This year’s Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne did not go as scripted. Sure the winds came to the island, the heat caused some to wilt and water was in high demand. And the usual male suspects made it to the quarters.
For the ATP, only one player outside the top eight made it to the round, Frenchman Jo-Willifried Tsonga, seeded tenth.
On the WTA side of the event however, the women decided that things should get topsy turvy before the quarter finals came along. In the final eight, only three lived up to their billing, the Williams sisters and eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.
With two unseeded, China’s Na Li and Australian Samantha Stosur, and a 26th seed in Czech Ineta Bensova, advancing to the quarters, the WTA had an eclectic mix of representatives for the run in of the event.
Serena and Venus delivered and went as far as expected with Serena taking out her sister (as usual) in the Semis in what was to be Serena’s third consecutive three setter, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
On the other side of the bracket, surprise finalist Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, easily dispatched Stosur and outlasted Kuznetsova to see a tired and injured Serena in the final.
It was obvious that Serena was relying on her powerful strokes to advance. Her mobility was limited and labored and she had shown her vulnerability in the earlier rounds. Azarenka was to have her way with the world’s number one and easily cruised (6-3, 6-1) to the biggest title of her career.
Twenty-year old Azarenka, known more for her doubles results, had finally realized the potential shown as a junior player in 2005 when she won both the Australian and US Opens. Never making it past the fourth round of a slam event, her victory should be a warning shot heeded by the rest of the tour in the events to come.
Although the ATP quarters saw Nadal and Federer, the semis would only see Federer. Nadal would fall to sixth seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in a three set thriller that saw Del Potro win in a tie break. Nadal, coming off his victory at Indian Wells could not handle an inspired Del Porto.
Second seed Federer was to defeat Andy Roddick for the umpteenth time only to fall to third seeded Djokovic in the semis.
But the story of the tournament, and the 2009 season for that matter, has to be the ascendancy of Andy Murray. In previous seasons he was always on the fringe of the elite, but he is emerging as this year’s player to beat.
Fourth seeded Murray won the Sony Ericsson in style with a straight set victory in the quarters (eight seed Fernando Verdasco, 6-1, 6-2) and dispatching the conqueror of Nadal, Del Porto, in three sets ( 6-1, 5-7, 6-2) in the semis.
The final saw the 21 year old Murray outlast Djokovic on a day when the heat and previous rounds were taking their toll on the competitors. Murray was able to maintain a high level of consistency while Djokovic’s erratic play saw him hit many unforced errors. Murray’s steady strokes saw out the Serbian in a one sided final, 6-2, 7-5.
Murray and Nadal share the season’s best results with both posting a 26-2 record in match play to date. While Murray claimed the prize at Key Biscayne, the announcement of his coming out will be more emphatic if, and when, he is able to master Nadal and/or Federer on his way to a title; a grand slam event (Wimbledon is around the corner) should do the trick.
So what was the payoff for a bet that the Sony Ericsson Champions would be Murray and Azarenka? I do not know, but I have no doubt that it far exceeded the anticipated payoff from a Serena/ Rafael ticket.