August 1, 2009

Stacked Brackets

It's not really anyone's fault.

Draws are set up so that #1 can meet #2 in the finals and so the top four players should battle in the semis. It's only in the opening rounds where it's possible that bad luck can pit two closely-ranked opponents against each other, inevitably denying one of them to advance deep into the tournament. For example at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California this week, #13 Aggie Radwanska ousted #29 Sorana Cirstea on Monday, and #12 Dominika Cibulkova was defeated by #20 Samantha Stosur shortly after.

Of course upsets occur, as they should, and it's not often we see action progress exactly as it should. That's what makes sports so interesting, right?

Even still by the time we get to a final, we want to see the best and most exciting game we can. Imagine if, by some stroke of luck, the Orioles played the Nationals in the World Series? Yawn.

And that's what seems to be happening in California this week, both on the men's and women's tours.

First in Los Angeles, the top half of the draw has gone largely according to plan. Top seeded Tommy Haas played a tough first set against Marat Safin, but eventually made the semis pretty easily. He'll meet a strong Sam Querrey, who pulled off a win over higher-ranked Dudi Sela on Friday, but given his performance so far this summer, he's not exactly an underdog.

Only one gets to make the finals.

And there they'll face one of two players who've never played for a title before. Argentina's Leonardo Mayer has had a breakout year, beating James Blake in the first round at Roland Garros and making the quarters in Eastbourne. Though he defeated Igor Kunitsyn in the second round, he reached the semis thanks to a walkover when second seed Mardy Fish withdrew with an injury. There he'll play Australia's Carsten Ball -- a man ranked #205 in the world, he lost the only Tour-level match he's played this year. But this week he benefited from a retirement by third seed Dmitry Tursunov and an injured John Isner in the quarters.

Gotta say, I'd rather see Haas and Querrey play for the title.

On the women's side in Stanford things aren't quite so disparate, but there were still a bunch of surprises in the final four. Top ranked Serena Williams was toppled by unseeded Stosur, who for all intents and purposes should never have made it past Monday. But Sam's been playing some masterful tennis this year, making the quarters and the semis in Paris -- she probably deserved a higher ranking.

Tonight she's going to take on Marion Bartoli, who's having her own comeback year -- the one-time Wimbledon finalist practically fell into obscurity last year, losing early in a ton of matches and allowing a few up-and-comers like Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva walk all over her. But in 2009 she seems back in form -- she got to the finals in Brisbane, the quarters in Australia, and even took home the trophy in Monterrey. In Stanford she looked solid against fourth seed Jelena Jankovic and could put on a good match against Stosur.

Imagine that that might be the better of the two semis.

Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva, seeded second and third respectively, filled out the bottom half of the bracket in what I thought should have been an excellent final, given the way Elena took on Venus's sister in Wimbledon. But in California this afternoon, Dementieva practically rolled over. Despite earning a handful of break opportunities, she was never able to convert and her serve seemed to fall apart. She won a quarter of her first serve points and only thirty-eight percent of her total service points. In just over an hour, she was only able to put one hash mark on her side of the scoreboard.

So Venus will either reprise her 2007 Wimbledon final against Bartoli or the first round of the U.S. Open last year, when she was no match for Stosur. Though the women's final certainly has more promise than the one in L.A., I can't help but think the semi might be more exciting.

In either case, the suspense is what keeps the game so interesting! Good luck to all!

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