By Megan Fernandez
MASON, Ohio – Even in defeat, Novak Djokovic remained the center of attention on Sunday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Citing a shoulder injury, the world number-one retired from the final against Andy Murray with the Brit leading 6-3, 3-0, ending Djokovicâ€™s 16-match winning streak since the French Open and his perfect record on hard courts in 2011.
Rain clouds were overhead and thunder had just rumbled when Djokovic forfeited. The court was soaking wet within minutes of the retirement. Djokovic said the rain delay wouldnâ€™t have helped him continue the match. â€œI could have maybe played another couple of games, but what for? I cannot beat a player like Murray today with one stroke,â€ he said, adding that the shoulder pain started 10 days ago and was affecting his serve and forehand in the final. He had yet to have an MRI.
Questions focused on Djokovicâ€™s chance to continue his dominating year at the US Open. â€œThere is a week, eight days to the start of the US Open.Â So I think thatâ€™s enough time for me to get ready,â€ the Serb said.
Djokovicâ€™s serve averaged over 90 mph, and Murray noticed that his opponent was struggling. The champ was subdued after the match. â€œI would have obviously liked to have won by finishing the match, but it happens sometimes,â€ said the number-four seed, who picked up his second title in Cincinnati with Sundayâ€™s win (in 2008, he also defeated Djokovic in the final).
Of the top four men, Murray received the littlest hype throughout the tournament. He was the only past champion and top-four menâ€™s seed relegated on the show courts outside Center Court, including the third-largest court, and his was the only quarterfinal not played on the main stage. Yet he swept through the draw without dropping a set and improved to an impressive 7-1 in Masters 1000 finals in his career. He can overtake Roger Federer for the world number-three ranking if he wins the US Open and Federer fails to reach the final.
Djokovic advanced to the finals after Thomas Berdych retired from their semifinal match on Friday, also citing a right-shoulder issue.
Injuries, or â€œniggles,â€ as Murray called them, delt a blow to the womenâ€™s draw mid-week. Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka withdrew from their matches on Wednesday. When top seed Caroline Wozniacki lost on the same day, Maria Sharapova became the favorite to win her first title in Cincinnati. A finalist in her debut at the event last year, she wobbled throughout the match against number-13 seed Jelena Jankovicâ€”in a battle of former world No. 1s– before reigning in her errors at the end long enough to seal a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory.
Sharapova, the number-four seed like Murray, blew a 4-1 lead in the first set and struggled to stay with Jankovic in the second. In the tiebreak, she managed to win five straight points to send the match to a third set. Neither woman held serve for the first six games, ending up with a combined 33 break points by the end of the match and 16 breaks of serve.
â€œIn the end, it could have gone either way,â€ Sharapova said. â€œFelt like one of us played a few good points and then the other one, and the levels were up and down throughout the match. So, yeah, Iâ€™m just fortunate that at the end of the day Iâ€™m the winner.â€ It was Sharapovaâ€™s second title this year, putting her in the lead of the 2011 points race.
Jankovic pulled the biggest surprise of the tournament by reaching the final as the number-13 seed. She strung together five wins for the first time since the 2010 French Open. She counted herself among the surprised. â€œIf somebody told me I was going to play a final here, you know, I would right away sign the paper because I lost in the first round in Toronto the week before and haven’t played matches since Wimbledon,â€ she said.
Shortly after the womenâ€™s match, Serbiaâ€™s third chance for a title in Cincinnati disappeared when Nenad Zimonjic and Michael Llodraâ€”despite being the number-four seeds– lost the menâ€™s doubles final to Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2). In womenâ€™s doubles, third-seeded Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova defeated the unseeded team of Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova 6-4, 3-6, 11-9.