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Summer performance seals Serena’s supremacy

Posted: September 13, 2012 7:53 a.m.
Updated: September 12, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Oh, what a difference a year makes. The last time tennis fans saw Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final, she was having an emotional tirade at the expense of a chair umpire. Now, 12 months later, she’s the queen of New York, fighting her way back from a disastrous second set in Sunday’s championship to nab her 15th grand slam title.

With the way Williams has played since the end of June, any other outcome on Sunday would have been a total surprise. Since winning her fifth Wimbledon title nearly three months ago, no other player has been able to seize any true momentum against her. At the All England Club, her finals foe, Agnieszka Radwanska, looked to be gearing towards her first grand slam title after winning the second set, but eventually got demolished. Then, at the London Olympics, Williams lost only one game in an absolute rout of former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match. Finally, on Sunday, she proved once again that she is the best player in the game after topping Victoria Azarenka, who at least on paper is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

It was really Serena’s dominance throughout the U.S. Open that put the exclamation point on her preeminence over the rest of the field. At one point during her quarterfinals match against Ana Ivanovic, she was on a streak of 23 straight games won. That’s virtually unheard of. It was only at 3-1 in the first set when Ivanovic held serve that the streak was snapped. However, Serena eventually went on to win in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. In her semifinals match, she then only lost three games, crushing surprise semifinalist Sara Errani in straight sets as well.

Her victory at Flushing Meadows capped off one of the most successful seasons in tour history. With the win, she became only the third woman ever to win Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal and the U.S. Open in the same season, following her sister Venus Williams in 2000 and Steffi Graf in 1988.

The way she is playing right now, it’s hard to believe anyone could beat her. Unfortunately for the game itself, her competition is fairly weak. On the men’s side, only five guys have truly contended for grand slams in the last eight years: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro. But on the WTA tour, Williams’ victory actually ended a run of seven consecutive different Grand Slam champions. It hasn’t been the case that a string of great players have been able to contend for titles, it’s more been a handful of players getting hot at the right time and winning, case in point Li Na at the French Open last year.

Strangely enough, this has actually been the most consistent season in recent memory. Azarenka won the Australian Open as the third ranked player in the world. After battling a shoulder injury, Sharapova took home the French Open as the world’s No. 2. Williams, who ended 2011 ranked outside the top 10, was then crowned champion at Wimbledon and New York while seeded sixth and fourth respectively.

The season began with currently 11th ranked Caroline Wozniacki considered the No. 1 player. Dogged by questions over when she would win a grand slam, she was to some extent considered a place holder for the next consistent grand slam champion. The WTA seems to have found that in Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka. Interestingly, all three won medals at this year’s Olympics and are so far the only ones to qualify for the season ending WTA championships set for late October. Unlike in years past on the women’s tour, tennis fans don’t need to look too far down the rankings to find the best players in the game. But while Azarenka and Sharapova are now officially sitting atop the rankings, Serena certainly seems to be in a class all to her own.

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