Monday, October 31, 2011

Petra Kvitova: The next number 1?


And that, my friends, is that.

Well, aside from this invitational tournament in Bali I kinda don't get, the WTA season is essentially over with Petra Kvitova beating Victoria Azarenka in the year-end championships.

Kvitova, this year's Wimbledon champ, is the first player to win the YEC on her debut since Maria Sharapova back in '04. That's not really bad company to be in. Another similarity: Sharapova won Wimbledon that year, too. Can Kvitova pull off another Maria-like feat and get to number one, though?

I wouldn't bet against her. The main thing she's going to have to do is play consistently on a week-to-week basis, much like Caroline Wozniacki has been doing for the past couple of years. That's what gets you to the top, and keeps you there, too--even if you don't win Slams. (Sorry Caroline, it had to be said!)

But as she's shown through most of the year, Kvitova definitely has the game. It'll be interesting how she handles being so close to the peak in the months ahead.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Juan Martin del Potro and the road back


Juan Martin del Potro won his first match at the tournament in Vienna, defeating Philipp Petzschner pretty easily. It's a nice win for del Potro, particularly after that early-round loss in Stockholm last week to James Blake.

I would say that del Potro, the second seed, has a really good shot at advancing far in the tournament. Then again, you could say that about him at any tournament almost! His comeback season has been pretty remarkable, considering where he came from at the start of the year.

I wonder how much further can he go? Top 10? Back to the top five? Next year's going to be a little bit tricky for him as he'll have tons of points to defend in the first half. His comeback could hit a bit of a snag; it'll be up to him to navigate how far he can take it.

Meanwhile, there's tennis still to be played in '11, and it seems del Potro is out to make the most of it while fighting for one of the final spots at the year-end championship. Recapturing that first-half magic will be key, but del Potro's shown that he always has it in him.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Will the titles start rolling in for Janko Tipsarevic?


Yep, he did it again: Janko Tipsarevic won his second title of the year over the weekend, this time at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, beating countryman Viktor Troicki in the finals. This follows up his first victory at the event in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago. And that comes off his quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open, the year's last Major.

Not a bad stretch by someone who probably frustrated himself and his fans for years!

He's always been a talented player with big wins under his belt, but for whatever reason--lack of focus, injuries--could never sustain momentum: something I just wrote about a few weeks ago.

Now, seeing his countryman Novak Djokovic reach the heights he has has inspired Tipsarevic.

And that could be a scary thought for the other players on the ATP Tour. Tipsy is playing with an extremely high level of confidence right now. If this carries over into '12, I could see him becoming entrenched in the top 10 for a couple of years at least.

Not a bad stretch indeed.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marion Bartoli, Agnieszka Radwanska scramble for Istanbul


Agnieszka Radwanska, the hottest player on the WTA Tour the past few weeks, lost her match to Lucie Safarova at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. This has opened the door for Marion Bartoli to get the last qualification spot at the year-end championships. All she has to do is win the tournament.

No pressure at all!

Bartoli is playing well, though, having just won the tournament in Osaka. However, I've never thought of her as the type to rattle off eight to 10 wins in a row over the course of back-to-back tournaments. Truth be told, I've probably thought of her as the opposite: someone who could win a Premier-level event one week, then lose to a qualifier the following.

It's good to read in Bartoli's press, though, that she is focusing on getting that final spot. She pretty much is already going: Either her or Radwanska will serve as one of the alternates there.

But if you have to keep on traveling, might as well make sure you're in the field!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez are the real Shanghai surprises


A funny thing: Yesterday, I was just thinking about Brad Gilbert working with Kei Nishikori and saying to myself, "Man, BG must really see something in him that'll enable him to compete with the big boys." I've always thought of Nishikori as a Lleyton Hewitt-type, and I just didn't know if that would translate to a ton of success anymore.

I guess that's why Brad is the coach and I'm blogging!

Nishikori is in the semifinals at the Shanghai Masters with some good wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Alexandr Dolgopolov along the way. I know Nishikori has been plagued by injuries in his young career; here's hoping that's on pause so he can get even more good momentum going.

Another guy that always intrigues me is Feliciano Lopez: How does he hang around in the top 40 like he does with that backhand? I guess he knows how to work around it, plus having a good forehand, big serve and really nice hands at the net helps!

Neither one of these two were on my list of contenders when the tournament started. And even though their games and success have always baffled me, I'd say I'm a fan of both of them and perhaps they can keep on defying the odds.

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Andy Roddick, a Shanghai surprise so far


2011 has not worked out like Andy Roddick intended at all. Early-round Slam losses, only one title, a period outside of the top 20 in the rankings ... you name it, it's happened.

And while there's been plenty of talk on the outside that this slide is a harbinger of things to come, I'm not ready to wave the white flag on him yet. Winning two matches in a row over somewhat-decent opponents so far, and a very winnable one ahead in Nicolas Almagro, at this week's Shanghai Masters event indicates that Roddick's form isn't too far off.

Shanghai is one of his last opportunities to do something big for the year, and with two of the top four not even playing, gives him a shot at a decent run through the draw. Advancing can help build momentum for next year.

Sure, Roddick doesn't have the biggest serve or forehand out there anymore, but they're still big enough to do some damage. I think his fate is in his own hands for a little while longer at least, and it's up to him to take advantage of that.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In a race-to-the-finals kind of mood


It's not that I want to see the '11 season end: Let them play year-round, I always say! (Don't let Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer see that...)

For some reason, I'm really into following who's going to make it into the ATP and WTA year-end championship events. It's great that you have players such as Li Na qualifying for the first time. It's also exciting to see hopefuls like Mardy Fish and Andrea Petkovic so close to joining Li.

Then you have players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer, who have been there before but haven't made it a habit like Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic.

Speaking of Djokovic, how amazing would that be if he capped off this insane season with a win in London? That's the perfect way to bookend a year: Federer did it last year after starting the season with a win at the Australian Open.

Nadal couldn't pull it off the year prior, but he has to be motivated to take the '11 year-end championship, particularly as it's the only major title he's missing.

If you were to switch back over to the women's side for a minute, world number-one Caroline Wozniacki didn't capture a Grand Slam title but beating her peers that did would be a nice way to go into 2012.

And how about the old standbys that just won't be there? A shout-out to the Andy Roddicks and Serena Williamses (well, not that she played the YEC much anyway) of the world.

There's plenty of excitement and intrigue wrapped up in "the race"--enough to get me caught up in it weeks before the end!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Andy Murray and the race for number 3


Well, I guess he's gotten his quest off to a good start!

Andy Murray won the PTT Thailand Open over first-time ATP finalist Donald Young yesterday. During the tournament, Murray stated his intentions to finish the year in the three-spot, ahead of Roger Federer. Andy's going to have to win a lot of matches to pull that off, but it'll be a tall task: After all, he is going after Roger Federer!

But you know what? Good for him for setting that goal, and if he pulls it off, more power to him.

I'm a firm believer that there is a "Big 4" in men's tennis, despite Murray not having won a Slam. He's in a position to do so at every Major, even the French, as he's shown the past couple of years. The guys ahead of Murray are legends, but instead of accepting the fact that he's playing in a tough era as it seems a lot of players are doing right now, he's doing all he can to keep up--and has notched more than a decent number of wins against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer.

I also find it refreshing to hear a player making a bold challenge: It puts pressure on themselves, and if they pull it off, it makes the reward that much sweeter.

And look, wouldn't you love to hear David Ferrer, Robin Soderling or Tomas Berdych say "I'm going to break up that stranglehold on top of the rankings and stay there"?

There is a stranglehold up there, and kudos to anyone looking to improve their standing in it.

(Photo: Getty Images)