May 19, 2010

Out of Time

We're less than four days from the start of the French Open! Yay!

Well, "yay" for some people -- fans like me who've been yearning for something to watch other than guilty pleasure TV (Seriously, Ramona? Seriously?), and athletes like Rafael Nadal or Justine Henin just itching to get that next Major title.

For others, it may cause a bit of a knot in the stomach. While the lead-up clay court season has allowed some new names to shine, a few usual stalwarts haven't really gotten the match play they might have wanted before traveling to Paris. That could be why we saw some big names in action at some small tournaments this week -- and not all with good results.

Melanie Oudin, for example, so close to her all-time high ranking, has now lost in three straight first rounds, including a fifty-two minute drubbing by Magdalena Rybarikova in Warsaw this week. Though a quarterfinal appearance in Charleston and some strong Fed Cup results prove she can win on clay, I'm sure she'd rather have come to France with a few more wins under her belt.

Elena Dementieva has fared only slightly better. Often thought of the best player without a Major trophy, I reluctantly admit she's a bit off my radar this time around. A victim of bad luck earlier in the year, she'd been pitted against Henin in two second rounds and then got caught in the whirlwind run of Ana Ivanovic in Rome.

But a loss to Alexandra Dulgheru in Madrid and a three-set, three-hour smackdown by world #100 Tsvetana Pironkova in Warsaw today doesn't bode well for her chances next week. There is some hope -- she was, remember, a finalist at Roland Garros in 2004. But Dementieva tends to do best at Slams when she's riding a wave of positive momentum -- not so much the case this time.

Robin Soderling hasn't had as much bad luck as that. Though he got bumped in his opening round in Madrid, he did make the semis in Miami and the finals in Barcelona. Last year's finalist at Roland Garros is boasting his highest career ranking and had improved to a 54-44 record on the dirt.

But he hit a wall earlier today against Olivier Rochus, a man he hadn't lost to since 2005. After dropping the first set handily, the Belgian raised his service game and held onto a break-lead in the third to score the win. That's Robin's fourth loss to a player ranked out of the top-fifty this year. Then again, the Swede didn't do much better in the weeks before last year's Open, so maybe he has a little less to worry about.

Then there's Maria Sharapova who'll try to round out her own career Grand Slam this month -- but I have a feeling that goal is a bit of a long shot. She did win a title in Memphis early off but has only taken one match in two tournaments since then. Sharapova opened her campaign in Strasbourg with a come-from-behind win over Regina Kulikova and followed it up with a solid victory over a qualifier on Wednesday, so hope isn't entirely lost. I'd like to see her make good on her top seeding, though, just to get a that extra bit of practice in before Paris.

Of course, past results aren't always an indication of future performance. So hopefully these guys will be able to pull it together for the big show. Or maybe they're just readying themselves for a sneak attack! Otherwise, we may be in for a few more -- and earlier! -- surprises than normal.

No comments: