The fun thing about those weeks when the action is spread out among various events, with very few of the very top players in yoke, is that they’re a little like election days. You track the results, raising an eyebrow here, muttering “what?” there, as the results roll in.
As in any good election, the largely predictable results are leavened with a number of surprises. The typical goal of all these candidates is to make the weekend — the semifinals and finals. But before we check in to see some of the returns, let me give you a brief quiz to make my point — sort of:
Who were the champions, last year, of the ATP and WTA events being played this week? (answers at the end of the post, but don’t worry, you won’t have to flip your computer upside down to view them the way you might in some magazine).
Now let’s take a closer look at our widely scattered semifinalists in the five events winding down this weekend:
Does anyone every get tired of Ivo Karlovic, the well-traveled, 34-year old, 6-foot-10 Croatian with the atomic serve? Karlovic has overcome serious obstacles in his career, including numerous injuries and a speech impediment, which is one reason he’s so popular. But he’s not very popular with 17-year old Muscovite and wild card, Karen Khachanov. Karlovic ruined the kid in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-0.
Ahead for Karlovic lies top-seeded Richard Gasquet, who will be a tough nut to crack because he and countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are both trying to overtake Roger Federer in the race for the eight and final place in the ATP World Tour finals. Gasquet eliminated local hero, 28-year-old wild card Teymuraz Gabashvili, a Georgian who lives in Moscow. Why is it that the Russians do so well at this tournament?
In the bottom half, Mikhail Kukushkin took care of Andrey Golubev in a battle of the qualifiers. Interestingly, both men are Russians living in Kazakhstan — immigrants who left talent-laden Russia to capitalize on opportunities in Kazakhstan. ATP No. 102 Kukushkin has been on the Challenger circuit most of this year. The Volgograd native has to be thrilled to be in the semis of an ATP 250 in his homeland.
Kukushkin will match wits with No. 2 seed and defending champion. . . you’ll have to scroll down to read his name . . . who advanced when Edouard Roger-Vasselin quit with an injury while trailing 5-2 in their semifinal.
Continuing the theme, two Russian women are in the semifinals and the good news for locals is that they don’t have to play each other. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, an off-again, on-again talent, appears to be on-again. She knocked off countrywoman Maria Kirilenko in the first round and most recently crushed Daniela Hantuchova (love-and-four) to make the weekend cut. She’ll play No. 5 seed Simona Halep, who eliminated yet another Russian in the quarters, Alisa Kleybanova.
Halep has been a real revelation this year; the hard-hitting 22-year old Romanian won four tournaments, including New Haven, starting in early June — just weeks after she reached the final in Rome (l. to Serena Williams). This could be the upset special of the weekend.
And guess who’s through to the semis down below in the draw? Our old friend, free-spirited two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. She took care of No. 2 seed Roberta Vinci, giving up just five games, and will now meet the victor over Ana Ivanovic, No. 7 seed Sam Stosur. Once again, Stosur is showing signs of life just when everyone has written her off as dead. Talk about not being able to handle pressure. . .
Remember Lukas Rosol, the free-swinging Czech who knocked Rafael Nadal out in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012? The 28-year old journeyman has quietly climbed into the Top 50 (No. 44) and today it took him three sets to master German qualifier Ruben Bemelmans, an upset winner over the No. 4 seed, Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Next up for him: No. 2 seed Tommy Haas, who took care of Radek Stepanek in straight sets in the battle that might have taken place in the Depends Open. The combined ages of No. 12 Haas and No. 46 Stepanek is 69 (Haas is nine months older and presently 35).
In the bottom half, ever puzzling No. 63 Robin Haase stunned No. 3 seed Fabio Fognini for his best win this year — by far. Haase is a talented ball striker who just can’t seem to get it together, and keep it together, for any length of time. Fognini is ranked No. 17 and was playing pretty well again after tailing off in the late summer.
Haase is likely to have his hands full with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga — unless the top seed is gassed following that terrific performance by 20-year old Austrian Dominic Thiem, who took Tsonga to a third-set tiebreaker. Ranked No. 149, Thiem was a wild card entrant. His performance today was a huge surprise; have we found a player to carry on the tradition established by Thomas Muster and Jurgen Melzer?
Who knows, maybe we’ll see that long-awaited Haas-Haase final after all. . .
Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki escaped a real scare inflicted by No. 8 seed Bojana Jovanovski, and she may have her semifinal work cut out — if No. 3 seed Sabine Lisicki can come through against Italy’s Karin Knapp in the late match tonight. Heck, she may be in trouble even if Lisicki loses, given the way the Italians have been rolling on the WTA Tour.
In the bottom half, Annika Beck is still just 19, and at a meager 5-foot-7 she may not be built on the increasingly popular 5-foot-10-or-better WTA champion platform. But Beck is a savvy, cool competitor. She took care of qualifier Katarzyna Piter in the quarters, but she had to go all the way to 7-6 in the third set to do it. She’ll play Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele, who surprised Mona Barthel in the first round and knocked off No. 2 seed Sloane Stephens in three sets today. What did you expect, this isn’t a major, right?
Top-seeded David Ferrer, by far the highest-ranked player in action this week (he’s No. 3), received a walkover from fellow countryman Fernando Verdasco in his quarter. But the fact that he struggled in his previous match against American Jack Sock may be a bad omen. Ferrer plays No. 5 seed Ernests Gulbis, who upset No. 3 seed Jerzy Janowicz in his quarterfinal. I have a funny feeling Gulbis is going to watch what he says about the guy he beat, that Jerzy is a nasty piece of work!
In the bottom half, Benoit Paire of France, the No. 6 seed, knocked off No. 2 seed Milos Raonic. He’ll play No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals — their first meeting since Paire's four-set win at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Here’s a question for you: which of these tournaments featured the most intriguing matches and match-ups? My vote goes for Stockholm, and I’m probably not the only one who thinks it would be great fun to see a final between Gulbis and either Paire or Dimitrov.
And now, for your quiz answers: ATP defending champs: Moscow: Andreas Seppi; Stockholm: Tomas Berdych; Vienna: Juan Martin del Potro. WTA defending champs: Moscow: Caroline “LOL” Wozniacki; Luxembourg: Venus Williams.