September 18, 2014

Make Up Time

It's easy to forget, now that the 2014 Grand Slam season has officially wrapped up, that there are still several weeks of play left this year. And especially for the players who fell short of expectations over the last few weeks, this is their opportunity to show us what they've got.

In Guangzhou a couple ladies have already fallen short -- top seed Sam Stosur, who lost in her U.S. Open second round, dropped in her opener here while Zarina Diyas, who couldn't quite capitalize on the opportunity she was dealt in New York, fell in straight sets to a qualifier in China. In fact, only one seed made it out of the first round -- Alize Cornet, who's struggled since her big Wimbledon win, only dropped a set in her first three matches and seems to have a clear road to the final. Monica Niculescu, too, though, could be in search of redemption -- after her upset of Sabine Lisicki in Melbourne, she's lost in eight first rounds. But wins over Tashkent finalist Bojana Jovanovski and rising star Monica Puig this week might mean she's ready to turn her season back around. Though she wouldn't meet Cornet until the final, she could give the heavy favorite a run for her money.

The stakes are a bit higher in Seoul, though, where a few more seeds are still standing. But even those results weren't set in stone. Aga Radwanska had high hopes heading into the U.S. Open after winning the title in Montreal and trouncing her first round opponent in New York in under an hour. But the fourth seed lost a round later to eventual semifinalist Shaui Peng, marking her earliest Major exit since 2011. So far in Korea she seems to have her game together again, dealing Chanelle Scheepers a double bagel in her last match. But the real story at the Kia Open is that of Maria Kirilenko, whose struggles with injury pushed the recent top-ten player down to #155 in the world. She's only played a handful of matches this year, and lost most of them, including a straight set defeat by Maria Sharapova in her USO first round. But the wildcard in Seoul kicked off her campaign by beating up-and-comer Donna Vekic and then upset third seeded Klara Koukalova. She'll face off against always-tough Kaia Kanepi next, clearly no easy task, but if she's on top of her game, this truly could be her time to shine.

The stars might shine even brighter in Tokyo, where some of this year's most successful players are taking the court. But in the case of Melbourne finalist Dominika Cibulkova, who also lost eight opening round matches after that stellar showing -- most recently to then #1208 Catherine Bellis in the Big Apple -- you may not remember early-season success. She held on to the sixth seed at the Pan Pacific Open, but given recent performances I wouldn't have been surprised at an early exit. But she has been impressive -- she took out tricky Kirsten Flipkens to start her run and then ousted Coco Vandeweghe on Wednesday. She might just have put herself back on the winning track. So too has Caroline Wozniacki, who had a slightly better run in Flushing Meadows. The two-time Major runner-up might not have gotten the result she hoped for in New York, but she rebounded well with a come-from-behind victory over Jarmila Gajdosova in tonight's late match. There are still plenty of threats left in the bracket -- top seed Angelique Kerber among them -- but the way the former #1 is playing, she seems to have her eye on climbing back to the top as soon as she can.

The fields this week might not be as intimidating as they were at the U.S. Open, but there's still plenty of firepower in the ranks and seeing these ladies come out so strong sure bodes well as they wrap up the season. Sure the big trophies have all been awarded for the year, but 2015 is just around the corner. And the extra credit they're racking up now will only put them in better standing in the weeks and months to come.

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