October 7, 2015

Out of Steam

Well, things haven't been going too well for a couple players who really shined last week, have they? While Kuala Lumpur champ David Ferrer and Wuhan runner-up Garbiñe Muguruza have so far stayed alive in early action, others have not been quite so lucky and seem to have immediately lost the momentum that pushed them so far just a few days ago.

Feliciano Lopez, a finalist at the Malaysian Open, took the courts in Tokyo this week, but lost his opening round in three sets to Joao Sousa, and that might create a nice opportunity for the Portuguese. Sousa, ranked #45 in the world, has been biding his time on the fringes for some time, but after reaching three finals this year, including one last month in St. Petersburg, he could be ready to break through. He's scored wins already over Roberto Bautista Agut and Dominic Thiem, but Wednesday's win marks his first over a top fifteen player since 2013. He now faces off against American Austin Krajicek, but his bigger test should come a round later, when he takes on French Open titleist Stan Wawrinka, who's won all three of their previous meetings. Still the Swiss was tested by mini-nemesis Tatsuma Ito in the second round and could be a little vulnerable now if Sousa gets an opening.

Lopez wasn't the only recent finalist to fall, though -- over in Beijing compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who came in second in Shenzhen was also ousted early, falling in two tight sets to Ivo Karlovic. Tomas Berdych, too, who'd beaten GGL in Sunday's title match, was shockingly upset by Pablo Cuevas earlier today. Ironically these two vanquishers will face each other in the second round, but whoever comes out on top could be poised to shine. Karlovic is the obvious favorite, of course -- at #18 in the world the big-serving Croat was just outside of seeding territory -- but the feisty Uruguayan can't be counted out. Cuevas went on a fourteen match win streak last summer, picking up back-to-back titles on the clay of Umag and Bastad and then added title #3 to his kitty this year in Sao Paolo. It's been almost six years since the two last faced off, but he might just be the stronger one this time around.

Inertia was hard to keep on the women's side too. Venus Williams, who beat four seeded players in Wuhan last week, propelling her back to #14 in the world, got a first round bye in Beijing but still didn't enough have time to recover. Sixth seed Ana Ivanovic, who actually fell below the American in the rankings after failing to defend a title in Tokyo, put in one of her best performances of the year to score the win and followed up today by taking out always-tough Svetlana Kuznetsova. The former Roland Garros champ now could face the unenviable task of trying to end the career of Flavia Pennetta -- but that might be the biggest challenge she has left. After all, Serena Williams pulled out of the event a week ago and the remaining top seeds Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova both lost in their opening rounds, making the draw much less intimidating. So if Ivanovic can keep her cool a few matches more, she might quickly regain the ground she just lost.

Of course, any one of these guys could lose momentum just as quickly as the champions they beat, so the trick will be in holding on to what they've got on their sides now. And with the 2015 season so close to winding down, hopefully they'll be able to keep the juices flowing in the new year.

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