January 2, 2010

And So It Begins...

The year's barely even started yet and already we've got a couple of great exhibition match results to speak of -- and, not that I'm gloating, but some of the results this weekend bode well for the list of fantasy matches I hope to see this year.

First in Thailand, two former #1's faced off in the brutal heat with a somewhat surprising result. Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova last met at the Bank of the West Classic this past July with the American barreling through their quarterfinal matchup, 6-2, 6-2. Though Maria proved to be no match for Williams that day, it was a much different story in today's meeting. Now ranked #14 in the world, Sharapova has certainly looked to be in solid form in the few months since returning to the Tour. But her ninety-minute victory over the current #6 was clearly her biggest win in the last twelve months. If she continues to hit such solid groundstrokes and is able to hold serve, it could be a good sign when she returns to Australia -- the Slam her shoulder injury prevented her from defending last year.

More impressive was the showing at the Capitala Invitational in Abu Dhabi where eight six of the top men's players were on hand to showcase their talents before the official start of the season. Robin Soderling, who is coming fresh off the best year of his career, began by finally living up to the standard he set for himself back in May -- after twelve straight losses to year-end #1 Roger Federer, he finally pulled off the win. Though neither was able to break for the first two sets, the twenty-five year old Swede won three games on Federer's serve in the deciding set, making the finals to face another nemesis, Rafael Nadal.

I admit I was a little nervous to see my French Open fantasy play out so soon, as Rafa has lost their last two match-ups pretty soundly. And Soderling was clearly on a role, having beaten so many of the top players in some major tournaments. But again I was in for a pleasant surprise -- after another set with no breaks of serve, Rafa ultimately took the early lead and followed it up by finally taking the advantage in the second and winning the match, 7-6, 7-5. It was an important win for him, not just to improve their head-to-head score, but to boost Nadal's morale going into next week's Qatar Open and into Melbourne, where he is, after all, the defending champion.

Here's hoping these exhibition results are just a sampling of a great few months to come!

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