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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Unstoppable Serena?

Since losing to Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon, Serena Williams has begun an intimidating surge. She has competed in two of the most recent premiere events (Bank of the West and the Rogers Cup) and won them both in dominating fashion. At Stanford, Serena clobbered her opponents while dropping only one set, then in Toronto, regrouped from a few early round troubles to crush Azarenka and Stosur for the title.

Serena's return is, to say the least, an inspiring story for athletes of any degree. To overcome a year's worth of injury and illness and compete at such an extraordinary level illustrates the power and passion of sport. To viewers, the story is something to watch in awe. To her opponents, it's a startling and terrifyingly simple message: Serena's back

The journey to her two recent championships began with a ominous double bagel victory over Anastasia Rodionova and ended with a four-ace service game against Samantha Stosur. Along the way, Serena had her share of hiccups, including two slow starts in Toronto where Zheng and Safarova both nabbed first set surprises, but the major theme of Serena's performance was domination.

Perhaps the most impressive win came in the Canadian semifinal, where Serena faced off against world no.4 Victoria Azarenka. The big hitting Belarusian was playing some of the best tennis of the season leading up to the match, not having lost a set in the tournament and earning her second double-bagel victory of the year. Surely, then, we expected a grinding three setter in the semi, but instead, we needed only watch for 74 minutes...

Despite the one-sided scoreline (6-3 6-3), the match showcased some of the most powerful and exciting rallies we've seen in some time. Azarenka did well to keep shots deep, to attack the Serena serve when she could and to use her athleticism to force errors, but regardless of her efforts, Serena was too powerful, to focused and too good. Can she stay so hot?

With two titles under her belt, Serena leads the WTA pack in the race for US Open series points and will jump to a ranking of about 30. Not bad considering she was above 150 three weeks ago... Her next stop will be in Cincinnati, where she will look to earn her third consecutive championship and secure a spot in the top 16 for New York seeds.

While an improved ranking for Serena would ensure the safety of top seeds like Li and Zvonareva until the second week of the slam (that is, unless they get walloped by a no-name...), viewers like us can't help but crave a few big-name battles, specifically Serena vs. Caroline. For now, we can only watch the tune-up tournaments and start picking favorites.

So, tennis fans. Is it Serena we see in the US Open spotlight?

For now... all signs say "Yes."

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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