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Studs and Duds: The Best and Worst of This Week in Tennis

Feb 9th 2014

It was a week for underdogs in the three ATP 250 tournaments and for sweeps (some expected and some not) in the Fed Cup quarterfinals.  The time has come to look back across the best and worst of action on four continents and three surfaces.


No. 1 seeds:  Continuing an ATP trend this year, all three top seeds reached finals in Montpellier, Zagreb, and Vina del Mar.  (All but one of the ATP finals this year has featured the tournament’s top seed.)  Two of the three could not quite finish the job, Richard Gasquet settling for the runner-up trophy in Montpellier and Tommy Haas in Zagreb.  But a two-tiebreak win over rising star Jerzy Janowicz reflected well on Gasquet, while Haas will feel reassured of his health after January injury concerns.

Fabio Fognini

On the clay of Chile, Fabio Fognini won his third title of the last 12 months after not having won a single title previously.  The Italian clay specialist confronted his sternest challenge in the semifinals, when he let a one-set lead escape him, failed to serve out the match in the third set, and hovered within two points of defeat in the decisive tiebreak.  Fognini has learned how to handle those tense moments with more poise than he once did, however, which partly explains his rise toward the edge of the top 10.

Gael Monfils:  Never averse to creating chaos, Monfils didn’t hesitate to exploit the chaos rippling around him in the upset-riddled Montpellier draw.  The fifth seed still needed to defeat quality opponents in reaching his second final of 2014, and a comprehensive victory over world No. 9 Gasquet gave him his fifth career title in 21 attempts.  Not facing a break point in the final, he extended his record this year to a perfect 12-0 against opponents other than Rafael Nadal.  

Croats:  Playing at home always brings out the best in Marin Cilic, who has won half of his career titles in Croatia.  He captured the Zagreb tournament for the fourth time in six years, not losing a set all week.  The matchup against Haas has troubled Cilic before, which made his 80-minute upset of the world No. 12 even more impressive.  He should be seeded at most significant events again soon.

Although he didn’t advance deep into the draw, Ivo Karlovic still burst into the headlines at his home tournament in Zagreb.  He hammered 44 aces in his first-round victory over Daniel Brands, equaling the record for aces served in a single best-of-three encounter.  In true Karlovic fashion, however, he still needed a third-set tiebreak to win.

Andrea Petkovic:  The previous week witnessed an encouraging effort by a woman who first broke through in 2011, Paris champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  This weekend witnessed an encouraging effort by another woman who played her best tennis that year in Petkovic.  Saving match point against Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, she delivered the key victory for Germany in an away tie.  Petkovic’s former, recently absent feistiness emerged in her ability to turn around that match after a poor first set.

Nicolas Almagro:  In his first tournament of 2014, Almagro came within two points of reaching the Vina del Mar final.  His rust from an injury absence showed, but a formidable serving display suggested that his shoulder has recovered.  During a stretch when injuries have run rampant in the ATP, any good news of this sort is welcome.

Samantha Stosur

Samantha Stosur:  Defeating two opponents outside the top 100 in Fed Cup should not have surprised anyone.  Still, a woman who has flopped so often and so abjectly on home soil must have welcomed the chance to shine when competing under her flag.  Stosur’s victories in Hobart led Australia to its first Fed Cup semifinal since 1993

Karin Knapp:  Despite 100 unforced errors in two matches this weekend, Knapp played the key role in Italy’s stunning sweep of the United States in an away tie on an indoor hard court.  She won both of her singles rubbers, including the clincher against Alison Riske, in what may have come as a measure of consolation for her epic Australian Open loss to…

Maria Sharapova:  After promoting Russia’s successful bid to host the Winter Olympics, Sharapova basked in the limelight of Sochi.  During a rare visit to her home country, she carried the Olympic torch into the stadium and participated in NBC coverage of the event.  Missing the Premier Five tournament in Doha next week was a small price to pay for a week that Sharapova will remember forever.

First-time quarterfinalists:  The good news just keeps coming for British tennis after their Davis Cup victory last weekend. Daniel Evans fell in the last round of qualifying at Zagreb yet received entry to the main draw when Radek Stepanek withdrew.  He seized the opportunity with both hands in reaching the semifinals, upsetting third seed Philipp Kohlschreiber en route. 

Ranked outside the top 200, Taro Daniel turned heads briefly in Vina del Mar with victories over South American dirt devils Thomaz Bellucci and Federico Delbonis.  A runner-up at an ATP 500 event on clay last year, Delbonis must have felt secure after winning a 6-1 set from an unknown opponent.  But Daniel pulled the rug out from under him by winning two tiebreaks and saving a match point.

Qualifiers, everywhere:   Evans and Daniel were not the only men who worked overtime for their achievements this week.  Zagreb alone featured three quarterfinalists who started the tournament in the qualifying draw.  In his first ATP event of the season, the 34-year-old Bjorn Phau marched all the way to his first semifinal in five years.  Andrey Kuznetsov offered Russian tennis some hope on an otherwise bleak weekend by scoring two gritty wins to reach the quarterfinals.  Two French qualifiers reached the last eight in Montpellier, giving the home crowd even more reasons to cheer.  One of them, the 37-year-old Marc Gicquel, stunned a top-20 opponent in perhaps the most bizarre result of a bizarre week.   That brings us to…

Gilles Simon


No. 2 seeds:  Not one of them won a match in this week of upsets, unless one counts first-round victories over “Bye,” who holds the longest losing streak in tennis history.  The most surprising stumble probably came from Tommy Robredo on the clay of Vina del Mar.  Allowing four match points to slip away against Leonardo Mayer, Robredo could not finish off a match that never should have been close in the first place.  Still, the loss looked better in retrospect when Mayer reached the final, and the same was true of Mikhail Youzhny’s loss to Phau in Zagreb.  Injuries may have influenced Gilles Simon’s otherwise inexcusable setback against Gicquel in Montpellier.

Dmitry Tursunov:  Three of his nine matches this year have come against Denis Istomin.  Tursunov has lost two of those three matches, not a good sign for someone who must defend significant points from last February in coming weeks.

Madison Keys:  Her Fed Cup collapse as the American No. 1 paralleled Sam Querrey’s embarrassment in similar circumstances a week before.  Tasked with leveling the tie at 1-1, Keys sprayed 47 errors to just eight winners in a 6-2 6-1 rout by Camila Giorgi.  That second rubber marked the turning point of the tie, as it had in San Diego for the Davis Cup team, and set the tone for the disappointment that followed.

Lukas Rosol:  When he won his first career title last spring, Rosol seemed poised to build on his stunning upset over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon the year before.  Since that Bucharest triumph, though, he has posted just an 11-24 record that included an opening-round loss in Zagreb.  The death of Rosol’s father last year surely contributed to his slump.  But the glow of his “hello, world” moment has faded.

Dominika Cibulkova

Dominika Cibulkova:  The Australian Open finalist came back to earth with a thud as she lost both of her singles rubbers at home in Slovakia.   A committed Fed Cup competitor, Cibulkova may use the sting of this disappointment as a cure for the complacency that probably followed her breakthrough.   

Seville weather:  Who thought that playing an outdoor tie in Europe in early February was a clever idea?  Nobody on the Spanish or Czech Fed Cup teams thinks so anymore.  A deluge over the weekend permitted the completion of only one (short) match, leaving both teams stranded until at least Monday with at least two and likely more matches still to play.  That said, there are worse places than Seville to be marooned in these circumstances.

Team Russia:  Granted, nobody expected them to win or even be competitive.  Russia fielded two women outside the top 200 with minimal experience against a former US Open champion in Samantha Stosur and a tricky top-100 lefty in Casey Dellacqua.  Even though expectations hovered around Death Valley level, Russia’s plunge from Fed Cup glory in a few short years remains sobering.  The lesson for this weekend’s winners:  enjoy what you have while it lasts because one day it won’t be there anymore.