June 17, 2009

Trippin' Up & Steppin' Up

Today I spent the afternoon on a different kind of grass court, the grounds of the U.S. Open golf tournament, which only served to get me more excited for Wimbledon! But I wasn't quite expecting the kind of action we've seen this week -- in the last warm-up tournaments before The Championships begin on Monday, more seeds have dropped than during a windstorm in a field full of dandelions.

First there's the Ordina Open, being held in that place in the Netherlands no one can pronounce -- 's-Hertogenbosch. Clay court specialists Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo took the top spots in the men's draw, but they were respectively defeated by Benjamin Becker and Marcos Baghdatis, both of whom are just barely ranked in double-digits. While the women had slightly better luck -- Dinara Safina and Flavia Pennetta are still alive -- French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea and semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova weren't as lucky. In Eastbourne top seed Elena Dementieva, Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and former #1 Jelena Jankovic were all eliminated in the first two rounds while Igor Andreev and Paul-Henri Mathieu were both ousted early in the men's draw -- it's just a disappointment after such a disappointing start.

While we could write off some of these performances to nerves leading up to the biggest tournament of the year, others are slightly more disturbing. I'm a huge fan of Dementieva, but after a perfect start to the year and three final appearances in her first four tournaments, she's struggled recently, sneaking past Jelena Dokic in Paris before losing to Samantha Stosur. Jelena Jankovic may have earned a title in Marbella, Spain, but she's also been upset by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Gisela Dulko, and most recently Sorana Cirstea. And after Verdasco's breakthrough performance in Melbourne, he's now only won one match on grass.

I don't mean to say that these stars' careers are over -- far from it! But the pains of these top players will certainly open the door for others who wish to advance at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. The two top seeds at Wimbledon, announced earlier today, Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina are surely feeling a little relieved. Both obviously were disappointed with the outcome in Paris, and any leeway they might be able to secure will surely be appreciated. Rafa certainly wants to make up for the loss on his home turf while Dinara, well, just wants to win one!

Then there's Maria Sharapova, who's climbed her way back to #59 in the world after a nine-month injury-induced absense. Her past performances in London have granted her the twenty-fourth seed in the draw. And Dinara's brother Marat, who's finally announced that this will be his last year on tour, was rewarded with the fifteenth fourteenth seed, eight spots above his ranking. Both of them must be happy with the way things are shaping up.

There are just a few more days before The Championships start, and things are sure to get even more interesting. Be sure to come back to find out my picks to take it all home!

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