April 12, 2012

Where No One Is Safe

There's been something strange going on in the women's game this year -- for the first time in what seems like forever, we're seeing some consistency on court. Victoria Azarenka may no longer be undefeated for the year, but her only loss came at the hands of Marion Bartoli, herself a powerful player. Aggie Radwanska's two titles come in addition to three quarterfinal and two semi runs. Maria Sharapova has made three finals this year, two in a row in Indian Wells and Miami. And even the lesser-known names -- Angelique Kerber, Mona Barthel, Sara Errani -- are lasting more than a few rounds at a time.

So it's a little strange that this week we're seeing one seed after another fall by the wayside.

The bloodshed started early in Barcelona. Top-seeded Francesca Schiavone lost in straight sets to world #83 Olga Govortsova. Defending champion Roberta Vinci came back from a set down to win her opener, but fell a day later to Simona Halep. And earlier today Flavia Pennetta, who'd made finals in Auckland and Acapulco already this year, dropped her second round to qualifier Yuliya Beygelzimer.

A couple seeds have survived, of course -- at least so far -- but they might still be in danger. Dominika Cibulkova was just able to force a third set against Klara Zakopalova. The Slovak won the pair's only meeting last year, on her way to the title in Moscow, but after a heart-breaking loss to Victoria Azarenka in Miami, she might be fighting more demons than her opponent. And second seeded Julia Goerges may have to keep an eye on her next opponent -- eighteen-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco beat both Pennetta and Vera Zvonareva at the Sony Ericsson Open. She hasn't yet cracked the top one-hundred, but if she keeps it up, she might be on the way there soon. And Carla Suarez Navarro, still on the mend from an injury that halted her 2010 season, might be able to regain her form and take advantage of others' losses -- already having ousted Petra Cetkovska, she could keep up her momentum a few more rounds.

The results in Copenhagen haven't been quite so dire for the favorites -- Angelique Kerber survived a scare earlier today and two-time champion Caroline Wozniacki, fresh off arguably her biggest career win in Miami, is currently up a set against Pauline Parmentier. But the retirement of Ksenia Pervak in the first round and losses by Sofia Arvidsson and Monica Niculescu have nevertheless opened the door some.

Alize Cornet, once so close to breaking into the top ten, is now just knocking on the door of double digits. She delivered a double bagel against wildcard Malou Ejdesgaard in her opener, though, and survived a two-plus hour contest against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner on Wednesday. She'll have to raise her game farther in the next round, where she'll likely meet Wozniacki, but it's still nice to see her winning again. And Bojana Jovanovski, who has yet to follow up on her success from early last year, may have a bit of a reprieve against her next opponent -- she beat Petra Martic at a Challenger event two years ago. She'll still be the underdog, ranked nearly fifty spots below the Croat, but if she can find her game, she could present a challenge to even more seeds.

It'll be a tough task for some of these players to continue their runs, but it might be a tougher task for the favorites to hold on to their edge. And whomever is able to take advantage of the holes in the draws could reap more than a few benefits.

And this week might just be the time to do it.

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