Marissa and I spent a good 45 minutes debating an interesting question: Who's the "better" competitor: Serena or Masha. We both agreed that they were far and away the best two (we struggled to come up with a "top five") but in the end, we were at an impasse, primarily because we each defined "better competitor" differently. For my money, I say Maria, primarily because I think that if you put her in a parking lot and made her play a playground match for $5, she would still kill herself for it. Marissa's point (oversimplified for the purposes of this point) was that if you had to pick a player who could find a way to win while not playing their best, you have to go with Serena. I think we both agreed with each other's propositions, but we disagreed over which was "better". Either way, it helped us get through what was a frigid night in Stanford as we watched what was, we debated, one of the best WTA matches of the year.
It obviously wasn't a perfect match. Both players struggled with their serves. But once the ball was in play it was ridiculously heavy, hard hitting, with both players showing that they could track down balls and get them back with angle and interest. It was a fun match to watch and I was really happy to see my Twitter feed blow up with complimentary things to say about both players. Remember, this was only Elena's second match since retiring in RG and only Maria's third match since losing to Serena at Wimbledon. Given the circumstances, this was a high-quality match that was worthy of a final.
In the end it was Masha on top, as I expected. Elena played great off the ground but her serve, as always, was too bit a liability to overcome. Masha always had a shot at breaking, taking advantage of short serves and absolutely pummeling some returns. After the match she said it took her a while to warm up and swing through the ball. Could have fooled me. She seemed to take a hack every chance she got. The quote that kept running through my head was from Spinal Tap: "But it goes to 11."
It wasn't until we got back to the press room and started reading the blogger coverage of the match that we learned that there was some controversy surrounding the ESPN court mics picking up some coaching from Mike. I guess they overheard him in the box telling Maria to serve to Demmy's backhand. I haven't seen the ESPN coverage yet so I can't really comment but for me personally, at the end of the day, I don't really care. I don't have a problem with on-court coaching and I don't have a problem with sideline coaching either. If it means we get more high quality matches, so be it. But I'm sure people disagree.
But a great win for Masha, who picks up her first Top 40 win and Top 10 win of the season. To me she's virtually booked herself into the final as she's facing Aga in the semis, a match I expect her to win easily. She's playing and competing well and she can only get better.
Watch out, world. She's back and she's relevant again.