Friday Topspin: Resurgence, Opportunity, and Russia

The big man is back: Juan Martin Del Potro reached the semifinals in his last two tournaments, but it took a 6-1 6-1 drubbing of Teymuraz Gabashvili to convince me that he is back in form.  I didn’t expect the Russian to win, or even to take Del Potro to a third set, but if the Argentine is winning 69% of points against a credible opponent, that tells me a return to the top ten is just a matter of time.

It was a surprisingly quick day in Delray Beach, as none of the four second-round matches went to a third set–and no set even went as far as 5-5!  Mardy Fish is easily through to a quarterfinal matchup with Colombian lefty Alejandro Falla.

While the finalist from the bottom half looks like it will be either Del Potro or Fish, the top half of the draw offers an opportunity to a handful of remaining players.  Ivan Dodig will have to get past Janko Tipsarevic to stay alive; in the other quarter, Ryan Sweeting takes on Kei Nishikori.  It’s a big chance for guys whose original draw put them in the same half as Andy Roddick, Sam Querrey, and James Blake.

Youhzny out of Davis Cup: Mikhail Youhzny has announced that he’s no longer playing Davis Cup.  After what feels like a generation of Russia near the top of the Davis Cup rankings, the guard is changing.  Nikolay Davydenko is still a dangerous player, but now a less consistent one.  The next Russians in the rankings are Gabashvili, Igor Andreev, and Igor Kunitsyn.  Not exactly the fearsome team Russia could put on the court five years ago.

Looking forward a few years, there is something to look forward to in Russian tennis.  Two of the most promising youngsters in the game, Andrey Kuznetsov and Alexander Lobkov, are potential team members in another year or two.  Ranked 230 and 249, respectively, neither has reached his 21st birthday; Kuznetsov just turned 20 on Tuesday.  That makes them two of the top 15 under-21s in the game.

In the meantime, Russia could suffer the ignominy of losing to a squad like the Ukraine’s (Alexander Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky) or Kazakhstan’s (Andrey Golubev and Mikhail Kukushkin).

What Youhzny’s recovering from: It would be understandable if Youhzny made his announcement after reached the semifinal in Dubai, but no, he lost to Gilles Simon in the first round.  With Stakhovsky, he has had more success in doubles, reaching the final earlier today over Dick Norman and Marcel Granollers.

The other semifinal is taking place later today, between the team of Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic and the team of Jeremy Chardy and Feliciano Lopez.  Chardy/Lopez doesn’t sound like a world-beating doubles team, but they’ve already taken out Mariusz Fyrstenburg/Marcin Matkowski and Rohan Bopanna/Aisam Qureshi.  An impressive week, even if they don’t go any further.

Other results: Semifinalists were determined in both Dubai and Acupulco yesterday.  Each one features a set of usual suspects plus one outsider.  In Dubai, Richard Gasquet beat Simon to set up a match today with Roger Federer.  In Acupulco, Thomaz Bellucci snuck through another match to set up a semifinal with the master of the Golden Swing, Nicholas Almagro.

I watched a good chunk of the Stanislas Wawrinka/Dolgopolov match last night.  Dolgopolov wasn’t in absolute top form, but playing the way he is at age 22, you have to wonder if we’re looking at a future French Open winner.  He can play from the baseline like a South American, but he isn’t afraid to move around the court.  The commentators were getting down on him for some bad volley errors, but what I saw was a player who was creating opportunities for himself at the net.  He’s got time to iron out the wrinkles in that part of his game.

Today: If your goal is to watch beautiful tennis strokes, the match of the day is between Federer and Gasquet.  They’re playing for a spot in the finals against Novak Djokovic.

If you want the potential for a long, hard-fought match that could go either way, the obvious choice is in Acupulco, between Dolgopolov and David Ferrer.  The two have played twice, both on hard courts last summer.  Ferrer won in straight sets at the US Open, but Dolgo took him to three in Cincinnati.  On a different surface, and as well as the Russian has played of late, I think we can throw those results away.

See you tomorrow!

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