FROM THE ROGERS CUP TORONTO –She keeps winning, that irrepressible Serena Williams, and outside of her two somewhat stunning losses to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open and to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon, as well as her respectable loss to her biggest rival, Victoria Azarenka in the final of Doha, she has been pretty much untouchable the rest of the season.
In fact, since she lost to Angelique Kerber at 2012 Cincinnati (a full calendar year), she has compiled a 68-3 record and won 11 titles. Poor Sorana Cirstea didn’t stand much of chance in the final as Williams started strong and raced to the finish in a 6-2 6-0 victory to take her third Rogers Cup crown. Serena served bigger, she returned more accurately, beat her off the backhand side and for the most part off the forehand side.
Yes, as Cirstea said. the match was a bit closer than the scores indicated, but it really was not that close overall and after Williams broke Cirstea to 5-2 in the first when the Romanian parked a backhand, the contest was all but done. Serena coolly controlled the action, didn’t stress and was keenly focused. She asked Cirstea to try and play at her level and there was no way that the Romanian would be able to on a day when Serena was feeling better after a bout with sickness on Saturday night in her win over Aga Radwanska. She knew that her foe does not have the weaponry to play with her yet.
Yes, Cirstea had a terrific week and has reach a career high No. 21 ranking, but she has only won seven games in six sets against Williams. The gap is clear and very wide.
“She knows when to raise her level,” the 23-year-old Cirstea said. “She knows when it’s enough to play and when she has to step it up.”
Serena goes out of her way to praise her opponents now – she is even over the top at times . The 31-year-old is almost like a mother hen, guiding her little chicks, telling them that the future is bright and there are better days ahead. That is what she did with Cirstea when the Romanian broke down in tears during the presentation ceremony. That is also what she did with Radwanska on Saturday night.
Of course it’s much easier to do when she’s winning, but she is a whole lot more comfortable in her own skin than she was say five years ago, and one can tell that she is becoming somewhat attracted to taking on a leadership role. Yes, she still hates to lose and cannot be easy to deal with inside the locker room after a defeat, but all the players respect her on court and a number of the players are growing to like her off court.
WTA attendance woes
The WTA could really use Serena to be a real leader, sort of like Roger Federer is with the men. The tour could use some help and fresh ideas because the reality is that after attending 21 straight days of matches, which means 42 different sessions (day and night) at women’s only events, it is crystal clear to me that attendance is problematic.
Of the 42 sessions at Stanford, Carlsbad and Toronto, I would say that seven were successful, meaning nearly sold out or sold out. That’s seven out of 42 for the women’s world’s leading sport, which is a troubling number indeed. Yes, Maria Sharapova did not play those three weeks so pretending that she did and went deep at two tournaments, you could generously say that another six sessions would have successful (and really, four is a more realistic number). Everyone else of note played at least one of those events.
Perhaps fans are too into their high-def TVs and computers now and would rather watch the WTA on a screen at home than attend in person, but anyone who has attended an tournament knows that watching the players up close and live is far more impressive and a much more well rounded experience than seeing them on a screen. At this point I would be seriously rethinking marketing strategies when it comes to ticket sales, such as two for one deal with a parent and kid, or something like that.
I’m not throwing this burden entirely on the WTA, because they have some smart and creative people on their staff. But the tournaments surely have to step up and rethink their strategies, too, because my up close and personal look when the stands were 20 % full did not yield a “Wow these marketing strategies are brilliant” all too often. Some kind of world conference on the future of pro tennis is long overdue.
I wonder who will step up and host one. Maybe Serena in her expansive Bel Air haunts?