March 8, 2015

The Also-Rans

Of course the ultimate goal of any tennis tournament is to walk away with the title. But for a vast majority of entrants who don't make it quite that far there's also plenty to gain. And this week the ladies who fell a bit short still walked away with a lot more than many would have expected.

Caroline Wozniacki was the top seed in Kuala Lumpur and certainly did not disappoint, picking up her first title of the year and marking her best start to a season since 2011. But during her run she met up with a couple player who may have been even more impressive this week. Young Carina Witthoeft -- she just turned nineteen last month -- first made a name for herself in Melbourne by beating world #17 Carla Suarez Navarro on her way to the third round. This week she opened with a win over Misaki Doi and then took out former top-twenty player Klara Koukalova to make her first Tour-level quarterfinal. She lost to Wozniacki in straight sets on Friday, but still made real strides against the Big Girls and is poised to make a big jump from her current sub-eighty ranking. Alexandra Dulgheru could rise even higher -- the former world #26 has struggled with knee and wrist injuries over the last several years and had dropped out of the top three hundred just two years ago. But she's had bursts of brilliance, nearly beating Maria Sharapova at the 2014 U.S. Open and taking out Alizé Cornet just last week in Doha. She started her campaign in Malaysia with an upset over one-time Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki and followed up by beating Julia Goerges and rebounding from a huge deficit versus Jarmila Gajdosova to reach the final -- her first since 2010. In a rematch of her Qatar Open second round -- she'd retired down 1-6, 0-3 to Wozniacki -- this time she did manage to win the first set before finally falling in the nearly two-hour match. It may not have been the result she hoped for, but it seems to cement the comeback she's been launching for months. And she might just be able to go one better the next time she gets here.

Timea Bacsinszky certainly has made good on her comeback plans this season -- ranked all the way down at #176 in the world just a year ago, the Swiss Miss has staged some big wins over the past couple months and has made her way all the way into Grand Slam seeding territory for the first time. Last weekend she won her first title since 2009 in Acapulco, and later today she'll get a chance to repeat that victory when she meets Caroline Garcia again in the Monterrey championship. And there's no reason to believe she won't get the win again -- despite some challenges early during her run, she stayed tough against former New York semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer and came back against Lesia Tsurenko in the second round. Last night she bagelled Sara Errani in their first set and toughed through an almost three hour semi before scoring the win. But she's not the only one who's re-proven herself this week -- Urszula Radwanska had also fallen well off her career best ranking -- the one-time Den Bosch finalist also had to deal with injury and didn't win a main draw match on the WTA Tour until July last season. She started to pull things together at the start of 2015 though, beating Francesca Schiavone and Daneila Hantuchova on the way to the Auckland quarters. A qualifier again this week in Mexico, she beat the Pattaya City champ before losing to Bacsinszky on Friday. The twenty-four year old is still a ways away from recapturing her best form, but if she can keep momentum on her side it may not be long before she does get back there.

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