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The following night Djokovic and Murray—born within a week of each other in May 1987—battled for nearly five hours. Murray recently hired stoic Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Slam winner, as a coach, an attempt to add some ruthlessness; but ultimately he blinked first, and Djokovic prevailed 6--3, 3--6, 6--7, 6--1, 7--5. Afterward Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, wondered if he would ever again see his protégé win such a ferocious battle. Two days later he had his answer. "What these top guys are doing, where they are taking the sport," he says, "you almost can't imagine it."
If the men's game is an oligarchy, the women's game has been a study in anarchy. So many players have won majors only to vaporize at the next event; meanwhile, the top-ranked player, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, achieved her status despite never having won a Grand Slam final. This tournament may finally mark the formation of a new ruling class. When Wozniacki lost in the quarterfinals, she was evicted from the top spot. And the soon-to-be No. 1, Victoria Azarenka, immediately showed her bona fides.
For the first six rounds Azarenka, 22, blazed through the draw, marrying authoritative ball striking with deft defense. She gained more attention, though, for her accompanying sound track. Punctuating each shot with a noise resembling a stuck pig in labor, Azarenka is a charter member of what a Sydney Morning Herald columnist called "the deci-belles," the raft of players who grunt, shriek and utter other sounds—wail tones, as it were. Australia's Channel 7 went so far as to create a grunt-o-meter that likened various player emissions to lawn mowers, blenders and low-flying airplanes. By the time Azarenka faced the comparably voluble Maria Sharapova in the final, the WTA had vowed, belatedly, to address the issue of noise pollution.
Last Saturday night, though, Azarenka made her loudest noise when she announced herself as a champion. Showing auspicious poise for a player competing in her first major final, she didn't merely meet the moment; she kicked its Az. After a shaky beginning Vika seized 12 of the last 13 games, winning 6--3, 6--0. "There was so much at stake," she said, "I told myself there's no way I'm going to lose, no way."
A native of Belarus, Azarenka left Minsk at 14 to train in Scottsdale, Ariz., living at the home of family friend Nikolai Khabibulin, an NHL goalie. She turned pro that same year, and though she rose steadily over the next nine years, she was regarded as a slugger, long on power and short on temper. She claimed that her moment of reckoning came last year when her grandmother—an indefatigable woman living a sparse existence in Eastern Europe—scolded Azarenka for lacking perspective. Chastened, she improved her attitude. "I appreciate the challenges," she says. "And if expectations are higher now, great. I'm still hungry!"
To traffic in understatement, so is Djokovic. Once a bystander to the Federer-Nadal rivalry, he has won four of the last five major titles. He's also the clear-cut No. 1 at a time when the men's game has never been stronger, and his aura of invincibility only intensified after last weekend. It seemed unreasonable to expect him to replicate the standard he set last year. Now? At the French Open he'll try to win his fourth straight major, already christened the Djoker's Slam.
But that was hardly top of mind when he emerged from the locker room well after 2:30 a.m., greeted by a throng of admirers that included former NBA center Vlade Divac, now president of the Serbian Olympic Committee. Djokovic radiated both joy and exhaustion. Yes, he enjoyed the struggle on court. But, damn, was he tired. "I'm going to need a massage tomorrow," he said, "and so is Rafa."
See, One-Percenters really can be job creators.