August 2, 2009

Under the Radar

It's easy to overlook some of the tournaments going on in Europe over the last couple weeks -- they seem so two months ago, forcing players to get back on the red clay ages after the French Open and just weeks away from Flushing Meadows. But nevertheless they've provided some much needed experience -- and a few trophies -- to players that might not have otherwise been ready for the hard court season.

In Gstaad, Switzerland the top seeds were eliminated early, allowing qualifier Thomaz Bellucci and fifty-first ranked Andreas Beck to advance to the final. Neither had ever won a title, though Bellucci came close in his native Brazil earlier this year, getting up a set but then falling to Tommy Robredo. And Beck has become something of a fixture on the men's tour, playing eleven tournaments and five challenger events already this year -- his best result was a quarterfinal appearance in Monte Carlo.

The road to the final was quite different for these two players -- Thomaz upset heavy favorite Stanislas Wawrinka and Igor Andreev on his way to the championship match while Andreas benefited from a draw opened up by his opponents. And maybe the easier week made Beck a bit complacent -- while the match was tight, ultimately decided by only one break of serve, Andreas had a first serve percentage of only fifty-six while Bellucci fired seven aces. In the end it was the twenty-one year old Brazilian who got to bring home his first title -- with a definitive second set tiebreak, Bellucci made the case to climb into the top one hundred for the first time in his career.

The players in Umag, Croatia might be a little more recognizable than those in Switzerland. Between them, Nikolay Davydenko and Juan Carlos Ferrero have twenty-seven titles, including a U.S. Open win for the Spaniard. But both have had their troubles recently. Plagued by a heel injury, Davydenko fell out of the top five for the first time since 2005 earlier this year, and Ferrero even dropped into triple-digits.

Both are surging through the summer, though -- Nikolay won his first title of 2009 last week in Hamburg and Juan Carlos made the quarters in Wimbledon, beating two top-ten players to get there. Having split their previous four meetings, this should have been a tough match.

But Davydenko has been in prime form all week -- his only "stumble" was a first set tiebreak in the quarters, where he needed twenty-two points to overcome Simon Bolelli, but then he rolled over Jurgen Melzer 6-1, 6-1. Ferrero on the other hand has dropped a couple sets here and there, and while he's certainly on the upswing, he continued to struggle today against the higher-ranked Russian. He only won thirty-six percent of his first serves and was broken six times, giving Nikolay his second trophy in as many weeks.

While this week's European winners may not be grabbing quite as much attention as the players on this side of the Atlantic, their victories certainly are garnering them some momentum as they head stateside.

And who knows? Maybe that's all they need to pull off a couple of much bigger wins here!

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