Djokovic notches fourth straight win over Nadal, looks toward Paris
Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal (again) to extend his streak of 37 straight wins
Maria Sharapova captured the Italian Open title with a victory over Sam Stosur
The epic post-Aussie slumps of Andy Murray and Li Na appear to have subsided
1. Next stop, Paris? The Novak Djokovic World Domination Tour rolled on in Rome. Djokovic kept his 2011 unbeaten streak alive, taking the title with the same formula that's served him so well lately: combine weakness-free tennis with graceful movement, clutch serving and garnish with impeccable fitness. In Sunday's he bullied the bully once again, pinning Rafael Nadal behind the baseline, running him side to side like a sadistic puppeteer and serving well when the situation called for it. And, again, this was on clay!
Think about the past five or so years in men's tennis: we've seen a pair of players each win three majors in a year, engage in a gripping rivalry, and make claims as the Greatest Of All Time. Now comes a third player, who has gone six months without a defeat? A few holdout cynics note that a lot of players have won one Slam in a row, and that unless Djokovic wins the French Open, this will be footnote. Leaving apart the obvious question -- after beating Nadal in two clay tune-ups is Djoker not the favorite at Roland Garros? -- regardless of what happens in Paris, this is one the great streaks of play in the sport's history. One last word on Djokovic: look for a lengthy profile on him in this week's Sports Illustrated.
2. Monster Masha. With every passing event, there is hope that order will somehow emerge from the WTA chaos. Maria Sharapova once likened her grace on clay to a "cow on ice" but there was no such suggestion last week as she rolled to the "hers" title in Rome, beating top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and then Sam Stosur in the final. With the Williams sisters both unavailable and Kim Clijsters less than fully healthy, the field is still wide open. And given her play last week, Sharapova is on the short list of contenders. Added motivation: Were she to win in Paris, she would complete the Career Slam.
3. Ebb and Flow. Players' results, necessarily, waver. It's the nature of sport. But it's seldom fun seeing the wheels come completely off a players' game. It can almost voyeuristic to watch severe struggles. After reaching the Australian Open final earlier this year, both Andy Murray and Li Na all but forgot how to hold a racket. Murray lost early and often, including to players ranked outside the top 100. Same for Li who openly admitted that she was suffering from a crisis of confidence and then replaced her husband as coach with Denmark's Michael Mortensen. Mericfully both slumps appear, finally, to have ended. Murray reached the Rome semis and came within a few points of beating Djokovic in one of the better matches of 2011. For the second straight week, Li reached the semifinals of a WTA event.