all Novak had, judging by how quickly the normally chatty wit wished to whisk away from Courier's mic and into his ice bath (does single malt come with that as an amenity?). He still managed to be gracious, thanking the Rocket for sticking it out in the first row after paying him the homage due on 'his' arena, and crediting his opponent. But he sought quick punch lines to end Courier's effort to pry info from him about how he felt, and how he'd gotten over his difficulty breathing in the early sets.

With 40% less time than Rafa before their final, and 25% more time on court in his semis, this promises to be Joker's greatest title challenge yet.

After his semis win, Rafa was pumped up like he'd just won a Major for the first time, feeling the adrenaline of beating the man he honestly seems to idolize, his older yang\alter ego. He frolicked on court after Rog's hasty departure, and seems more eager than ever to get to the man who's no doubt sowed more doubt and cost him more sleep than anyone since his parents divorce in '09.

While Joker has the bettors marginally behind him, and the match-up generally favors him as much as Rafa's favors him with Rog, it's as hard as ever to bet against The Majorcan Major taking #11.

If he does turn the tables with Joker here, we'll look down the road past March to his saison terre battu, and foresee the men's Numero Uno moving to the other side of the Mediterranean. Fie on Indian Wells and Miami - Rafa's showing his disdain for these out of season American beach heads by taking 6 weeks off after tomorrow.

It's Belarus that can now claim the #1 woman, not the Danes, whose Lady in Waiting could only watch on as the 5th different player in a row not ranked #1 took a major in style, creaming former champion Maria in 2 knock outs, 6-3, 6-0.

Talk about shock: Maria might as well have been hit by a stun gun when she stepped on court to resume her throne as #1 against Victoria in what would certainly be the noisiest final ever. The neighbors needn't have worried about being kept awake, as it was quickly ova an out. Vickie ran off 11 in a row, and served up a bagel for early viewers in the 2nd for the title.

And when and where will we next see #1?

Right here in New England's former manufacturing capital, Worcester, Mass, where she'll lead the Belaruski troops against the best defense America can offer (Serena, Bethany and... Well, never mind). The British never took Worcester (did they? Was Worcester invented in 1776?)and Team USA will defend our honor with everything we've got. Azarenka may win titles and out-scream us, but our grunts will dig in for a fight.

Rick

Australian Women's result; Joker def


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