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Quelle Surprise: Rezai Ambushes Venus in Madrid Final

For the second consecutive week, an unseeded player rules at a premier clay event.  In the finals of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai stunned world number three Venus Williams.  Rezai prevailed 6-2, 7-5 over Williams to capture the grandest title of her blooming career.

After breezing through her initial game, at 1 all, Venus made an error on game point leading to deuce.  Later, by sending a forehand out of play, Venus gave Rezai a second break point.  When Williams netted a backhand, Rezai took a 2-1 lead.  Subsequent to a double fault, Rezai provoked four straight miscues from Williams and consolidated for 3-1.  Then, with Venus serving at 2-4, she produced her second double fault of the game to hand Aravane double break point.  With a crosscourt forehand return winner, Rezai extended her lead to 5-2.  Thereafter, with a love game, Rezai grabbed the first set.

The previous set, Rezai won 100% of her first serve points.  If Williams intended to turn this match around, she would need the Frenchwoman to cool off.  After Venus held, in a game that included a double fault, Rezai had a backhand go long permitting Williams her initial break chance of the match.  With an ace, the Frenchwoman erased that deficit.  By converting a forehand crosscourt winner, Williams had a fourth break point opportunity.  Venus cashed in when Aravane’s backhand crosscourt misfired.  However, the next game, a lack of first serves allowed Rezai to break back.  Subsequently, a backhand up the winner handed Venus another break point.  Williams took a 3-1 edge when Rezai’s forehand traveled long.

Despite dealing with a break point, Williams consolidated for 4-1.  Soon, Venus had two chances to get a double break lead, yet, Rezai hung tough to keep the margin to one break.  Serving at 2-5, with an error, Rezai gifted Williams her first set point. Once more, the Frenchwoman goaded the miscues from her opponent to remain in the set. With a string of mistakes by Venus, Aravane manufactured two break points and by connecting on a forehand down the line winner got back on serve at 4-5.  Following, Rezai wiped out five additional set points by Williams to level things at 5 all.  That ultimate game proved a back breaker for Williams.  After a backhand pass winner by Rezai, Williams made two backhand errors to face 0-40.  With another backhand miscue by Venus, Rezai secured a 6-5 advantage.  As the backhand continued to leak, Rezai obtained double championship point.  Finally, by provoking a forehand mistake by Williams, Rezai pocketed the trophy.

Arriving in Madrid with a 12-11 mark, Rezai was probably no one’s pick to make it to the finals.  However, after the initial round where she took out Justine Henin, Rezai began to raise eyebrows.  Then, in the quarterfinals, Rezai dismissed Jelena Jankovic, evidence again that her play was not an aberration.  In 2007 Rezai and Williams met twice, splitting their two encounters.  As the seasoned veteran, all the pressure was on Venus.  Undoubtedly, this freed Aravane resulting in her third professional trophy. Rezai will now re-enter the top 20.

Despite failing to claim her 10th clay court title, Venus has a lot to celebrate.  On Monday, she returns to the number two ranking her highest since 2003.  For the first time in seven years, the Williams sisters will hold the top two ranking spots.  Moreover, yesterday, Serena and Venus beat Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 7-5 in the doubles finals to pocket their 18th doubles title together.  The Williams sisters will move up a notch to the number two in doubles. With Cara Black and Liezel Huber having parted ways, Venus and Serena have a legitimate shot at the number one in doubles.

When this tournament began, there were 16 seeds.  Serena Williams was ousted in the third round.  Dinara Safina, the defending champion, and Caroline Wozniacki, 2009 finalist, went out in the first and second rounds respectively.  In the semifinals, Venus was the sole surviving seed.  With the French Open kicking off in seven days, these clay court results crystallize that there is no outright favorite.  Granted, the majors are different from the regular WTA tournaments.  Still, it would not be shocking if a sleeper ends up hoisting the trophy at Roland Garros.

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