Falling Forward

by: Steve Tignor | October 01, 2012

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Today we make the turn into October. Believe it or not, it’s the final month of the women’s season, and the WTA’s final Premier Mandatory event, in Beijing, has already begun. Meanwhile, the men play catch-up in Asia this week. There are solid 500-level ATP draws in Tokyo, where Andy Murray makes his fall debut, and Beijing, where Novak Djokovic makes his. 
Matches are being won and lost on the other side of the world as I write this, so I’ll get down to previewing all three tournaments before they go any farther.
China Open (WTA)
Premier; Hard courts
Draw is here
U.S. TV schedule is here
Looking at the Beijing women’s draw this morning, the biggest surprise was right at the top. Victoria Azarenka, who had pulled out of Tokyo with mysterious dizzy spells last week, was not only still in the tournament, she had already won her opener 1 and 0 over Alize Cornet. I guess Vika is feeling OK.
It’s hard to tell how much the top women have left right now. Victoria Azarenka’s health is obviously a question. Maria Sharapova went out early in Tokyo and opened in Beijing with a tight two-set win over Simona Halep. Agnieszka Radwanska had enough to reach the final this past weekend, but now she has to turn around and defend another tournament title. Caroline Wozniacki is playing for a third straight week, and it showed in her opener, which she nearly lost to Chanelle Scheepers. Unfortunately, Petra Kvitova has already succumbed to her own health issue, a stomach bug. She went out to Carla Suarez Navarro today.
In other words, there may be openings for others. Who can fill them? The first answer is Li Na, who is playing at home and won her first match in routine fashion over Francesca Schiavone. Now Li gets Nadia Petrova. Talk about no rest for the weary; Petrova is coming off the second-biggest title of her career, in Tokyo. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here, though a letdown against Li wouldn’t be surprising. 
Of note:
—Serena Williams was a late, but not unexpected, scratch from this otherwise mandatory event. She said over Twitter that she has the flu.
—Azarenka has a tough second-rounder, against Sabine Lisicki. Azarenka is 2-0 in their head-to head, though they haven’t played since 2010.
—Did we jump the gun on Mona Barthel? The rising star of the first half of the season lost 1 and 1 in her opener to Elena Vesnina. Since the spring, Barthel has lost in the first round at each of the three Grand Slams, and has been past the second round at a WTA-level event just once.
—Christina McHale has returned after an illness of her own, but lost 3 and 2 to Ana Ivanovic. Ana is the American-killer of Beijing so far. She followed up her win over McHale by coming back to beat Varvara Lepchenko in three sets today. With her draw—she plays the winner of Oprandi and Gorgi—Ivanovic could have a good run ahead.
—Sam Stosur, semifinalist in Tokyo, opens against Julia Goerges and could play Marion Bartoli after that. 
—Laura Robson won her first-rounder, over Kimiko Date-Krumm, as did Robson's fellow Guangzhou finalist, Su-Wei Hsieh. Now Hsieh plays Caroline Wozniacki.
—Still waiting for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to get it together? Your wait will last at least another week. The once and maybe still promising Russian retired in the third set against Polona Hercog.
—Name of the week: Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino. She beat Zheng Jie and plays Angie Kerber next.
China Open (ATP)
500 ranking points; $2,205,000
Hard courts
Draw is here
U.S. TV schedule is here
The men’s version of the China Open isn’t as high-profile as the women’s, and it’s only half the size, both in terms of players and prize money. But it has still produced a very respectable 32-draw 500. Djokovic, Ferrer, Tsonga, Cilic, Gasquet, Dolgopolov, Haas, and Verdasco are the seeds, though two of them are already out. Marius Copil beat Cilic, and Sam Querrey continued his run of good form by beating Verdasco.
Djokovic will make his first appearance since losing the U.S. Open final, and he seemed to be his usual chipper self at an exhibition in Taiwan, where he and Nicolas Almagro played a match and did a little dancing, Gangnam-Style, together (and, as the picture at right shows, a little fighting as well). Novak opens with Michael Berrer of Germany, and could see Dolgopolov in the quarters. As for Ferrer, he's coming off an odd semifinal loss to Julien Benneteau last week in Kuala Lumpur. Ferru starts against Yen-Hsun Lu in Beijing.
Of note:
—How much attention should be paid to Richard Gasquet’s win in Bangkok this past weekend? The Microwave was at full blast against Gilles Simon in the final. We’ll see how he follows it up; Gasquet opens aginst Matthew Ebden.
—Ryan Harrison plays Feliciano Lopez in the first round.
—Welcome back to the grind, Brian Baker. The American qualified, then lost in three to Kevin Anderson in the first round.
—Miss that old 2005 feeling? Find a way to check out the first-rounder between Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny.
Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 
500 ranking points; $1,280,565
Hard courts
Draw is here
U.S. TV schedule is here
Andy Murray is a newly minted Grand Slam champion, and received a break in his first tournament since his U.S. Open breakthrough. Gael Monfils, his original first-round opponent, has pulled out. Murray, the defending champion here, is without Ivan Lendl this week, and fresh off a precious few days of celebratory rest.
The second seed is Tomas Berdych, who has won his first round over Benoit Paire and is slotted, if all goes according to plan, to play home-country favorite Kei Nishikori in the quarters.
Of note:
—Nishikori opens against countrymen Go Soeda. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is not a draw that tournament organizers were hoping for.
—The Milos Raonic learning tour continues. After a disappointing loss to Jarkko Nieminen in Bangkok, Raonic, the sixth seed, has Radek Stepanek to start.
—Gilles Simon and Janko Tipsarevic, semifinal opponents this weekend in Bangkok and fellow soldiers in the war against equal prize money, go at it again in the first round in Tokyo.
—Juan Monaco, coming off his fourth title of 2012, in Kuala Lumpur, begins against Grigor Dimitrov.
—Want to get that old 2002 feeling again? Find a way to watch Tommy Robredo vs. Jarkko Nieminen in the first round.
—Best name: Lukas Lacko.
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