Best of the 2012 US Open

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Updated: September 10, 2012

The conclusion of another splendid U.S. Open means it’s time to open the notebooks to sort through what it all means. Here’s ten thoughts to ponder as we wrap up the 2012 Slam Season.

1. Finally, a Three-Set Final: Yesterday’s final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka marks the first time a U.S. Open women’s final has gone three sets since 1995. It also marked the first time in thirteen matches that Azarenka dropped a three-setter. The story within the story here is Azarenka’s ability to turn what looked like a blowout into what was nearly a colossal upset. Serena Williams deserves all the credit for winning her fifteenth Grand Slam and fourth U.S. Open, but it was the grittiness of Azarenka and her defiance of Williams’ all-out domination that saved us from having to endure another lopsided final.

2. Does Serena Williams Have Anything Left to Prove? We’re all familiar with the ebb and flow of Serena Williams’ desire. But we’re left to wonder: are we headed for low tide? Her recent Olympic-fueled run of sustained domination has been mind-blowing, but the question remains: what will motivate Serena next year? And if nothing motivates her, will she have to go through a prolonged bout of uninspired play before she elevates her game to its current level again?  Williams mentioned yesterday that she’d like to win two Grand Slams a year for the foreseeable future, but is it realistic to think that she can?

If the number is 18 with regard to Grand Slams, are you taking the over or are you taking the under?

3. The Top 5 U.S. Open Matches:

(1) Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 (final round).

(2) Angelique Kerber d. Venus Williams 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 (2nd round).

(3) Laura Robson d. Kim Clijsters 7-6(4), 7-6(5). (2nd round).

(4) Victoria Azarenka d. Sam Stosur 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5).

(5) Victoria Azarenka d. Maria Sharapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

4. The Contenders: The talent pool is very deep in the WTA, but the three players that reached two Grand Slam finals apiece in 2012 have to be considered a cut above the rest at the moment. That would be Serena Williams, who needs no introduction; Victoria Azarenka, who was two points from winning her second Grand Slam of 2012 yesterday before fizzling down the stretch; and Maria Sharapova, whose competitive fire and big-match pedigree makes her a threat to win any Grand Slam on any surface these days. The rest of the top ten, simply put, is on the outside looking in.

5. The Pretenders: Caroline Wozniacki has gone out in the third-round, first-round and first-round in her last three Grand Slams, respectively. This is a woman that finished the last two seasons as the World No. 1.  She’s dropped to No. 11 this week, and there looks to be no end in sight to her freefall. Li Na didn’t make a single Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2012, and at 30 years of age, her days in the top ten appear to be numbered as well.

6. Arrivals: 18-year-old Brit Laura Robson reached the fourth-round in New York by taking out former defending champions Kim Clijsters and Li Na in the second and third rounds. In the fourth round she saved eight match points against Sam Stosur before finally bowing out 6-4, 6-4. More importantly, Robson’s big serving, destructive forehand and greatly improved movement and fitness were on full display during each of her matches. Under the tutelage of disciplinarian Zeljko Krajan, expect Robson’s game to continue to blossom in the upcoming months.

American Sloane Stephens, another teenager with a diverse skillset that features oodles of power and finesse, cracked the top 40 with her third-round appearance in New York. In spite of all the success that Christina McHale has had for the American women, Stephens seems a safer bet to crack the top ten first.

7. Departures: It was short and sweet, but tennis fans should be thankful that they got to  witness Kim Clijsters’ heartwarming and wildly successful second career. The Belgian left the game in 2007 with one Grand Slam and zero offspring to her name. After a 27-month retirement and a three-year-long second career as a mother, she’ll leave as a first-ballot Hall of Famer with Four Grand Slams and the respect and adoration of millions. She’s gone at 29 — and this time for good — but thanks to the fairy-tale nature of her second career, she will never, ever be forgotten.

8. Five Questions to ponder:

(1) Is Francesca Schiavone on the verge of retirement, or does the Italian just need to get her head straight?

(2) Did Victoria Azarenka choke in the final four games of yesterday’s final, and if so, will the experience help or hurt her going forward?

(3) Did Agnieszka Radwanska hit her peak in 2012, or is there room for improvement in her game?

(4) Who will have a better career when all is said and done: Petra Kvitova or Victoria Azarenka? 5. Venus Williams is ranked No. 41 in the world this week. Can she reach the top 10 again?

9. By the Numbers:

13: Years between Serena Williams first U.S. Open title in 1999 and her most recent title in 2012, which surpasses the previous best of 11 years, shared by Margaret Court and Molla Mallory.

12: Number of consecutive three-set matches won by Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova before their streaks ended at the U.S. Open.

1: Number of women who have won both the U.S. Open Girls’ title and the U.S. Open Women’s title. Victoria Azarenka, who won the Girls’ title in 2005, was trying to join Lindsay Davenport, who won the Girls’ title in 1992 and the Women’s title in 1998.

125: Fastest serve of the U.S. Open, smashed by Serena Williams.

10. Miscellaneous: Sara Errani became the World No. 1 doubles player today, one day after winning her second Grand Slam of the year with her partner and best friend Roberta Vinci… Ana Ivanovic and  Marion Bartoli each reached their first career U.S. Open quarterfinals last week. Bartoli climbs to No. 10 in the rankings this week, and Ivanovic climbs to No. 12… Steffi Graf defeated Monica Seles in the last three-set U.S. Open final in 1995… At 30 years and 11 months, Serena Williams became the second-oldest U.S. Open champion of the Open Era, behind Margaret Court, who was 31 years and 1 month old when she won in 1973… Victoria Azarenka failed in her bid to become the fourth top seed to win the U.S. Open since 1997. Only Martina Hingis (‘97), Serena Williams (‘02) and Justine Henin (‘07) have won as top seed since 1997.

Chris Oddo is a San Francisco-based freelance tennis writer who fell in love with tennis the first time he saw Martina Navratilova serve and volley. His work has been published in Tennis.com, USA today, SI.com and various other tennis publications.

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