March 30, 2021

On Solid Ground

I admit I haven't been the biggest believer in Ash Barty over the last year, and a lot of that has been because I wasn't really paying attention back in 2019 when she had her breakthrough. It felt like her French Open title, which came without facing a single player in the top ten, was a bit of a one off. And the fact that the altered ranking rules allowed her to keep her #1 ranking at the end of last year after not playing since February just added to my confusion.

Of course that ignored the rest of her accomplishments two years ago -- her first big trophy in Miami, where she beat three top ten players, her WTA Championship to close out the season, four titles in total and another two finals to boot. And while some players have been able to hold onto 2019 ranking points even when they tried and failed to defend them last year, Barty hasn't really gotten a chance to prove those successes weren't just flukes.

That is, until she came back to Miami.

Still the top seed, the twenty-four year old got off to a bit of a shaky start, facing match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova in her opener before powering through for the win. And that wasn't her only test -- in a roller coaster fourth round against three-time champ Victoria Azarenka, Barty went three lopsided sets in just under two hours, and she was pushed to a decider again yesterday in the quarters by Aryna Sabalenka.

Nevertheless, she's still alive and kicking and, now into the final four in Miami, has her first real opportunity to back up her 2019 run.

For a spot in the championship match, of course, Barty still has to get through world #5 Elina Svitolina, who can be spotty at times and has suffered some surprising losses in recent months, but she too has passed some tough tests over the past week and will be hungry for a big title of her own. She has a 5-1 record against Australian, too, which could give her some confidence. At the very least, this could be biggest test yet of whether Barty deserves to stay at the top.

In a similar situation to Barty is young Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who likewise was MIA last year after a breakthrough 2019. Ranked out of the top 150 at the start of that season, she had to qualify for the Australian Open, but really hit her stride in the spring, stunning the world with a title in Indian Wells and going on to win the Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open, beating Serena Williams in the final -- technically, in both finals.

But unlike Barty, her ensuing absense was due to injury rather than travel restrictions and lasted several months longer. That could explain why she's struggled a bit more in her comeback, going three sets in four of the five matches she played before Miami. And while the fact that I watched what she can do a little more closely during that run in New York makes me a little more forgiving of her remaining near the top of the rankings, you have to feel her meteoric rise could make her place there a little more tenuous.

Still, she's done well to prove her mettle over the past week. After a fairly straightforward win over Tereza Martincova in her opener, she edged out American Amanda Anisimova, who's had a complicated few months to say the least, in a thriller and then took out Garbiñe Muguruza, one of the strongest players of the season so far, in another tight one.

In today's last quarterfinal, Andreescu will take on unseeded but spectacularly impressive Sara Sorribes Tormo -- she won her first career title at the start of the month in Guadalajara and in Miami has already defeated Aussie runner-up Jen Brady, Elena Rybakina, and 2020 standout Ons Jabeur. Making the semis would by far be the biggest accomplishment of the Spaniard's career, and if the favorite is at all off her game, this could be an opportunity to pounce.

Whatever the case, it sure feels like last year's comeback stories have finally found their footing for the not-so-new-anymore season. And how they perform over the next few days will go a long way to proving their place. That's not to say a loss would derail everything, but a few more wins now sure would be extra sweet.

March 25, 2021

Miami Heats Up

I can't be the only one a little surprised that the Miami Open kicked off as planned -- though, I suppose, with my dear James Blake in charge, I shouldn't be so shocked (πŸ’•).

And while the primary hope is that everyone there stays safe and healty amid the revelry, as the first premiere tournament since the Australian Open, there is also a lot of top notch tennis to look forward to -- with a slew of top-ranked talent, a couple players riding huge momentum, and even a few we haven't seen in a while.

The Men

I'll start with the men's draw, which may be missing three of its top ive players, but nevertheless boasts some real firepower. Daniil Medvedev takes the court as the top seed, the first time he's hit the court as the #2 player in the world. He's never made it past the third round here, but he's a far different and much more formidable player than he was the last time he was in Miami. With a twenty match win streak that he rode all the way to the Aussie final and a title in Marseille just for good measure, he's certainly deserved his climb, and it's hard to see anyone in his immediate draw derailing him.

Of course, there are players who could surprise us in the top half. Lloyd Harris is coming off a run to the final in Dubai where, as a qualifier, he stunned Dominic Thiem in the second round, and then picked up upsets over three more players. Now at a career high of #52 in the world, he's still a real long shot to make any real play for the title -- but we might have said that about him last week too.

Also in this half of the draw is John Isner who -- meh. After a second round loss at the French Open last fall, he ended the abbreviated season due to injury and then pulled out of the Australian Open this year because of the COVID restrictions. (No comment.) We haven't really seen a lot of the 2018 Miami champion (he beat Alexander Zverev in the final, if you can believe it! -- in the past year, as he's only made it past the second round once. He'll open against qualifier Mackenzie McDonald, who did well to make the fourth round in Melboune last month, and while Isner may be the favorite, he's by no means a sure thing.

On the bottom half of the draw is a man who's had a much more successful 2020 season so far, and had to come out of the depths to do it. Aslan Karatsev, the surprise standout Down Under and brand new trophy-holder at 27, is suddenly ranked one spot ahead of Isner and is far and away at his career best. All eyes will be focused on how he performs now that we actually expect something from him, and while his first opponent, veteran Mikhail Kukushkin, has had some nice results this year, I imagine Karatsev will continue to prove his worth at least a few rounds in.

And finally on the men's side is Thanasi Kokkinakis, who played his first match since 2019 in February. The 24-year-old revealed his battle with anxiety and depression had made the game and life tough for him over the years, but it's nice to see him getting his feet back under him again -- he took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in his homeland Slam's second round. Still ranked outside the top 200 -- a far cry from his previous high of #69 in the world -- he made it through qualies without losing a set and today beat another qualifier to set up a second round against Marton Fucsovics. The barely seeded Hungarian is certainly not one to be dismissed, but there will be a lot of people rooting for an upset here.

The Women

On the women's side, we've already seen some of the favorites in action and a couple have been tested. Top seed and inexplicable world #1 Ashleigh Barty is playing an event ouside of her native Australia for the first time since last February, and it's probably a good place to start. Her run to the title in Miami in 2019 was what set off that magical season that propelled her up the rankings, and what she does in her return will go a long way to quieting my doubts. She struggled in her opener, though, facing a match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova before pulling out the win. With players like Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber -- who double bageled her own opponent today -- and, more immediately, a resurgent Jelena Ostapenko in her section, she's going to have to up her game if she wants to repeat.

Kicking off her run tomorrow will be Sofia Kenin, who followed up a second round loss in her Australian Open defense with a shocking defeat at the hands of then un-ranked Olivia Gadecki in Adelaide. She was nursing a leg injury in Melbourne and eventually had to undergo an apendectomy, so there are explanations for her upsets. Of course, now that she's recovered, we're going to want to see her step up. She'll face off against veteran fan favorite Andrea Petkovic, which will be a good test. The stage her performance sets for the rest of her season, of course, may not be clear -- we've seen her ride roller coasters before -- but a strong showing would still make a big statement.

Then there's Bianca Andreescu, who's only played this event one time in her short but prolific career, reaching the fourth round -- with wins over Kenin and Kerber -- right after her own breakthrough title in Indian Wells in 2019. Sidelined by injury for all of last year, she's had spotty results in her comeback but will try to turn things around against qualifier Tereza Martincova tomorrow. Of course the bigger challenges lie after that -- either former Roland Garros semifinalist Amanda Anisimova, who's had quite a string of bad luck this year, or one-time U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who's had trouble putting together two straight wins recently, most immediately, and more later -- so we'll see what she's got soon.

Meanwhile, Jessica Pegula is coming to Miami at her career high ranking. She followed up her breakout run in Melbourne by making the semis in Doha, ridiculously as a qualifier, and the quarters in Dubai, absolutely dismantling former world #1 Karolina Pliskova in the process. She's barely seeded at this event, but we should be well aware of the damage she could cause. She'd likely face Pliskova again in the third round, but there's no reason to bet against her making at least the quarters. And for someone who's never won a main draw match here, that would be quite the triumph.

And finally there's Ana Konjuh, ranked #20 in the world four years ago when she was just 19, who's been pushed out of the top three hundred after one surgery after three others. She's been struggling to even qualify for events over the last few years -- her last main draw WTA win was back in 2018 -- but as a wildcard here she seem to be back with a vengence. Still just 23, the Croatian opened her run with a win over a very talented Katerina Siniakova and today notched her first top-twenty win in four years over Madison Keys. While she'll be a serious underdog against her next opponent, reigning French Open champ Iga Swiatek, hopefully her performance even thus far is a sign that she's truly on the comeback trail.

We're still in the very early days of this event, of course, and so much can still happen. But it's great to see so many players back on court. And what happens over the next week-plus could give them all a great opportunity to really shine.

March 21, 2021

Never Give Up

It's so common in tennis that we spend time focusing on the young phenoms who break through the ranks in their teens or the powerhouses that dominate the sport year after year. With Coco Gauff stealing the spotlight with big upsets or the Big Three winning one Slam after another, it can be difficult to spot those players who come into their own a little big later in life.

And that's what makes some of this week results so remarkable -- it wasn't just the shiny favorites seeing the most success, but a couple workhorses who've been building up to their big wins finally getting a chance at glory.

I'll start in Dubai where, I think it's safe to say, few could have predicted the outcome we got. Wildcard Aslan Karatsev, the undisputed Cinderella of the Australian Open, showed no signs of losing that momentum, dispatching four seeds, including 2020's breakthrough teen Jannik Sinner and nearly-unstoppable countryman Andrey Rublev, on his way to the final. Meanwhile qualifier Lloyd Harris, who'd peaked at a career high #72 last year, came out the gate swining too, notching his first top ten win over #1 seed Dominic Thiem in the second round and then besting Denis Shapovalov in the semis.

But ultimately it was the 27-year-old Russian who walked away with the title. The feat particularly notable, as Karatesev, having spent most of his career on the Challenger and ITF circuits, never played an ATP final before this week. The win will rocket him to the top thirty in the world, not bad for someone who was at a high of #112 at the start of the year. And after all the work he's put in to get here, it sure would be nice to see him stick around.

Over in Monterrey, we have a chance to see something similar. Viktorija Golubic may not have had the splashy success at a Slam that Karatsev did, and she actually has some experience in the winners' circle, with a title in Gstaad back in 2016. But the 28-year-old Swiss has nevertheless been languishing in the triple digits for the last few years and spending a lot of time qualifying for events. She had to do that earlier this month in Lyon, but made her way to the final anyway, and she had to do it again in Mexico. And so far she's taken out sixth seeded Anna Blinkova and eighth seed Ann Li to make her second straight championship match.

In the final tonight, she'll face wünderkind Leylah Fernandez, who ended Guadalajara champion Sara Sorribes Tormo's run in the semis. The 18-year-old Canadian is the favorite here, but Golubic should be able to hold her own -- and, after losing to one teenager in France, she's going to want to flip the script a bit. Either way, having made two straight finals should do a lot to boost her confidence, and might just help her get back to and better than her previous high.

If these guys' performances show us anything, it's that it's never too late to achieve success. And with so much more opportunity to thrive this year, something tells me we haven't yet seen the best they have to offer.

March 18, 2021

Golden Swing Glory

Admittedly I've been a little remiss in covering the action going on in Latin America over the last few weeks, but there have certainly been a lot of performances there worthy of some shoutouts.

From Sara Sorribes Tormo winning her maiden title over a resurgent Genie Bouchard last week in Guadalajara, to Cristian Garin ending his 2021 losing streak with a title in his hometown of Santiago, to -- who can ignore -- the standout runs from the Cerundolo brothers, the younger of whom made history by winning a title as a qualifier at his very first tour-level event in Córdoba.

And this week's results in Mexico have been just as noteworthy.

I'll start in Monterrey, where a wide open field, not to mention early losses from top seeds Sloane Stephens and Nadia Podoroska, has allowed a couple of up-and-comers and under-the-radar stars to really shine. Unlike so many players who quickly lose their momentum after a big breakthrough, Sorribes has kept her winning ways going, opening with a defeat of Lesia Tsurenko and then getting a pass when Kaja Juvan pulled out of their second round. She'll next face sub-hundred-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who stunned Victoria Azarenka last year at Roland Garros and is looking for her first title since 2018. Either stands a good chance of making a nice run here.

But they're not the only ones. My perennial favorite Leylah Fernandez still hasn't had her big breakthrough, but with Sorribes the first seeded player she'd face at this event, she could rack up a good amount of confidence to make her move now. And of course there's Aussie standout Ann Li, the Cinderella finalist for the Grampians Trophy who reached the third round at the Open. The only other seed in her half of the draw is world #52 Saisai Zheng -- not someone that should be taken for granted, but certainly an opponent she's capable of beating.

The stakes might be a little higher in Acapulco, where three top ten and seven top twenty players are contesting the title. And while top seeds Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are still both alive and well, here too there could be some surprises. Cameron Norrie, who stunned Dan Evans in the first round of the Australian Open this year, got a solid straight-set win over a back-on-the-rise Fabio Fognini in the second round, while Dominik Koepfer, a surprise quarterfinalist in Rome last year, is making some headway on the hardcourts after taking out Milos Raonic last night. One of those two will earn a spot in the semis and could make good on the opportunity.

And of course there's young Lorenzo Musetti, still ranked in the triple digits but still high on everyone's radar. Another standout in Rome -- he beat Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori before losing to Koepfer -- he got a win over his first ever top-ten opponent, ousting Buenos Aires champ Diego Schwartzman in the first round. He backed up the victory with another three-setter against Frances Tiafoe and will meet Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in the final four. And while the one-time world #3 may be a formidable challenge, he's not quite playing his best ball and could give the teenaged Italian an opportunity to advance.

It's always encouraging to see players start to make moves during this part of the season. Of course the question is whether success south of the border will translate into big wins on the bigger courts. But we've seen some promising signs over the last few weeks, and any of these guys could surprise us down the road.

March 14, 2021

When Numbers Lie

There's been a lot of debate over how the ranking system in men's and women's tennis has worked post lockdown and since play resumed last April. I've long raised an eyebrow at Ashleigh Barty's continued presence at the top despite having played precious few events over the past year -- and, admittedly, I've been chasten when she does well at the ones she does enter.

And while I agree with the initial premise -- that players shouldn't be punished for doing the prudent thing by not traveling during a pandemic -- the ultimate system doesn't seem to have worked out exactly right -- after all, why should Marketa Vondrousova get to keep 2019 French Open final points when she did make the return trip in 2020 and lose in the first round?

But perhaps there's no better indication of flaws in the system than the case of Garbiñe Muguruza.

The 27-year-old Spaniard struggled through the back half of 2019, winning just one match after the French Open and dropping out of the top thirty for the first time since 2014. But she really turned things around to kick off last year, knocking out three top ten players to make the final at the Australian Open. That helped her climb back to #16 in the world, but despite a more-than-solid run, she's barely been able to budge in the rankings since.

And there's plenty of reason she should be higher. Here's a list of some of what Muguruza's accomplished this season alone: she got revenge for last year's loss in Melbourne, beating Sofia Kenin in straight sets at the Yarra Valley Classic; she was the only player to get a match point against Naomi Osaka at the first Major of the year, only barely losing to the eventual champion in the quarters; inexplicably unseeded last week in Doha, she survived a nail-biter against once-unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka on her way to the final; she repeated the feat this week in Dubai, and also scored wins over Iga Swiatek, Elise Mertens, and quickly-rising Barbora Krejcikova. And in her third final of the year, she was able to walk away with the title, her first since 2019 and her biggest in four years.

That gives her eighteen wins already this season, more than any player, man or woman, and puts her second only behind Osaka in the singles race. But for her efforts, she still won't crack the top ten on Monday -- seems strange when players like Bianca Andreescu and, yes, Ashleigh Barty, remain seemingly ensconced there.

Of course, things are slowly getting back to normal and those protected points will eventually start to be shed. And Muguruza will be more than ready to fill in the gaps when they do. After all, there's nothing more intimidating than someone playing well above her ranking. And this girl seems gunning for a return to the very top.

March 10, 2021

The Return of Roger

405 days.

That's how long it'd been since we last saw the great Roger Federer in a professional tennis match.

It'd been even longer since he'd won one. (😒)

After a semifinal loss at last year's Australian Open, where he'd survived not one, but two five-set matches, he underwent not one, but two knee surgeries and had to miss the rest of what would end up being a severely abbreviated season. We got glimpses of him here and there, of course, but his absence on court was certainly felt -- and, in someways, it opened the door for some big moves.

Not only did Rafael Nadal tie Roger's record of 20 Grand Slam titles and Novak Djokovic surpass his reign of 310 weeks ranked #1, but a slew of others moved in on what has long been his turf -- Dominic Thiem won his first Major, Daniil Medvedev climbed past him in the rankings and within a whisper of ending the stranglehold the Big Three have on the top two. And players like Sebastian Korda and Aslan Karatsev, well off the radar a year ago, have since emerged as real forces in the sport -- ones that could challenge the status quo.

That's not to say these things wouldn't have happened had Federer played a normal schedule over the past fifteen months, but they certainly came with fewer roadblocks.

So that begs the question of what happens now that Roger is back. The 39-year-old (🀯) made a winning return today in Doha, a tournament he's won three times before, saving set point against Dan Evans in the first and breaking late in the decider to secure the win. He'll next face Nikoloz Basilashvili, who had a much easier time with his second round, and can't be assumed of victory, despite his second seeding and his previous drubbing of the Georgian in Melbourne in 2016.

Of course Fed's bigger tests will come against the better players -- Thiem looms as the top seed in Doha -- and on the bigger stages. While he announced earlier this month he won't be playing in Miami as he continues to rehab, there's still hope we haven't seen the last of him at the Majors. Will he still have what it takes to compete against the Rafas and Noles of the world in best-of-five matches? Well, if anyone can do it, it's probably him.

But until we get there, let's just revel for a moment in what Roger was able to do today. He's now won 1,243 matches over 24 seasons (🀯🀯), putting him one strong season away from passing Jimmy Connor and further distancing him from his contemporaries. And as we're bound to have the 🐐 conversation a lot more over the next few months and years, that stat might go a long way toward making a case for Roger.

Wherever we land though, you can bet we've still got a lot more fight left to see from this guy, and it sure will be fun to watch.

March 7, 2021

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Ones...

Okay, I know we're all anxiously awaiting the return of Roger Federer, and we are getting really, really close. But as much as we all want to see the great one on court again for the first time in over a year, we can't the other top-tier talent that pulled off some big wins at tournaments around the world over the last week. And while a couple of top ten stars were able to add another trophy to their shelves, there was one newly minted champion that may have stood out from all the rest.

I'll start in Rotterdam, where one man further established himself as a real force of the new genereration. Andrey Rublev, who won more titles last year than even Novak Djokovic, was actually only the fourth seed here, but with three straight Major quarterfinal showings and a series of wins over top-ten players, it shouldn't be surprising that he outplayed that. He got a little bit of a break with soon-to-be world #2 Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev both losing early in the top half of the draw, but he was nevertheless clinical in his win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis. And while he played a tight first set against an under-rated Marton Fucsovics in Sunday's final, he stayed strong in the second to secure the win. It was his eighth career title -- impressive for a 23-year-old -- and brings him to a 13-1 record for the year -- Medvedev, with ten wins this season, comes in second on that stat. And there's no reason to believe Rublev won't be adding a lot more Ws to that column in the weeks to come.

The story in Doha was less about the next gen and more about the veteran class. Still, with the eight seeds all ranked in the top fifteen, there was plenty of opportunity for the on-paper favorites to face some really challenges. And they did: Australian Open runner-up Jen Brady won just three games in her first round against Anett Kontaveit, while Melbourne Cinderella Jessica Pegula, bizarrely having to qualify for this event, dismissed second seed Karolina Pliskova handily in the quarters. Ultimately, though, it was unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, a former world #1, facing fellow two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova in the final. And while Muguruza has had some brilliant moments this year -- she took out recently-unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka in the second round and had match point against Naomi Osaka at the Open -- the much-decorated Kvitova was too much to handle. After just over an hour of play, the 30-year-old Czech returned to the winner's circle, lifting her 28th career trophy and first since 2019. And to do it amid such an illustrious field sure adds icing to the cake.

Diego Schwartzman may have come into his own a little later than these two champions -- he only cracked the top ten for the first time last year, at 28 years old, but as a long-time workhorse on tour, he's certainly put in the work to have earned it. The ATP Challenger Tour champion way back in 2014, he slogged it out in the middle tiers, picking ups smaller titles in Istanbul, Rio, and Los Cabos along the way, before his breakthrough last season. And after a disappointing early exit last week in Córdoba, he was eager to make good on his top seed this time around. But he'd have a big roadblock -- qualifier Francisco Cerundolo, whose younger brother shocked the world with a title last week at his first tour event, was hoping to keep the family win streak going, first dismissing inexplicably seeded Benoit Paire -- he's 2-10 since the lockdown -- and then repeating Juan Manuel's win over Albert Ramos-Viñolas in the semis. But Schwartzman was just too tough for him in the championship match, dropping just three games in the course of 80 minutes to win his firt title on home soil. And while he has a ways to go to catch up to those other two champs this week, I'm shown he's got the work ethic to at least try.

Of course, as I alluded to above, it wasn't just players adding to their trophy count this week -- in Lyon, we got a brand new champion thanks to a final contested by not one but two qualifiers, both playing for their first title. Of course, at 28 years old, Viktorija Golubic has a little more experience, having made the final in Linz back in 2016, where she beat both Madison Keys and Garbiñe Muguruza, and reaching a high just out of the top fifty in the world. But she's since dropped into triple digits and has spent most of the year on the ITF circuit. This week, though, she seemed to get back on track, stunning Caroline Garcia in the second round and then coming back for a win over second seed Fiona Ferro in the semis. Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Dane Clara Tauson, who'd beaten Jen Brady in the Roland Garros first round last year, followed up her upset of top-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova here with three more straight set wins to make the final. She didn't let up in on Sunday, either, staying tough against an oppenent a decade her senior to win that maiden crown. The win should put her into the top hundred for the first time in her young career, and while she might be far from the accomplishment of this week's other champions, Tauson might just have shown she belongs among their ranks too.

March 4, 2021

Unqualified Successes

The heat is turning up on the tennis courts this week as top-tier players get back to work in full force now that the Australian Open is well behind them. But it hasn't been just the big stars bringing out their A-games -- more than a few qualifiers have pulled off some of the biggest wins, leaving no doubt what they're capable of.

I'll start in Doha where, for some reason, Melbourne standout Jessica Pegula was not an automatic entry. Of course, this is a high-level event with the lowest seed still carrying a #14 ranking, but it's nevertheless a bit of a slight. But Pegula powered through anyway, trouncing Qiang Wang in her main draw opener and following up with a win over one-time French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko. Her biggest win, though, came earlier today what she blasted through third seed and former world #1 Karolina Pliskova in just an hour to reach her first WTA 500 semi. She'll next face Petra Kvitova, who bested her last year at the U.S. Open, but she sure feels like a much different player than she did last fall and might just be able to get the win this time around.

Jeremy Chardy is another one I'm surprised had to prove himself before hitting the main stage in Rotterdam. Sure the veteran Frenchman is well off his career high, but with runs to the semis in Antalya and at the Murray River Classic, he's certainly been back on the rise. He opened his campaign in the Netherlands with a solid win over a very tricky Ugo Humbert and then ended the run of recently-resurgent Montpellier champ David Goffin earlier today. For a spot in the semis, Chardy will take on ultra-talented Andrey Rublev -- one of just two seeds remaining at the event -- but bigger upsets have happened, and he might just have what it takes.

Some of the big wins, though, have come from more even more unexpected places. Eighteen-year-old Clara Tauson, who defeated Jen Brady in the Roland Garros first round, was one of my players to watch this year. She's had some successes on the ITF circuit in recent weeks, but may be ready to break into the big leagues now. Currently at a career-high of #139 in the world, she stunned top seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in her Lyon first round and backed it up with a win over doubles star Timea Babos. She'll face an often-spotty Camila Giorgi in the quarters, and there's no reason to think she'll be entirely outmatched there, and I imagine this could be just the beginning for her.

Another rising star may be making himself known on the clay of Buenos Aires. Sumit Nagal, who'd only won three tour-level matches before this week, wasn't even seeded in the qualifying draw, but managed to make his way into the event anyway. The world #150 started with a decisive win over veteran Joao Sousa, but his bigger victory came a round later. Against second seed Cristian Garin, who simply dominated the Golden Swing this time last year, Nagal broke his opponent seven times and got the win in straight sets. He's got another challenge next -- Córdoba finalist Albert Ramos-Viñolas, arguably a bigger threat, even if a lower rank, but the twenty-three year old is spry and certainly has shown he's got a couple tricks up his sleeve.

Of course, it's not just the qualifiers who are notching big wins this week. Kei Nishikori, after a months-long recovery post his latest injury, has scored two impressive wins in Rotterdam, defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur already. And Tommy Paul successfully brought Alexander Bublik down off the high of his biggest win yet. Lyon wildcard Clara Burel, meanwhile, opened with a win over Aliz´ Cornet and, with her next round against second seed Fiona Ferro, might be in position to continue her run farther.

Still the performance of the players who had to fight just for a spot in the main draw has been more than encouraging so far. And hopefully bodes well for what we'll see from them down the road.