August 15, 2011
Serena Williams is back, maybe not better than ever, but certainly better than the rest of the WTA. The 14-time Grand Slam champion earned her second straight tournament title over the weekend in Toronto and moved up to No. 31 in the rankings, virtually assuring her of a seed at the U.S. Open later this month.
Serena getting back to peak form and dominating matches against the best players in the world comes as no surprise. When she's on the court and moderately healthy, she's the best in the game. It's where she's doing it that's unexpected.
For the past half-decade, Serena has made it clear that her focus is winning Grand Slams. The win in Stanford, Calif., earlier this month was her first regular victory on U.S. soil since 2008. The Toronto victory gave her a second victory for the year in a non-major or year-end tournament. She's only done that once since 2004.
It's a run partially borne out of necessity; in order to earn a seed at the Open, Serena probably had to win two tournaments beforehand. Still, she had to play six matches to win in Toronto and will have to do the same to win in Cincinnati. (Heck, the Serena of old would have already dropped out of the tournament in Ohio.)
Her stats since returning to tennis in mid-June are remarkable considering that in March there was a legitimate worry that she may not play at all this year:
• 15-2 record
• current 11-match winning streak
• 6-1 in three-set matches
• 4-1 after losing first set
• 3-0 in tiebreakers
• 3-2 against top 10 players
• 8-2 against players in the top 30
• 3/2 odds on winning the U.S. Open (Petra Kvitova has the next best odds at 9/2)
To call her the favorite in New York might be an understatement. Getting seeded certainly helps, although, to be honest, Serena being seeded benefits the other 31 seeds more than her. You think it would matter to her if she had to play Roberta Vinci in the first round? Or let's say she were to be unseeded and drew Vera Zvonareva in the second round. Nobody would be saying "poor Serena," they'd be saying that Vera got a tough break.
Her serve is dominant and her power hasn't diminished at all. The conditioning problems she showed during the grass court events are all but forgotten.
It may say No. 31 next to her name in the rankings. Everyone on the WTA knows who's really No. 1.
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