May 9, 2010

Something in the Water

I'm not sure what's going on in Madrid. Maybe it's a bit of nerves -- with eighteen of the top twenty women's players in the draw, the stakes are clearly high. Maybe it's that some players are a bit rusty -- we haven't seen a lot of Serena, Dinara or Maria this year. Maybe it's just the stress of the pending Grand Slam.

Who knows, but before an entire round has even been played we've already seen some shocking results.

The first came on Saturday when last year's French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova suffered her third early exit in as many weeks, this time in a tough three-set loss to Shahar Peer. Then on Sunday, the odds-on favorite to reclaim her Roland Garros crown, Justin Henin, gave up a bagel in the third set to Aravan Rezai. And Lucie Safarova, finally finding her footing after a volatile few months, dismissed Maria Sharapova in about ninety minutes.

Of course there are plenty of other tough players left in the bracket -- Serena Williams made the semis in Rome last week before Jelena Jankovic sent her packing. And defending champ Dinara Safina won't take the court until Monday -- but after her loss last week, also to Peer, she's not exactly playing at the top of her game.

And the last few weeks have certainly added a few new -- or sort of new -- names into the mix. Charleston runner-up Vera Zvonareva dealt Melanie Oudin her third loss since Miami in their first round, and could make a play to get back into the top ten within a few months. And after her inspiring run to the Rome semis, Ana Ivanovic has reminded us why she won a Major not even two years ago. Then there's Estoril finalist Arantxa Parra Santonja, who faces wildcard veteran Virginia Ruano Pascual in her first round Monday -- she has a pretty decent section in the draw and could get through a few rounds herself.

For the top seeds to have a chance they're going to have to bring it -- last year's runner-up Caroline Wozniacki has won a match or two since that devastating fall at the Family Circle Cup, but she's going to need to be healthy and hard-hitting to make it back to the championship round. And sixth-seeded Elena Dementieva, who's probably one of the best all-surface players on the Tour, could face Serena for a spot in the semis, but should be mollified by the fact that she's won six of their nine meetings since 2007.

But they'll all have to be careful to avoid the fate of those that have already gone home. With so much on the line, we really don't want to see anyone deserving get upset.

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