March 31, 2009

Dropping Like Flies

It's not often that any tournament ever plays out like you'd expect and that the competitors at the end were all expected to make it that far. Take, for example, Louisville's loss to Michigan State last weekend, or Villanova's devastation of Pitt.

Tennis is no exception. And with a few rounds left before the finals at the Sony-Ericsson Open, it's somewhat shocking that all four of the top men's seeds are still in contention for the title.

The same is not true for the women, however.

Jelena Jankovic, who lost her first match in Indian Wells last week, followed it up with another early upset as Argentina's Gisela Dulko scored her first victory over the former #1. Dinara Safina made it one round further, but was stopped by a surging Samantha Stosur. And just yesterday Elena Dementieva, who began the year with two championship titles and an amazing 15-0 record, became the third top-four player to pack her bags and head home.

As it stands only Serena and Venus Williams and eighth-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, have made it as far as their Elite Eight standing suggested they should. And even then, Serena struggled through her fourth round match against Jie Zheng, dropping the second set before pulling out the victory.

With so many upsets that only means that we're seeing a few new faces in the quarterfinals.

Of course, the term "new" is subject to interpretation -- Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka have certainly become prominent forces on the tour in recent months. Neither have even reached their twentieth birtdays yet, but Caroline ended last year with three titles and Victoria, already a two-time titlist in 2009, is a stone's throw away from the top ten. With Svetlana and Stosur both in their half of the draw, either one could make a big run for the finals here.

The top half looks a little tougher, with both Williams sisters potentially meeting in the semis. But Na Li, who's scored big wins over Aggie Radwanska and Amelie Mauresmo this year, and Iveta Benesova, who made it to the semis in two tournaments in Mexico, are sure to work hard to prevent that match-up from occurring.

And all of this week's winners are sure to put a little fear into the hearts of the best players -- both newcomers and not-so-newcomers are making themselves heard, and it's only a matter of time before they stake their claim to the top spot.

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