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Tales of two newly minted champions

8/3/2009

Shortly after nailing up a tough and gritty three-set upset of heavily favored Venus Williams in the Stanford final on Sunday, WTA outlier Marion Bartoli said: "It was the best effort I ever gave on court."

Far down the freeway in Los Angeles, Sam Querrey played in his third consecutive final, and this time he won it, snatching the Los Angeles title from a Cinderella-story qualifier, Carsten Ball. That, too, was a three-setter, and the way Querrey pulled out, and capped a run that brings his record this month to 13-2, suggests that he might be turning a corner himself in the effort-giving, mental toughness, why-not-me department.

These two newly minted champions are among the more complex personalities on the tour, and with the tour fragmented (the post-Wimbledon clay-court circuit in Europe is not just still alive, it's growing stronger by the year) each of them had a chance to make a much-needed statement.

Bartoli is not just complex, she's baffling, which isn't such a big deal for a sensitive 24-year old -- unless she happens to be pro tennis player and a former Wimbledon finalist. But since reaching that final in 2007, this daughter of a chess-playing doctor and a singing nurse (that is, she enjoys singing, which is an odd bit the WTA media guide felt compelled to note) has compiled a peak-and-valley record.

On a good day, Bartoli's DIY (do-it-yourself) game can shock spectators with its clever geometry and, well, chess-like qualities. On a bad day, you're more likely to wonder, "How does this girl survive on the tour?" To which the only sensible answer is, "Come back another day and all will be clear." This suggests that emotions play a larger role in her game; when she's feeling good about herself, and life in general, she's the kind of player who, like her countryman Fabrice Santoro, demonstrates that there's still plenty of room in tennis for the eccentric and unconventional.

Nothing about Querrey, who's still just 21, is unconventional -- not the big serve (he's a raw-boned, 6-foot-6 Californian -- a breed that knows a thing our two about raining down thunder), not the laid-back attitude that has kept Querrey from getting overly stressed about his rate of progress (or lack thereof). We've gotten accustomed to hearing Querrey say he feels no pressure to make a breakthrough, despite the extent to which his fellow Americans are dying for a savior.

At times, though, that admission makes people around him want to cough and say something like, "Sure, but it's not like you've got an entire lifetime to get good at this game."

Sunday's result adds to the mounting evidence that Querrey is indeed getting good at this game, which is good news for U.S. tennis at a time when our best shot -- Andy Roddick excepted -- lies with the Williams sisters, who have a way of leaving us twisting in the wind as often as falling on our knees to thank the gods for their fabulous play.

Venus very candidly said of her performance in the final: "I just couldn't find my game. I was fighting a lot against myself and her. I couldn't find the court. Ultimately I just ran out of time."

The takeaway: Venus ran out of time, not desire, determination or interest. Given that Bartoli overcame two match points to bounce Jelena Jankovic in the quarters and eliminated a strong player, Sam Stosur, in the semis, Venus' loss can't be termed catastrophic, and she's enough of a veteran not to read too much into it.

Querrey is now nicely positioned for the two big hard-court Masters events (Montreal and Cincinnati), and Williams' week in Stanford suggests that she, too, is in good fighting trim.

As for Bartoli, who knows what tomorrow will bring?