August 1, 2014

Don't Call This a Comeback...

Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of players have taken the opportunity this week to put their names back on the tennis map?

Whether tried and true veterans or once-hot young guns, more than a few players had slowed down in recent months and years, some making more headlines for their lack of results than for any match wins. But someone seems to have lit a fire under these guys, one which hopefully won't flicker out any time soon.

Juan Monaco seems to have brought the momentum that took him all the way to the Gstaad final last week with him to Austria. Now ranked back in the top hundred dropped his opening set in Kitzbühel in a bagel, but came back strong to take out seventh seed Jarkko Nieminen and, earlier today, notched another upset over world #48 Andreas Seppi. He'll meet upstart Dominic Thiem in the second part of his double-header later today, but I like his chances to get back to a championship match. But the real story at the bet-at-home Cup is really David Goffin, a surprise fourth-rounder at the French Open two years ago. Since then he's lost in seven Major first rounds and this year has only won three ATP-level matches. He is, however, doing well on the Challenger circuit, claiming three clay court titles since Wimbledon and carried a 15-0 streak to Kitzbühel, where he took out top seed Phillipp Kohlschreiber early in his run. Earlier today he came back after losing his opening set to Maximo Gonzalez -- he'd been serving for it at 5-4 -- and will, against all expectations, be playing in his first career final tomorrow.

Over on the American hardcourts a couple more players are showing why they were once thought to have so much potential. Vasek Pospisil hit a career high of #25 in the world at the start of the year, but went on an eight-match losing streak during the spring and early summer. He did a little better in doubles, though, teaming with Jack Sock for a stunning victory at the All England Club and backing it up with a quick-and-easy title run in Atlanta. This week in DC, he scored his third win versus a top-ten player, repeating his win over Tomas Berdych from almost a year ago. He'll still be the on-paper underdog in today's quarterfinal against Santiago Giraldo, but he's shown he can pull off bigger wins than that. Donald Young too is having a bit of a resurgence -- after his famously unsuccessful 2012 season, he saw his ranking plummet from #38 to sub-200. But even with a few nice wins this year, he still has a losing record in 2014. He has managed wins over Julien Benneteau and Denis Istomin this week, though, so he might just be back on track.

The ladies in Washington haven't seen as many notable rebirths -- Kristina Mladenovic continued her stellar season by taking out top seed and Wimbledon semifinalist Lucie Safarova while consistently strong Ekaterina Makarova dominated two-time defending champion Magdalena Rybarikova in her opener. But she'll next meet 2012 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who seems to have gotten her mojo back. Since claiming the title in Paris last February she's lost five matches to players ranked in triple digits, but hasn't dropped a set yet this week. And Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's been winning in fits and starts the last several years, had a surprisingly easy time against Kirsten Flipkens to make the quarters. She's the lowest seed still standing, but might just be able to re-harness the talent we know she has.

But perhaps the player we should be most focused on is Venus Williams who this week returns to Stanford for the first time since 2009. The former world #1 has understandably slowed down a bit since being diagnosed with Sjorgrëns disease three years ago, but she remains relevant, picking up title #45 in Dubai last February. And she's reached the final here seven times before, the first one way back in 1998, and though she's unseeded at the Bank of the West Classic she's clearly still a threat. Late last night she notched her first top ten victory of the year over Victoria Azarenka, herself struggling to come back from injury, and next faces Andrea Petkovic -- a woman she beat on her way to the 2012 Luxembourg title. She could easily set up a showdown against sister Serena for a spot in the championship match, and while she'll of course be the underdog there, I wouldn't expect anything other than fireworks.

All of these guys and girls have tasted big victories in the past, and though it may have been a while since they've been at the top of their game, they've all been around for years and know how to win when it counts. And this might be just the time to do that.

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