Back up north, I played this one clay-court tournament a lot. Because there were never many women in the singles draw, all I basically had to do was win one match before I came up against the top seed. Let's call her Emma, because that was her name. Anyway, she was a pretty big girl, a lefty. So we're playing and I send yet another cream puff across the net and the next thing I saw was her closing in and unfurling into this forehand she hits for a winner past me. This image is forever stamped into my brain because it kind of scared me a little bit. Maybe it was her sheer size and that she was moving toward me, or maybe it was the knowledge that I couldn't do that. Now, I have played, and still play, against big dudes who hit ground strokes right at my face at the net and are imposing in other ways and generally nothing scares me. I don't know what it was about that forehand, but it was the only time I felt like a deer in headlights on a tennis court.
I only mention this because I can imagine it's how Svetlana Kuznetsova felt this weekend playing in the Miami Open final against Victoria Azarenka. I mean, good god. It's pretty safe to say she's back to pre-injury form and then some. I certainly expected Azarenka to come back and pick up immediately where she left off when she returned from that long layoff last year. But it took her a while to rediscover her confidence, but obviously, she has. It's great for the game. I'm gonna whisper this because I don't want to offend anyone, but she's a ... a better all-around player than Serena Williams. Better ball striker, better variety, better tactics. Movement? Push. Even if you don't agree with that assessment, you have to agree that it's about time that a strong and consistent foil to Serena emerged. There have to be contenders to make the game interesting (not totally sold on Angelique Kerber. Does she ever play only two sets? Why does everything have to take forever with her?), and Azarenka looks like she's gonna settle in to that role well.
Speaking of making the game interesting, a brief word about Novak Djokovic. To borrow a term from a longtime womens tennis sponsor (which I'm sure he'd love), he's come a long way, baby. Like, I still remember when he was pulling out of matches left and right and everyone was calling him soft. Now he is the undisputed king of mens tennis. Everybody's getting caught in the buzz saw, including Kei Nishikori this weekend in the Miami final. And this is someone who is thought to be a major contender. Oy. These men need to step up their game against Novak, or they'll be up for a pay cut.