September 7, 2010

The Match No One Cares About, and Why You Should

On a day where former champions, world #1s, feisty Spaniards and next-generation Americans headlined play at the U.S. Open, you might have missed the fact that one-time top-five player Tommy Robredo and hot-headed Russian Mikhail Youzhny are also playing for a spot in the quarterfinals. Sure they were relegated to the day match on Armstrong, making way for the fifth-seeded doubles team on Ashe, but for the two men involved, it represented a big chance to make a statement in New York.

Robredo had been having a tough couple months -- after a solid 2009, he made the quarters in Indian Wells and looked solid for the clay court season. But for reasons I can't quite figure out, the Spaniard has fallen in the first round of all three previous Slams this year, and has only put together back-to-back wins once since March. Out of seeding range at the Open, I didn't think he'd last the first day, much less the first week, but a solid win over Lukas Kubot followed by the retirement of his next two opponents gifted him a third straight appearance in the round of sixteen.

Youzhny has been just as quiet, if slightly more dangerous, advancing through his draw. The twelfth seed in New York has played in three finals this year, winning a title in Munich and beating Gael Monfils and Novak Djokovic in Rotterdam. At Flushing Meadows, the slightly volatile veteran played a solid four sets against Dudi Sela and ousted crowd-favorite John Isner in the third round. Though he's only made it this far once in his seven previous appearances here, he's playing like a real dark horse and might be ready to at least match his best run ever.

Today is just the pair's fourth meeting in their combined twenty-plus year careers, with Tommy holding the slight 2-1 advantage. They haven't faced each other since the 2006 U.S. Open, though, where Mikhail dropped only three games in the fourth round. He's certainly playing more consistently at the moment, having taken the first two sets in just under ninety minutes, but Robredo is doing what he can to up his game, hanging strong to take the third in a long fifty minutes. A spot in the quarters would be a huge opportunity for either man -- with either Sam Querrey or Stanislas Wawrinka waiting for them there, either could have a clean shot at the semis.

For Robredo, this could be the Major where he tells the world he's still one to contend with. For Youzhny, who's middled around the low teens at three separate times during his career, it's an opening to get back in the top ten.

And for fans, it's a reminder that there are more than just two or three players to keep our eyes on this tournament.

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