Thursday, August 11, 2011

Time To Panic?

Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and a host of other big names need to get on track next week in Cincinnati, or head into the US Open cold.

Never is the only good time to panic when it comes to tennis, but several disturbing results for top players -- both men's and women's -- have created a major sense of urgency as the Tour prepares to head to it's last big event prior to the US Open in Cincinnati.

Nadal, who hadn't played a match since his defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, was upset by Croatian Ivan Dodig in his opening match. It was Nadal's first opening match defeat in a tournament since Rome, 2008.

The loss in and of itself is not so concerning, but the fact that Nadal only has one more tournament to get his bearings on the hard court will undoubtedly add some extra pressure to his US Open preparations.

And there's always that little thing called confidence. Nadal has always been the type of player who needs lots of match play and practice to reach his top form, so this is a serious concern for him. Perhaps the only good news is that it will give him another week to rest his foot, which was injured in Wimbledon, and may or may not be an issue at this point.

Other men to bow out early in Montreal: Juan Martin del Potro, who lost to Marin Cilic in his 2nd match; Andy Murray, who was upset by South African Kevin Anderson in his opening match; Robin Soderling and Andy Roddick, who withdrew from Montreal due to injury.

On the women's side, world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was upended by Roberta Vinci in her opening match in Toronto. Wozniacki, like Nadal, thrives on getting lots of match play, and the onus will be on her to make a deep run in Cincinnati or be forced to feel the pressure of needing a strong performance in New Haven in the week leading up to the US Open.

Li and Kvitova, ranked No. 6 and 7 respectively, will be under even more pressure to do well in Cincinnati, as neither has entered New Haven. I'm sure they'd both prefer to have the week to do some last minute tinkering with their strokes and relax a bit rather than hunting down a wildcard to get some extra matches in Connecticut.

The same goes for Venus Williams, who was forced to withdraw from Toronto due to a viral illness, and Kim Clijsters who can't seem to get healthy no matter how hard she tries.

But it's not time to panic -- yet. Even Serena Williams, a player who is riding a 7-match winning streak and seems to solidify her status as the US Open favorite with each successive match, knows that peaking at the right time is more important than peaking too early -- she's stressed that over and over to reporters, both during her run to the title at Stanford and her first few matches in Toronto.

The problem for players like Nadal, Wozniacki and so many others right now is that they can't peak if they've barely played. Hopefully that will change next week. Their need to play -- and to win -- should make the event in Cincinnati more compelling on many levels.

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