May 1, 2010

Best. Week. Ever.

Two young ladies went home from tournaments in Europe today without the trophies they were ultimately after, but that certainly doesn't mean they were unsuccessful.

Russia's Anna Lapushchenkova is not the most familiar name on the circuit. The current world #140 once broke into double digits in 2008, but didn't play any more that year and finished at #106. Though she has earned trophies at a number of ITF events, Anna had never advanced past the second round of the main draw in a Tour-level event. That all changed this week in Stuttgart though -- after battling through three qualifying rounds, she stunned Victoria Azarenka in her second match and didn't allow herself to get flustered in the quarters when Lucie Safarova came back in the second to even the score with a 6-1 set.

In the semis she met red-hot player Sam Stosur, who was running on a ten-match win streak. The twenty-three year old actually got up a break in the first and had the opportunity to serve out the set, but Sam rallied to earn the early lead. Lapushchenkova even started out ahead in the second, but continued to struggle on serve. She got less than half of her first attempts in and dealt out twice as many doubles as Stosur had aces. After about eighty minutes, Anna's Cinderella run in Germany came to and end, and she was sent home.

It's by no means an inglorious end to the week though -- the youngster had never won back-to-back matches at an event like this, and a semifinal appearance is nothing to scoff at.

Neither was Simona Halep's showing in Fes. The 2008 French Open juniors champion is clearly comfortable on clay, but the eighteen-year-old is better known for certain other assets. She's only been pro for a short time, but shocked us all when she made the quarters in Marbella -- her first tournament on the main Tour.

This week in Fes, Halep also had to fight through qualifying rounds, but she really started taking names when she hit the main draw. Simona opened with an upset of eighth seed Lucie Hradecka and then defeated world #47 Patty Schnyder in straight sets. On Saturday she played the first final of her nascent career, impressively in only her third big-girl event.

I had high hopes for the Romanian, as she'd already defeated opponent Iveta Benesova this year, but it seems the pressure might have gotten to her a bit. While she did dole out the only two aces of the match, she had trouble winning points on her serve and ultimately fell to the Czech, 6-4, 6-2. But you have to give her credit for putting on a show all week.

It certainly seems that these ladies are beginning to show the skills that will make them threats to the top players. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw them -- and Halep, especially -- become a real force at the Majors in the coming years. And while I'm sure there are many more victories awaiting them, I hope they can both be happy with the performances they put on in the last few days.

They've certainly been their best results so far -- until next time!

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