June 23, 2011

A Winning Return

There are more than just a couple comeback stories this year at Wimbledon. And while the headlines are all concentrated on the Williams sisters' return, there are a couple more under the radar that are worth mentioning.

That's not to say the early round performances from Venus and Serena haven't been impressive. The elder, and incidentally my early favorite to win the whole shebang, rallied from a two-break deficit against uber-veteran Kimiko Date Krumm yesterday and managed to pull off the win in probably the best match of the tournament so far. And Serena, who lost her first set to young talent Simona Halep on Thursday, brought out her champion spirit and scored her sixteenth straight victory at the All England Club.

But their success only scratches the surface.

Former top-five player Fernando Gonzalez has only played a handful of matches since undergoing hip surgery after last year's U.S. Open, and made his return to Grand Slam play this week. Well out of seeding territory -- he hasn't won more than two matches here since 2005 -- he was forced to take on world #24, rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round. But the veteran was unfazed, firing off twenty-five aces and only dropping serve once in the two-and-a-half hour victory, and he backed it up with a straightforward defeat of Rik de Voest on Thursday. Next up he'll face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a man he beat in their only previous meeting two years ago in New York -- and something tells me he's more than up to the challenge.

Almost as impressive this week has been Germany's Sabine Lisicki, a wildcard this year at Wimbledon. After a series of injuries kept her out of contention most of last year, she hadn't really had the match play considered critical to thriving at these events. But we all knew she has talent -- she probably should have beaten Vera Zvonareva at the French Open -- and so her performance to date shouldn't be too surprising. Against Roland Garros champion Li Na, she found herself down a set early but was able to push the match to a decider. Li had two chances to serve it out and held multiple match points, but not only did Lisicki battle through, she ultimately converted her own second chance to advance. And in reward she's been given a pretty pretty solid opportunity to go even further -- as I'd mentioned earlier this week, she could be a real spoiler in London this week.

Juan Martin Del Potro has been making waves again on Tour for a couple months, post-injury, but he hasn't played Wimbledon since 2009 when he lost in the second round to former champion Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussie's experience notwithstanding, DelPo has never had the best success at the All England Club, but he's making a turnaround this year. He made a solid start in his first round, and came back to a rain and darkness-interrupted second refreshed after dropping the first set in a tiebreak. He took less than an hour today to win the next two and closed out the match without ever dropping serve. It gets tougher from here, of course, but his next opponent Gilles Simon has only gotten past the third round here once. And the way the Argentine is slamming aces again, it seems momentum is back on his side.

It's always encouraging to see players succeed after they return from what could have been career-ending injuries, and all these guys and gals are more than showing us they're certainly back in contention -- a second win for each at Wimbledon should back up any luck that helped them with their first.

So future opponents should keep their eyes open -- they might just have their work cut out for them.


The Fan Child said...

can't believe Gonzo and Nalbandian are still in this thing. Pretty cool.

Kavitha said...

Very cool! Especially for veterans so accustomed to other surfaces!