March 26 marked the start of the Sony Ericsson Open. Here is, depending on your perspective, the highlights or lowlights of the week one of the tournament.
The qualifying rounds are deserving of a few lines since three South Floridians were vying for a place in the main draw. Miami native, Ahsha Rolle, lost to Russian Anastasia Rodionova in straight sets in the first round. After her nice run at the 2007 U.S. Open, the bar was set higher for Asha this season. Thus far, 2008 has not been kind to this hometown girl. 15-year-old wildcard, Sloane Stephens, a talented junior from Boca Raton, was also eliminated in the first round. While former University of Miami tennis standout and Plantation raised, Audra Cohen, also a wildcard entry had the best result. Cohen, a former number one collegiate player, made it to the second round of qualifying before falling to Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk in three arduous sets.
Moving on to the main draw, one news worthy item was that Maria Sharapova, the reigning Australian Open champion, pulled out of the field due to injury. With the customary first round bye for the top seeds, the action got underway in earnest on Friday with second round matches. Top seed, Justine Henin, coasted through her match against Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4. 6-2. Defending champion, Serena Williams easily put away her opponent 6-2, 6-1 while big sister Venus had a tougher time with Poland’s Marta Domachowska but pulled through in two sets. Jelena Jankovic scratched out a victory over Swede Sofia Arvidsson. This match ran into the wee hours of the morning with Jankovic coming back to win in a third set tie-breaker 6-7. 6-2, 7-6. On the gentlemen’s side, James Blake, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all proceeded to the third round despite testy matches with problematic challengers.
The most astonishing outcome in the second round was defending champion Novak Djokovic’s dismissal in three sets by qualifier, Kevin Anderson. This lanky South African with the big serve is a former college star. A few weeks ago, he posted his best result making it to the 2008 Tennis Channel Open final where he lost in a tight three setter to American Sam Querrey after beating John Isner and Robby Ginepri. Coincidentally, Mardy Fish, the runner-up at last week’s Pacific Life Open to Djokovic was shown no clemency in the first round by Frenchman Arnaud Clement. He was sent packing in straight sets 3-6, 3-6. Perhaps for both players, stamina was an issue.
Other important second round results included the 9th seed Marion Bartoli of France, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist, going down 3-6, 1-6 to Danish Caroline Wozniacki, an up-and-coming 17 year old. #15 Agnes Szavay and #12 Nicole Vaidisova were also defeated. Neither Richard Gasquet, seeded 6 , nor David Nalbandian, seeded 7, could stave off the assault by their respective opponents, Dmitry Tursunov and Xavier Malisse, thus, for them it was an early exit. Andy Murray seeded 13th also failed to graduate with Mario Ancic stopping his progression 2-6, 6-2,6-7, ditto with David Ferrer seeded 5th as he ran into former Australian Open champion, Thomas Johansson.