June 20, 2012

A Change of Season

Today marks the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere, and the warmer weather and longer days seem to have had quite an effect on a couple players making a shift to the grass court season as well. Some have struggled in the heat, but others have taken the opportunity to really come out of hibernation.

Plenty of seeds have fallen by the wayside in the 's-Hertogenbosch men's draw -- through the first two rounds, only 2008 champ David Ferrer has survived. But other clay-court specialists haven't fared as well -- Colombia's Santiago Giraldo dropped his first round match while third-seeded Jurgen Melzer, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2010 was ousted easily by world #70 Tatsuma Ito earlier today.

And that could be a big break for Belgium's Xavier Malisse, now just barely ranked in the double digits. After running to the quarters last week at Queen's Club, he kicked off his campaign in the Netherlands by ousting second seed Viktor Troicki and followed it up with a straight-set win over Paolo Lorenzi today. Though he's never won a title on the surface, he has a better record on grass than any other turf and with no real intimidating opponents in his path, he might have a clear road to at least the final.

The ladies' draw at the Unicef Open has been similarly decimated -- top seeds Sam Stosur and Sara Errani, who've each had some their biggest successes on clay, both fell in their first round, and Flavia Pennetta, who's won most of her nine career titles on clay, was served two breadsticks in her second.

And though a few seeds still remain, perhaps unseeded Kim Clijsters has established herself as the favorite at this event. Out of the top fifty now that she hasn't played since Miami, she lost her first set to Romina Oprandi -- ironically the woman who beat her here last year -- but has been back in battling form ever since. She has a quarterfinal date with 2010 French Open champ Francesca Schiavone, a woman much more at home on the dirt and one to whom she's never lost, and with no other seeds left in her section of the bracket, it could be smooth sailing to the final.

Over in Eastbourne the seeds again favored players who thrived in the spring, but both Estoril finalist Richard Gasquet and Spain's Marcel Granollers were sent packing after their openers. A couple are holding tough, of course -- Andreas Seppi, who very nearly took out world #1 Novak Djokovic in the French fourth round, and Munich champion Philipp Kohlschreiber have survived, but with a quarterfinal match-up against each other, only one can possibly go further.

And while other dirt specialists battle each other, flailing American Andy Roddick might be ready to take advantage. Currently out of seeding territory for Wimbledon, the veteran still has a losing record on the year, and a opening round loss last week in London might have dampened his hopes for the grass-court portion of this season. But he benefitted from a retirement by compatriot Sam Querrey on Tuesday, and then survived a close match against Jeremy Chardy earlier today. And with his immediate path cleared for him by his colleagues, this could be the perfect time for him to stage a real comeback.

The ladies at the AEGON International face a similar situation. Aggie Radwanska, honestly an all-court player, but one who reached an career-high ranking thanks in part to a title in Brussels, lost quickly to Tsvetana Pironkova in her opener. And defending Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova suffered a similar fate to 2010 titleist Ekaterina Makarova, who's racking up a trail of top-notch wins this year.

And with a couple of the headline-grabbing players out of the picture, defending champ Marion Bartoli might be able to trot back into the spotlight. She hadn't won more than one match at any event since Miami, so with her relatively easy road to the quarters -- she's lost just four games in each of her first two rounds -- confidence might be building in the one-time Wimbledon runner-up. She'll have to get past seventh-seeded Lucie Safarova first, but her chances for a repeat are looking even better now that her biggest foes have been taken care of for her.

Whether this week's wins can translate into triumphs at Wimbledon remains to be seen, but so far they're looking good. It's been a long time since they've tasted much success, so the victories will be many times as sweet. And if they can keep up their game for a couple more months, the summer sun might shine even brighter for them.

No comments: