October 27, 2011

Winding Down?

We're getting to that part of the men's season where much of the London field has been decided and the couple remaining contenders are fighting to rack up a couple extra points here and there before the last few Masters events of the year. But even those players who have no possibility of making a trip to the O2 have reason to keep fighting -- some are looking to follow through on recent successes, while others need to get their games back on track after losing the momentum that was once so clearly on their side.

It hasn't been all successful -- one-time world #3 Nikolay Davydenko continues to struggle post injury -- though he was able to reach the semis last week in Moscow, he got bagelled in his second set in Vienna yesterday, ultimately losing the first round to qualifier Steve Darcis. And surprise Australian Open quarterfinalist Alexandr Dolgopolov may be at a career high ranking, but after his drubbing by Dudi Sela on Monday in St. Petersburg he's now lost three opening matches in his last four events.

Big-serving Kevin Anderson is trying to turn his year around. Though he's just a shade off a career-high ranking, he hasn't won more than two matches at any event since March. Many of his losses have come at the hands of top-twenty players, or better -- Novak Djokovic, Mardy Fish, Gael Monfils are among the South African's vanquishers this year -- but it's still been hard for him to get traction since taking his maiden title in Johannesburg. So far in Vienna, though he seems to have found his game again. Already notching twenty-two aces this week, he had a straight forward win over Andreas Haider-Maurer on Monday and followed up by downing always-tricky Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets. This is where he can get into trouble, though, as his next opponent, either Jurgen Melzer or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, could present a challenge. But he'll have to power through if he's going to re-establish himself as a force next year.

More interesting, though, might be the re-emergence of veteran Tommy Haas. Once the #2 player in the world, he remained a force until hip surgery nearly two years ago cut his 2010 season way short. He started playing singles again at Roland Garros and won his first match of the year against Michael Berrer in Newport back in July. And though he made a surprising run to the third round at the U.S. Open, it wasn't until this week he managed to put together more than a few wins back-to-back. As a wildcard in the qualifiers, he took out Matthias Bachinger to make the main draw and immediately upset fifth seed Juan Ignacio Chela. Today he came back from a set down against fellow qualifier Aljaz Bedene to make the quarters, the first time he's gotten that far at a tournament in over two years.

Over in St. Petersburg Alex Bogomolov Jr. is having the year of his career. Though he first emerged on the scene at the start of the last decade, some personal troubles -- a divorce from fell tennis player Ashley Harkleroad and a suspension for doping in 2005 -- kept him from making a real impact on Tour. But already this year he's beaten Andy Murray in Miami and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Cincinnati. The seventh seed came to Russia, incidentally where he is a dual citizen, ranked #36 in the world, also just off his career high. After stomping down Igor Kunitsyn in his first match, he withstood a late surge by Philipp Kohlschreiber today to get the win earlier today. That gives him entry to his sixth quarterfinal of the year, proving his recent run was no flash in the pan.

Marin Cilic is trying to accomplish a similar feat, though his greatest successes are far less recent. A top-ten player last year, he hasn't won a title since February, 2010 and lost five opening round matches this year. But he's been trying to reverse that run recently and made the finals in Beijing earlier this month. He's fallen a bit in the rankings, but retained the fourth seed in St. Petersburg and today rebounded after losing his first set to Somdev Devvarman to get the win after two-plus hours of play. He also benefits from a lack of viable seeds in his section of the draw, so could make a very legitimate run for a title.

It's too late for any of these guys to hope their seasons will be extended this year, but it's still important for them to make a stand before they begin their 2012 campaigns. If they kick off next year like they're trying to end this one, there's no telling where the momentum will take them.

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