September 20, 2012

The Comebacks and the Coming Out

This is an interesting period of the tennis season -- with the Majors over and done for the year, casual fans might not pay attention to what's happening on court. But there are still several weeks worth of tournaments left, and there's a lot on the line for players trying to make a statement this year. Some may be trying to reverse several months of less-than-spectacular results, while others are looking to capitalize on recent momentum. And though they've already scored some impressive wins, they might need to raise their game even more at the end of this week.

Caroline Wozniacki came to Seoul with her lowest ranking in over three years and on the heels of two first-round Slam exits. She held onto the top seed this week, but with no titles on the year -- she'd won at least three annually since 2008 -- it seemed the former world #1 was on the downswing. But she came out firing this week, dropping just three games to giant-killer Arantxa Rus in her opener and taking just an hour to oust Caroline Garcia, she who took a set and two breaks from Maria Sharapova at last year's French Open. She'll next meet Klara Zakopalova who hadn't won a match since July, and against whom the Dane holds a solid 2-0 record. If she can hold her ground, it might put her on track to win her first trophy of the year.

But Kaia Kanepi, trying for her own comeback -- again, might stand in her way. After a stellar start to the year, injury sidelined her after Roland Garros. She arguably has had an easier road than Wozniacki in her first tournament back, but with two straight-set wins she seems to have eased her way back into fighting shape. Next up will be Kiki Bertens, another up-and-comer who won her first career title in Fes this past April. The Dutchwoman has pulled off a few upsets this year -- Nadia Petrova in Montreal and Christina McHale at the U.S. Open -- but if Kanepi plays to her full ability, she should be a real contender for this title.

Over in Guangzhou we've seen a couple other players fight their way back into relevance. Sorana Cirstea, once a standout in Paris, has been climbing up the rankings for most of the year, beating Marion Bartoli in Madrid, Na Li at Wimbledon and Sabine Lisicki in New York. She's had a couple of struggles this week, dropping serve four times in her first round and needing a tiebreak to close out her second. But today against Alize Cornet, whose advance in China had been helped largely by retirements of her opponents, the Romanian was on point. Against the former #11 she converted four break opportunities and won a solid seventy percent of her first serves. The win might have given her the confidence she needs to pull out a few more wins.

Unfortunately for the third seed, though, she next faces British teenager Laura Robson. The Olympic Silver medalist has been having a coming out party this summer, beating two former Major champions at the U.S. Open and rising to a career-high ranking of #74 in the world. So far in Guangzhou she's taken out second seeded Jie Zheng and survived a break-fest with Shuai Peng earlier today. Now in her second Tour semifinal -- she got this far in Palermo back in July -- she might actually be expected to get the win. And with her compatriots finally proving they've got the stuff to win, all eyes will be on Robson to deliver too.

It's not over yet, of course, with a few rounds left before winners are crowned, but these ladies' performances so far certainly look encouraging. As former stars look to regain their place at the top of the sport and rising ones climb their way to new heights, it sure looks like we'll get even more depth in the women's game. And while the biggest crowns of the year have already been awarded, it sure looks like they might be in a good position to get next season off on the right foot.

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