Ryan O’ Neill is here to take us through the top movers and shakers from this week’s ATP/WTA action.
1. Dolgopolov Spark
This week’s first ATP mover is Ukraine’s unpredictable Alex Dolgopolov, who reached his first final in two years at the Rio Open in Brazil. Dolgopolov has struggled to really progress in recent times after originally cracking the top twenty three years ago, and had fallen back outside the top fifty before this week.
The unorthodox 25-year old was in excellent form in Rio, putting in a string of great performances after a shaky start against relative unknown Facundo Bagnis in round two. After eventually coming through in a third-set tiebreak, Dolgopolov put on a much more impressive display to defeat Fabio Fognini in straight sets in the quarter-final, a shock given the Italian’s great form in 2014.
The pick of the Ukrainian’s victories, however, came against second seed David Ferrer in the semi-finals. Having only beaten the former French Open finalist once in seven meetings prior to the weekend, some supreme shotmaking saw Dolgopolov spring a shock 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Top seed Rafael Nadal proved too much in the final, taking home the title in a 6-3, 7-6 victory, but this week showed that Dolgopolov can on occasions play with the very best. Personally, I believe he is too streaky to really be a top player, but on his day he is a joy to watch.
2. Shining Sousa
One man who really seems to be on the up is Portugal’s Joao Sousa, who made an impressive run to the quarter-finals of the Rio Open. Sousa is now number 44 in the ATP rankings, a career high.
Sousa had something of a breakthrough year in 2013, reaching the second round of Grand Slam events for the first time in his career in addition to an excellent third round showing in the US Open. He also won two Future tournaments and has increasingly made the move over to the main Tour, winning his first title in the Malaysian Open in September.
The Tour’s trip to Brazil this week saw Sousa in inspired form, orchestrating wins over Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos to set up a dream quarter-final matchup with world number one Rafael Nadal. The 14-time Grand Slam champion proved far too much on the day, however, breezing through to the semi-final with the loss of just one game.
The experience playing Nadal will have helped Sousa a lot, and at 24-years old he is coming to the peak of his career at the perfect time. With his impressive forehand and strong mental fortitude, I can see Sousa continuing on into the top 30 at some point, but he will have to continue his good form and improve a weak serve if he really wants to challenge the top players.
3. First for Nara
A first time winner on the women’s side this week was Japan’s Kurumi Nara, who defeated Klara Zakopalova in three sets in the final of the Rio Open in Brazil. The win helps the 22-year old break into the top 50 for the first time in her career.
Having struggled initially since turning professional after a promising junior career, Nara’s results over the past six months have been the best of her career. She defeated several seeded players on her way to a third round finish at the US Open in 2013 before achieving the same in Melbourne this year, and her form in Brazil this week was equally impressive. Seeded five for the event, Nara flew through the final with wins over Anna-Lena Friedsam, Lourdes Dominguez Lino and Nastassja Burnett to face Zakopalova, who herself had already reached one final this year. Nara packs a powerful punch for her 5ft 2in frame, and took the Russian down 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 to seal her first WTA title.
I don’t know too much about Nara, but she appears to be constantly improving, and if the pressure of being Japan’s number one player is not too much pressure to handle I’m sure she can continue on up the rankings and become a better player in the future.
4. That’s the Struff
Another big jumper on the men’s side this week is Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, who moves up 18 spots into the top 100 after a fine showing in Marseille. 23-year old Struff, who previously reached his career-high ranking of 95 back in August of 2013, defeated several big names to reach the semi-finals of the indoor 250 event.
Struff, the German number ten, has achieved his best Grand Slam results so far over the past year, and he showed signs of that form in Marseille as he battled from a set down to defeat former French Open quarter-finalist Julien Benneteau in the second round. His run continued into the quarter-finals as he bettered Michael Llodra in straight sets to reach the last four, a great feat considering Llodra’s impressive singles results, despite his proficiency as a doubles player.
Stuff, once again, is a player I, like many other tennis fans, know little about. His results this week and over the last year have been the best of his career, and perhaps he can continue on like this, but he has a lot of work to do to try and properly establish himself as a top 100 player before he can even think any further.
5. Sweet Cornet
Finally, one WTA player who appears to be rediscovering her older form is Alize Cornet. The fiery Frenchwoman reached her first final of 2014 in the Dubai Tennis Championships, losing to Venus Williams.
Cornet has struggled with consistency since reaching her career-high ranking of 11 over four years ago, but has developed a better flow of results in the past year. She has reached the third round of the last four Grand Slam events and won a title in Strasbourg last year. Her form in Dubai this week was exceptional, as she strolled through to the semi-finals with straight set wins over Kirsten Flipkens (a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year) and Carla Suarez Navarro, who herself has had a rejuvenation as of late. It was in the last four though where the 24-year old sprung the biggest upset, toppling current world number one and 17-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in straight sets. Although Williams made an uncharacteristic amount of errors, it couldn’t be denied the resilience Cornet showed at tough stages of the match.
Although a title was not to be (the other Williams sister proved too strong for Cornet in the final), there are signs that, after having been so hotly tipped for stardom at a younger age, Cornet could still make it to the very top. Whether she has the determination to prove her win over Serena was not just a fluke, of course, is up to her.
Pundit Arena, Ryan O’ Neill.
Featured Image By David Jones (Flickr: ATP Tennis Finals at The O2) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.