February 1, 2012

Overcoming the Withdrawal

Like many tennis fans this week and, frankly, every week after a Grand Slam ends, I find myself at a loss now that the trophies have been presented. After two weeks of unending surprises, amazing breakthroughs, and heart-pounding displays of mental and physical strength, I'm not entirely sure what to do with myself these days. But not all players lasted long enough to make an impact Down Under, and some who've been in the doldrums for quite some time are right back in action this week trying to return to the top.

In Montpellier a handful of top twenty players are contesting the second Open Sud de France, but perhaps second seeded Gilles Simon has the most to prove. Since falling out of the top fifty a little more than a year ago, the Frenchman has been working his way back into the upper echelons of the sport. He had been on the comeback trail, but struggled through ten sets in Melbourne, and only won one match -- the second straight year he's fallen so early at the Australian Open. He's already had a comfortable win over Flavio Cipolla today and faces world #209 Guillaume Rufin in the quarters, so he's off to a better start this week. And if he can make an even deeper push here, and erase the memory of the last fortnight-plus, he could finally make that move back into the top ten, a level he hasn't seen since late 2009.

Jurgen Melzer suffered his fall from grace a little more recently, having peaked at #8 in the world just last April. But after failing to defend points at the French Open, falling after just one match win at every tournament since July, and losing to his own doubles partner Philipp Petzschner in Melbourne, he's now out of the top forty. He avenged that loss after qualifying for the Zagreb main draw, though, and followed it up with a straight set win over Andreas Seppi today. He gets a bit of a break in the quarters, as Germany's Michael Berrer took care of top seeded Ivan Ljubicic for him, and with the highest-ranked player left in the draw Alex Bogomolov at #34, his opportunity to go all the way couldn't be better. And he'll need to make a big stand soon if he's going to get that momentum back.

Chile's Fernando Gonzalez has fallen ever so slightly more out of favor. After hip surgery in late 2010, the one-time world #5 didn't play again until last April, when his ranking had fallen out of the top five hundred, and a knee injury kept him from making much of an impact the rest of the year. He didn't play in the Australian Open, but came to Viña del Mar as a wildcard and dispatched Pere Riba in his opening match. He gets a bit of a break next against Joao Souza and, I hate to admit, faces a field of aging veterans like Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela. If he's truly back in form, he might be able to pull off quite a set of upsets in his homeland.

All these guys have been well off their best game for various lengths of time, but they're still out there, fighting to climb back. And this week, now that the pressure of the biggest stage is off them, maybe they'll have a chance to work their way up the rankings. And with nearly four months before their next opportunity to shine at a Major, there's plenty of time for them to sate our appetite for more excitement.

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