August 11, 2011

Seize the Reins

Well things sure got interesting at the Rogers Cup the last couple days.

As many of the sport's top players make their first appearances on court since Wimbledon -- or longer -- it's understandable that they'd be a bit out of practice. But I'm not sure anyone expected the routs we've seen, and some of those left standing may have been given the chance of their lifetime.

They just need to capitalize.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Kim Cljisters has been most out of practice, struggling with various injuries since the spring. She was leading Jie Zheng by a set in Toronto when a stomach injury forced her to retire -- not the best result so close to New York. This is the one case, though, where the victor may not reap too many spoils. Even though the #2 seed is out, Zheng doesn't face any easier a road -- next up for her is Serena Williams who's already won a title since returning to the game a month ago and looks to be in as good a form as when she left. What could have been a firework-filled section of the draw has suddenly turned into a much tamer quarter.

Things are a bit different in the other half of the bracket. World #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who won this title in Montreal last year, was dealt a devastating blow after her first round bye. Roberta Vinci, sitting at a career-high ranking at twenty-eight years of age, remained the cooler player during the nearly two-hour match and scored her first win over a top-five player in eighteen tries. Already the holder of three titles this year, she's showing she's more than able to hit with the big girls, and in a third round date with spotty Ana Ivanovic sparks could fly. It won't be completely smooth sailing, but the Italian could very well take advantage.

The men in Montreal have told a similar story. Two-time defending champion Andy Murray had put together a surprisingly strong spring after some disappointing results to start the year. But he was no match for world #35 Kevin Anderson on Tuesday. The South African took advantage of weak serving and a bounty of errors to break the Brit four times in the match, notching the win in under seventy minutes. His next opponent, Stanislas Wawrinka, has won their only meeting over a year ago, but if he can play at the level we know he's capable of, we could be in for another upset.

Probably most surprising, though, was the result that came out of last night's late match between Rafael Nadal and Ivan Dodig. The recent #1 has made at least the quarters at the Rogers Cup the last four times he's played and has won his opening match at every tournament since 2008. He ran away with the first set but squandered a lead in the second, allowing Dodig to pull even. And after more than three hours it was the Croat holding his arms up in victory. The twenty-six year old could stand to take real advantage of this win too. After a strong start to the year, he's lost his last three first rounds, but momentum is now clearly on his side. If he's recovered sufficiently he should be able to get past Janko Tipsarevic -- himself an upset winner over Fernando Verdasco last night -- on Thursday and really take Toronto by storm.

As always, some of these players are better primed to seize the opportunity they've been dealt. Whether they can take advantage remains to be seen, but the way things have been going in the Great White North, they may never have had a better chance.

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