Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Seeking to soothe the suffering
By Ed McGrogan
Few people filled out Indian Wells brackets this month, but those who did dealt with the same stumbling blocks as the millions who tried to crack the NCAA men's basketball tournament's code: early-round upsets. The following four players suffered earlier-than-expected exits in the desert, but unlike Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse, they can -- and should -- atone for it this week in Miami:
Andy Murray: It seems like Murray has vanished from the radar since his run to the Australian Open final, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. But it's somewhat understandable, considering Djokovic's blistering and captivating pace, the emergence of Milos Raonic and the comeback of Juan Martin del Potro. Plus, there's Murray's own play, which has been cover-your-eyes bad: 0-2, including an opening-round loss to Donald Young at Indian Wells. For Murray's sake, that was hopefully the bottoming-out point. He's too good a player and too committed to his craft to suffer through an extended losing spell, and he always seems to surface during U.S. Masters events. His quarter isn't easy -- for one, it includes Djokovic -- but Murray could generate some much-needed momentum with a deep run.
Mardy Fish: Sam Querrey, who made the fourth round at Indian Wells, may have actually been the most disappointing American with his head-scratching 6-1, 6-3 loss to Tommy Robredo. But if you go by the seedings, it's No. 13 Fish who was the definitive dud. He lost to Raonic in the second round, but he won't have to worry about that in Miami -- Raonic is now seeded (which everyone is thankful for) and Fish gets a much easier opener in either Julien Benneteau or Daniel Gimeno-Traver. But things get tougher faster: Fish and Richard Gasquet seem likely opponents in Round 3, and the winner should expect either Robin Soderling or del Potro to be waiting. Fish has had an uneven start to the season, but he isn't far removed from a slew of impressive 2010 performances. He has an opportunity to make this his first of 2011.
Li Na: Like fellow Melbourne runner-up Murray, Li lost her first match at Indian Wells -- against countrywoman Peng Shuai -- and hasn't won at all since Oz. That should change; she has a much easier draw in Miami. The seeds nearby include Alexandra Dulgheru (consistent, but appears to have plateaued), Aravane Rezai (dangerous but erratic) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (another early-round casualty in California). The rest of her quarter isn't terribly imposing, with Nadia Petrova, Maria Sharapova and the mightily struggling Sam Stosur in the other half. Seeded seventh, Li won't be on higher ground for much longer if she fails to notch some wins. She should this week.
Jarmila Groth: Lost in Stosur's career-best 2010 singles campaign was another Aussie's rise in the rankings: Groth, who climbed 70 places from No. 112 to No. 42. American fans may remember her from a night match with Sharapova at last year's U.S. Open, where she took the first set from the former champ. This season, Groth won Hobart and did Australia proud by defeating Fed Cup extraordinaire Francesca Schiavone in the opening rubber of its tie with the dynastic Italians. In her first Miami match, Groth may face a familiar foe, Sara Errani, who beat Groth in the second round of Indian Wells. I think she'll turn the tables before giving Vera Zvonareva a tough contest in the third round.