August 4, 2010

A Long Road Home

Losing is now something Grand Slam champions and world #1s are used to, but on the beautiful shores of San Diego this week, a couple former shining stars continued their struggles to return to the sport's elite.

Probably the longest lasting slide has been that of 2008 Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic who's spent most of the last four months out of the top fifty. Though she had a brief shining moment in Rome back in May, she's suffered a slew of early round losses since then. This week at the Mercury Insurance Open, she translated her wildcard entry into a straight set defeat at the hands of Shahar Peer, the same woman who took her out of Wimbledon in the first round. She has a big opportunity though this summer, as she didn't accumulate many points leading up to last year's U.S. Open, so a couple big wins could still boost her ranking significantly.

Melanie Oudin has the opposite problem -- after all, she became the darling of Flushing Meadows when she made the quarterfinals in New York, and so has a ton of points to defend this summer. So far she hasn't been following through -- she's playing a lot less than she did last year, mostly because she no longer has to qualify for the big events, but still hasn't advanced deep into a draw since April. After a second-round loss in Stanford last week, she opened her campaign in SoCal by beating her potential doubles partner Jamie Hampton in straight sets, but earlier today suffered a ninety-minute loss to French Open finalist Sam Stosur.

Last year's runner-up in Paris also had a shade of hope dashed earlier today. Dinara Safina, who was ranked #1 in the world less than a year ago has tumbled into the mid-thirties after a nagging back injury kept her from repeating any of the successes she had in the first half of 2009. She ended a six-match losing streak on Monday when she beat Alona Bondarenko in San Diego, but faced a tougher test against Aggie Radwanska today. Though she had never lost a set to her in their previous two meetings, last week's semifinalist at the Bank of the West Classic got revenge and needed just more than an hour to take out the three-time Major finalist. The 2008 U.S. Open Series winner now hasn't put together back-to-back wins since January, and she's going to have to pull it together if she wants to make any impact in New York this year.

The woman who had been Safina's nemesis last spring is the only one still alive in California. Svetlana Kuznetsova lost early in her bid to defend at Roland Garros and has been upset by players like world #74 Anastasia Rodionova, #99 Regina Kulikova and #100 Ekaterina Makarova all season. She squeaked by her first round opponent, eighth seeded Yanina Wickmayer, but next faces a tough Sara Errani, a woman who's pulled off a few upsets of her own this year. But it certainly looks like Svets has the best hope of making a quick return to the top tiers of the sport.

Of course anything can happen in the next few weeks -- maybe these ladies are just waiting for an opportunity to catch everyone off guard before making their run back to the top. But from where we stand now, it sure looks like it will be a tough battle back. But, man, would it be great to see the fight!

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