It’s been an enthralling couple of weeks on the ATP/WTA tours. Giving us the roundup is Ryan O’ Neill.
1. New heights for Evans
This week’s first big mover is Great Britain’s Dan Evans, who reached his highest ever ATP ranking after reaching the semi-finals of the PBZ Zagreb indoor tournament.
Evans, Britain’s number two, entered the ATP 250 event as a lucky loser, having lost to Bjorn Phau in the final round of qualifying. The resilience that often occurs in players who are given a second chance was evident in Evans, as he coasted through his first round match against Jan Hajek before outlasting Germany’s Michael Berrer in a third set tiebreak so set up a quarter-final matchup with former world top 20 player Philipp Kohlschreiber.
With over 100 places between the two in the rankings, the match was not expected to be a close affair, but Evans, possibly hurting from being left out of the GB Davis Cup team last week, played the match of his life to seal a shock 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory and go through to the semi-finals.
Having been snubbed by GB captain Leon Smith in favour of youngster Kyle Edmund, Evans more than proved a point this week that leaving him out was a mistake. A final appearance proved a bridge too far for the 23-year old, losing in the last four in a tough three set match to German Tommy Haas, but reaching his first ATP level semi and moving to a career-high 123 in the rankings will do wonders for Evans in both the short and long term.
2. Jumping Jerzy
One man who will be happy to see better performances coming his way is last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz, who reached his first semi-final of 2014 in Montpellier.
Having raised expectations so much last year with his run in London, this year has been underwhelming for Janowicz. The Pole lost his first match of the year in Sydney before falling to Florian Mayer in the third round of the Australian Open.
Having not played since Melbourne due to a broken foot, Janowicz came into the Open Sud de France with a lack of fitness. However, the third seed showed no signs of any cobwebs as he neatly dispatched French duo Adrian Mannarino and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in straight sets to set up a semi-final meeting with top tenner Richard Gasquet. The 27-year old’s experience proved too much for Janowicz, as he emerged victorious in two close tiebreak sets to face Gael Monfils in the final.
Having had so much on his shoulders since Wimbledon, it’s no surprise Janowicz has been inconsistent, especially given his age. I personally feel that if he can control his game a little more and, of course, stay injury-free, he could have a long career as a top ten player in the years to come.
3. Fighting Haas
The revival of Tommy Haas since his recurrent injury problems has been a sight to behold, and the former world number two continued to impress by reaching the final of the PBZ Zagreb tournament last week.
Haas began the week by getting past Benjamin Becker in three sets, then beating Alex Kuznetsov comfortably to set up a meeting with Britain’s Dan Evans, whose own excellent run I discussed earlier. The 35 year-old’s experience was too tough for the Briton in his first semi-final, and Haas again prevailed in three to face Marin Cilic in the final. Unfortunately for Haas, he was utterly dominated by the home favourite, who picked up his fourth Zagreb title in a comprehensive 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Haas’ comeback has been nothing short of incredible over the last few years, with the LA resident featuring in seven finals, winning three, and rising back up to number 12 in the ATP rankings. Rumours abound that Haas may not continue after this year, but he clearly still has high aspirations, having hired new coach Alexander Waske to help him push for a World Tour Finals spot in
November. Having already reached his first final of 2014, the year is surely set to be another good one for the veteran.
4. Stosur building confidence
Another player who will have grown in belief after a mediocre start to the year is Australia’s Sam Stosur, who got back to winning ways by leading her Fed Cup team to a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Russia.
Stosur has struggled a little so far this year, losing all three of her Hopman Cup singles matches before a surprise loss to Klara Zakopalova in the Hobart seemi-finals and a third round exit in Melbourne. She looked a little more herself this week in action for her Australian Fed Cup team, winning both her singles matches as her country routed a Russia team lacking a Winter Olympics-bound Maria Sharapova.
What is important about the 2011 US Open champion’s wins is not the quality of her opponents (Russia’s Victoria Kan and Veronika Kudermetova are ranked 158 and 650 respectively), but the ruthless manner in which she dispatched them. Beating Kan 6-2, 6-3 and Kudermetova 6-4, 6-0, Stosur was rarely ever tested, which is exactly the kind of confidence she needs after a topsy-turvy start to the year.
Stosur is known to suffer from self-doubt and nerves, particularly when the favourite in matches, so wins like this will only serve to fuel her fire in preparation for the American hardcourt swing next month. Stosur had, by her standards, a below-par 2013, but is one of the few female players who possesses real bite in her shots, with a forehand and serve many players on the men sides would gladly inherit, and with more confidence boosts like this week I feel she can definitely regain a spot in the top ten before the year is out.
5. Fognini Reigns
This week’s final big shaker is Italy’s flamboyant Fabio Fognini, who won his third ATP title at this week’s Royal Guard Open in Vina del Mar, Chile with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Argentina’s Leonard Mayer.
The entertaining 26-year old has been on the up since 2012, reaching his first tour finals and winning two titles last year in Germany, in addition to breaking the top twenty for the first time, and 2014 has proven to be a continuation of Fognini’s success. He reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time outside Roland Garros in Melbourne, and he was in imperious form in Chile on his return to his favoured clay. While his win against Mayer in the final was relatively straightforward, it was the victories over Nicolas Almagro and Jeremy Chardy which really caught the eye. Both players have previously been higher ranked, and provided tough three-set tests for top seed Fognini on his way to victory.
Fognini is obviously a talented player, and it is good to see him develop naturally and achieve more and more as he reaches his peak, rather than being pushed to win big at a young age, as many emerging stars are today. I doubt whether he has the power in his serve or mental consistency to win a major, but he’s certainly fun to watch and a real dark horse in the upcoming Masters 1000s and Roland Garros.
Pundit Arena, Ryan O’ Neill.