Four thoughts after a weekend that saw Novak Djokovic defend his Sony Ericsson Open title by beating Andy Murray 6-1, 7-6 (4), and Agnieszka Radwanska upset Maria Sharapova, 7-5, 6-4, for the biggest title of her career.
1. Djokovic rebounds: Coming into Miami, the world No. 1 was coming off two unsuccessful campaigns, falling in the semifinals of Dubai to Murray and Indian Wells to John Isner. Neither of those matches were necessarily bad losses — Murray served out of his mind in Dubai and the Isner match really could have gone either way — but the fact was Djokovic hadn’t even made a final since he won the Australian Open.
It definitely wasn’t cause for panic in the Djokovic camp, but to the extent that he had an aura of invincibility in 2011, it certainly hasn’t felt the same way in 2012. So credit Djokovic for rebounding from the disappointing loss to Isner and successfully defending his title in Miami.
It wasn’t the dominant showing that we’ve become used to from Djokovic. All tournament he had a tendency to race through the first set before struggling to close out the second (check out the scorelines from his last three matches: def. David Ferrer 6-2, 7-6 (1), def. Juan Monaco 6-0, 7-6 (5), d. Murray 6-1, 7-6 (4)). But despite his second-set struggles, which saw him get broken serving for the match against both Ferrer and Monaco, the Serb never seemed to doubt his ability to come out on top.
2. Andy Murray: Under Construction: Ever since Murray brought on Ivan Lendl as his coach, there’s been a lot of ink and air devoted to his “new” forehand. Lendl has urged his charge to hit it flatter and use it to take control of rallies, especially short midcourt forehands. It’s been a noticeable and very positive change, most notably when he unveiled it in Melbourne with great success. So where was it on Sunday? Nothing was working for him in the final. He struggled with his first serve, his typically reliable backhand was failing him, and with his confidence taking a hit, he just couldn’t get the depth and pace he needed to hurt Djokovic with his forehand.
Murray is a confidence player, and you have to wonder whether his lack of matchplay going into the final hurt him. He lost in his first match in Indian Wells and benefited from two walkovers in Miami (from Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal). That means in the last month, he only played four matches leading into the final. Perfecting it in practice is one thing. Murray needs more matches to get his new game clicking.
3. The Ninja strikes again: Why is it that we’ve become so enamored with Radwanska’s game, which is virtually powerless, yet so critical of Caroline Wozniacki’s for the same reason? I’d argue that it’s because Radwanska’s game seems to have more intention and creativity than Wozniacki’s, and she doesn’t look like someone who could clock the ball anyway (whereas we know Wozniacki can unleash on the ball — just watch her in practice).
So watching Radwanska’s masterclass performance in defeating Sharapova on Saturday was pure entertainment. Not that Sharapova was amused in the least. She looked like she was ready to commit herself to an insane asylum after failing, time after time, to hit through Radwanska. You could understand her frustration. How in the world was a 5-foot-8 woman who rarely served above 100 mph and wasn’t hitting winners, holding her serve so easily? Sharapova didn’t break once in the match and only got a look at three break points. The win was the biggest title of Radwanska’s career and her win over Sharapova makes for a good argument that she’s the second best player in the game right now. Radwanska is 26-4 on the year now, with all four losses to No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Blinking Maria: Since the beginning of 2010, Sharapova is 4-8 in finals. That’s a bad and telling stat for a woman we often consider to be one of the fiercest competitors in the game, a player who fears no opponent and no stage. So what’s going on here? Sometimes it’s just a matchup issue, such as her four final losses to Azarenka. But apart from that, Sharapova’s showing more and more signs of tightening up.
The free-flowing aggression that was once an earmark of her game has dipped a few noticeable notches. She used to gobble up floating short balls with the swinging forehand volley that was one her most feared and reliable shots. Now she lets the ball drop and lets her opponent back into the rally. There will have to come a point when Sharapova realizes that despite the fact that she’s ranked No. 2 in the world, she’s fast becoming an underdog in most of the finals she plays. There’s no doubt she wants it. I’m just worried she wants it too much.