September 17, 2015

The Minor Leagues?

It's always kind of fun in the immediate aftermath of a Grand Slam to see the players who jump right back into action once the pressure is off. Whether they're trying to gain some headway while the very best in the sport take a break, or to make up for missing an opportunity in New York, a couple ladies this week are doing their part to show that, while they may not have been a contender for the title last week, they might just be one the next time around.

Up in Quebec City more than a few players were looking for redemption -- second seed and defending champion Mirjana Lucic had fallen out of the top hundred after her first round exit at the U.S. Open, and Anna Tatishvili -- who stunned Karolina Pliskova in her Big Apple first round -- dropped just as easily a round later. Both are still alive and kicking, but perhaps some others are worth a mention too. Eighteen year old Jelena Ostapenko made it through qualifiers in New York and took a bagel set off Sara Errani in their second round -- she got right back to work this week with an upset of third seed Mona Barthel in her opener. Now ranked just out of the top hundred, she seems ready to make a real play into double-digits soon. And then there's her next opponent Paula Kania who didn't quite make the main draw of the year's last Major. The little-known Pole did get a win over eighth seed An-Sophie Mestach this week, though, and still hasn't dropped a set in Canada. At #150 she's the on-paper underdog in her quarterfinal match, but this might just be the perfect stage for an upset. But perhaps the greatest opportunity lies with young American Louisa Chirico -- the New Jersey teen had a very busy summer, entering every event between Wimbledon and the Open and even notching a win over Alizé Cornet in Washington. She fell to Cinderella Johanna Konta in New York, but could rebound now. She faces Tatishvili today, a woman she lost to earlier this year in Auckland, but perhaps this is her chance to turn things around.

The field in Tokyo is arguably a little more intimidating, but with top seeded Carla Suarez Navarro losing in her first round, the opportunity is just as great. Kateryna Bondarenko, who pulled off that upset, was one of my dark horses for the U.S. Open, but she ran into a feisty Simona Halep in her second round and was sent home earlier than she might have otherwise been -- after all, she's scored other big wins this year, stunning Venus Williams on her way to the Istanbul quarters. Next up for the Ukrainian is one-time New York semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, who's been languishing in the low double digits for a few years now, and something tells me Bondarenko might be up for the challenge. But there's opportunity too for some of the seeds still standing -- Ajla Tomljanovic, who beat Jelena Jankovic to start the year in Brisbane and made it to the final in Pattaya City, has been a little quiet recently, and lost in three sets to Karin Knapp in her first round in Flushing Meadows. She's been tested a bit in Japan, needing three sets in her opener and a couple tiebreaks to make the quarters, but she seems to have her game back in shape. And her next opponent, third seed Madison Brengle -- who the Croat beat in Strasbourg -- is also trying to rev her season back up. After reaching the final in Hobart as a qualifier and stunning players like Andrea Petkovic in Melbourne and Petra Kvitova in Stuttgart, she's slowed down noticeably, going just 1-10 through the spring and summer. She hasn't faced huge threats yet, but she's only lost seven games this week, which could do a lot for her confidence.

Of course whether these ladies can keep up their performances when the big guns get back on court will be another matter entirely. But these smaller events are as good a chance as any to get their names on the map. And maybe by the time they get bumped up to the big leagues, they'll be able to make an even bigger statement.

No comments: