May 4, 2012

Finding Their Motivation

This year has been a coming out party of sorts for some ladies on the WTA Tour, while others have struggled to gain the footing they once had. A couple have been more successful than the rest, and with a few women who've most recently shown their greatest potential facing off against those who've yet to really break through at this weekend's finals, we could set the course for the next several months, or change things entirely. And everyone's got a reason to win.

Elena Vesnina has spent the last several years cultivating her game on the doubles circuit, making the final at a Major in each of the last three years, including mixed in Melbourne a few months back, and has captured a few other big titles along the way. But she's struggled in singles, reaching the championship round at a handful of events, but never walking away with a crown. She'll have her sixth chance tomorrow in Budapest, where the Russian has already dispatched three seeds during the week. She hasn't dropped a set yet, and earlier today took out fifth seeded Marina Erakovic, losing serve just once in the barely ninety-minute match. It's her best performance all year -- she won more matches in Romania than she has all season -- and if she has a little more gas left in the tank, it could get her climbing the ranks the rest of the year.

It'll be a rough road for her, though, as one of the hottest players on Tour still stands in her way. Sara Errani only broke the top thirty about a month ago, but with two titles under her belt already in 2012, she's currently ninth in the race to the year-end WTA Championships. She's notched wins over Dominika Cibulkova, Julia Goerges and frequent doubles partner Roberta Vinci and, other than a slight hiccup in her second round in Budapest, she's lost fewer than ten games in her other three matches, wholly dominating rising star Anna Tatishvili in her semifinal today. She's never played Vesnina, so there's no precedent for the final. But if the feisty Italian holds her ground, she might just add another trophy to her case.

Over in Portugal, Carla Suarez Navarro finally looks like she's back on the track that brought her a win over Venus Williams and helped her to the final in Marbella two years straight. She hasn't been much of a presence on Tour the last few years, with injuries cutting her seasons short, but she proved she's still comfortable on clay with a run to the final four in Barcelona. She was handed a little bit of luck in Estoril, with Polona Hercog retiring from their second round and opponents taking care of two other seeds in her half of the draw. But a solid win over Karin Knapp in Friday's semi, where she broke the Italian five times, proved she might be up for the next challenge.

It could be a good one against Kaia Kanepi in Saturday's final. The Estonian has had her ups and downs, making the quarters at Roland Garros in 2008 and at Wimbledon two years later, but a series of injuries pushed her ranking down every time she built it up. She was on the way to great things, claiming the title in Brisbane this past January, but shoulder problems stalled her momentum almost immediately, and she'd only won three matches since. She struggled slightly against Petra Cetkovska in her quarterfinal, but followed up with a straight-set win over top Estoril seed Roberta Vinci today. She split her previous two meetings with CSN, with each winning when she was at the top of her game, but neither confrontation was on clay. It would be easy to give Kanepi the edge, but this could be a bigger fight than anyone expects.

With this week's finalists looking to keep, recapture, or spark a streak of momentum, there's a lot on the line in the ladies' title matches. If those looking for first-time wins are able to pull off the upsets, it could give them some much-needed momentum, but if the favorites succeed as planned, who knows what other wins they could pull off down the road. Whatever it takes to get them there, though, you can be sure they'll put up a fight. And the resulting performances should be well worth it.

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