April 26, 2012

No Shelter From the Rain

With so many of the top players this week concentrated in a couple of higher-profile tournaments, a couple who've been struggling recently might have hoped to catch a few easy points at events where the draws were more sparse. But things are never as easy as they may first appear, and from the start results have proven that no one should rest easy.

Defending champs in Bucharest and Fes both lost their opening matches. Florian Mayer, who hasn't won a match since Miami, fell after a long struggle with Xavier Malisse in his opener, and Alberta Brianti, just clinging onto a spot in the top hundred, went three sets but still fell to Monterrey finalist Alexandra Cadantu in her first round. But they weren't the only ones leaving the draws earlier than expected.

Marcos Baghdatis has had fits and starts for the last several years, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that his performance is so unpredictable. Still with wins over Juan Martin Del Potro in Sydney and Feliciano Lopez in Indian Wells, he'd earned the fifth seed in Bucharest and should have had a fairly easy time of things early. Unfortunately for him he ran into Fabio Fognini earlier today -- a man who's pulled off a few big wins on the dirt. Just out of seeding territory, the Italian was undervalued on paper, but he wasn't deterred. In a match that saw eleven breaks of serve, Fognini was eventually the winner, earning his first quarterfinal of the year.

Victor Troicki has been even less impressive so far this year -- ranked in the top fifteen just twelve months ago, he's notched only one top-fifty win this season. Still he came to Romania a fourth seed, looking to turn his year around. But against Matthias Bachinger, who he'd already beaten this year in Doha, he came up against a roadblock. He was able to force a third set after losing the first, but the German took control in the tiebreak and after two-and-a-half hours on court dismissed the slumping Serb. Troicki will need to rebuild quickly if he's going to get back on track.

The scalps have been just as big in Fes. One-time U.S. Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, whose ranking peaked at #12 exactly two years ago, has had a couple good runs this year, but hasn't been able to defend a lot of points. Now ranked out of the top thirty, she should nevertheless have been the favorite against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner in her first round. But unable to hold serve and barely making a dent in her return games, the Belgian fell in straight sets.

Second-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, fresh off a disappointing loss to Jelena Jankovic last weekend in Fed Cup, has also seen her star fall this year. The former world #3 dropped out of the top twenty after a third-round loss in Doha and hasn't won more than two matches at any event since January. She looked to be in good shape against up-and-comer Irina-Camelia Begu in Morocco, winning the first set 6-1. But after losing the second, she suffered a thigh injury that forced her to retire. Hopefully she'll be back in shape if she's going to try for another French Open crown next month.

The latest casualty in Fes came this morning. Petra Cetkovska hasn't exactly been struggling, ranked just off her career high at #30, but now that she's spending less time on the ITF circuit, she hasn't had many deep tournament runs, making just one third round in Doha. She looked strong early this week, not dropping a set in her first two matches, but against lucky loser Mathilde Johansson, who'd already bumped off a similarly flailing Shahar Peer a round earlier, she couldn't find her game. She got fewer than half her first serves in and won a dismal thirty-one percent on her second attempts. With a ton of Wimbledon points coming off in the next few months, she'll need to remember how to play against the big girls.

Seeded players are certainly getting no passes at this week's events, and that's certainly left a lot of holes in the brackets. For the favorites remaining, they should be warned out of getting too complacent. But perhaps more importantly, the spoilsports out there should be encouraged to take advantage. After all, no one is unbeatable in this sport, and whoever pounces first could reap quite the reward.

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