April 30, 2011

Back At It

It's been a while since either of the ladies who claimed trophies on clay this weekend were standing at the top of the champion's ring. But with one reclaiming a title that was all but stolen from her last year and another marking a pretty impressive record, both victories were more important than they might originally seem.

The draw at the Barcelona Ladies Open was opened at the get-go, with only two seeded players making it out of the second round. With little in her way then, 2009 champion and surprise 2010 runner-up Roberta Vinci was able to take advantage. Though she's lost every match she's played since Dubai in February, she found a way to turn around her luck and beat former top-thirty players like Virginie Razzano and Yaroslava Shvedova on her way to the finals.

There she met an impressive Lucie Hradecka who'd battled her way past more than a couple favorites to make her first final since 2009. But she must have been a little tired out by the time Saturday rolled around. After losing the first set to the unseeded Czech, Vinci won five games in a row to take the second and only dropped two more before finally claiming the title. It was her fourth on Tour, but the only one she's won twice, making the Italian a bit of a force in Spain.

A little further west in Portugal we saw a similar story unfold in the bracket, but in Estoril not a single seed got to the semis. More impressive, the two finalists -- veteran Anabel Medina Garrigues and journeywoman Kristina Barrois -- didn't drop a set on their road to Saturday's match. Anabel, an uber-decorated doubles champion, saw her ranking plummet last year and was close to falling into triple digits early in 2011 thanks to a ten-match losing streak. But with wins over eighth seeded Greta Arn and world #34 Klara Zakopalova in Portugal she finally seemed to be gaining her footing.

The German Barrois had been similarly unstoppable on the way to her second Tour final, ending the efforts of top seed Alisa Kleybanova in the quarters and Elena Vesnina the round before. But again the more experienced Spaniard was able to triumph when it counted -- winning nearly three of every four first serve points and breaking her opponent six times, Medina Garrigues claimed her tenth career title in just over an hour. More importantly it was her ninth on clay, tying her with Venus Williams for the most of any active player -- not bad for a player who'd been so under the radar for the better part of the last few years.

Of course these champions will only face tougher tests down the road as they make their way to Roland Garros, but they've made pretty loud statements this week, and a couple more matches in their favor and they certainly could cause some upsets in the next few weeks.

After all, this is the time of year when nothing is certain.

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