September 3, 2009

It's Not Easy Being a Seed

Here's the problem with being one of the best tennis players in the world -- everybody is gunning for you.

It's easy for a big underdog to feel intimidated when he or she enters a grand stage like Arthur Ashe Stadium. But at the same time, when everyone -- including me! -- is talking about you as if you're one of the main contenders, there's all the more pressure to perform.

This year at the U.S. Open, more than a couple top-seeded players have bowed under the weight of great expectations.

First there was Ana Ivanovic, the #1 seed in New York last year. But her struggles in 2009 have been well-documented as the pretty Serbian fell out of the top ten with recent losses to players like Lucie Safarova and Melinda Czink. At the Open the eleventh seed began her opening match with a strong first set against a tough Kateryna Bondarenko but couldn't hold onto a break in the second. Her third set lasted longer than the first two combined, and in a 7-9 tiebreak Ana made her earliest exit from a Grand Slam -- ever.

Wednesday turned into a slaughter of other double-digit seeds -- Aggie Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, Sam Stosur and former #1 Amelie Mauresmo all saw their runs in New York come to an end in their second round matches. But the biggest upsets to date was saved for Thursday afternoon.

Jelena Jankovic was the second match on Arthur Ashe today, the #5 seed and Cincinnati champion taking on Yaroslava Shvedova, not yet ranked in the top fifty. Like her countrywoman, the former #1 has had a rough year, but she seemed to get her stride back in Ohio. When Shvedova took the first set, however, you kind of got the feeling that we were in for a battle.

To her credit, Jelena overcame another break in the second, eventually winning that set in a tiebreak, and she was able to play offense late in the third to force another decider when the Kazakh had two opportunities to serve for the match. But then she squandered two match points at 6-4 and eventually saw Shvedova close out with an ace down the line.

That upset, of course, pales in comparison to the one that came just before it. U.S. Open Series champ, and my personal favorite, Elena Dementieva got off to a quick start against American teenager Melanie Oudin, ironically the same women who made her name when she stunned Jankovic at Wimbledon.

But the perennially questionable part of Elena's game, which had somehow seemed to work for her all summer -- her serve -- fell apart. She eventually won the first set, 7-5, but ceded the second after another hour of play. The deciding set was a comedy of errors as the two traded five consecutive breaks of serve before Oudin was able to hold for a 5-2 lead. Elena regrouped long enough to win her first service game of the set, but after nearly three hours of play, last year's semifinalist was ousted way before her time.

For every loss, of course, there is a winner. And if Melanie's performance in London didn't argue that she is one, today's certainly did. A bunch of you said you thought she'd go further in this U.S. Open than any of the other upstarts -- but I'm not sure I believed that until today.

Oudin still has a tough road ahead of her, a possible third round match with Maria Sharapova looms most noticably, but there's no reason to believe she can't score another couple of victories in New York.

And if she's not careful, a host of new players will be coming after her next!

1 comment:

Agnes Tabor, REALTOR in Naples said...

Denora Safina, she worked very hard but the phycological impact was her downfall. Imagine having s coach who doesn't like you, demeans you and cannot even look at you during the game. Almost like a parent and a non so favored child. I am hoping for her sake that she dismisses him for someone who is a little more compasionate. Hope we get to see here again once she has made this adjustment.