Serena snatches tennis headlines again

Javier Soriano/AFP/GettyImages

Serena Williams is 13-0 on clay this year, including last weekend's win in Madrid.

Do Serena Williams' back-to-back wins against Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka say more about Serena's most recent comeback or Azarenka's recent struggles?

Williams -- at her best -- is unbeatable

By Jane McManus

After listening to Serena Williams' musical track, which has hit the airwaves, it was especially good to see her win the Madrid Open this weekend. She is keeping the day job, and thankfully that day job is something she excels at like no other.

The fact is, no matter her opponent, Williams is nearly impossible to beat when she is playing her best. With 13 career singles Grand Slam championships, Williams isn't done yet. She beat Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka to win in Madrid.

Is it Williams' strength or a down week for the competition? I say when Williams is on, it really doesn't matter what anyone else does.

Trust the eye test, not the rankings

By Mechelle Voepel

Even at 30, Serena Williams is still the best player in women's tennis ... when she is healthy and fully engaged mentally and emotionally.

Williams has proved that numerous times over the years; this last week in Madrid was just another showcase for her idiosyncratic but brilliant career. Even on clay, a surface that isn't necessarily her favorite -- although Madrid's blue clay was harder and thus better suited to her -- Williams dominated No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 Maria Sharapova.

Williams is ranked No. 6 by a computer that mashes up numbers but doesn't have eyes to see her smashing serve -- it was as good as ever in Madrid, a towering weapon -- or her still-nimble court movement. Nor can it see how when Williams is on, she not only physically but mentally overpowers her opponents, and it's not even that close. The eye test tells you Williams remains at the peak of the pyramid.

For those who've criticized her for time she's taken off or the other business ventures that have interested her, it's easy to turn that argument on its head. Williams has dealt with serious health issues; she was limited to six tournaments in 2011. Illness and injury are out of her control, but she's rebounded from every setback.

As for her non-tennis pursuits, she might have burned out by now if she hadn't done those things. Instead, she still has those tournaments like this past week, when she's so sharp and fresh that you wonder how anybody ever beats her.

When she's been on top of her game, almost nobody has.

Serena's recent success ensures she is the story

By Graham Hays

Serena Williams is frequently the story when she doesn't win. She's sometimes the story when she doesn't even play. So she is definitely the bigger story after beating Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in back-to-back matches to win the title on the blue clay in Madrid.

A quick check of the odds for the upcoming French Open reveals Williams is the clear favorite ahead of Azarenka and Sharapova, the players who occupy the top two spots in the rankings and who have been the most consistent players on the circuit this year. No matter what the world rankings say -- and notwithstanding the fact she hasn't won a Grand Slam in nearly two calendar years -- we, the general sports public, still believe Williams is the best women's tennis player in the world when she wants to be.

Beating her top competition on a surface (be it blue or red) that has yielded just one of her 13 Grand Slam titles ensures that belief won't fade anytime soon. It ensures she remains the story any time she plays.

Short of duplicating the kind of season-for-the-ages effort Novak Djokovic put together last year, Azarenka was going to hit a lull or two after the torrid start that lifted her to No. 1. The margins of defeat against Williams in Madrid and Sharapova in Stuttgart two weeks ago might raise eyebrows, but can we wait until she's not still the most recent Grand Slam winner to fret about any imminent collapse?

Serena, swagger the story here

By Kate Fagan

This is all about Serena Williams. You don't blast through two top opponents in the same tournament unless your game is on point. These weren't back-and-forth wins Serena eked out, either. She forced the No. 1 player in the world to slam her racket to the clay in frustration. The match lasted 64 minutes! And at the end, Serena made it clear she'll be ready for the French Open, which she hasn't won in a decade. She told the press she wanted to "clear up a misconception." She does enjoy playing on clay. She likes it more than grass. So yeah, Serena has her swagger back. And it has nothing to do with what Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka aren't doing.

Watch out: Serena back on top of her game

By Amanda Rykoff

For the past dozen years, the story in women's tennis has been the same: There are the Williams sisters and there is everybody else. With both Williams sisters struggling in the past year due to illness and injury, challengers like Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka had a chance to stake their claim at the top of women's tennis. But now, Serena is back.

With Serena's convincing win at the Madrid Open over Azarenka this weekend, we're reminded of what we knew before she had all those health scares that made her vulnerable: When Serena is on her game, she is unbeatable. Azarenka has been struggling lately, but this win showed more about the woman who has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles than the Belarusian who is currently the top-ranked player in the world.

This isn't a knock on the top tennis players. But if we're being honest, we know Serena's devastating combination of overpowering serve and thunderous groundstrokes sets her apart from the others. When she's healthy and her head is in the game, she's a relentless tennis machine. Sharapova and Azarenka witnessed that firsthand this weekend in Madrid.

Look out WTA players. Serena's back to reclaim her rightful place as the queen of the court. She will have her crown.

Serena has put in the work to prep for big summer season

By Joanne C. Gerstner

The simple answer is: D, all of the above. Serena Williams looked very sure on the Smurfy-blue clay of Madrid, hitting freely and out-willing Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. It was the vintage Serena, the one who is simply magnetic and powerful.

Serena is 13-0 on clay this year and looks very comfortable. She toyed with Azarenka to take the final, which was surprising. I wasn't surprised about her beating Sharapova with ease, as a healthy Serena will always have more speed and athletic movement than the big-hitting Russian. Sharapova's power will never scare Serena, as she lives well with pace.

This win should tell the rest of the tour something. Serena is always at her best when she has something to shoot for. The upcoming London Olympics give her a strong incentive to get her fitness back and safeguard her body from injury. Serena's putting in the work off the court to get back to prime form, and she's looking good heading into the French Open and a big summer season.

As for Azarenka, I think it's too soon to read any downward trends into her play. She rolled easily in the Madrid semifinal, and looked strong and confident. She admitted she just didn't have it against Serena in the final, and one bad day can be excused. But Azarenka's cloak of invincibility is starting to show a few cracks. She was unstoppable to start the year, but recently has come back to earth a bit. She's still the best player, on average, this year on the tour. As Caroline Wozniacki can attest, though, nobody gives awards for consistently being the best player. It's winning the finals, especially the Grand Slams, that count. And that's where Serena is at her best.

Serena is back to dominant self

By Michelle Smith

Could there be anything more welcome in the world of women's tennis than Serena Williams on a roll?

Williams is 23-2 this season after dominating No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the blue-clay final of the Madrid Open on Sunday. She is 13-0 on clay this season with more on the way in Rome. And she won in Madrid by crushing the world's top two players.

Azarenka is 34-3 for the year with four titles, but can't seem to get over the hump against Serena, losing five in a row. Williams has also won seven straight matches against Maria Sharapova, whom she defeated in the semifinals.

And so Williams' comeback from the injuries that plagued her in 2011 is building momentum and the theory that Serena can be the game's most dominant player whenever she wants.

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