March 13, 2011

Losing Sleep

The night most Americans have to Spring Forward and turn their clocks up by an hour is always my least favorite night of the year. But some of tennis's top stars might be losing sleep for reasons that have nothing to do with the time change.

Surprisingly with two full rounds, and a bit more, completed for the ladies, there have been relatively few meltdowns. The top six seeds have all stayed in contention without losing a set, and though Australian Open finalist Na Li lost her opener in three, it was to a solid Shuai Peng who's pulled off quite a few upsets in the last few months.

But the one woman who might be left shaking her head today is Svetlana Kuznetsova. Clearly one of the most aggressive players on Tour, we know what she's capable of when playing at her best -- she took out Sam Stosur in Sydney and earned a stunning win over Justine Henin in Melbourne. But we also know just how spotty she can be: after blowing through three higher-ranked players in Dubai she withered before Caroline Wozniacki in the finals and dropped her very next match to Shahar Peer in Doha.

Facing young wildcard Christina McHale in her opener in Indian Wells, you might not think the Russian would have much trouble. But the two-time finalist here has lost in the second round the last two years and was about to suffer the same fate in 2011. Having earned the first break of the match, she quickly gave it back and was pushed to a tiebreak, where McHale took advantage. They traded serves throughout the second set and Kuznetsova ran out ahead in that breaker, but after nearly two and a half hours, it was the eighteen-year-old from New Jersey who scored her first outright win over a top twenty player.

So what's next for Kuznetsova? She'll certainly have to regroup before heading down to Miami -- she won the title in 2006 and made the semis two of the last three times she's played there, so there's a lot at stake for her. She'll have to find the power that's kept her at the top of this game for so long and bring it with the consistency needed to produce back-to-back wins. If she doesn't, it could be a long plane ride home before the clay court season.

On the men's side there have been plenty of stunning losses. David Ferrer swallowed a loss at the hands of big-serving Ivo Karlovic, but with titles in Auckland and Acapulco already this year, I'm not too worried about him. Marcos Baghdatis also suffered defeat, though while continuing to recover from injury, to developing talent Somdev Devvarma, while last year's surprise champion Ivan Ljubicic dropped a tough three setter to Juan Martin Del Potro, who is by no means a slouch.

But it's probably Andy Murray who should be most bothered by his performance in the desert. A finalist here just two years ago, the world #5 hadn't won a match since his disappointing showing in the Melbourne finals -- not much different from his follow-up performance last year.

Still, no one expected him to struggle against world #143 Donald Young. Once touted as the next big thing in American tennis, the twenty-one year old from Chicago has only played a handful of Tour matches over the past year. But he was in control against Murray, only the fourth top ten player he's faced. Though neither served particularly well, Young stayed strong in a first set tiebreak and rebounded after losing a break lead in the second. With Murray serving to stay in the match, Donald stayed aggressive, drew himself a lead and converted his match point, earning by far the biggest win in his nascent career.

It's clearly not a result that the Scot will look fondly upon. For a guy hailed as the next great threat to break the Roger/Rafa stranglehold on the Grand Slams, it doesn't look good to accumulate one loss after another. He'll have to find a way to get back on a winning streak in Miami -- after his opening round loss there last year it's imperative he turn around his luck soon.

Now I'm not saying hope is lost for any of these players -- they've all been around the top tiers of the sport for years, but their recent performances sure remind all their potential opponents that they're not invincible, and they might need to spend some time and effort figuring out what's missing from their game.

Just maybe not tonight -- tonight they should catch up on their sleep.

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

Let's add Robin Soderling to this list -- the 4th seed dropped in straight sets to Philipp Kohlschreiber. And I suppose Vera Zvonareva, though a loss to Cibulkova these days is nothing to be sad about.