March 30, 2011

The Unlikely Heroes

It's been a rainy couple of days in Miami, and that has muddled more than just the grounds at the Sony Ericsson Open -- as the men and women battled for the last few semifinal spots at the top-tier event, it hasn't always been the ones you'd expect left standing after the clouds cleared.

Andrea Petkovic has been endearing herself to tennis fans around the world for a few months, and while she's been steadily climbing the rankings, it wasn't until earlier this week that she finally notched the breakthrough win. Facing world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, she pulled out the stunning win in just under two and a half hours, somehow finding holes in the Dane's backboard style and barely outlasting her opponent in three sets.

You might have thought she'd be exhausted after the long day at work, but when she faced former top-dog Jelena Jankovic on Tuesday, the German certainly proved her mettle. She waited out a rain delay after losing the first set to even the score and rebounded from a 2-4 deficit in the decider, winning four games in a row to notch her second straight top-ten win, again displaying that adorable incredulity at having pulled off the upset. For her efforts she was rewarded the a spot in the semis -- the first time she's advanced this far at a Premier tournament -- where she'll get a rematch against Maria Sharapova. Of course it won't be an easy task, but having already vanquished her foe in Melbourne this year, I'm not sure anyone will be surprised if she did it again.

The first man into the semis faced a similarly tall task. Mardy Fish is sitting at a career-high ranking of #15 in the world, but hobbled by sickness in the early part of the year and getting a couple tough draws in recent weeks, he hasn't quite repeated his results from the second half of 2010.

But in Key Biscayne he seems more than renewed -- Fish easily dispatched a wily Richard Gasquet in the third round and followed it up with a grudge match defeat of his Delray Beach conqueror, the resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro. Then earlier today he squared off against Spanish #2 David Ferrer, winning all but three of his first serves and saving both break points he faced. And more important than securing a berth in his maiden Miami semi, he'll surpass veteran Andy Roddick as the top-ranked American man in the sport when the latest rankings are released on Monday, and could even break into the top ten for the first time in his career if he continues his run in the sun.

These players haven't seen opportunity quite like this before, and chances are good they'll be able to take advantage of it. It's too soon to tell if it will ultimately translate into a trophy, but it sure could change the landscape for tennis the rest of this year.

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