June 17, 2012

The Weirdest Day in Tennis

It's just after noon in New York, and I'm already overwhelmed by the stuff that's gone on today. Rain-delayed battles, amazing triumphs, stellar upsets, and one particularly strange display that brings up more questions than it does answers.

You'd be forgiven if you don't remember Alize Cornet. The twenty-two year old peaked during the 2008 clay court season, making the semis in Charleston and Amelia Island, the finals in Acapulco and Rome, and finally earning a title in Budapest. She's been a little quiet since, watching her ranking drop from nearly top-ten territory to triple-digits just a few months ago. She hasn't even won an ITF title in over four years. But she may be turning things around now -- the Frenchwoman beat four higher-ranked players to make the final in Strasbourg, and this week picked right back up post-Roland Garros to play for the trophy in Bad Gastein. In a surprisingly tight match against second-seeded Yanina Wickmayer, Cornet was able to capitalize on her break opportunities and out-lasted the favorite after more than two hours of play. For a woman who's been a bit of a non-entity in the sport the last several years, it was quite an accomplishment -- she might not be quite ready to take the grass court season by storm yet, but if she keeps up her confidence, it might not be long before she does.

Meanwhile in Birmingham, the rain played tricks with the players all week long. With play almost completely washed out on Friday, players were forced to endure one double-header after another over the weekend, with some athletes losing leads and others hanging tougher to get the win. Perhaps the greatest victories, though, came from world #208 Melanie Oudin, whose once-bright star has become a little tarnished since 2009. She looked good in her opening rounds in England, but it wasn't until her later matches that she really brought up her game. After her quarterfinal against compatriot Irina Falconi was delayed on Saturday, she got back on court to finish it up. She then went another three sets against eighth seeded Ekaterina Makarova, a more-than-solid player herself, to reach her first-ever Tour final. For the title she'll face Jelena Jankovic who, you might remember, she beat during that first breakout Wimbledon a few years ago. If she can pull it off again -- let's face it, JJ is not the player she was back then -- it could put Melanie way back on the radar over the next few months.

Tommy Haas has been on the radar before, but it's been a long time since. The thirty-four year old was the #2 player in the world a full decade ago, but shoulder surgery, hip surgery, illness and, well, age, pushed him out of the top fifty, hundred, three hundred and five hundred by this time last year. He didn't have the most successful return in 2011, winning just a handful of matches in his first five months back, but finally put together a few back-to-back wins to make the quarters in Vienna. He did even better this season, upsetting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the way to the Munich semis and even got in a couple main draw wins at Roland Garros as a qualifier. But his true comeback was sealed this week when, as a wildcard in Halle, the 2009 champion stunned third-seed Tomas Berdych, overpowered eventual Munich champ Philipp Kohlschreiber, and earlier today pulled off an epic straight-set victory over Roger Federer, a man he hadn't beaten since the Sydney Olympics -- that was back in 2000, for those who forgot. Ten losses and twelve years later, Haas was again victor over King Fed, winning his first title in three years and pulling off probably the most surprising win of the day.

Things didn't stop there, however. In what might have been the strangest -- and most disappointing -- end to a tournament, David Nalbandian, seeded tenth at Queen's Club, was leading Croatia's Marin Cilic by a tiebreak, but had just lost serve when this happened:

The linesman was left with a bloody calf, and though the Argentine apologized for his outburst, tournament officials chose to disqualify him from the tournament, handing Cilic the win. It's a tough way to claim a title, certainly not the way true athletes want a competition to end. But with his first trophy on grass, Cilic may have at least proven to himself he can triumph on the surface. As for Nalbandian, it'll be interesting to see how the veteran pulls himself together after this latest outburst. Sadly, it wasn't the first -- and won't be the last -- instance of tennis players losing their cool, and hopefully the sport won't lose anything from it.

With all the unpredictable things that happened on the tennis courts today, it's a bit of a shame we'll probably most remember what went down in London. But there's so much more that's worth celebrating this weekend, and with just a week left until Wimbledon, those players should take all that good with them over the next few weeks. And they're recent successes -- and even their failures -- could prove invaluable as they look to put together even bigger triumphs in the matches ahead.

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

Congrats to Melanie Oudin, who won her first WTA title with a straight-set win over former world #1 Jelena Jankovic on Wednesday. Couldn't have picked a better time to do it!