Sunday, September 24, 2023

There is no trophy like redemption

For two consecutive weeks, the WTA Tour has featured the kind of drama we don't get to see that often: Two top players--one stuck in a double slump, and one stuck in something much worse--won big titles, just when they most needed to win them.

2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova started the year in fine fashion. She won the tournament in Dubai, once again serving as Iga Swiatek's kryptonite in the final. But in both singles and doubles (she was an elite doubles player long before her breakout in singles), the Czech star faded away as the season progressed. Krejcikova and long-time partner Katerina Siniakova won both the Australian Open and Indian Wells, and it was fair to think that they were on track to win the Grand Slam that had just eluded them in 2022 when they had to miss the French Open because Krejcikova was ill. 

But they stopped winning, and they made early exits in the remaining majors. This dramatic fall in both singles and doubles was mysterious and somewhat disturbing. But no worries--Krejcikova showed up on the hard courts of San Diego and took home both of the trophies. She defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia, Danielle Collins and Sofia Kenin, and she and Siniakova won their third title of the season.

This past week, the beautiful Guadalajara tournament, a 1000 event, became somewhat controversial when several top players withdrew. The tournament was moved to a post-U.S. Open, pre-Asian swing slot, and those top players made it clear that this change was undesirable. But it was nevertheless an excellent tournament, and it featured memorable performances from Martina Trevisan and Caroline Dolehide.

And not all of the tour's top players stayed home--Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia, Madison Keys, and Alona Ostapenko were all there, as were Vika Azarenka and Sofia Kenin. Sakkari, the 2022 runner-up, has rock star status in Guadalajara--the crowd adores her. And she probably really needed them this year. The Greek player last won a tournament in 2019, and since then, she had lost six finals. Add to that the fact that she reached the third round at this year's Australian Open, and went out in the first round at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

But in her beloved Guadaljara, Maria Sakkari prevailed, defeating the likes of Camila Giorgi, Caroline Garcia and breakout star Dolehide. 

At one point during her emotional trophy acceptance speech, Sakkari had to pause because the crowed was screaming "Maria! Maria! Maria!" so loudly. And while the Sak bun deserves to be on display as much as possible, it had to feel good to be able to conceal it under a flashy sombrero as a mariachi band played its beautiful, spirited music for the new champion.

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