The Ten: Week of 5/9/11 to 5/15/11
Welcome to the first installment of "The Ten"—a weekly round-up I'll be doing about the ten biggest stories to unfold in the tennis world over the past seven days.
This week, the Djoker made some clay-court history, Sharapova claimed her biggest win since the fall of '09 and the Williams Sisters finally made it official that they're out of the French Open. What else went down? Check it out here.
1. Djokovic Defies the Odds
After a draining three-hour marathon with Andy Murray in the Rome semifinals, the streaking Serb came out less than a day later looking fresh as ever to defeat Nadal in straight sets and capture his seventh trophy of the year. In doing so, Djokovic also became the third player (behind Federer and Gaudio) to beat the King of Clay at least twice on the dirt, and the first to beat him in two consecutive finals. The victory in the Italian capital made it Djokovic's fourth Masters title of '11—already tying the mark set by Federer and Nadal in 2005—and he enters Roland Garros with an unblemished 37-0 record. Hard to believe it took him until August last year to accumulate that many wins.
2. Venus and Serena Both Withdraw
On Thursday the 12th, Serena Williams announced that she would, in fact, be missing the Roland Garros in the wake of lingering foot problems and complications from her pulmonary embolism. Just a day later, sister Venus joined her on the sidelines, still not fully recovered from a hip injury suffered down under. It's the first time since the 2003 U.S. Open (and just the second time since Serena began playing regularly on tour) that a Slam won't feature at least one of the sisters. Venus is scheduled to play Eastbourne for the first time since 1998, signaling that she should be good to go for Wimbledon. But Serena? If she doesn't play in London, it'll be a full year without her big-hitting presence on the WTA.
3. Sharapova Snags a Tier I
After a career based on fast-court success, it's hard to believe Maria Sharapova is one of the favorites heading into the French Open. Sharapova bagged her third clay court title (and 23rd overall) in Rome this week, breezing past last year's Roland Garros runner-up Sam Stosur in straights—it was the Russian's first title in over a year and her biggest since Tokyo in the fall of 2009. During the trophy presentation, Sharapova signaled that this was just the first of many successes to come. Could she capture the elusive Career Slam in Paris? There's no better time to than now.
4. Zheng Gets a Big Boost
It's been a year-long struggle with injury and lay-off, but two-time Slam semifinalist Jie Zheng received a much-needed confidence boost this week—partnering with fellow Chinese player Shuai Peng to take home the Italian Open doubles title. After eliminating several other seeded teams earlier in the tournament, Zheng and Peng took down Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova in the final, waxing the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles champs 6-2, 6-3. While her partner has had a very successful season in singles, Zheng's gone just 4-10.
5. Roddick Struggles with His Shoulder
Andy Roddick's in a rut. After falling to a lowly qualifier in his Madrid opener last week, Roddick lost meekly to Gilles Simon in the first round in Rome—coming up with no answers to the Frenchman's crafty baseline play. However, Roddick teamed with Mardy Fish for a successful run in doubles, taking down fellow Americans (and top seeds) the Bryan Brothers in the quarterfinals on their way to a championship appearance. Just hours before the final, however, Roddick withdrew with a shoulder injury—ceding the title to another Yankee duo, John Isner and Sam Querrey. Does this mean bad news for A-Rod at the French? His Twitter certainly isn't shedding any light on the situation.
6. Azarenka's Elbow Acts Up
She's relatively notorious for pulling out of matches (albeit with good reasons), so I'm not taking Azarenka's retirement against Sharapova in their Rome quarterfinal too seriously. Could it have been her arm was actually in pain? Sure. Could it have been she had a busy week in Madrid and already had her fair share of matches going into the French? That's a possibility too. It seems she'll be just fine in time for the French, as my Twitter investigation continues...
7. Kvitova.... Loses?
It was a big surprise when Petra Kvitova announced last week she was skipping the Premier tournament in Rome and instead playing a $100K ITF event in her hometown of Prague. It was an even bigger surprise, though, when the Madrid champ went down in straight sets to No. 72-ranked Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova in the tournament's final stage. After storming her way to victory in the Spanish capital and racking up four convincing wins in her native country, we'll chalk this one up to fatigue. Let's hope the hard-hitting Czech gets enough rest in time for the French.
8. Safina Announces an Indefinite Break
Hard to believe that two years ago, Dinara Safina was utterly dominant on the clay-court swing leading up to Roland Garros. But after disappointment in that year's French Open final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, followed by an embarrassing loss to Venus Williams in the semis of Wimbledon, followed again by a troubling back problem, Safina hasn't emerged as the same player that once reached No. 1 in the world. Tormented by low confidence this season (remember her first round match against Kim Clijsters at the Aussie?), Safina announced last Thursday that she would be taking an indefinite break from the sport. Whether it's her mind or body—or both—that still needs to heal, it's sure to be a welcome respite for the fiery Russian.
9. Carillo Joins the Cast of Tennis Channel
Always one to deliver a punchline, this week Mary Carillo made headlines when it was announced she'd be joining The Tennis Channel for their coverage of Roland Garros. While I personally enjoy the humor and energy Carillo brings to the booth, many other tennis aficionados find her grating. Will she jive better with the Tennis Channel team than with her ESPN co-workers? Signs point to yes. There's no better commentating duo than her and Johnny Mac, and I'm psyched they're soon to be reunited in Paris.
10. An American Gets Back in the Top 10
Last week marked the first time in the history of tennis' computer rankings that no American was featured in the Top 10 on either tour. The struggles of Andy Roddick and injuries to the Williams Sisters have left U.S. tennis in a state of disarray—and Mardy Fish is answering the call. The lanky Floridian cracked the elite group a month ago after reaching the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open. While he was bumped just in time for newspapers to blare headlines about the lack of American presence in the Top 10, Fish re-entered the upper echelon again on Monday thanks to some poor play from Nicolas Almagro. Roddick lurks right behind him at No. 11.
On the women's tour, Maria Sharapova climbed to No. 7—her highest ranking since returning from injury two seasons ago. All four Madrid semifinalists last year—Aravane Rezai, Venus Williams, Shahar Peer and Lucie Safarova—took big tumbles this week, as Rome and Madrid swapped start dates in 2011. Rezai, last year's biggest French hope going into her home slam, hasn't won back-to-back matches since last summer.