Almost unnoticed except by the sport’s most fervent followers, four tournaments came and went this week even while most of us recharged our batteries after the drama in Indian Wells and Miami. Scraping off the rust that accumulated during an extended paternity leave, Stanislas Wawrinka claimed the not very Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, which provided an opportunity for the Olympics gold medallist (see above) to dust off his prodigious clay-court skills before the European events. Here are four other thoughts from the past week that we wanted to share before taking the next step along the red-brick road to Roland Garros:
1) Nothing halts a player’s momentum like a change of surface. Clijsters looked virtually invincible in Miami but came crashing down to earth in Marbella against the 258th-ranked Beatriz Garcia Vidagany. The Spaniard was playing the first WTA main draw of her career, so her upset surely delighted the home crowd. Also, we doubt that Clijsters arrived in this Mediterranean resort brimming with competitive ferocity; she needed this title as much as Federer needs a coach. But she looked decidedly uneasy on her least favorite surface and should have been able to dispose of her many-syllabled opponent despite the insignificance of the occasion. Keep an eye on Clijsters’ performances in Stuttgart and Rome; is she targeting a deep run in Paris, or is she willing to concede that territory to her compatriot?
2) The injury bug keeps biting. Every new day seems to bring another retirement, walkover, or withdrawal. In Houston, four Americans suffered such fates on the same day, while Argentine Eduardo Schwank limped through his match only to incur a $1,000 fine for lack of effort (moral of the story: playing through pain doesn’t pay). Azarenka suffered a leg injury in Marbella, robbing her of almost certain revenge against Indian Wells nemesis Martinez Sanchez. Soderling and Monfils withdrew from the depleted Monte Carlo field, while Del Potro still suffers from the wrist injury that has sidelined him since Melbourne, and Davydenko probably won’t return until the grass. Last year’s French Open semifinalist Cibulkova withdrew from the Charleston event, already struck by the withdrawals of Serena, defending champion Sabine Lisicki, and the elegant young lady pictured below. Somewhere, a bespectacled Novak Djokovic is steadily compiling evidence to support his case for shortening the schedule.
3) Wozniacki is indefatigable…so far. The Great Dane has been great indeed recently, climbing impressively to the #2 ranking. In Charleston next week, she’ll be the #1 seed at a Premier event for the first time in her young career. While swarms of rivals keep sports doctors employed, Wozniacki relentlessly chugs through week after week without a significant injury, despite her physically wearing style; next week will be her sixth (yes, sixth!) consecutive week in action. We applaud her physical and mental resilience, but we’re a little worried about the long-term effects of her workaholic schedule. After expending so much energy so early in the season, will she be spent in the second half? Jankovic traveled down a similar road in the past and found herself too exhausted to deliver her best tennis when it mattered most. Don’t be surprised if Wozniacki endures the same experience once spring turns to summer.
4) Odesnik is even dumber than we thought. We concurred with Roddick’s assessment of this American journeyman as a “jackass” after the HGH revelations, which restored credibility to the sport’s draconian, much-ridiculed drug testing policy. Without plunging too deeply into details, we think that other players can learn a lesson from this case. If Odesnik remained buried deep below the top 50 despite the assistance of PEDs, there’s clearly much more to performance than what a pharmacist can provide. At any rate, Odesnik chose not to fade quietly away from our minds, thus allowing sore tempers to heal, but instead entered the Houston event and nearly reached the final (clearly, he’s replenished his supplies since the Melbourne confiscation). Liable to face an extended suspension for his affront to tennis’ integrity, the American will lose his prize money and rankings points once the investigation culminates in what appears to be a virtually certain verdict. Therefore, he gains nothing at all from this week while senselessly inflaming the wrath of all those concerned. Perhaps he has deluded himself into believing that he can eventually wriggle out of his predicament; after all, he once compared himself to an “American Nadal,” an analogy that seemed uncomfortably hubristic at the time and sounds downright disgusting in retrospect. We can’t think of a single ATP player who has less in common with the unfailingly classy, hardworking Rafa.
Speaking of Nadal, we’ll take a look at the Monte Carlo draw tomorrow in our next tournament preview, while casting a briefer glance towards the somewhat defanged field in Charleston. Like Wozniacki, tennis scribes never take a vacation!