March 10, 2012

The Seeds Keep Falling

The seeds have taken to the courts in Indian Wells, and it's been far from smooth sailing for them.

Angelique Kerber trailed American wildcard Sloane Stephens 2-6, 1-5 and faced double match point, but somehow managed to eke out the victory. Andy Roddick was down a set and a break to Lukas Kubot earlier today before finally holding onto a lead in the third. Victoria Azarenka blew a commanding lead against Mona Barthel and needed to break her opponent twice just to stay in the match, ultimately winning the three-hour marathon.

And those were the one's who survived. After making the semis in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, 2010 champion Jelena Jankovic was broken five times in her opener by young Julie Jamie Hampton. And Sabine Lisicki, who's battled injury seemingly all season after staging an enormous comeback last year, fell in straight sets to veteran Lourdes Dominguez-Lino. The men weren't immune to the upsets either -- Richard Gasquet, serving for the match at 5-4 in the second against Albert Ramos, ultimately lost the tiebreak and the decider, winning zero points on his second serve. And early exits like these, as usual, give others a chance to shine.

Jarmila Gajdosova has been having a tough couple months. Though she peaked at #25 in the world less than a year ago, she's fallen out of the top fifty after failing to defend a title in Hobart and losing first round matches at three events already this year. But things are looking up for her in California, a place where she'd never won a main draw match before -- she's pulled off two come-from-behind victories against Coco Vandeweghe and twenty-second seed Yanina Wickmayer. And after Hampton's upset of JJ, her portion of the draw is opening up. If she can keep momentum on her side, she time out of the top ranks may be sharp-lived.

Maybe more impressive has been the performance of Vania King, who's nearly played more qualifying matches than main draw rounds this year. At #58 in the world, she's still a shade off her career-high ranking -- one she reached over five years ago -- but she was impressive in her first-round win over red-hot Sara Errani on Wednesday, and even more so against world #20 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova yesterday. It'll get tougher in the next round, of course, when she meets Kerber, but if King can take advantage of the tested German, she might score another win

Of course, there are some openings in the men's draw too -- and likely more to come. Pablo Andujar made his first mark on the sport a little less than a year ago when he won his first title in Casablanca and a few months later made the final in Stuttgart. Both those runs came on clay, though, and with only five career wins on hard court, he wasn't exactly a favorite here. But he rebounded after losing the first set to Robin Haase and shocked eighteenth seed Florian Mayer in a relatively quick two sets. He'll next face fellow underdog Ramos, who's already battled through two three-set matches to get here. With another win, Andujar might be in for a new set of successes this year.

There's of course a lot of ball left to be played in Indian Wells, and if early rounds are any indication, it sure looks like we're in store for some more surprises. As the favorites fall by the wayside, a slew of new stars get the chance to emerge. And there couldn't be a better place for them to take the opportunity.

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