May 14, 2009

Reverting to the Norm

The countdown to the second Grand Slam of the 2009 season is well underway and the lead-up has been full of surprises -- Sabine Lisicki won her first career title in Charleston by beating three seeded players in her path and Albert Montanes claimed the championship in Estoril after ousting top-seed Gilles Simon.

But this week in Madrid things seem to be going back to normal.

Now I admit that's not exactly true. Venus Williams lost her first match since reclaiming the #3 ranking while her sister retired in the second set against
Francesca Schiavone, recording her third straight defeat since being upset in the finals at Miami. But let's face it -- neither have ever really been a force on the red clay.

But the true powers on clay have been going strong this week.

Roger Federer scored his first victory over a top-twenty player in months, avenging a loss to James Blake at last year's Olympic Games. Novak Djokovic, who's won four of his thirteen titles on the surface, rolled over Andreas Seppi. Even Jelena Jankovic, with her up-and-down year, made short work of Elena Vesnina to make it to the final sixteen.

While some players were out to prove themselves, others were happy to simply reassert their dominance on a surface they're so comfortable on. Rafael Nadal barely needed an hour to post his thirty-first consecutive win on clay and fellow world #1 Dinara Safina fought her way back after a week second set to pass Lucie Safarova. Meanwhile Fernando Verdasco, who impressively has made it to at least the quarters of every tournament he's played this year, advanced again with only his second-ever victory over Juan Monaco.

Who knows if we're going to see another upset, or if perennial champs will continue their winning ways. But it sure will be an exciting couple of days in Spain!

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