September 26, 2011

Before Moving On...

This week the men begin their tour of Asia in the last leg of the 2011 season. But before traveling to the other side of the globe, a couple spent this past weekend getting in their last blows in Europe, and those that prospered most are on their way to ending their year on the highest note.

On the red clay of Bucharest -- that's right, we're still not done with the dirt -- some players were right at home. Defending champion and top-seed Juan Ignacio Chela made his way to the semis without dropping a set, but he was eventually bested by Casablanca winner Pablo Andujar. On the bottom half of the draw, Munich finalist Florian Mayer, who survived a close call to Carlos Berlocq in his opener, eventually reached his fifth career championship match, playing in top form.

Mayer's experience eventually got the better of the Spaniard as he survived a trade-of-breaks in the first set and capitalized on a double fault by his opponent to draw even. He won eight games in a row and ran off to a 5-0 lead in the second, virtually sealing the match. After just over an hour the twenty-seven year old German was hoisting his first ever trophy, proving it's never too late to make a stand in this sport.

A little further west in Metz, the top seeds were again putting on a show. Fresh off a Davis Cup drubbing, hometown boy Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rebounded quickly and ran to the final -- his third of the year -- with wins over (lower case) marathon man Nicolas Mahut and rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov. And though world #15 Richard Gasquet was upended in his second match, veteran Ivan Ljubicic made good on the opening to advance to his second final of the year, outperforming his fourth seeding.

But things again proceeded as the numbers suggested. Tsonga got off to a quick start, taking the opening set in under forty minutes, but squandered a break lead in the second as the Croat forced a tiebreak and a deciding set. The Frenchman regained control, though, forging ahead early in the third and finally closing out the match. It was his first title since 2009, but more importantly it bumped him up the World Tour Finals rankings, where he now stands at #7. If he holds on, it would be his first appearance at the year-end championships since 2008, and the way he's playing recently, could be his best chance yet to make a big statement.

While most other players in the sport were traveling to Asia, it seems the decision to stay in the Western Hemisphere has behooved both of this weekend's champions. And as the season winds down there could be no better time to take advantage of every opportunity. Because once they make it over to the other continent, everyone should be put on notice.

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