March 27, 2014

It's Their Year

With the fields narrowing down as we head into final days of the Sony Open, it should come as no surprise that some of the stalwarts are hanging tough. Three-time champion Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, who won her sixth trophy here last year have been progressing with little drama, and heavyweights like Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and even 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych have bounced back nicely from disappointing results in Indian Wells.

But the real story might just be the new crop of tennis stars -- those who've seen success in the past but are only now putting together win after win consistently -- and they could be on the way to the best years of their careers.

Dominika Cibulkova was long my Little Engine That Couldn't. Though she popped in and out of the top twenty and scored huge wins over the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki -- last year she even had a set and a break up on Serena in the Miami -- she also had enormous meltdowns on court and played in three finals before winning her first title just over two years ago. This year, though, she's already beaten four top ten players, reached her first Grand Slam final and climbed to a high ranking of #11 in the world. In tonight's second semifinal -- she scored a huge come-from-behind win against Aga Radwanska to get here -- she'll meet Na Li for the third time this season. She has yet to beat the world #2 in their six previous meetings, but she did come close at the BNP Paribas Open and might just be up for the challenge this time.

The men aren't suffering any success hangovers either. Kei Nishikori, a bit of his career high ranking at #21 right now, successfully defended his title in Memphis last month and pushed Rafael Nadal in their Australian Open fourth round. This week in Miami, though, he's had his most success -- he followed up a win over last year's runner-up David Ferrer win a stunning three-set victory over Roger Federer last night, his second straight win over the all-time great. But of course the bigger story here continues to be Alexandr Dolgopolov, the uncontested Cinderella in Indian Wells -- after taking out Rafa, world #14 Fabio Fognini and big-serving Milos Raonic in the desert, he stayed tough against breakout Grand Slam titleist Stanislas Wawrinka to reach the quarters. He's up next against Berdych, a man he hasn't yet beaten, but the momentum he's been carrying with him could help change that. And at a tournament like this, there may be no better time to do it.

After years of riding the rankings roller coaster, all of these guys seem to be upping their consistency lately, and are clearly on the upswing. By performing at their best against the best day in and day out, they might be on the road to even bigger successes down the road. They might not ultimately win the titles here in Miami, but something tells me we haven't seen the last of any of them this season -- and if they keep their streaks going, there's no telling how high they can climb.

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