Best of Three: Serena dominant in Charleston; U.S. improving on clay
Serena Williams lost just four games in her final three matches in Charleston
John Isner led the U.S. to another Davis Cup upset on clay; Spain looms in semis
The Davis Cup may have a broken format, but it produces high quality tennis
1. Serena's turnaround: Last week, we scolded Serena Williams for losing to Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-4 and then sniffing that she played at 20 percent of her abilities. As it turns out, that assessment may have been accurate. Looking nothing like the player slow to start 2012 -- and who failed to win a major in 2011 -- Serena turned in a thoroughly dominating week in Charleston and won her 40th career title. In the final two rounds, she absolutely crushed her two opponents, Sam Stosur 6-1, 6-1 and Lucie Safarova 6-0, 6-1, sending an unmistakable warning shot to the eight players now ranked above her.
As Billie Jean King and the WTA's other pioneeresses gathered in town for a reunion, Serena gave them a vivid display of just how far the sport -- and by extension, women's sports -- has come. Let the record also reflect: Serena drew high marks for her comportment and sportsmanship. This image from last week says it all.
Leaving aside a discussion of behavior about image and sportsmanship, let's stick to the tennis. If she stays healthy and plays at anywhere near her Charleston level -- let's call it 100 percent -- at the last event of the claycourt swing, she will win the French One for the first time in a decade.
Reader Joe Johnson of Easton, Pa., summed it up nicely when he wrote: "I am back to loving Serena Williams again. At the Family Circle Cup, she was at her top in both her tennis game and her demeanor and vivaciousness. She has the best personality, and when her game is on and she has enough desire and confidence, she is as good as any player or champion in history."
2. U.S. Davis Cup: When the U.S. beat Roger and the Feder-aires (the Swiss team), on the road and on clay, it marked one of the bigger upsets in Davis Cup history. Now, the U.S. has done it again, beating France -- again on clay -- and, well, maybe this is less a question of a titanic upsets than a case of our needing to update our expectations:
1) The Americans have made strides on clay, and the surface is no longer Yankee quicksand.
2) John Isner may be 6-foot-9, but he is growing before our guys, realizing that he can beat anyone. His singular ability to dislodge opponents from their comfort zones is a huge asset. Isner didn't just beat a pair of quality top ten denizens; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon. He made it look routine.
3) Given that the Bryans seem like a virtual lock to win the doubles point -- note that Spain has just two doubles wins since the start of 2011 -- how big an underdog can the Americans be when they only need to split the singles matches?
4) The frequency of captain changes belies the fact that the right leader can make a difference. The Americans' results are a ringing endorsement for Jim Courier's management style.
The Americans' reward for winning again? Another overseas tie, surely on clay, against Spain, the dominant team of the last decade. Which is to say, the Americans might have 'em right where they want 'em.
3. Davis Cup Drama: As usual, the other Davis Cup clashes generated some fine tennis and finer drama. Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic and the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek had a tense moment after their epic match Friday. Tipsarevic won 9-7 in the fifth set, but absent Novak Djokovic, the Serbs lost. Argentina beat Croatia 4-1, in a tie that included a match featuring more than 240 combined unforced errors between Marin Cilic and David Nalbandian. Rafael Nadal may not have played, but with David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro leading the charge, Spain breezed past Austria.
We can debate the schedule and format and the dwindling relevance, but Davis Cup -- and its overlay of individual and team -- consistently serves up some the best and dramatic tennis.
• The struggling Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova won the Family Circle Cup doubles.
• Mitchell Krueger, 18, and Allie Kiick, 16 won the USTA International Spring Championships at the Home Depot Center.
• Remember this kid from the Agassi Genworth Financial commercial? He's now 13 and winning rounds at USTA 16 events.