October 9, 2014

The Resurgence

So much of the action on the tennis courts this year has been about seeing young players make a real statement -- previously unheralded athletes finally breaking into the upper echelons of the sport, former Junior champions having epiphanies on the adult Tours. But this week some of the attention may have shifted from the newbies to the veterans as a couple ladies who'd seemed to fall by the wayside this year are putting themselves back on the map with some surprising performances.

At the inaugural Tianjin Open in China, U.S. Open semifinalist Shaui Peng looks to have recovered from her upsetting withdrawal in New York, reaching the quarters with her win today. Top seed Jelena Jankovic on the other hand was less successful, battling through an uneven opening round only to be upset by world #112 Saisai Zheng on Thursday. But there are a few others in the draw that merit attention too. Su-Wei Hsieh, doubles champ at Roland Garros this year, was once ranked in the top twenty-five in singles and even picked up a couple titles in 2012. Now, though, she's all the way down at #160 in the world and lost in the first round of every major this year. She may have gotten her game together now, though -- she opened with an easy first round win in Tianjin and followed up today by surviving a three-setter against fifth seed Shaui Zhang. And Sorana Cirstea, a breakout in 2009, had climbed back into the top thirty this season, but after failing to defend runner-up points from Cincinnati, she's now back in triple digits. She suffered a heart-breaking loss in the Big Apple, too, going three sets with Genie Bouchard and just falling short. The Romanian has been on point this week, though -- she hasn't faced a seed yet in China, but she also hasn't dropped a set and with Jankovic out of her way, she could have a clear path to the semis and even beyond.

The bracket opened up a bit in Linz, too, with Singapore-qualifier Ana Ivanovic pulling out with a hip injury and Bouchard earlier today also giving Tsvetana Pironkova a walkover to the quarters -- and a couple ladies will try to take advantage of those holes. Camila Giorgi, who beat Carla Suarez Navarro on her way to the Katowice final and Maria Sharapova in Indian Wells, has slowed down a bit since, losing six first round matches over the summer. Unseeded at the Generali Open this week, she notched her third win over Andrea Petkovic this year, losing just three games to the top twenty player in their opener. With no seeds left in her half, there's no reason her winning will stop. She might have to face off against another rebound story, Karin Knapp, whose health struggles the last few years pushed her almost beyond #500 in the world. She's become a force again this year, though, nearly beating Sharapova in the Australian heat and picking up her first career trophy in Tashkent this fall. This week in Austria she opened with a big win over Sabine Lisicki and today took the first set from Magdalena Rybarikova before the Slovak retired. She'll face Pironkova next, before possibly meeting Giorgi, a match that could be a real battle between two re-emerging talents.

But the real comeback story is happening over in Japan, where former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur is putting together a late-season surge. Once ranked #4 in the world, she briefly fell out of the top twenty this year, losing to players like injury-addled Timea Bacsinszky, Guangzhou qualifier Yafan Wang, and world #406 Naomi Osaka. It might not have been a precipitous fall, but with just a handful of wins over elite players this season, it far from impressive. But last week the veteran Australian got to the semis in Beijing, taking out Caroline Wozniacki and forcing Petra Kvitova to a third set. And at the site of her first career title five years ago she seems to have confidence again -- with many seeds in her section out already, the first real challenge won't come until after she wins her next match, but if she can keep the momentum she's gathered the last few weeks, the might be able to add trophy #3 in Osaka to her mantle.

With just a week left before post season, most of these ladies are getting in their last few matches of 2014 this week, but for many it doesn't seem like too-little-too-late. There's plenty of opportunity for them to carry their success into the new year, and if they can keep it going, there's no reason they won't be able to rise back to new heights -- and maybe climb even higher.

No comments: