April 4, 2014

A Door Creaks Open

It's been a good couple weeks for some of the stars of the WTA. Flavia Pennetta cemented her comeback with a win in Indian Wells, her biggest title to date, and Serena Williams closed out trophy #7 in Miami last weekend in dominating form. But the efforts got to both of them this week, and each lady bowed out of the first real clay court tournaments of the season earlier than expected. And that might have opened the door for other players looking to turn around a spate of bad luck in their own corners.

Uber-veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm took out Pennetta in their Monterrey Open first round, and followed the victory with a three-set win over Timea Babos. A couple other largely unknown names have also thrived south of the border -- qualifier Julia Boserup, ranked #302 in the world, took out Kirsten Flipkens on her way to the quarters and Jovana Jaksic, a winner of fourteen ITF titles and only one match win in a WTA main draw before this week, will face off today for an unlikely spot in the semis. But the bigger opportunity in Mexico lies with Caroline Wozniacki, seeded third and just off her lowest ranking in almost six years. She did reach the semis in Dubai and the quarters in Miami, so maybe she's been pulling her game together a bit over the last few months. She's handled challenges from American upstart Coco Vandeweghe and doubles champion Kristina Mladenovic already this week and should be the favorite today against Karolina Pliskova, though the Czech has put in some inspiring performances herself. If Caro can stay strong, she might just get back the confidence she needs to relaunch herself back in the elite

Up in Charleston, an exhausted and injured Serena lost her opening round to little-known Jana Cepelova who, to her credit, backed up the win by taking out another seed in Elena Vesnina. And as strong as the world #78 has been, the glaring hole in the draw has created opportunities for a slew of players who haven't tasted big victory in quite some time. Sara Errani, just hanging onto a spot in the top ten, has barely won more matches than she's lost this year, while former #1 Jelena Jankovic has only won one title since 2010. They're both still alive, but it's the lower seeds who could most surprise us. Quickly recovering Andrea Petkovic drubbed Sabine Lisicki in the third round and Daniela Hantuchova may not face a seed through the semis. But I'll keep an eye on Lucie Safarova, runner-up at the Family Circle Cup in 2012 -- she was the only player to take a set off eventual champion Na Li in Melbourne, even holding match point, and last night pulled off a stunning victory over Sam Stosur, bringing her record against the one-time Grand Slam champion to an impressive 9-2. She has a less impressive record against Petkovic, who she'll face in today's quarter, but could just have the momentum to push her a few matches more.

Of course the early exits of the very favorites at this week's tournaments should signal that nothing is certain -- and we've already seen several surprises in both draws, so there could very well be more in store. Whether these players take advantage of these opportunities remains to be seen, but the way they're playing there may never be a better chance to do so. And for some of them, a win could put them on a much brighter path for the rest of the year.


Anonymous said...

Monterrey is on hard-court.

Tennis Spin said...

Oops, you're right. My bad. Though after Friday's results, that's not the only thing I got wrong here!