March 2, 2020

The Triple-Digit Club

In case you hadn't noticed, there was something a little different about a couple of the winners' circles at this week's tennis events -- sure Novak Djokovic pulled off a stunning comeback from match points down in the Dubai semis to claim his fifth title there, his first since 2013, and Rafael Nadal ended a similarly long drought in Acapulco, his without losing a set, but it was some players way down the rankings that made the biggest statements over the past seven days -- some even making it all the way to the winners' circles.

How far down the rankings?

Well, put it this way -- even with the points they earned during their runs, they're all still ranked outside the top hundred!

Let's start with the ladies' draw in Acapulco which, unlike the men's event, didn't attract anyone in the top twenty and only one contestant in the top fifty. That's not to say there was no talent in the field -- Venus Williams, a champion there back in 2009 and 2010, took the fifth seed -- but it certainly presented an opportunity for everyone else in the mix. And they certainly were quick to grab at it. First there was Mexico's own Renata Zarazua, who'd entered the event ranked #270 in the world, but stunned top seeded Sloane Stephens in her opener and rode through to the semis, her first final four outside the ITF circuit. For her efforts the twenty-two year old wildcard is now ranked at #187, still a hair off her best-ever ranking, but perhaps in a better position now to make a sustained climb higher.

Then there was Xiyu Wang, who I'd at least seen a little more of this year. Still, ranked at #127 before Acapulco, she had to work her way through qualifiers before making the main draw. But she kicked that campaign off with a bang, ousting second seed Yafan Wang in the first round and sixth-seeded Lin Zhu a few matches later. Coupled with a quarterfinal showing in Hua Hin -- where she beat Petra Martic -- she's now a stone's throw away from what would be a career-high double digit ranking.

But the real story in Mexico last week was Canada's Leylah Fernandez. Like many of these ladies, I hadn't heard much of her before last month -- and, again, I know, I've been a bit out of the loop the last few years. The 17-year-old has spent most of her time on the Juniors tour, making the Australian Open Girls' final in 2019 and winning the French Open crown. She first hit my radar in early February after defeating fifth-ranked Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup, but may have had her break out this past week. Another qualifier in Acapulco, she had a jam-packed week and didn't lose a set until the final, pushing an on-the-rebound Heather Watson to three sets before ultimately succumbing. Now ranked #126, she's still got a lot of work to do before she gets an open invitation to the Slams, but the way she's playing it feels like that is right around the corner.

The same might to apply to the other teen making waves last week -- this one in Santiago. Brazil's Thiago Seyboth Wild was ranked #250 before coming to Chile. The 2018 U.S. Open Boys' Champion also won a Challenger event last season in Guayaquil, but was still far off the radar this week in Chile. That didn't seem to bother the wildcard though -- he scored an upset of fifth-seeded Juan Ignacio Londero in the second round and then advanced past top seed Cristian Garin, the Cordoba and Rio champ who lost a tight first set before pulling out with injury. Seyboth Wild came up against fellow 2020 breakout Casper Ruud in the final, and unlike the other sub-100 players this week, he was able to get the better of his foe, upsetting the second seed in the over two-hour match. The win was enough to more than halve his ranking, bringing him up to #113 in the world to start this week.

It's sort of a shame that these guys didn't get an even bigger boost after their stellar performances last week. But given how early some of them are in their careers, they were starting from so far back that there was no way they could go higher than they did. The real question will be what they do from here -- whether they can take their momentum into the coming weeks and prove their results were no fluke.

They may not all succeed, but I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't hear a lot more from all of them. And one day soon, hopefully these triple-digit rankings may be but a distant memory.

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