April 13, 2015

A Couple Different Breakthroughs

Breakout performances can come in many forms -- sometimes it's the first big win a player scores, other times it's capturing their maiden crown, and occasionally it's a comeback after months of struggles. And this weekend, on the ladies Tour, we saw a little bit of all those things.

There's was lots of talent on the courts of Charleston this week -- at a tournament which has claimed champions from Justine Henin to Martina Hingis to Serena Williams, that shouldn't come as a surprise. But the favorites this year didn't fare quite as well -- top seed Genie Bouchard notched another early loss, falling quickly to Lauren Davis in her opener, and Ekaterina Makarova pulled out of her third round with a sickness. Instead it was two low-ish seeds playing for the crown -- world #16 Angelique Kerber who, despite a couple final appearances last year, hasn't won a title since 2013, and Australia's surprise semifinalist Madison Keys, who'd gotten through the draw without facing a single seed all week. Kerber, who'd beaten defending champion Andrea Petkovic in the semis, started off strong by taking the first set, but the young Keys was able to push her to a decider. The German seemed to lose all her momentum too -- she got down 1-4 in the decider, and with a middling 8-9 record on the year before this event, it seemed unlikely she'd be able to rally this time. Still Kerber was able to dig deep when it mattered, leveled the set at five-all and got another break to serve out the match. The win brought the twenty-seven year old her fourth career title, but after the somewhat disappointing season she's had so far, it might just be her most important.

Over in Poland, though, there were even more surprises, and maybe an even bigger breakthrough. Hometown hero Aga Radwanska looked unstoppable early, losing just a handful of games through her first three matches in Katowice, but the former world #2 has also struggled recently and fell in straight sets to third seed Camila Giorgi in the semis. The bottom half of the draw was opened up even earlier -- defending champion AlizΓ© Cornet endured a long opening round, going three sets against Polona Hercog, and then won just two games against twenty-year-old Anna Schmiedlova in the quarters. The young Slovak, a runner-up in the 2012 French Open Girls' championship, didn't stop there -- coming off a win over Venus Williams last year in Paris and a run to the final in Rio, she finally made her biggest statement on these hard courts. After dropping sets in her early rounds, she raised her game the deeper she got in the draw and in the final pulled off a quick upset of Giorgi -- also going for her first title this week -- in straight sets. It bumped her more than twenty spots up the rankings, helping her crack the top fifty for the first time in her career. And with the clay court season just around the corner I imagine we'll see her continue her ascent over the weeks and months to come.

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