October 3, 2012

Stopped Short

It's got to be a little disheartening for a tennis player, just putting together the momentum to launch a comeback, successfully pulling off a huge win at a tournament, and then having the wind sucked out of her a match or two later. Many of the ladies in Beijing this week have fallen victim to just that trend, and that's allowed some interesting names to make their way into the quarterfinals.

Ana Ivanovic isn't exactly an underdog at the China Open -- seeded eleventh here, she's coming off her first Major quarterfinal since 2008 and is at her highest ranking in three years. Still, she hasn't beaten a top ten player since Indian Wells, and was dealt a pretty tough draw from the start in Beijing. Ana opened against Christina McHale, a rematch of her Olympic first round, and got a challenge from new U.S. #2 Varvara Lepchenko a match later. Having survived these threats, she might have expected smooth sailing for a while, but world #69 Romina Oprandi had other plans.

The Swiss miss had lost three straight matches since the U.S. Open, but came to China with an agenda. She dispatched rising star Urszula Radwanska in her opener and avoided a second round against French Open finalist Sara Errani, who retired in her first match. She raised her game further against Ivanovic in today's match, taking advantage of weak serving from the Serb and actually winning more points on return than in her own game. After just over an hour, she'd notched her biggest win of the year and secured a spot in her first Tour-level quarter since last June. It'll only get tougher from here, of course -- she'll likely face world #1 Victoria Azarenka next -- but the veteran has proven she can still hit with the big girls and might just be able to make an even bigger statement this week.

Julia Goerges seemed to be in a bit of a sophomore slump after her breakout 2011 season. After reaching a career-high ranking at #15 this past March, she failed to defend clay court points during the spring and fell in the first round of the U.S. Open. She survived a scare against Vania King in her Beijing first round, but seemed to save face against rival Sam Stosur in the second. The German had won the pair's first two meetings, and though the fellow dirt specialist got revenge this year in Stuttgart, Goerges was able to turn the tide back in her favor in a two-and-a-half hour, three set win on Tuesday.

Her success would not last long, however. Ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli, who's play can be a little manic at times, had had a decent 2012 -- she was the first player of the season to beat Victoria Azarenka in Miami, made the final at two events, reached the quarters in New York, and very nearly ended a long losing streak to Maria Sharapova. Today she was relentless against Goerges, with eight aces and seven doubles, she was the aggressor and took down her opponent for the second straight week. She's certainly no stranger to the latter stages of an event, but her third round dominance may make her a bigger force than others realize.

Former world #1 Jelena Jankovic is striving to get back to that same level. Having fallen out of the top twenty in May, she's 1-9 against top-fifteen players this year and has racked up fourteen opening round losses -- I won't mention how many times she's squandered match points again. Well out of seeding territory these days, she also faced a tough draw in Beijing, but stayed tough against comeback story Andrea Petkovic to start and demolished a struggling Monica Niculescu on Tuesday to reach the third round. She seemed to be getting her act together again and, like compatriot Ana before her, should have bought herself a little breathing room.

But Carla Suarez Navarro was quick to put an end to the Serb's momentum. Dealing with her own set of injuries over the past two years, the teeny Spaniard had already scored wins over the likes of Sabine Lisicki and Sam Stosur this year and had made her way to the final in Estoril, her first since 2010. She'd already marked moral victory in Beijing, taking out Petra Kvitova in the second round, but kept her cool against JJ today. In a somewhat ugly display -- neither lady won even half of her service points and together they lost serve sixteen times -- Suarez Navarro was able to save just slightly more of the twenty-three break points she faced and eked out the win in just under two hours. She'll need to do better against Bartoli in her next round, but if she is able to clean up her game, she might just be able to catch the Frenchwoman by surprise.

It would have been nice to see the players looking to regroup this week really put an end to recent slumps, but with subsequent losses the roads to their revival seemed to take some unfortunate turns. Hopefully they'll be able to turn things around during the balance of the year -- after all, they've each proven they're still capable of pulling off some big wins.

Now they just needed to do it over and over.

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