June 10, 2010

A Return to Normalcy?

It's no surprise that the clay court season was dominated by two story lines: the reemergence of Rafael Nadal as the #1 man in tennis and the return of the four-time French Open champ Justine Henin.

Now that we've moved on, we enter a period where a few almost-forgotten names are trying to remind us exactly why they're forces in tennis -- some will be successful, some less so.

Andy Roddick was, unfortunately, part of the latter group. One half of probably the best match contested last year, he has his best win percentage on grass -- an impressive 82% versus 77% on hard courts. He's also won four titles on the surface -- not bad when you consider how short this part of the season is -- and made the semis or better at Queen's Club every year since 2002. But the story this year was a bit different -- in about an hour and forty-five minutes, the world #7 was ousted in the third round today by Israel's Dudi Sela, a man who's only now broken even on the lawn. Here's hoping Roddick gets it together before traveling to Wimbledon.

Britain's Andy Murray is hoping to avoid the same fate. After a mediocre clay court season in which he only advanced to the quarterfinals of a tournament once, he returns to London to defend his crown. England's best hope at a Major only has the one title on the surface, but with thirty-four wins and just nine losses he does promise to deliver eventually. He does still have to get past Mardy Fish, though -- after splitting their first two sets on Thursday, the two retired on serve at three-all in the decider when the lights went down. Murray is clearly the favorite to pull out the win, but the American did stun him in Miami back in March, so the outcome is far from certain. Murray's going to want to rally big, though, or else people may stop talking about him for a while.

So far Maria Sharapova has been doing her part to show us just how ready she is to win another Slam. After a disappointingly close third-round loss in Paris, she's looked unstoppable in a rain-soaked Birmingham. This week she's powered through Bethanie Mattek-Sands and destroyed Alla Kudryavtseva in about an hour each. With a quarterfinal date against qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva, it looks good that she'll make the semis and maybe go further, all of which bodes well as she returns to the site of her first Major win.

It's not quite certain yet whether these players will return to their winning ways, but over the next few weeks we'll start to see whether they can cause some damage now that they're on a turf with which they're more comfortable. If they can I can't wait to see the fireworks -- if not, well, it might just be time to step aside for some new talent.

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