August 22, 2012

Where Things Are Good

It's a little strange to see so many top stars in action the week before the year's last Major, especially after the summer we've already had. Of course they run the risk of exhaustion -- if they hope to make the second week of the U.S. Open, it could mean three straight weeks of grueling matches -- but some players insist on getting in a few extra matches at these warm-up events. And maybe for good reason.

The ladies are only making their second trip to Dallas, so there's not a lot of history to draw from, but if last year's draw is any indication, it's been a place for players to regain the spotlight. Aravane Rezai hadn't won more than two full matches at any event in 2011, but as a qualifier pulled off four upsets in the main draw to reach the final. And champion Sabine Lisicki's title sealed her comeback and helped her reach a career high ranking a few months later.

Neither are in the draw this time, but former #1 Jelena Jankovic might hope their karma rubs off on her a bit. Her opening round loss in Cincinnati last week -- during which she squandered five match points -- pushed her out of the top thirty for the first time since 2006 and threatened to unseed her in New York. But this week in Texas, JJ seems to be back on track -- she stayed tough last night to notch a win over giant killer Arantxa Rus and decimated Sorana Cirstea this evening to make her first semi of the summer. There are still a few matches left before she can claim a title, but if she can stay alive a little while longer, it could do wonders for her confidence next week.

A little further east John Isner will try to recapture the magic he found last year at the inaugural Winston-Salem Open -- he won the title in his home state with wins over Marcos Baghdatis, Julien Benneteau, and then top-seeded Andy Roddick. Stakes are higher in 2012 -- Isner is one of three top-ten players in the draw this time -- but the crowd will certainly be on his side again. After surviving a scare yesterday against Martin Klizan, he'll have to raise his game against Jurgen Melzer who's won their previous two meetings. But if he can harness those good memories from last year, he might have the edge the rest of the week. And if he can translate that into success in New York, it could help him make his first real Slam statement.

There's a bigger streak at stake closer to the action at the U.S. Open. Caroline Wozniacki has been crowned champion in New Haven four years in a row -- in fact, her 2011 title was the last she's won and, considering she claimed six trophies in each of the previous two seasons, that makes this year her least productive since 2007. She's seemed more than comfortable so far at Yale, dispatching Sofia Arvidsson in less than ninety minutes earlier today, but things look to get tougher from here. She'll next face Carlsbad champion Dominika Cibulkova, spotty in her recent matches, but a winner over the eighth-ranked Dane in two of their last four meetings. The Connecticut campus has been like a second home to Wozniacki, though, so there may be a few intangibles in her favor on Thursday. And given the relatively staid year she's had so far, any momentum she can gather can only do her good at the Open.

Hopefully these players' recent successes won't deplete their energy when it's really important, but there's no harm in returning to a place sure to boost their confidence. There's no guarantee they'll come out victorious when the week's through, of course, but getting that nice little reminder of just how much they can accomplish could only help them as they make their way to New York.

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