March 17, 2009

The Door Squeaks Open

One little break here and there and suddenly a whole mess of opportunities are available.

That's exactly what seems to be happening in the women's draw at Indian Wells this year as both Serena and Venus Williams sat out the tournament and Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva were eliminated in their first matches. And that's allowed some of their biggest opponents to breathe a sign of relief as they try to advance deep within the bracket. With Serena missing Dinara Safina took the top seed at the BNP Paribas Open, and the Australian Open runner-up has made her way smoothly into the quarterfinals. But others may feel a little luckier with their fortunes so far.

Israel's Shahar Peer has made headlines recently, but less for her play than for her politics -- though she'd made it to the quarterfinals in Pattaya City, she'd suffered three first round exits this year. But in Indian Wells she dropped only three games to Katerina Bondarenko and followed that win up by beating Marion Bartoli and Anna Chakvetadze, both seeded players. Though she lost to teenager Victoria Azarenka earlier today, she certainly made her case in California.

Ana Ivanovic plays her fourth round match later tonight and faces Acapulco finalist Flavia Pennetta. The defending French Open champion hasn't quite had the success she may have hoped for in 2009 -- she's only played three tournaments this year and hasn't yet put together three wins in a row. But she seems to be playing well this week and hasn't lost a set yet in Indian Wells. Ana's only played Pennetta once before in their careers, defeating the Italian last year in Linz, so she may not have the best read on her opponent, but another win could put her on track as she looks to repeat in Paris.

Aggie Radwanska has had a similarly spotty start, and she's also looking to make a comeback in California. After finishing 2008 with a career-high #10 ranking, I'd hoped the Polish phenom could really shine in the new year -- but she'd lost in the first round in Melbourne, the first round in Monterrey and the first round in Dubai -- to her younger, qualifier sister, Urszula. In Indian Wells, Aggie has the chance to one-up her sibling, who lost earlier today to Caroline Wozniacki, if she can make it past twenty-second seed Agnes Szavay. She's already made it past a strong Samantha Stosur and Aleksandra Wozniack, and I'm sure she'd be happy with another "W" by her name.

Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova is also looking to rebound this week. Though she's been ranked as high as #5 in the world, more recently she's been hanging out somewhere in the bottom half of the top fifty -- losses to Sara Errani, Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano haven't helped. Her way to the round of sixteen was cleared by Dementieva's loss, as Daniela was able to capitalize on an easier matchup with Petra Cetkovska. In her next round she faces Austria's Sybille Bammer, who hasn't yet made it past the second round in any tournament this year. You have to like Hantuchova's chances.

Of course there's still a lot more tennis to go before these girls can claim their first crown of the year -- but with a little good luck and even more hard work, any of them might be able to take advantage of the opportunity and bring home the trophy.

Good luck!

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