Heavyweight champion of the world, Victoria Azarenka (above).

We could not have been more surprised with Saturday’s semi-finals which yielded the Federer-Isner final.  Isner has been giving the big three all they can handle for the last few years, and with wins over Federer and Djokovic this year, he has truly earned his way into the top ten.  He’s a kid who plays to his strengths amazingly well.  Usually, you feel like the Americans, both younger and established, don’t play to their strengths very well, don’t really think matches.  Isner does.  He went 70 services games without managing a break in one set of tennis, but he also held serve 72 straight times, in that same set of tennis.  Frankly, the question on him is the movement.  He was not moving his feet a few weeks ago against Kevin Anderson, but that was still a good result for Isner, in Delray Beach, and the margin was very slim as it was.

Isner is playing well.  He is moving those feet.  Beat Djokovic?  Get your due.  Beats Djokovic, actually winning while losing on points by 11.  Managed one break of serve in the match, but made it stand up.  And he played the big points better.  With shot making.  The Federer-Isner matchup is still very much a bad matchup for Isner despite the recent win he had over Roger in Davis Cup.  Federer woke up to Isner, and there was blood in the water today, with the champ smelling a very nice win and paycheck.  Isner doesn’t do that well against guys with good serves.  Most of that 6’4, 6’5 set can all pound the serve and stay with Isner.  Federer is that kind of player too, locating the serve or hitting with pace, but Isner has only broken Federer a handful of times, lifetime.

So that’s a good quality win for Roger, who we think may be on a high right now.  Obviously, the win over Nadal is a nice win for him.  Hadn’t beaten Nadal on an outdoor hardcourt since 2005.  It’s hard for us because we’ve always maintained that you can’t read in a lot to a Masters Series win or loss, for a Federer, but who can’t say he wasn’t playing well at the last few events where he won shields or YEC’s.  Was he not playing absolutely lights out when he won Cincinnati in 2009?  Now we all thought he’d go right on and win his 6th US Open title two weeks later, but he couldn’t pull it off, playing a sub par final, for Roger.  There’s not even a major leading in this time, but he is also playing lights out right now.

We don’t think Nadal was tired.  He wasn’t match tested prior to this week for a little bit, and sometimes in best of 3 finals after a layoff, or even prior, is that kind of time when Nadal might lose these days, when he’s not losing to  guys not named Djokovic.  Nobody is sharp enough to beat him head to head at a major, from what we’ve seen.  I mean, Federer has not beaten Nadal at a major since 2007.  If not Federer or Djokovic, then who?  David Ferrer.  He’s been a better four than Murray in our estimation, in certain resepects.  Ferrer plays  extremely hard and never comes out ambivalent or uninspired.  For that matter, Ferrer has been much better than Federer in the last 5 years at the majors against Nadal.  So he gets that respect.

If Murray played his defensive style gung ho, or played consistently aggressive, either one, he would push Federer for #3.  But Murray is caught in between.  He doesn’t think matches either.  And really, Federer has been incredibly hot, making it harder for Murray to get traction in the ratings.  Federer has now won three events in a row and there’s got to be a different feel around the Federer camp about his ability to do something.  In a couple of the last few years, Federer didn’t win a tournament at all until much later in the year.  Federer is playing so well on his own serve, you have to wonder if he doesn’t feel the magic.  Unfortunately, there’s not a major coming up, but we think the belief will be there when he faces off with the heavy hitters at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  He’s looking very dangerous right now, which probably some Federer fans might have felt was never happening again.

So way to go Roger.  By the way, doesn’t it seem like, at moments like this, there is a pattern at play when Federer does get the better of Nadal?  Really, this very angle on getting to Nadal is why Federer brought in Paul Annacone, and it has to look like right now things are working quite well with the coach.  Federer, here and at the YEC, did not let Nadal expose his backhand, by hitting everything to Nadal’s backhand.  If Nadal can’t get to Fed’s forehand then Federer is hitting a lot of forehands, and when he isn’t he is ripping the backhand at Nadal’s backhand.  Finally, Roger is playing with a discernible game plan against Nadal.  When he does this, he plays very well against Nadal.  But usually, he doesn’t do it for more than one set at a time, if he does pull it off.

Federer is in the mix big time at the next three majors.  He has to be very confident that he can pull off a record 17th major win, and we’d love to see it.  We knew he was playing well, but this kind of well has us thinking big.  You have to wonder a little bit how Roger is going to translate onto clay next month.  But we have a long view of this.  He hasn’t played this well probably since he was number one.  And serving and hitting this weekend, with the wind like that, is also very encouraging.

We also have to wonder about how Victoria Azarenka, now 23-0 this year, translates onto clay as well.  She lost to eventual champion Li Na at Roland Garros last year, and in the final to Kvitova in Madrid in a tight match.  She also won a minor tournament.  She is playing with such confidence.  She is playing so great, muscling the field from right on top of the baseline, without even muscling serves.  She will probably be very tough to beat on clay as well, and we don’t see the field as overly dangerous right now.  And she thinks a match too, unlike Sharapova.

Sharapova has been horrible against Azarenka because she can’t get around the fact that she is getting out paced in a pace war, and has no discernible plan B for when a player out paces her.  Sharapova was thoroughly beaten.  Look, Sharapova’s not great at all.  Like Wozniacki was at one, Sharapova at two is a measure of the weakness of the field.  If this field was completely healthy, we don’t see Sharapova as a top 4-5 player.  She looks dejected against Azarenka and she should.  That is where the two players are at.  Sharapova’s penchant for keeping two hands on the racquet is killing her against Azarenka’s pace.  Azarenka is stretching Sharapova out on her backhand and Sharapova has no slice to fend it off with.  She must’ve had close to 40 errors today, and they were many times backhands into the net.  She only won 43 points in the final today.

Sharapova held serve only 3 times today, and was broken 6 times on 12 BP’s allowed.  They weren’t even loose serve games either, like they usually are with her.  She had something going with her serve down the tee.  Azarenka is that good.  She is a ball crusher.  The mph’s that Sharapova’s serve is down post shoulder surgery makes her serve simply ineffective against most power players who are good first ball return players.  Then, in the rallies that extend, Azarenka is pushing Sharapova left to right, and then stretching her out on the backhand.  Azarenka is a beast, sure.  Still, Sharapova must improve if she wants to win more majors.  Top competition can do the things that Azarenka does to destroy Sharapova.

We still would like to see Kvitova have her sot at Azarenka.  But there was no doubt that victory today, as well as Azarenka’s entire year, have been extremely dominant, and a beauty to behold.  And Indian Wells was pretty good this year, so we’re sorry we told you to stop watching it.  You know we don’t like Plexicushion, but it was a great event this year, and TTC’s coverage was excellent all week.  It’s a shame we didn’t get to hear Davenport and Gimelstob on all the men’s and women’s matches.

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