August 21, 2009

The Comeback Kids

Is it just me or do this week's tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati feel a little bit like 2007? (Well, with one big exception.)

Some of the biggest successes on the court are coming from one-time number ones like Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, and most notably Kim Clijsters, who was stopped just shy of making her second straight quarterfinal in as many weeks back on tour.

As should be expected the road back from recovery is often long and slow, and everyone was a little spotty out of the gate. But watching Rafael Nadal in his match last night against Paul-Henri Mathieu, I was reminded of the man who defeated Roger Federer on his home court in Wimbledon. After a shaky start, losing his serve early, Nadal rebounded quickly, taking the first set 7-5 and only allowing Mathieu five points on his service games in the second.

After the match he acknowledged it had been his best match since returning from a knee injury, but knew he'd face a strong competitor in Czech Tomas Berdych today. Nevertheless he has to like his chances for what's left of the draw -- because he only just lost his #2 ranking to Andy Murray this week, if he makes the semis he would face #4 Novak Djokovic, a man against whom he has an impressive 14-4 record. A final appearance at this Masters tournament would certainly put him on good ground heading to the U.S. Open.

Maria Sharapova is also looking better than she has in quite a while this week. Though she's made at least the quarters in all but one tournament she's played since she returned in Warsaw this past May, you still saw signs of weakness in her serve and her forehard. Last night though her A-game was back, or at least her B-plus game. She fired off four aces and won seventy percent of her first serve attempts. True, she was playing Vera Zvonareva who is nursing her own set of injuries, but even still it was an encouraging result.

And even though she didn't advance past the third round this week, you have to be impressed by Kim Clijsters, who came out of retirement last week in Cincinnati. There she made the quarters, taking out twelfth seed Marion Bartoli and Roland Garros champ Svetlana Kuznetsova on her way. This week in Toronto she triumphed over ninth seed Victoria Azarenka and took the first set triumphantly from Jelena Jankovic before falling in three.

Earlier today Clijsters tweeted:

"Disappointed and a little frustrated with the match last night, still shows how close I am to Top five level after a few matches back"

So she certainly knows she still has what it takes to compete against the best. Though it may some time for her to be the force she was when she left the game in 2007 -- she was ranked fourth in the world then -- it might not be as long as you'd think.

In any case the rebounds these three players have staged since returning to the scene have been nothing short of spectacular. They may not be quite at the top of their game, but their successes just reflect how much innate talent they possess. And I'm sure they'll cause more than a few sparks when they take the court in New York in a few weeks!

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