August 10, 2012

Making the Switch

It's been a rough couple days for the sport's best players as they've tried to make the relatively late shift to the American hardcourt season. With so many staying on Wimbledon's grass for the Olympics last week, there wasn't a lot of time to adjust for the first big events of the U.S. Open Series.

Players like fourth-place finisher Maria Kirilenko and runner-up Maria Sharapova skipped the Rogers Cup in Canada entirely, while Gold medalist Andy Murray withdrew after his first match. And a couple who were hoping to stick around fared no better -- five men's seeds, including Bronze winner Juan Martin Del Potro, were upset in Toronto on Wednesday and top players like Sam Stosur and Petra Kvitova had to fight back from the brink in Montreal.

But that does open the door for other players still in the draw -- both those who have been slogging it out on the surface the last few weeks while the favorites were otherwise occupied, and those who didn't last quite as long at the All England Club as they might have hoped.

Aggie Radwanska's run to the final at Wimbledon solidified her spot as one of the sport's top athletes, but her opening loss at the Summer Games threatened to halt her momentum cold. She got herself in a bit of danger her first match in Montreal, dropping her first set to rising German Mona Barthel. But perhaps helped by a couple rain delays, the Pole regrouped in the second and finally closed out the match. Traditionally strong this time of year, she might be able to take advantage of any holes left in the draw.

Sara Errani, too, hasn't done much off the clay since spring -- she's won a match here and there on grass, but with an infamous golden set against her record she might have been aching to get on a surface more to her liking. She's never won a Tour title on a hardcourt, but with a run to the Australian Open quarters, you know she can cause some waves. She was dominant in her opener against Jana Cepelova, but will have to raise her game against Na Li, a woman who's proven she's still relevant on both Errani's best grounds. If she can score the win, though, it could bode well for the Italian the rest of this week.

It's not just the favorites, though, that stand to gain in Montreal. Hometown favorite Aleksandra Wozniak has been rebuilding her game all year, winning an ITF title in Nassau and cutting her ranking basically in half. She survived a close call against unseeded and recovering Daniela Hantuchova in her first round and followed up with a one-sided victory over former #1 Jelena Jankovic on Thursday. She'll be the underdog again against Christina McHale in her next match, but with the American going three sets in her early rounds, Wozniak might be the fresher contestant. And the way her section of the draw is shaping up, there's plenty of reason to believe she could keep on going.

The men in Toronto have seen their bracket busted wide open over the last few days, and while favorites like Novak Djokovic and Canada's own Milos Raonic have survived, the possibilities for others may be stronger. Mardy Fish has a chunk of points to defend in the coming weeks, and while his contemporaries bided their time in London, he got in a couple practice shots in the U.S. He's only played one match so far at the Rogers Cup, but his drubbing of his Indian Wells vanquisher Matthew Ebden -- he lost just seven points on serve and needed less than an hour to advance -- suggests he's in good form. If he can make it past new top-tenner Juan Monaco next, certainly no easy task, he could make a good and deep run here.

Tommy Haas has also spent the summer rebuilding his game. Back in the top thirty thanks to a title in Halle and runner-up finishes in Hamburg and Washington, he's already survived two tough opponents -- veteran David Nalbandian nearly ousted him early while ninth seeded Gilles Simon provided relatively little resistance. He'll next face Radek Stepanek, who on Wednesday scored a big win over Juan Martin Del Potro and won their most recent meeting in Miami. But Haas is a different player these days and might just be the favorite this time.

But the sleeper in this draw might be Jeremy Chardy who notched his first top-ten victory of the year over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday. The Frenchman barely has a winning record on the year, but by making the third round here, he looks to be changing that. He'll next meet Spain's Marcel Granollers, a man who's technically a favorite, but with just two wins on hardcourts so far this year, he might not be quite up to snuff. Chardy did win the pair's only previous match about a year ago, too, so history could be on his side.

The switch to hardcourts seems to have had different effects on players this week, taking some victims, allowing others redemption, and rewarding those who've remained loyal to it the last few weeks. Whether players can keep the momentum they've captured so far in Canada as we head to the final Grand Slam of the year remains to be seen. But performances so far bode well for these players, and with a more wins they might just change the conversation at the U.S. Open.

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