March 28, 2009

¡Bienvenidos a Miami!

Some were greeted with open arms while others were asked to pack their bags almost as soon as they touched down.

The second ATP World Tour 1000 event of the season is off to a strong start in southern Florida, with most of the top seeds -- both men and women -- in action. There were, as always, plenty of upsets, and more than a few qualifiers made it to past the first match of the draw -- some, even further.

American men had a strong start -- the seeded players, Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish, all received byes in the first round. But beyond that, four men who had to win two qualifying rounds just to make the main bracket showed up strong. John Isner and Amer Delic are both playing their second round matches today, while Taylor Dent and Robert Kendrick followed up their first round victories with triumphs over #19 Nicolas Almagro and #23 Robin Soderling respectively.

It wasn't all good news, of course. Lleyton Hewitt, who is desperately trying to launch a comeback, has had some success this year. He made it to the quarterfinals in Sydney and the semis in Memphis, even taking the first set from eventual champion Roddick. But he also lost a tough first round match at the Australian Open to Fernando Gonzalez and a Davis Cup match to Thailand's Danai Udomchoke, then ranked 155th in the world.

Lleyton had received a wildcard entry to Miami and showed signs of the old, #1 player he once was in the first round against a sprightly Dudi Sela. But he was stopped short by Gilles Simon in his next game -- he won less than forty percent of the points on his serve and committed six double faults. If this performance is any indication, it may be a while before we see him become a real force again.

On the women's side there was also plenty of drama. Elena Dementieva gave me another scare, almost losing her second round match for the second straight week, but she she pulled through to make it past Anastasia Pivovarova in the third set. Caroline Wozniacki also dropped a set to Australia's comeback kid Jelena Dokic, before she earned the right to meet Patty Schnyder later this weekend.

But it was smoother sailing for some names you may have forgotten -- or not even known. Nicole Vaidisova was once ranked seventh in the world, but a tough end to 2008, in which she lost five first round matches after making the quarters at Wimbledon, dropped her down to #71. So far in Miami, though, she hasn't lost a set, and only gave up one game to twenty-eighth seed Alona Bondarenko.

Samantha Stosur is out to make a name for herself this year. Once a top-ranked doubles player, she's had some success on the singles court this year. She beat ninth-seed Ai Sugiyama in Brisbane and took Aggie Radwanska to three sets in Indian Wells last week. In Miami she took advantage of a weak service game from Sybille Bammer and won, 6-1, 6-1, in just over an hour.

You may not have heard of Anastasia Yakimova -- I certainly hadn't. But the Spanish-born Belarusian is ranked #84 in the world and has seven ITF titles to her name. She's only made it past the first round in one WTA tournament this year, but this week she took out a resurgent Marion Bartoli in straight sets. We'll see if she can keep the momentum going further into the draw.

Sure there's still a long road ahead, but it already looks like Miami is off to an exciting start! Stay tuned!

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