September 23, 2010

Seeds of Change

The Asian hardcourt season is in full swing as more than a few familiar names took the court in Seoul this week. But with only two players in the top twenty entered in the Hansol Korea Open, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to see some big upsets.

And that's certainly what we've gotten.

Defending champion Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the best feel-good stories of the past two years, breaking back into the top fifty at nearly forty years of age.

And as she tries to defend a title for the first time since 1995, she's gotten off to a good start. She rolled over qualifier Junri Namigata in the first round and took on second-seeded Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the next. Proving age is no issue, she needed just over an hour to dispatch the girl woman, more than two decades her junior. Of course she needs three more wins before she can claim the repeat, but some of her colleagues are helping clear the path.

Twenty-two year old Ekaterina Makarova first made us take notice when she won the title in Eastbourne as a qualifier, dropping five top twenty players along the way. She hasn't made quite the splash since then, but we should know how capable she is of staging an upset.

In her Seoul opener she survived a two-plus hour battle against Iveta Benesova, a woman who'd beaten her in their last two meetings. But she had a far easier time against fourth seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez on Thursday, converting five of her seven break chances and earning the right to meet Alisa Kleybanova in the quarters.

Possibly more impressive has been the success of former world #1 Dinara Safina this week. A wildcard entry ranked #59 these days -- below Makarova and Kimiko -- she's been having fits during her comeback. After losing six matches in a row from April through June and pulling out of Wimbledon, she beat Nadia Petrova in Montreal and Francesca Schiavone in New Haven. Then she fell in straights in the first round of New York.

In her first round in Seould she soundly defeated rising star Simona Halep to set up a rematch with countrywoman Maria Kirilenko, the third seed in Korea who beat her soundly at the Pilot Pen last month. Though I would've given the on-paper favorite the advantage, Safina was on a mission, firing off aces and winning more than three-fourths of her first serves. Though her second-attempt percentage -- 15%! -- left a lot to be desired, it's certainly encouraging to see her winning again.

With Yaroslava Shvedova also losing her second round on Thursday, that leaves only three seeds still contending for the title, and it certainly doesn't look like anyone is safe. The underdogs are out to mark a change in the current standings, and with the way they're playing this week, it could very well happen soon!

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