February 8, 2010

Making a Statement

A couple weeks ago when wrapping up the 2009 tennis season for the men, I made a few predictions as to what the top ten would look like by the end of the year. Now I know we're still a good ways from 2011, but some of the shifts so far look pretty ominous -- and more than a few players are making their runs for the top.

I've already mentioned how saddened I am by Rafael Nadal's recent stumblings, but the fate of others looks a little better. Marin Cilic holds on to his spot in the top ten thanks to his win in Zagreb last week. Only three tournaments into the year and he's already defended two titles and made the semis at a Major. Not bad for a twenty-one year old no one really knows -- yet. Cilic didn't face the toughest draw in his home country, with his biggest competition coming from world #32 Jurgen Melzer, but there can still be a lot of pressure on a kid to repeat not once, but twice in a row. In any case, he looks primed to work well into the sport's elite throughout the year.

In the southern hemisphere a couple of men were doing their part to include their names in the same bunch.

Spain's Feliciano Lopez has been around a while -- the twenty-eight year old turned pro in 1997 and peaked at #20 in the world five years ago. After that, though, he's struggled a bit, bouncing around the rankings and being unable to capture his sophomore title -- until this week, he'd only won a single trophy in Vienna in 2004.

But in Johannesburg he was back in form. Lopez seemed comforted by the one set he'd been able to take from Andy Roddick in the third round of Melbourne and sailed through players like Rajeev Ram and top-seeded Gael Monfils. By the time he took on Stephane Robert in the finals, he barely broke a sweat. In just over an hour he'd secured his second career title, and a six-point jump in the rankings to #33.

Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci hadn't been title-free for quite so long -- he'd won his maiden trophy last year in Gstaad. Even still, with some early exits from the other tournaments he'd played in 2010, winning number two might not have seemed within reach.

But the twenty-two year old withstood two three-setters in his opening rounds and powered through the twice-defending champion, Fernando Gonzalez, in the semis, overcoming a one-set deficit. He even was able to rally from being bagelled in the second set of the finals by Juan Monaco to pull out the win, and with it he brings home his best-ever ranking -- #28 in the world.

So sure, the statements made over the last week by various players were quite a bit different: Cilic wants the world to know he's a force to be reckoned with, while Lopez is trying to make sure we don't forget about him. Bellucci, meanwhile, might become the next next big thing. In any case, I'm sticking by my calls for the year-end top-ten.

But I'm sure some of these guys will do what they can to prove me wrong!

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