June 28, 2010

Knocked Out

This is where things get interesting.

As the week began sixteen remained, but match-by-match, teams players were eliminated and now only a few remain contending for the Cup. Some who've advanced are those you'd expect, but a couple favorites have been unceremoniously dismissed as their shots sailed just a bit too long.

To my surprise, all four of the men's top seeds are still alive -- Novak Djokovic had the biggest scare, though, as he nearly fell apart with illness in the third set. But 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt, my pick for the tournament, failed to capitalize on his opponent's weakness and allowed the world #3 to get through in four sets.

The biggest surprise, of course, occurred just outside those leaders. Last year's runner-up and crowd favorite, Andy Roddick was taken to a fifth set by upstart Yen-Hsun Lu, a man who'd never made it past the third round of a Major before. In the second longest match of the year, the twenty-six year old from Taipei was only able to break Roddick once, but it was all that mattered. And though he's only ranked eighty-second in the world, I kind of like his chances against Nole after watching him play today.

The stunning dropouts weren't limited to the men's draw. Seventh seed and two time quarterfinalist Aggie Radwanska was barred from making three straight trips to the elite eight by Na Li who made the quarters for the third time in the past twelve months. And Jelena Jankovic, who had been playing some of the best tennis of her career, was forced to retire with a back injury while down a set and a break to Vera Zvonareva. Caroline Wozniacki, too, who'd exceeded my expectations for her, only won two games before world #62 Petra Kvitova ousted her in less than an hour.

But the biggest shocks came with the departure of two players who were not seeded quite as high. Marion Bartoli, the runner-up in 2007, had been impeccable all month, making the semis in Eastbourne and not dropping a set at the All England Club, but she was no match for Tsvetana Pironkova in the fourth round. And 's-Hertogenbosch champ Justine Henin, who'd made at least the semis here five times before, was summarily defeated when an elbow injury hampered her play against countrywoman Kim Clijsters in the third set.

For the remaining players, the stakes are just getting higher. With so few real contenders vying for the ultimate prize, this is no time to let your focus slip -- it's time to go for the big shots and keep up your defense. After all there's a lot of great tennis to be had before the final knock-out blow is delivered.

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