March 10, 2011

Early Challenges

A little less than one round is in the books for the players at Indian Wells, and though the seeds in both men's and women's draws were given the privilege of first-match byes, results already recorded suggest difficulties could be in store for some in their openers.

Qualifier Alize Cornet, once ranked as high as #11 in the world, got past veteran Patty Schnyder on Wednesday and will face Tsvetana Pironkova next. The surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon last year will be the on-paper favorite, but she hasn't gotten past the second round at any tournament since -- I might expect her to suffer another upset if Cornet plays to her potential. And Lucie Hradecka, who's been playing a lot of tennis recently and has cut her ranking by about thirty spots this year, took out Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets earlier today. She might just have enough momentum to take out Alexandra Dulgheru in the next round -- though certainly talented, the young Romanian is out of practice, missing much of the fall's action with injury and illness and only winning a single match in 2011.

But the one star most at risk could be former #1 Ana Ivanovic. Having successfully clawed her way back from the brink at the end of last year, she suffered an abdominal injury at Hopman Cup and hasn't been playing at the top of her game since. And with a second round date with uber-vet Kimiko Date Krumm, she must be nervous. The perennially young forty-year-old may not be having the best year, but she's had wins over Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur in the last twelve months and took Ivanovic to three exciting sets in the Bali semis. Kimiko is one of those players you can't help but root for -- combine that with her sheer determination, and she could cause some fireworks.

The men just began their first rounds on Thursday, so far fewer have reserved their spaces in the second round as of yet. But qualifier Somdev Devvarman, just a week off his career high ranking, made a strong statement in his Indian Wells Debut. After advancing to the finals in Johannesburg and notching India it's only point in their first round of Davis Cup play, he followed up with a solid win over recent standout Adrian Mannarino. Next up he'll face Marcos Baghdatis, who's been battling niggling injuries all year. The Cypriot has the win in the pair's only previous meeting, but if he's not fully recovered, there could be trouble.

But the more explosive second round may come in the form of a rematch of last year's Los Angeles semifinal. Janko Tipsarevic was pretty vocal about his loss to eventual champion Sam Querrey that summer, begrudging the fact that he should have won that match -- he got revenge, of course, a few weeks later in Washington, and Querrey has never played the same again. These days it's the colorful Serb that's having more success, and after he earned the right to face his rival again he could keep momentum on his side.

Having a high seeding at the big tournaments is never a guarantee of success, and all these guys may be in danger given the way their early opponents are playing. That's not to say that all of them will be on the next plane out of the desert, but it could mean some very exciting matches in the days before things get really serious!

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