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Rampant Rafa and vibrant Venus light up US Open… and even broken-hearted Sabine is smiling again!  

Locker Room

August 27, 2013

What a year for Rafa Nadal! At the start of 2013 we wondered if he would ever be able to recapture his best. Less than nine months later, many are expecting him to become world number one.
Can Novak Djokovic stop him in New York? We’ll find out soon enough.

Rafa’s 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 first-round victory over Ryan Harrison at the US Open was so fierce that even seasoned observers were struggling to remember a time when he looked in better shape.

With the exception of that shocking first-round defeat at Wimbledon, rejuvenated Rafa has gone from strength to strength. He has won twenty-eight service games in a row and sixteen hard court matches on the bounce. That’s on top of all the clay court success he enjoyed earlier in the year, remember.

How has he done it, after six months out with that career-threatening knee injury in 2012? The simple one-word answer is: hunger.

Nadal is displaying an insatiable appetite for victory – almost as though he has never won anything before. After beating Harrison, he talked about the pre-match nerves he had been feeling – and he welcomed them.

Tennis still excites Nadal as much as any man alive – perhaps more. That’s what an extended break can do for you. His rivals can’t match that hunger – because they haven’t recently feared they might never play again. The new lease of life has brought a stunning array of shots, dispatched with a vigour and venom which leaves him almost unplayable.

So let’s enjoy the ride with Rafa and see if his amazing comeback year puts him back on top of the world by the end of the fortnight. That’s way ahead of schedule. But with Rafa so rampant, anything is possible.

Even her vibrant floral dress didn’t light up Flushing Meadow quite as much as the tennis Venus Williams produced on Day One. She disposed of number twelve seed Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 to roll back the years. People called it a shock. That’s how far Venus had slipped in the world rankings – all the way back to sixty.

It’s great to see her mobility and power tearing opponents apart again. As with Rafa, we wondered if maybe we’d just have to make do with memories of Venus at her best. Now she too is serving up a treat.

Between them, the Williams sisters dropped just four games, because Serena destroyed Francesca Schiavone 6-0, 6-1. Again, this riot of Williams brilliance is something to savour and enjoy.

What of the Wimbledon women finalists? Marion Bartoli is commentating in New York, having announced her retirement a few weeks ago. She has already refused to rule out a comeback – though there’s nothing like ending on a high.

So let’s finish by welcoming the return of that famous Sabine Lisicki smile. She charmed Wimbledon then dissolved into tears as she fell apart in the final against Bartoli. Lisicki’s first-round US Open victory, 6-2, 7-6 over Vera Dusheniva was an encouraging return to form. It took a rogue squirrel, which did its best to interrupt her match, to bring the radiant smile back, though. Well done the squirrel!

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