July 17, 2014

Keep It Up

It's no surprise that tennis schedules can be grueling -- and unless you're part of the super-elite class of players, we often see athletes put up a big performance one week and then, whether because of physical fatigue or emotional letdown, fizzle out immediately after.

But something seems a little different on the courts this week, and many players who had breakthroughs just days ago -- not the ones we're used to succeeding one tournament after another -- have kept their momentum going. And while they might not walk away with the trophies this weekend, their recent consistency tells me there's a lot more to come from each of them.

Young American Grace Min has spent most of her time on the ITF circuit and only won her first Tour-level match last year. She hadn't done much this season, but last week easily ousted Karolina Pliskova in Bad Gastein and even took a set off eventual champion Andrea Petkovic in her first WTA semifinal match. This week in Bastad, she scored an even bigger win in her opener, ousting second seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in barley over an hour. Her run didn't last much longer, unfortunately -- she lost today to Alexandra Panova in straight sets -- but she is at a career high ranking of #114 in the world. And with this win over a top twenty-five player, it looks like she's poised to rise even higher.

Sixteen-year-old Ana Konjuh wasn't in action last week, but isn't much further removed from her surprising run to the Wimbledon third round. Ranked barely inside the top two-hundred before, the former top-ranked Junior battled through qualifying rounds and then dismissed one-time world #12 Yanina Wickmayer to notch her second straight win at the All England Club. This week in Istanbul, where she was also a qualifier, she came back after losing the first set to Magdalena Rybarikova and followed up with a win today over Japan's Misaki Doi. She'll face fellow teenager Elina Svitolina for a spot in the semis, but win or lose it looks like the young Croat is destined for even bigger wins.

Roberta Vinci, on the other hand, has seemed a little past her prime this year. Part of the world's best doubles team -- she and partner Sara Errani completed their own Grand Slam with a trophy at Wimbledon -- she was just outside the top ten in singles a year ago, but she went 0-6 to start the year and didn't get to the third round of any event until May. She's held onto a top thirty ranking, but even as the second seed last week in Bucharest I was surprised to see her make a run to the final -- she lost in straights to 2014 standout Simona Halep. She joined Konjuh -- incidentally, her first loss of the year in Auckland -- in Istanbul this week and will meet qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru later today. But now that she's got the monkey off her back, she stands a much better shot of living up to expectations than she did just a few weeks ago.

Like Vinci Lukas Rosol has been around the block a few times and even picked up a title last year in Bucharest. He made it back to the final this year, but his single biggest win, of course, came on the grass of the All England Club two years ago. Still he's been a fixture in the top fifty for most of the last sixteen months and beat three higher ranked players on his way to the Stuttgart final last week. He ultimately lost in three sets to another of the season's breakthroughs, Roberto Bautista Agut, but he's rebouned well this week in Hamburg. Still unseeded at the bet-at-home Open, he's already caused two upsets during his campaign, ousting world #20 Tommy Robredo in straight sets today. He wouldn't have to face anyone ranked higher than that until at least the final, so there's no reason we can't see more from the Czech upstart.

A little more surprising has been the sudden rise of veteran Samuel Groth, who played his first Futures matches way back in 2005. He'd won a handful of Futures event during his career and one Challengers' title, but never cracked the top hundred until this week. That's thanks to a semifinal run in Newport, where he dethroned defending champion Nicolas Mahut on the way. This week he survived his Bogota opener against Juan Sebastian Cabal by the skin of his teeth, needing two tiebreaks and over two hours to get the win, so he's going to be stretched in his second round versus top seed Richard Gasquet. But the twenty-six year old Australian has more momentum than he's had before in his career and might just be ready to make a break for it.

These players are all at different parts of their careers, but by following up one successful week -- not just one successful match -- with another seems to show none of them are going anywhere anytime soon. And with the big summer hardcourt season just around the corner, there's no telling how much further their recently momentum can carry them.

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