August 19, 2010

Keep It Up!

It's been an interesting couple of weeks in women's tennis as several players have been able to advance deep into the draws of the U.S. Open Series tournaments, but so far none have repeated as champion.

It began in late July when Victoria Azarenka stunned Maria Sharapova at the Bank of the West Classic. A week later fallen French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova reasserted her power with an impressive win over Stanford semifinalist Aggie Radwanska. Sharapova made another run for the title in Cincinnati last week when she fell to Kim Clijsters in an emotional, rain-addled three-setter. Through today all those players, save Maria who injured her foot last Sunday, were still standing at the Rogers Cup.

It's a good sign in a world where the ladies' performances are often so spotty -- it seemed for most of the spring the champion at one tournament would fall early in the next. Paris victor Elena Dementieva retired during her first match in Dubai, Jelena Jankovic won just two matches in Miami the week after rolling to the title in Indian Wells and Francesca Schiavone has just a few "W"s since that magical run at Roland Garros.

But for the first time in a while, one of the top female players has a legitimate chance to capture a second trophy at a big event in less than a month. Radwanska, unfortunately, lost her third round match in Montreal today, but her vanquisher -- Sveta again -- Vika and Kim all have been playing solid ball.

If you go by the scoreboard alone, at first it looked like Kuznetsova was going the way of the others. She lost her opening match in Cincinnati, though in three sets and to the eventual finalist. Seeded again at the Rogers Cup, she still had a tough first round against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but was able to survive. Her rematch with Radwanska was an even bigger scare as she dropped the middle set by a score of 6-1. But with the two-hour win she successfully put together only her third three-match win streak of the year and sets up a meeting with Jie Zheng, a woman she's never lost to before.

Victoria Azarenka had a similar slump during the spring. A finalist in Dubai, she followed up with three first-match losses and retired from three tournaments in April and May. Though she withdrew from the San Diego event due to exhaustion and lost her opener at the Western & Southern, she teamed with Maria Kirilenko to take the doubles crown in Cincinnati. So far in her three rounds in Montreal she's lost only a handful of games, defeating her doubles partner on Wednesday and "upsetting" ninth seeded Na Li earlier this afternoon. For her quarterfinal, she'll face Marion Bartoli, the woman she dethroned in Stanford after being down a set and a break -- certainly not the easiest match, but she has to have a better confidence than she did back then.

Speaking of comebacks, Kim Clijsters also won her last title after saving match points. Now at her best ranking since retiring more than three years ago, she received a bye in the first round at the Rogers Cup, but faced an unexpected challenge yesterday from qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won their first set and led in the second. It was a much easier day at the office Thursday, though, as the defending U.S. Open champion took less than an hour to advance to the quarters. Of the three recent titleists, she faces the biggest threat tomorrow from Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva, but something tells me she also has the best chance of avenging her recent loss.

With their recent solid performances it should be no surprise that these ladies all top the leaderboard for the U.S. Open Series. But more importantly, with the draw for the Slam so wide open this year, they're all among the contenders to win the big prize as well. They're each among the biggest hitters out there, and now with their confidence at near record highs, there's no reason for the momentum to end.

At least not until they meet each other!

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