Women's Preview & Second Round Results
Remember what I said yesterday about how top seeded players who have first round byes might sometimes be at a disadvantage when playing against a qualifier who has played a few matches in a given tournament? Well, the Andy Murray vs. Donald Young match could be a case of life imitating art (if you subscribe to the theory of professional tennis writing is art, and I say that totally tongue-in-cheek). Normally, the talent of a given top-ranked player is usually enough to overcome a slight disadvantage of this nature, but every once in awhile, a very unexpected upset occurs. Such was the case in Young's out-of-nowhere win over the highly talented Briton (and 2011 Australian Open finalist), 7-6 (4), 6-3. Young, who had to qualify to even play here (he is currently ranked 143rd in the world as of the March 7th, 2011 rankings) managed to capture his first win over a top 10-ranked player in his career. It seems like Young has been around for several years; indeed, this is his 7th year as he turned pro in 2004 at the age of 15 (he turns 22 years old on July 3rd).
After the match, Tennis Channel's Cari Champion did an interview with the 21 year-old victor and asked him what he did in the off season to help his game such that he was able to defeat such a good player. Young noted that "I think that I am just working a lot harder. The whole off-season, I was in L.A. the whole time, doing a lot of fitness (training) and working out with David Nainkin (a former pro player who lives in LA and has coached Wayne Ferreira and Justin Gimelstob in the past), Querrey and Mardy (Fish) and it was great. This was just a great, confidence-building win for me," Young noted. Champion then asked about what was going through his mind in the first set tiebreaker; in her opinion, it looked like he established firm control of the match early on. Young laughed and said, "Well, it may have looked like that but I was pretty nervous. I was shaking and my arm was barely able to move. I had some double-faults that made it halfway up the net, but I'm just happy I was able to come through. The ball went in when I needed it to," Young concluded. He next faces Tommy Robredo, who beat him in their only previous ATP Tour-level match in the first round at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Before giving you my perspective on the women's draw at the BNP Paribas Open, I feel it is necessary to provide a quick disclaimer. Typically, writers are not supposed to have favorite tennis players. Our job is to report on the matches as impartially as possible and hopefully add enough of a back story between the participants to make the article interesting and / or worthwhile reading. I have become a huge Kim Clijsters fan in recent years since she returned from her pregnancy leave to have her daughter a few years ago. What she has accomplished is just amazing (winning three majors after returning to the tour from a nearly two-year absence). Generally, you don't see motherhood and professional tennis mix all that well, even if the player has a great support system around her. The rigors of the sport are usually just too difficult to overcome after having had a baby and that is not a criticism about female players whatsoever. But that is not the main reason I count myself one of her fans. Of course, I greatly appreciate fantastic athletic talent whenever I see it. Unfortunately, it is usually accompanied by some sort of entitlement mentality and the player is either barely polite (or in some cases, quite rude) with the media and other people outside their inner circle. Kim is not one of them; in fact, she is about as far away from that kind of behavior as you can get. She has one character trait that I value above all others and it is one that is exceedingly rare among professional athletes in any sport: she is quite humble and you walk away from an encounter with her being all the more impressed with her as a person, let alone an athlete. She really is as nice in person as she appears to be on television.
Granted, I don't know her personally or what she is like off court when she is with her friends and family. But in my 17 years of observing professional tennis players, I have found it highly unusual to be able to turn this character trait on or off at will. It almost seems like you either have it, or not. You can also get an idea of what a player is like in terms of how they treat the media: do they show up for interviews on time or, if they are running late, do they let us know when they will be able to meet with us? How do they respond to questions from us? Do they treat us with respect or have an attitude that they are here only because they have to be and the sooner it is over, the better off they are. Last year in Cincy, she was having a problem with her unforced errors, which were unusually high. Because that was affecting her performance in a negative fashion, I felt that I had to ask her about it. She admitted that it was a problem and that she was working through it; obviously, she figured it out as she won that event en route to successfully defending her 2009 U.S. Open title. She treated the questions with a mixture of humor and seriousness and talked in detail about why that was happening in her game (see last year's coverage for more detail if interested). She did not dismiss the question, but took the time to explain what was happening with her game and how she was trying to fix it. She was more than polite and responded with a sense of genuine warmth and interest in our (the media's) questions and that is highly unusual. So, that is why I consider myself one of her fans. I can honestly say that I hope she wins this title; end of disclaimer!
Caroline Wozniacki is the top-ranked player in the world and seeded No. 1 in this event. She would only be able to play Clijsters if they met in the final. The biggest threat to Caroline probably comes from Agnieszka Radwanska, who is seeded 9th. If the seeds hold, they would meet in quarterfinals, assuming that she gets by Victoria Azarenka (seeded 8th) in the fourth round. Caroline easily advanced in straight sets Saturday over American qualifier Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 6-2. Both Azarenka and Radwanska also advanced without much drama in their respective matches. Victoria cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ekaterina Makarova while Radwanska had a bit more difficulty in closing out her second round opponent (Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic), 7-6 (5), 6-4. The big upset of the day on the ladies side was Australian Open finalist Li Na losing to fellow countrywoman Shuai Peng (both of China) 6-4, 3-6, 3-6.
Maria Sharapova has a moderately difficult draw as she holds the 16th seed and found herself in an unexpectedly close second round match with Anabel Medina-Garrigues of Spain. Sharapova won the first set, 7-5, off a splendid forehand into the ad court. Unfortunately, she was unable to capitalize on two match points in the second set and lost that set in a very loosely played tiebreaker, 6-7 (2). This is the kind of match where, even if Maria wins, she might lose. Why? Because she has to spend far more time on court than she probably should have, expending vital energy that she might otherwise need in a tough afternoon match in the California desert later in the tournament. Sharapova won the third set easily, 6-1 as she was able to jump out to an early break in the third set. It also helped that she benefited from a couple of unforced errors by her opponent early on which allowed her to go up 2-0. Still, she made things more difficult than they had to be by going to deuce after being up 40-15 in the third game. Lindsey Davenport noted that as of the third game in the third set, Sharapova had over 60 unforced errors against only 37 winners. Sharapova's plus / minus deficit of 23 explains a lot as to why she has not been able to close out the match in straight sets. Certainly, that is something she will need to work on if she has any plans of going deep into this tournament.
Samantha Stosur had absolutely no problem in dispatching her second round opponent, qualifier Laura Pous-Tio of Spain, 6-2, 6-2. One obstacle in Maria's quarter (or Sam's if you are partial to Stosur) was unexpectedly removed with the defeat of Daniela Hantuchova by Dinara Safina, 7-6 (2), 6-4. This is a quality win for Safina, who has struggled for the past couple of years with various shoulder ailments. Defending French Open champion Francesca Schiavone anchors one quarter of the draw that also has a very dangerous "floater" in the person of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who is seeded 17th (and ranked 19th in the world). She was quite impressive in Cincinnati last year, advancing to the semifinals and falling to Sharapova, 4-6, 6-3, 2-6. Pavlyuchenkova is drawn to play Shahar Peer in the third round; Peer is seeded 10th in this event. That match is the last one (out of five total) scheduled on stadium court 3, so look for that one in the late afternoon on Sunday.
There were other upsets on the men's side in the second round. Both Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost their second round matches earlier Saturday and were in Nadal's quarter of the draw. So, he has a fairly clear path to the later rounds. Of course, even if they had won, an in-form Nadal probably would not have much difficulty beating either player. But it would have made for a more entertaining quarter to see someone at least challenge Rafa other than Federer. This might be Nadal's year here in Indian Wells; he has won this event in the last two odd-numbered years (2007 and 2009). It can probably be said that whoever noticed this trend probably has way too much time on his (or her) hands and most assuredly, it was not me! Nadal easily dispatched Rik de Voest, 6-0, 6-2 in his second round match (recall that Rafa had a first-round bye). You had to feel some empathy for de Voest who looked overmatched all night long. Mercifully it was over in just under an hour and the stadium was less than half full on a cool and somewhat windy evening in the California desert. Nadal next plays Ryan Sweeting, who upset Juan Monaco of Argentina, 6-1, 0-6, 6-1. Juan Del Potro took care of defending champion Ivan Ljubicic, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
Of course, the match that took most people by complete surprise was Donald Young's upset of Andy Murray in straight sets. They had never played each other previous to their encounter on Saturday and Young really had nothing to lose. To give you an idea of how unexpected the result was, Tennis Channel, which was providing over 10 hours of live coverage for the second round, cut to the match on set point in the first set tiebreaker, which Young won, 7-6 (4). Then, they went back to Del Potro's win over Ivan Ljubicic, who won the title here last year. It was just a tough draw for Ivan to face such a difficult opponent in his second round match. Personally, I would have liked to have seen the entire match but that was not possible. The tournament posted the audio portion of Young's post match interview and he was asked what his mindset was going into the match, facing off against the 5th-ranked player in the world. "I had nothing to lose, just go out there and play, put on a good show and see how it goes," Young said.