January 20, 2015

The Upcoming Upsets

Okay, okay -- I know we only have one full round of action in the books at the Australian Open, but, man, did things get interesting in the first couple days in Melbourne! Seventeen seeds have already been knocked out of the draws and it's all but certain that more will follow.

So I'm going to take a look at a few second round matches that could easily go to the underdog. After all, with so many holes already drilled through the brackets, the only thing for sure is that nothing is predictable. And anyone could seize the opportunity right in front of them.

The WomenThe Men

The Women

First Quarter

The most obviously pick here is two-time champion Victoria Azarenka over eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki, either of whom could be a contender for the ultimate title. But even though the Belorussian is unseeded, it would be tough to consider her win a true upset -- so let's look elsewhere.

Tsvetana Pironkova has never gotten past the second round Down Under, but that might change this year. Last year's champion in Sydney opened her campaign with a one-sided win over Hobart champion Heather Watson and set up a meeting Thursday with 2014 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, a woman who's been famously ineffective over the last several months. Domi did come back against a tough Kirsten Flipkens in her first round and has a solid 7-1 record against the Bulgarian -- still, she's proven herself more than vulnerable and Pironkova could take advantage. I'd also keep an eye on Daniela Hantuchova. The one-time world #4 struggled with a knee injury for much of last year and fell a bit down the rankings. But she notched a solid win over Sara Errani to start the season in Auckland and opened here by defeating Shenzhen semifinalist Saisai Zheng in straight sets. She'll face 2014 breakout star Garbiñe Muguruza next, and while that's certainly no easy task -- the young Spaniard drubbed an in-form Aga Radwanska in Sydney last week -- the veteran Slovak might just be able to get the upper hand. And with the other seed in this immediate section already eliminated, she might have a clear road for a few rounds more.

Second Quarter

Many of the favorites in this section have already been ousted -- unknown German Carina Witthoeft trounced Carla Suarez Narvarro, ninth seed Angelique Kerber lost a roller coaster match to Irina-Camelia Begu and and my spoiler Lucie Safarova came out on the wrong end of no-tiebreak third set. And while all that might help the top seeds breathe a little easier, others are still holding their breath.

Yaroslava Shvedova, twice a Grand Slam doubles champion, has been ranked as high as #25 on the singles circuit and often outplays her current sub-sixty ranking. Her win over Safarova set up a second round against barely favored Monica Puig -- the winner of last year's WTA Rising Stars final will certainly put up a fight, but the Kazakh's won their only previous meeting and could have experience on her side. Also watch out for twenty-year-old Anna Schmiedlova, who stunned Venus Williams in the second round of the French Open last year. She's up against often-overlooked Zarina Diyas next in Melbourne, and while she's again the long-shot, she's beaten tougher opponents in the past.

Third Quarter

The third quarter of the women's draw has arguably suffered the most damage, with Brisbane finalist Ana Ivanovic flaming out to qualifier Lucie Hradecka on Day One and 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki bowing out to last year's Roland Garros Cinderella Kristina Mladenovic a few hours later. Those won't be the only upsets in this section either.

Former world #15 Julia Goerges had fallen out of the top hundred last year and only won two Grand Slam matches during the season. She did manage to make the quarters in Auckland, even taking out Hradecka down in New Zealand, but she was still way off the radar by the time she reached Melbourne. The German was relatively lucky, getting dealt a low-seeded Belinda Bencic in her opener, but she defeated the young Swiss with surprising ease and set up a second round against world #46 Klara Koukalova. The two have split their previous four matches, but if Goerges can recapture her previous form there's no reason she can't use this opportunity to pull ahead. The same could be said for Roberta Vinci, who's fallen from her own levels of grace over the past year. She also has a 2-2 record against her next opponent Ekaterina Makarova, recently inducted into the sport's top ten, but the Russian has struggled with injury the last few months and Vinci could capitalize on the opportunity.

Fourth Quarter

Like with the top section of the bracket, the bottom has remained largely unscathed so far, with two mid-level seeds the only ones to suffer first round losses -- Andrea Petkovic, who'd gone winless since picking up the title in Sofia last year squandered an early lead to Hobart finalist Madison Brengle, while Flavia Pennetta suffered a second straight loss to Italian Camila Giorgi. Still, no one should rest on her laurels.

Veteran Australian Casey Dellacqua really came into her own here last year, reaching the fourth round with wins over Vera Zvonareva and Kirsten Flipkens. She didn't do a lot with her top seeding in Hobart last week though, needing three sets to get past Lauren Davis before losing in a decider to Karin Knapp a round later. She's up against barely unseeded Madison Keys next, a woman who beat her at her homeland's Major two years ago. The young American has already scored wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova this year and picking up one more upset shouldn't be too much to ask. Compatriot Coco Vandeweghe has a similar opportunity -- ranked just two spots below Keys, she opened her run Down Under by taking out former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone. She'll face twentieth seed Sam Stosur on Thursday, and while the 2011 U.S. Open titleist did have a slight resurgence at the end of last year, she can definitely be caught off guard -- Coco did just that last year in Miami. And with the draw already shaking out the way that it has, she might just be able to keep going after that.

The Men

First Quarter

Not surprisingly, there have been fewer casualties on the men's side of the Australian Open, but it hasn't all been smooth sailing. In Novak Djokovic's quarter both Feliciano Lopez and Gael Monfils were pushed to five sets, the former saving three match points before taking out American wildcard Denis Kudla on Tuesday. And the Frenchman, well acquainted with long matches, will be tested again immediately, going up next against big-serving Jerzy Janowicz in the next round. He does have the win in the pair's only meeting, but something tells me the Pole is going to put up a bigger fight this time.

Meanwhile Roberto Bautista Agut, who had a breakthrough on Tour this time last year, may face a tougher test. The rising Spanish star had a surprising loss to Aljaz Bedene in Chennai and retired during his second round in Auckland last week. He's already spent three hours on court in Melbourne, coming back from a set down to Dominic Thiem on Tuesday, and next faces Sydney semifinalist Gilles Muller, who had a relatively easy time in his own first round match. RBA does have a 2-0 record against the man from Luxembourg, but if he's not at the top of his game might have trouble keeping his record untarnished.

Second Quarter

The favorites in Roger Federer's section of the draw have been similarly strong -- the five time champion didn't drop serve once in his two hours on court, and Andy Murray, though tested by qualifier Yuki Bhambri, nevertheless survived his opener in straight sets. Only Tommy Robredo, who'd just pulled out of Auckland with a leg injury, retired early in the first set, giving veteran Edouard Roger-Vasselin a pass to the second round.

And while the seeds in this quarter may not have yet shown any obvious weaknesses, the overlooked players could still cause some damage. Portugal's Joao Sousa very quietly climbed to #35 in the world last year on the heels of a final run in Metz. He's up against Martin Klizan next, a mini Cinderella here last year -- the Slovak managed a win over Alexandr Dolgopolov this season in Brisbane but also lost to eventual champion Viktor Troicki in his Sydney first round. The two haven't played each other in three years, so it's tough to pick a winner, but Sousa is more than capable of putting up a fight. And Andreas Seppi, who squeaked past Denis Istomin in his opener, once pushed Novak Djokovic to the limit at the French Open. With a second round against low-seed Jeremy Chardy, he might be have an opening to make another play at the big guys.

Third Quarter

The third quarter of the draw is the only one that's so far suffered the biggest blow -- eleventh seed Ernests Gulbis, quiet late in 2014 due to a shoulder injury was stunned by Aussie teenager Thanassi Kokkinakis on Monday, becoming the first notable upset in the men's field. Few other seeds in this section had much trouble at all, though giant-killer Lukas Rosol did take his time against France's Kenny De Schepper -- but again, that could change.

Viktor Troicki continued his climb back up the rankings after taking the title in Sydney this weekend and kept his streak going with a win over Hobart champ Jiri Vesely on Tuesday. Next up for the Serb is underrated Leonardo Mayer, who had an easy time in his first round but should face a bigger challenge from the one-time world #12. Troicki's never gotten past the third round in Melbourne, but this might be the best chance he gets in a while. And Bernard Tomic, once Australia's wunderkind, is well off his career highs, but the possibly reformed Bad Boy could make a case for himself this fortnight. He'll meet Phillipp Kohlschreiber for the second time in two weeks -- he just beat him on his way to the Sydney quarters -- and may get the upper hand again. The favored German has only won one match so far this season and could prove vulnerable again.

Fourth Quarter

The last quarter in the men's draw has also seen a couple of higher-profile exits, but perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that recently struggling Fabio Fognini and on-the-rebound Alexandr Dolgopolov have already bowed out of the Open. Meanwhile favorites like defending champ Stan Wawrinka, U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori and Doha titleist David Ferrer have all seemed on point and should be able to keep their runs going.

The one seed who might still be in danger is Colombia's Santiago Giraldo -- the clay court specialist quieted down significantly in the back half of last year and didn't score a win over anyone in the top thirty after Wimbledon. He beat qualifier Jan Hernych in straight sets on Monday, but will face a bigger challenge from #3 American Steve Johnson in the next round. The twenty-five year old hasn't faced Giraldo before, but after scoring his first ever win Down Under he might have the momentum to pull off an upset this time. And while he'll certainly face greater challenges down the road, a win like this could certainly whet his appetite for even bigger things to come.

After the slew of surprises we saw during the first few days of action at the Australian Open, we can't believe that anyone left standing is particularly safe. But some players certainly have a better opportunity at causing a couple upsets than others. And hopefully a couple of them will be able to take that shot when they get the chance.

No comments: