June 14, 2012

Seize the Opportunity

It's been a rough couple days for the favorites at the post-French Open events being played this week -- the top seeds failed to win even one match at three of the four tournaments, and a couple more just slightly further down the rankings did no better. It certainly opens the door for some of the lower seeds, with the fiercest competition out of the way, but perhaps some of the biggest beneficiaries are even further off the radar.

The seeds in Bad Gastein spanned a wide range, from world #25 Julia Goerges, who won her first career title here two years ago, to barely double-digit Johanna Larsson -- still, you might have expected a little more fight from the higher-ranked players. Goerges fell in a quick ninety minute match to Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp and fourth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro dropped earlier today to Luxembourg's Mandy Minella, who just cracked the top hundred earlier this year.

With two clay-courters out of the picture, Alize Cornet might have a chance to shine again. The Frenchwoman, who peaked at #11 more than three years ago, has been struggling since, but a run to the final in Strasbourg may have gotten her back on track. She hasn't faced a big challenge yet in Austria, and with her quarterfinal meeting with Goerges thwarted early, she could be in a good place to shake down the rest of the draw.

The casualties ran a little deeper in a rain-soaked Birmingham where the ladies made a switch to grass in preparation for Wimbledon. Seeds one through three were all bumped in their opening rounds -- Francesca Schiavone, out of the top twenty after failing to defend Roland Garros points, was stunned by unknown Misaki Doi, Sabine Lisicki, dogged by injury the last few months, was upset by Urszula Radwanska, positioned sixty spots lower than her #3-ranked sister, and Daniela Hantuchova, who skipped the French with a stress fracture, couldn't get past veteran Melinda Czink.

All that might be good news for one-time U.S. Open darling Melanie Oudin, who only won two Grand Slam matches in the two years after her breakthrough. Now out of the top two hundred, she's been working her way through the ITF circuit, even having to qualify for the second-tier tournaments, but finally won a Major match in Paris before losing to eventual finalist Sara Errani in the second round. So far at the AEGON Classic, though, she's already ousted fellow-comeback Sorana Cirstea and run over doubles specialist Elena Vesnina. It's the first time she's won three main-draw matches at a Tour-level event since Charleston in 2010, and as she preps for the All England Club, where she has gone as far as the fourth round, there's no better time to remind us all she's still relevant.

The men in London have not fared too much better so far. Andy Murray was stunned in his opener by co-marathon man Nicolas Mahut, who's having his own rebirth of sorts this year, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who managed to pull off one win, wasn't able to come back today against Ivan Dodig and in the process may have sustained a broken finger, putting him in doubt for Wimbledon at all. With both exiting so early, we'll be denied a repeat of last year's final, which Murray won in three long sets.

And with top players out of contention -- fifth seed and usual grass court staple Feliciano Lopez also lost today -- rebounding Sam Querrey could make a statement himself. The 2010 champion here has struggled post-elbow surgery, putting together a few stretches of first-round losses and falling out of the top one hundred late last year. He's starting to turn things around though, winning a Challenger event in Sarasota and even taking a set from Janko Tipsarevic in Paris. This week at Queen's Club he's already beaten a tough Denis Istomin and eighth seeded Julien Benneteau. With a quarterfinal meeting against Dodig instead of the more-intimidating Tsonga, he might be able to make a much needed run at a Tour event again.

It's not that these guys aren't able to beat the top-ranked players -- they've done so plenty of times throughout their careers -- but as they look to launch a meaningful comeback this season, it might be a while before they get another such chance. And if they can capitalize, it might mean we'll see a lot more of them in the months to come.

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