February 28, 2010

First Time's a Charm

For some this was a week of defending titles -- both Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams repeated as champions in Dubai and Acapulco, respectively -- but for others it was a week of firsts.

In Kuala Lumpur the story was all Russia's Alisa Kleybanova. The twenty-year-old had climbed into the top thirty last year with wins over player like Jelena Jankovic and Venus and even took a set from Justine Henin at the Australian Open.

She struggled early in Malaysia, going to three sets in her second and third rounds, but when she met Elena Dementieva in the finals she went on a roll. Alisa capitalized on her compatriot's notoriously weak serves and broke her opponent four times. She won seventy percent of her own first attempts and captured her first ever Tour title in just over ninety minutes -- not bad for a final debut.

Closer to home in Delray Beach Latvian Ernests Gulbis and Croat Ivo Karlovic battled through a slew of homegrown fan-favorites to contest the championship. The two had never met before, but the big server, seeded second, was clearly the favorite. Gulbis, on the other hand, is one of those very talented, but terribly inconsistent pros -- since peaking at #38 in the world two years ago, he's languished somewhere in the low double-digits.

This year, though, he's been on his own roll, beating two higher-ranked players in Melbourne and making the semis last week in Memphis. And today in Florida Ernests withstood fourteen aces from the more-experienced veteran and still managed to break him four times. And after two sets the twenty-one-year-old was also the victor in his first career final.

It's always nice to see new talent come to light, and both Kleybanova and Gulbis have finally shown they can put together a few wins in a row to capture the ultimate crown. If they're able to keep up the momentum, this could be a good year for both of them, and I'm looking forward to watching them succeed.

Hopefully now that they have the first -- and most difficult -- trophy under their belts, the rest will come easily!

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