July 31, 2012

Things Are Getting Good...

The rain, as it often does, tried its best to disrupt the schedule at the All England Club the last few days, but as Tuesday's action wrapped up we were ultimately left with sixteen men and sixteen women, all of whom still have a good shot at ultimately bringing home Olympic Gold. There have been upsets, of course, but with even the favorites facing off against some big stars from the start, you know the players who've lasted have earned it.

Perhaps the top half of the men's draw has the fewest surprises, with world #35 Denis Istomin the lone unseeded player to survive this far. World #1 Roger Federer had a bit of a hiccup in his first round, but has been on point the last few days as he looks to complete his Golden Slam, and largely underrated David Ferrer has sailed fairly easily though his first two matches -- he didn't even allow a break opportunity today against Slovenia's Blaz Kavcic. But perhaps the player to watch most carefully in this section of the draw is Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro. He might have had the toughest second round match-up against Italy's Andreas Seppi -- the man who nearly beat Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros fourth round -- but performed some of his best ball Monday to make the sweet sixteen in his first Summer Games.

There are a few more unexpected names in the bottom half of the bracket. Novak Djokovic also stumbled early, losing his first set after his tiebreak with Fabio Fognini was halted at seven-all, but his performance today against Andy Roddick reminded us that the world #2 is far from a nonentity at this event. And Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray hasn't dropped serve in his first two matches and pulled off a one-sided victory in his opener over Stanislas Wawrinka, a man who previously held a solid 4-6 record against the Scot. There are also some veterans pulling off big wins in this section -- Lleyton Hewitt, Feliciano Lopez and Marcos Baghdatis all had to pull off upsets to make the third round -- but it might be worth keeping an eye on the real underdog in the bunch. Belgium's Steve Darcis, who pulled off the first shocker of the Games against Tomas Berdych on Saturday, backed it up with a win over Santiago Giraldo yesterday. He'll face clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro next, and though he'll be the clear underdog, he might just be able to take the Spaniard by surprise.

There have actually been fewer seeds falling in the ladies' draw, but even when you account for the surprises the sixteen women remaining are some of the best of the bunch. Three in the top half have won at least one Grand Slam title and two more have made the finals. Every one of them has spent some time in the top ten. Top seeded Victoria Azarenka is the on-paper favorite, but Serena and even Venus Williams might still be favored over her. Still I'll be watching Angelique Kerber whose rise up the rankings the last twelve months is nothing to be overlooked. The German, playing her first Olympic games, has only lost three games so far in London, and facing off against Venus on Wednesday, she might be out to avenge her doubles loss from earlier today. Even with two titles on the year and having made at least the quarters in three of the last four Majors, she still has farther to rise and this could be her perfect opportunity to do so.

There are even more Major winners in the bottom half of the bracket, and while a couple of them haven't tasted big victories for a long time, that shouldn't take anything away from their performances so far. Ana Ivanovic could have folded early against rising American star Christina McHale in her opener, but came through in straights. Kim Clijsters, who's had some solid performances on grass since coming back from her latest set of injuries, handily dismissed both of her early opponents -- though, admittedly, she was spared having to face fifth seed Sam Stosur. And Maria Sharapova, whose trophy in Paris ended a long losing streak at the Majors, has been similarly strong as she goes for her own Golden Slam. But a more under-the-radar player might be the one to surprise us all. Maria Kirilenko put up an amazing fight as the surprise quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, and with her next opponent Julia Goerges eliminating the woman who devastatingly beat her a month ago, her prospects to advance have greatly improved.

Of course some of these players' have much better chances than others to keep their momentum going, but the draws sure have shaken out so that they each have some interesting opportunities. And if their level of play so far in London is any indication, things are only going to get better from here.

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