US Open Tennis 2012: Top Stars Who Must Play Better to Stay Alive

Dave Ungar@@DaveUngar68Correspondent IIISeptember 1, 2012

US Open Tennis 2012: Top Stars Who Must Play Better to Stay Alive

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    It did not take long for some of the better players in the 2012 US Open to get shown the door.

    On the men's side, No. 10 seed Juan Monaco was eliminated in the first round by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in a five-set struggle. It was a stunning loss for Monaco, who seemed in complete command with a 2-0 lead in sets, only to then watch it unravel, including two tiebreak losses.

    An even bigger upset took place in the second round. No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was sent packing by 52nd-ranked Martin Klizan. Tsonga had been considered by some to be a dark horse to win the tournament.

    Apparently not.

    On the women's side, we have seen a couple of pretty big upsets as well. In the first round, No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniaki was beaten, rather easily I might add, by Irina Begu.

    Then, in the third round, 2011 French Open champion and No. 9 seed Na Li was eliminated by Laura Robson, who was ranked 89th in the world. But  that did not stop her from taking down Li in an excellent three-set battle.

    Upsets are part of what makes the US Open so engrossing, and early on it looks like the 2012 version of the event will have plenty of twists, turns and surprises.

    When and where the upset ax will fall next, no one knows.

    However, in looking at the first few rounds of the tournament, if some of the top seeds do not pick up the pace and start playing better, it is only a matter of time before they are bitten by the upset bug as well.

    After watching many matches, and after reviewing recaps, stats and highlights of other matches, I have identified seven such players who absolutely need to play better if they hope to stay alive.

    Which players are they?

    Read on to find out.

Janko Tipsarevic

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    Janko Tipsarevic is the No. 8 seed. You would not have known that if you watched his first-round battle with Guillaume Rufin.

    The 129th-ranked player in the world pushed Tipsarevic to the limit before finally falling in five sets.

    It looked very bleak indeed for Tipsarevic early on as he lost the first two sets, 6-4, 6-3. He was making far too many unforced errors, with 12 in the first set and seven in the second set.

    Another problem was that Tipsarevic was losing seemingly any rally that lasted for more than a few shots.

    Tipsarevic would gain control of things, though. In the third and fourth sets, Tipsarevic only committed three unforced errors in each set. His first serve became a big weapon, especially in the third set when he won all of his first-service points.

    Tipsarevic would rally to beat Rufin, 4-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

    In his second-round win over Brian Barker, Tipsarevic looked even better, cutting his unforced errors down to 23 for the match.

    And while there was much to be optimistic about after the 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win, one issue that should be a concern would be Tipsarevic's first-serve percentage. Against Barker, that percentage fell to 47. When that first serve did get in, though, he won the point 78 percent of the time.

    Tipsarevic will go as far as his serve can take him. If he hopes to survive, he will have to rely on an effective first serve.

John Isner

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    John Isner seems poised for a big breakthrough at a major event.

    But if he does not step up his game, Isner is not going to last much longer at the US Open.

    The No. 9 seed, Isner struggled in his first-round match with Xavier Malisse, ranked 57th in the world.

    While Isner was able to crank up his first serve to 143 mph, he made too many unforced errors—43 over the course of four sets—and in so doing made things very hard on himself. By contrast, Malisse kept his errors low at 27.

    Isner also had difficulty returning Malisse's first serve. Though it only topped out at 126 mph, Malisse was still able to win a point on 78 percent of his successful first serves.

    All of this combined to stretch this match to a fourth-set tiebreaker before Isner could finally secure the win, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (9).

    In his second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen, ranked 42nd in the world, Isner again struggled with unforced errors, making 44 over four sets. Isner also again struggled with an opponent's first serve, as Nieminen won 73 percent of his first-service points.

    Isner's first serve continued to be a major factor in his favor, though, as he topped out at 144 mph and won 82 percent of his first-service points. Isner was also dominant at the net, winning 76 percent of those points.

    Though Isner would ultimately prevail 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3, the unforced errors and relative difficulty dealing with the first serve has to be a concern for Isner supporters.

    It is something he must improve upon if he hopes to make a serious run for the championship.

Angelique Kerber

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    Admittedly, it may not be fair to be too critical of Angelique Kerber, the No. 6 seed in the women's draw.

    Yes, she struggled greatly against Venus Williams in the second round. But we are talking about Venus Williams after all, a two-time winner of the US Open.

    Still, if Kerber plays the rest of the tournament like she did against Williams, she has no chance of leaving with her first Grand Slam title.

    It is not so much that Kerber played badly against Williams because she did not. The concern has to be about her inability to put Venus away earlier, considering all the mistakes she was making.

    Williams committed an astonishing 60 unforced errors and yet was able to take the sixth-ranked player in the world to a third set.

    Kerber also failed to win medium-length rallies with the consistency expected of her.

    At the end of the day, though, Kerber had enough heart and determination to beat Williams 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

    But many would say that Williams beat herself—and there is a lot of truth to that.

    Obviously, Kerber can't count on her future opponents being quite so benevolent. She must take advantage of all the opportunities presented to her if she hopes to advance to the later stages of the tournament.

Petra Kvitova

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    As far as Petra Kvitova is concerned, I can't really say she has played badly thus far. Actually, she has played very well.

    My reasons for believing the No. 5 seed needs to play better stems from looking down the road a bit and anticipating a future matchup with Maria Sharapova. From what I have seen so far, unless Kvitova improves upon a few aspects of her game, I do not believe she can beat Sharapova.

    Kvitova is now through to the fourth round. But when I watch her play and I try to envision her playing Sharapova, for some reason, I see her having a lot of trouble.

    In her first-round match against Polona Hercog, Kvitova did not exactly run roughshod over the 65th-ranked player in the world. Part of the problem was that she was not winning as many points on her return of serve as was anticipated.

    Equally problematic was her inability to take advantage of her break opportunities, as she only converted on three of eight such chances. Hercog was able to extend Kvitova to a lengthy first-set tiebreaker. But in the end, Kvitova prevailed 7-6 (6), 6-1.

    Against Alize Cornet in the second round, Kvitova had an easier time of it. Her first-serve accuracy had improved. But the speed of her first serve only averaged 96 mph. That has to be a concern.

    She also did not do as well in long rallies as had been expected. Nevertheless, Kvitova had little trouble dispatching Cornet in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

    In her third-round match against Pauline Parmentier, Kvitova made some subtle changes and improvements. For instance, she did quite well on her medium rallies. Her first-serve accuracy improved to 75 percent and she won 82 percent of those points.

    The outcome was a rather pedestrian 6-4, 6-4 win.

    So as you can see, so far Kvitova's only weakness is that she has not put together a complete game.

    Sharapova, on the other hand, has absolutely destroyed her first three opponents. She looks focused and determined. She has only dropped seven games through the first three rounds. By comparison Kvitova has lost 22 games through the first three rounds.

    If Kvitova plans on getting past Sharapova, she will need to put it all together. Otherwise, she is simply playing on borrowed time

Juan Martin Del Potro

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    The 2009 US Open champion looked strong in his first-round match against Florent Serra. This was particularly true about his net play.

    Del Potro was also effective winning points on his first serve, capturing 85 percent of those opportunities.

    Serra did not have any answers for the No. 7 seed and Del Potro cruised to a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory.

    In his second-round match against Ryan Harrison, however, Del Potro struggled. He only had 29 winners, opposed to the 48 he had against Serra. And he had 32 unforced errors, opposed to the 29 he had against Serra.

    While his first serve was still effective, his placement seemed a bit off. Too many serves were going right down the middle of the T. Harrison picked up on this and was able to hold his own returning Del Potro's serve.

    While Harrison pressed Del Potro quite a bit and made him dig deeper than he probably wanted, Del Potro still prevailed 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.

    Del Potro played well enough to defeat the 61st-ranked player in the world, but he needs to improve if he holds out any hope of surviving to the later rounds.

    This is particularly true as a matchup with Andy Roddick is a real possibility. As most know by now, Roddick has announced his retirement once the US Open is over (USA Today).

    Roddick will be difficult to beat this year. The crowd will be solidly on his side against just about anyone. If Del Potro plans to overcome Roddick and be the player to end his career, he will have to play much better than he did against Harrison.

    And even if Del Potro survives that, a match with Novak Djokovic would be looming—and that is a different situation entirely.

    For the moment, though, Del Potro needs to focus on the here and now and tying down the loose ends of his game if he harbors dreams of a second US Open championship.

David Ferrer

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    David Ferrer is my dark-horse pick to win the US Open. While I do not think he will actually beat either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, he certainly has the skills to pull off the upset.

    The No. 4 seed in the tournament has played well so far, but he has not been quite as dominant as I would have expected.

    For instance, in his first-round match against Kevin Anderson, Ferrer struggled to win points on his second serve, winning only 52 percent of them. He played well at the net but did not take advantage of his break-point opportunities as well as might be expected. He only converted on 43 percent of them.

    Despite all that, Ferrer still cruised to a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win. It was not particularly pretty, but it was effective.

    In the second round against Igor Sijsling, Ferrer did improve his game. He won 78 percent of his second-service points, won his medium rallies and 76 percent of the points that came off his first serve.

    But when you look at the performance against Sijsling, there are some concerns there. For instance, Ferrer committed five double-faults, which is a bit higher than I am sure he would have liked.

    He also continued to squander break-point opportunities. Against Sijsling, he only converted on 31 percent of them.

    Even so, Ferrer was able to defeat Sijsling 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (12).

    Yes, perhaps it is nitpicking a bit. Nevertheless, if things hold true, Ferrer might end up taking on Novak Djokovic later in this tournament.

    If Ferrer hopes to finally break through and win a Grand Slam, he will need to take advantage of every break-point opportunity because Djokovic won't be anywhere near as forgiving as Anderson or Sijsling.

Agnieszka Radwanska

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    As the No. 2 seed on the women's side, it is safe to say there are many who feel she should dominate anyone placed in her path.

    Of course, if history has taught us anything, it is how misguided that concept is.

    After a runner-up performance at Wimbledon, the future looked incredibly bright for Agnieszka Radwanska. Many were picking her to prevail at the US Open.

    But if she continues to play like she did during her second-round match of the US Open, there is no way that will happen.

    In the opening round, Radwanska dominated Nina Bratchikova 6-1, 6-1.

    In her second-match against Carla Suarez Navarro, though, Radwanska got a true scare. Navarro took the No. 2 seed to a tiebreaking third set.

    What went wrong against Navarro? A few things, actually. For one, Navarro was able to extend games. Radwanska was not able to seize control of the situation when the score got to 30-30. Radwanska also was also losing most of the long rallies.

    Navarro won the first set, but Radwanska stormed back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

    The match was a good test of character for Radwanska and she answered the bell.

    But if the ultimate goal is a showdown with No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka, Radwanska must improve her game, put points away more quickly and, in general, try to establish herself as the woman to beat in this year's tournament.