March 19, 2009

March Madness

The term may be reserved for basketball, but there's plenty of crazy action in tennis this week too.

And while few office pools are likely to follow the bracket in Indian Wells quite as closely as they do other matches this weekend, some people have a lot riding on the results in California.

Yesterday Belarusian teenager Victoria Azarenka scored her first defeat of top-seeded Dinara Safina as she advanced to the semifinals and today, seventeen-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who'd dismissed #2 Jelena Jankovic in the second round, pulled off another upset of Aggie Radwanska. Victoria's already won two titles this year, but this will be Anastasia's first trip to a WTA Tour semifinal (she's won a handful of ITF crowns in her short career).

But there's also potential for some shake-ups in the men's draw. Last night -- or more appropriately, very early this morning -- world #1 Rafael Nadal secured his spot in the quarterfinals, but just barely. David Nalbandian, who's won the pair's previous two meetings, had five match points in the second set, but failed to convert. The frustration must have gotten to him in the deciding set, and Nadal swept through the deciding set, 6-0.

He'll next face Juan Martin Del Potro, who needed two tiebreaks before dismissing American John Isner. Isner had already pulled off upsets over Gael Monfils and Marat Safin, and he did his best against DelPot, but eventually fell to the more-experienced player.

Roger Federer also struggled though his fourth round match, dropping the middle set to Fernando Gonzalez. Tonight he faces Fernando Verdasco, the man who'd taken Nadal to a five-set, five-hour semifinal at the Australian Open in January. Roger won their last match in May, but Verdasco was clearly a different player and has vastly improved since then.

With top players having to fight for their berths, we could certainly see some upsets in the next round. I'm hoping players like Verdasco and Andy Roddick, who's looking for his second straight win over Novak Djokovic tomorrow, will be able to capitalize on the opportunities they have -- and maybe bring home the championship trophy.

In the meantime, root for UNC -- I've got them winning it all!

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