July 15, 2009

Taking a Breather

We've reached that time in the tennis calendar where a lot of the top players are still sleeping off their Wimbledon hangovers and aren't yet ready to hit the pavement on the hard courts quite yet.

Rafael Nadal is of course recovering from his knee injury, but plans to make his summer debut in Montreal. Jim Courier told me last week that Roger Federer is taking some time as he prepares for impending fatherhood. Even Andy Roddick, who was supposed to get right back on court for the Davis Cup quarterfinals last weekend, had to pull out.

And that leaves a few weeks in the schedule for some lesser-known names to take advantage and rack up some points. So today I'm taking a look at some of the under-the-radar pros that have been able to stand out over the last week and a half.

Last Sunday Rajeev Ram, ranked in the triple-digits, became the first Lucky Loser this year to claim a Tour title when he battled through the qualifying rounds with a calf injury and defeated third seed Sam Querrey in the finals at Newport. The singles trophy was not only the first of his career, but also shaved seventy-three positions from his ranking.

And in Bastad, Sweden heavy favorite Caroline Wozniacki made her sixth final of the year -- pretty impressive, considering she's played in sixteen tournaments already. She must've been tired when she met Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez for the title, because she lost to the forty-second ranked Spaniard in straight sets.

This week the men took to the clay of Sweden, with Fernando Verdasco taking the top seed. Even still there are plenty of others ready to contend for the final.

Former top-ten player Guillermo Canas has seven career titles to his name, but has only won a handful of Tour-level matches this year. But in Bastad he pulled off a straight-set win over wildcard Grigor Dimitrov in the first round. Next he'll meet Andreas Vinciguerra, who has seen his ranking fall from #33 in the early part of the decade to #460 (!!) now. Andreas was able to score himself an upset over sixth seed Florent Serra, marking only his second match win on the Tour in 2009.

And in Stuttgart another Lucky Loser is trying to make his presence known. When Albert Montanes had to withdraw with a knee injury, Alexandre Sidorenko took his place. The Frenchman has only played one non-challenger match this year -- he lost in Roland Garros to Marat Safin. In fact the relative youngster hasn't yet won a single Tour match. But this week he managed a victory over qualifier Daniel Munoz-de La Nava and followed it up by sending home Oscar Hernandez. He'll have a battle in the next round against Victor Hanescu, but why shouldn't he have a fighting shot?

After all this is the best opportunity some of these guys have had -- or will have -- in a long time. And what better way to start their road to Flushing Meadows than by making a statement now?

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