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On The Comeback Trail

August 8, 2010

This week of the US Open Series has been a week of comebacks. Comebacks from injury, comebacks from poor form, and unfortunately, come-downs from excellent play. Weeks in tennis without Masters series or Slams often act as a build up to the main events in which we congratulate those left holding the trophy but forget them just as quickly. Too often they are brushed aside as irrelevant and too much pre-tournament analysis bigger events is written as the smaller tournaments struggle on. Not this week. This week gave us a glimpse of what to expect in the US Open build up, but more importantly, it allowed the smaller players to come back in a big way.

A little-known Gilles Simon beat Roger Federer around this time two years ago. He followed it up with a Masters series win in Madrid and qualified for the end-0f-year tournament. He was in the top ten and brought new hope to France. In 2010 he entered the Legg Mason Tennis Classic having played only one Grand Slam this season. Simon had missed the Australian Open and the entire clay season due to a right knee injury. It had resulted in a slip down the rankings into the fringes of tennis obscurity. His results in Legg Mason have propelled him back into the world of promise, with his name once again featuring in news articles and blog posts after he upset Andy Roddick 6-3 6-3 in the third round. Simon continued his good form until the quarters, where he was beaten by another man plagued by injury in 2010, David Nalbandian. Simon will be relieved to be back on the right track after a trying year.

David Nalbandian may have needed a wild card to play the Legg Mason Classic but no one doubted his ability. What nobody expected was the former world number three, injury plagued Argentine to find himself in the final with such ease. Nalbandian has what many consider to be the best backhand on the tour but with so much of the year spent off the tour nursing a hamstring injury it was wondered if the 113th ranked baseliner would return to the tour at all. This week he showed the damage he can inflict when playing near his best. He took out Wawrinka, Simon, and Cilic all with apparent ease to find himself in the finals against Marcos Bagdhatis. Tennis fans will hope Nalbandian can continue his stunning form in the US Open as he can be simply exquisite to watch with a technique often referred to in how-to tennis manuals.

Fans could be forgiven for thinking it was 2004 with Marcos Baghdatis finding himself against Nalbandian in the Legg Mason final. The Cypriot sent shock-waves through Washington when he took out Fernando Verdasco and the crowd favourite will find plenty of support in the final tomorrow. Baghdatis is another with an injury infested career, he even had to shake off an ankle injury in his semi-final win over Xavier Malisse. Ranked 25, the previous Australian Open champion has had an erratic year with wins such over the likes of Federer marred by a grass season which saw him fail to win a single match. Baghdatis seems to have pulled himself together once again and with a 3-1 head to head over Nalbandian he will fancy his chances going into the final.

Daniela Hantuchova has never been a model of consistency; she was once ranked as high as five but has suffered dramatic losses amongst the ever-present media questioning her attitude, weight, and mentality. Hantuchova seems to have grown in maturity in 2010 with decent results during the clay season including upsets of Jelena Jankovic and Yanina Wickmayer. She once again suffered a lapse during the grass court season but lanky Slovakian made major in-roads this week at the Mercury Insurance Open. Ranked 25th, Hantuchova upset number 6 seed Marion Bartoli after saving three match points, before beating both Jie Zheng and Alisa Kleybanova in her run to the semi-finals. Her restored confidence should work wonders for her heading into next week’s Premier event in Montreal.

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Another talent who has found some confidence after a rough season is 2009 French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian finds herself in the Mercury Insurance Open final after playing decent tennis all week. The former world number two has dropped down to 21 in the rankings but is projected to climb back inside the top 20 next week. Kuznetsova was never going to be in a slump for long, the winner of 13 WTA titles may lack focus at times but her talent is too strong to keep her winning ways at bay. She will be the favourite to win the title when she takes on fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in tomorrows final.

With the return of the likes of Nalbandian and Kuznetsova to the top of their games, it’d be too easy to forget all the upsets. Players who have had great years seemed to be slumping simultaneously in Washington and San Diego, with the likes of Fernando Verdasco, Andy Roddick and Tomas Berdych on the mens side all suffering poor form. It’s made picking potential winners below the top five for the coming Masters series difficult indeed. Roddick especially was notable news as he drops out of the top ten and leaves the USA without a top-ten player for the first time since the rankings system began in 1973. There is little doubt however that he will return to form, as is the case with French Open finalist Sam Stosur. She may have suffered tough losses since her success in Paris and is struggling with an arm injury, but there is little doubt the Australian will recover from her minor slump. Dinara Safina is another question altogether as the Russian went out in the second round in San Diego. She did, however, snap a 6-match losing streak by beating Alona Bondarenko in the first round. In the case of Safina it may be a case of slowly slowly catchy monkey as she tries to recover both physically and mentally from a devastating back injury.

The US Open Series has made an exciting start. Whether the comeback tales continue or the favourites find their form we can only wait and see. What is assured is that there will be plenty more suprises and quality play in store on the blue American hard-courts this season.

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