March 19, 2015

Making a Stand

There are plenty of favorites still alive and more than kicking in Indian Wells, but with many quarterfinal matches left to play you may notice a couple unexpected names in the mix. And these players haven't just sneaked through the draws this time -- they're pulling off the big upsets themselves.

Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised to see Feliciano Lopez standing -- the veteran Spaniard is coming off the best year of his career, having climbed to his highest ever ranking at the start of the month. He did struggle a bit during his early rounds in Melbourne, though, and was stunned by Victor Estrella Burgos in the Quito final. So maybe we didn't expect a big fight when he met an on-point Kei Nishikori -- who'd reached the final in Acapulco and won his third straight title in Memphis. But Feli scored his first win over the fifth seed in nearly two years on Wednesday to set up a quarterfinal clash against Andy Murray, a man who's beaten him in all nine of their previous meetings. Still he's scored more than a few wins over top ten players in the past year, so it's certainly not out of the question for him to keep his run going.

A little more impressive has been the performance of Bernard Tomic in the California desert. The one-time Wimbledon wunderkind had fallen way down the rankings in the years after, grabbing more headlines for his behavior off the court than on it and dropping briefly back into triple digits last year. He seems to have turned things back in his favor this season though -- he beat world #24 Philipp Kohlschreiber twice in a row in Australia and reached the semis in Delray. Just inside seeding territory at the BNP Paribas Open, he scored his first top-ten win since 2013, ending David Ferrer's eleven-match win streak in the third round. He's got a tough task ahead of him, of course, meeting top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic next. But he might be able to put up a bigger fight than you'd think this time around.

The women's draw, not shockingly, has seen a few more upsets throughout, but the bottom half of the bracket boasts a foursome of ladies who many had started too -- or completely -- written off. Former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki had only managed one win all year long and saw her ranking fall from a high of #12 in the world a few years back to a less-than-stellar #30 now. But so far in Indian Wells, she's already taken out doubles specialist Roberta Vinci, Rio champ Sara Errani, and most recently a red-hot Caroline Garcia. For a spot in the semis, she'll meet defending champion Flavia Pennetta, who pulled of an impressive upset of Maria Sharapova on Tuesday night. She too needed the confidence boost -- her only notable win this year came over an also-struggling Angelique Kerber in Dubai, and with so much on the line at this event, she's under more pressure than most. Lisicki and Pennetta have never faced off before, but with both so hungry for the win, this could be a good one.

But we may see even more fireworks in the other quarter being contested today. Jelena Jankovic, who won the title here in 2010, was a disappointing 2-4 so fart this year and had dropped pretty soundly out of the top ten. She's been tested throughout her early matches, going three sets in each round so far, but pulled off a solid win over a now-higher ranked Madison Keys on Monday and followed up by avenging her first round U.S. Open loss to Belinda Bencic a day later. Even more impressive, though, has been the run of her next opponent, qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, ranked just #85 in the world. The Ukranian has taken sets off Angelique Kerber and Timea Bacsinszky this year, but hasn't done much of note during her career -- her biggest win to date may have come over then-#23 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the 2013 Australian Open. But she began her BNP Open campaign with a huge win over Antwerp champ Andrea Petkovic, held strong against an always tricky AlizΓ© Cornet, and on Tuesday stunned sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard. This is by far her best result at a Tour-level event, and while she'll surely be the underdog in today's match, she's pulled off bigger and more impressive upsets before.

It's always great to see players persevering through some tough challenges -- and over the last few days in Indian Wells we've really gotten to see some surprising stars shine. Hopefully they'll be able to keep it up -- after all, the statements they make at an event this big could serve them well for many more months to come.

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