February 8, 2009

Following Through and Fighting Back

Most of the world's top tennis players took the week off after a grueling Australian Open. But there was still plenty of action all over the world, and some players who'd struggled in Melbourne were eager to prove their doubters wrong, while others wanted to show their success was not a fluke.

The Movistar Open in Chile boasted home-grown Fernando Gonzalez as its top seed. He'd eliminated Lleyton Hewitt early at the year's first major, but was taken through five excruciating sets in the third round with France's Richard Gasquet. After four hours on the court, he was no match for Rafael Nadal in his next game. But playing on his own soil was certainly an asset for him -- he made it to the finals without losing a set.

Vina del Mar had in fact attracted a slew of locals -- eleven Argentinos including Juan Monaco and Agustin Calleri, as well as players from Uruaguay, Brazil and Ecuador, in the twenty-eight player draw -- so it shouldn't be surprising that two South Americans, Gonzalez and Davis Cup finalist Jose Acasuso, were the ones playing for the title. In his first tournament since October, Jose made his way to the championship match dropping only one set in his upset of Tommy Robredo.

The two, who play later tonight, have played nine times before, with Gonzalez holding a 7-2 lead. But Acasuso did win their latest matchup in Canada last year. Whoever the winner, he will hold bragging rights on the continent for some time.

The top seed in Croatia didn't fare quite as well. Igor Andreev lost in his first round to Ivan Dodig who, prior to this week, had never won a match as a pro. He posted another win over Ernests Gulbis before losing to countryman Mario Ancic, who'd once been ranked as high as seventh in the world. Ancic, now #29, had made it past Ivo Karlovic in Australia before losing to a super-hot Gilles Simon in the third round and was looking for his first trophy since 2006 in Zagreb.

On the bottom half of the draw, fellow Croat Marin Cilic wanted to follow up on his fourth round appearance Down Under, where he had given Juan Martin Del Potro a run for his money. In his homeland Cilic made the most of his #2 seed and worked his way to the finals without dropping a set and downed Ancic in just over ninety minutes.

But it was in Johannesburg where the highest-ranked players were at work this week. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was trying to improve on his quarterfinal appearance last month -- though he'd advanced as far as his seed suggested he should, he was, in my opinion, unfairly punished for losing to Fernando Verdasco, and slipped from #7 to #14. In South Africa he was in a draw that included Marcos Baghdatis, whose upsets of Robin Soderling and Mardy Fish helped him climb twelve spots, Jeremy Chardy, who'd made it to the quarters in Sydney, and second-seeded David Ferrer, who still hasn't been able to regain his stride -- he'd lost to Cilic in the third round in Melbourne.

Marcos was the first to fall -- to Ferrer in the third round. But David subsequently dropped to Chardy, who earned his first career final. Tsonga, on the top half of the bracket, happily only faced one seeded player on his way to the title match, Belgium's Kristof Vliegen who isn't even ranked in the top hundred. Jeremy certainly showed his mettle during the nearly two-hour match, only losing his serve once. But that was all Tsonga needed -- with a 7-5 score in the second-set tiebreak, he won his third ATP title, and hopefully pushed himself back into the top ten.

Next week the top players are back in action -- Tsonga could face both Nadal and Andy Murray in Rotterdam while Andy Roddick tries to defend his title in San Jose among a field that includes Del Potro, James Blake and Mardy Fish. And you can be sure the action will be worth watching!

See you out there!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

And in less than an hour Fernando Gonzalez won his fourth title in Vina del Mar, downing Jose Acasuso 6-1, 6-3 -- one more straight-set victory. That gives him eleven ATP titles and another 250 ranking points.

He'll be off next week, while Acasuso heads to Brazil to improve his own standing.

Congrats, Fernando!