August 21, 2015

The Clock is Ticking...

With the last Grand Slam of the Year just about a week away, it's no wonder we're seeing everyone up their games just a little this week in Cincinnati. Whether it's the heavy favorites or the ones who've been largely counted out in recent months, there seems to be a little more spark in players' steps these days. And while it could certainly serve as great prep for their performances in New York, there's no reason they can't take more immediate advantage of their opportunities at the Western & Southern Open now.

Serena Williams didn't seem much disturbed by her early exit from the Toronto championships last week -- after losing just her second match of the year in the semis, she got right back to work, losing just two games yesterday to always-spunky Karin Knapp. But she's not the only lady worth watching in Ohio. Elina Svitolina's success in 2015 has come in fits and starts so far -- after taking a set off Williams in Australia she reached her first Major quarterfinal in Paris, but lost her second round at Wimbledon and her opener at the Rogers Cup. She was barely seeded in Cincy, but scored an easy win over a tough Caroline Garcia and even took out one-time wunderkind Genie Bouchard in straight sets. She'll now face off against Roland Garros finalist Lucie Safarova, who's been a little quiet since that Cinderella run and could allow the Ukrainian a chance to sneak through. And we can't ignore former world #1 Jelena Jankovic, fresh-ish off a title in 125K title in Nanching -- her first in more than two years. The unseeded Serb, who reminded us of her relevance in Indian Wells, has already notched a couple upsets at the W&S, first over a talented Madison Keys, then against season-breakout Karolina Pliskova. She's up next against young Anna Schmiedlova, who's certainly coming into her own herself this year, but if the former champion is able to get in a few early hits she might just make a case for her return to the podium.

Things could get just as interesting on the men's side of the draw. Andy Murray kept right on swinging after his big win in Montreal over the weekend, yesterday surviving quite a scare from Grigor Dimitrov to clinch the win in a nearly three-hour match. And top seed Novak Djokovic, who dropped a set Thursday to David Goffin rallied too to set up another meeting with Stan Wawrinka, a man who's now beat him on the way to both of his Grand Slam titles. And while there will certainly be fireworks in the favorites' matches, you can't ignore the underdogs who've sneaked into the quarters. Alexandr Dolgopolov, a legitimate threat on Tour at this time last year, had to qualify for the main draw in Cincy, but he's upset both Bernard Tomic and big-serving Jerzy Janowicz already this week. Next up he faces Tomas Berdych, a man who's won all four of their previous meetings -- still, if the Ukrainian is truly back in form, he could certainly pull off the win. And then there's Feliciano Lopez, the Spanish veteran who hit a career high ranking last year at age thirty-two. He's been a little quiet too, of late -- winning just a couple matches at every event he's played since March and falling out of the top twenty now -- but last night he pulled off a huge come-from-behind win over Rafael Nadal, his second straight win over his compatriot. Setting up a meeting today against Roger Federer, he won't have much time to recover before he's tested again. But with so much on the line this week, he might just have the motivation to get in a few more shots.

And for all these guys, there's no better time to make a statement. As they wrap up their warm-ups for the U.S. Open, they really could show everyone in the field what they're made of.

No comments: