The early rounds at Indian Wells were marked by a number of notable upsets, and this trend looks to be continuing in Miami as a fairly depleted field heads toward the final rounds. With the introduction of the Williams sisters into the field in Miami, many felt that the tournament would retain the best players through the second week much better than Indian Wells did. For their part, the sisters have done the job in remaining in the tournament, but the same cannot be said for many of their colleagues.
Jelena Jankovic joined the upset club for the second tournament in a row as she fell in her first match to Argentine Gisela Dulko. In Indian Wells, she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round, which spurred Pavlyuchenkova to a semifinal run, but Dulko was not able to match this performance as she lost her next match to Iveta Benesova. After her loss in Indian Wells, Jankovic expressed on her website that she is incredibly frustrated with her level of play lately, but she is also distracted by an illness that her mother is currently facing, which is taking up much of her time and energy. This certainly must be a contributing factor to her lack of conviction on court in recent weeks.
Jankovic was joined this week by her countrywoman Ana Ivanovic, who seemed primed to follow up on her Indian Wells success with an easy win over Mariya Koryttseva, but she was eliminated in surprising fashion in her second match, going down in three sets to the slumping Agnes Szavay. Szavay looked to be the future of women’s tennis in the fall of 2007 with some very impressive runs, but she has looked ineffective and unsure of herself since then. Perhaps this event will signal her return to the conversation in women’s tennis.
It was not just the Serbians who fell early, as Russian world #2 Dinara Safina also went out in the third round to Australian Sam Stosur. Safina was facing the added pressure of potentially becoming #1 in the world at the end of this tournament. It was in her hands, as a solid result would have vaulted her ahead of Serena Williams regardless of Williams’ performance. Now, with this loss, Serena controls her destiny at #1 for the time being. Safina will have another chance to take the top spot in a few weeks on the clay in Charleston. This was an important win for Stosur, who showed so much potential only a few years ago before she was sidelined with Lyme disease. She looks to be finally regaining fitness and form this year, but she has struggled closing out matches against top players. She has already lost three matches this year at 7-5 in the third to Serena Williams, Zheng Jie, and Agnieszka Radwanska. Being able to close out this upset will certainly improve her confidence.
Another early loss came from Vera Zvonareva, the Indian Wells champion. Zvonareva’s loss does not look to be as calamitous as the previous upsets, though, as she lost to talented Chinese player Li Na. Li is still coming back from injury, so her low ranking pits her against the top seeds early on. Li is capable of beating any player in the world when she is playing with confidence and consistency, so Zvonareva looks to be more a victim of bad draw luck than the slump epidemic.
Other notable upsets from Indian Wells, Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova, have survived early scares to have more impressive showings. Dementieva was taken to three sets by Russian teen Anastasia Pivovarova in her first match, but advanced through that match and cruised against Suarez Navarro before eventually being defeated by Caroline Wozniacki. This is not a great result for Dementieva but certainly a more respectable loss than her first match exit in Indian Wells. Kuznetsova also looked to be in serious trouble in her first match, down a set and a break to Tamira Paszek, but she fought to win that match 2-6 7-5 6-1, which seems to have given her new life. Kuznetsova had been disastrous ever since she blew her lead against Serena in Australia, but since the Paszek comeback Kuznetsova has recorded solid straight set wins over Vaidisova and Kleybanova, which moves her into the Quarterfinals. Kuznetsova looks to have found her game just in time to save her top 10 ranking going into the clay court season and to take advantage of a depleted draw, being the highest seed left in her half.
With these upsets, the path to the Semifinals looks clear for the Williams sisters in the top half, but the bottom half looks like it could be a fight between veteran major champions Kuznetsova and Mauresmo and the talented teens Wozniacki and Azarenka to see who scores the huge result and advances to the final in Miami.