Andy Murray and Agnieszka Radwanska Top Winners and Losers in China

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistOctober 10, 2016

Andy Murray and Agnieszka Radwanska Top Winners and Losers in China

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    WANG ZHAO/Getty Images

    While Andy Murray was pulling closer to Novak Djokovic's No. 1 ranking in Beijing, Agnieszka Radwanska won the China Open with a nearly spotless run of dominance that gives hope to her prospects for winning Singapore and the 2017 Australian Open.

    The other side of the coin saw tarnished performances by tennis southpaws who have been a bit banged up lately. Will Angelique Kerber limp down the stretch and hold onto her No. 1 ranking? Is Rafael Nadal still reeling from his summer wrist injury?

    Our weekly “Winners and Losers” column examines the top stars, successes and missed opportunities. How are they trending in professional tennis?

Winner: Andy Murray

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    Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

    Murray kept his drive alive to chase down Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking. The super Scot dominated the China Open without losing a set, picking off Grigor Dimitrov in the final.

    The two-time Wimbledon champion has now racked up 8,695 ranking points in 2016, which trails Djokovic’s 10,250 by 1,555. Last week, he made it clear that he wants the No. 1 ranking, and he carries his momentum to the Masters 1000 event in Shanghai, where he and Djokovic will duel for those crucial points.

    Murray would like to bask in the glory of his Beijing title, but he also knows he does not have any room to come up short if he is to catch Djokovic in 2016. Shanghai will either get him at least another 400 points gain on Djokovic, or the Serb could win the title and all but end any chance for Murray until 2017.

    With Djokovic battling injuries and time off, it could be the opening that Murray seizes if he is to come all the way to the top with one major title in 2016 to his rival's two.

Loser: Rafael Nadal

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    It’s no longer news that Nadal is losing to players like Lucas Pouille and Dimitrov. They are young and talented, with fresh legs and enough opportunistic offensive striking to take advantage of any weaknesses from Nadal.

    Last week, Dimitrov plastered Nadal for the first time in eight matches. In particular, Nadal’s serve was inept, which is fairly alarming on fast courts where he should be able to get a little more pop and occasional free points.

    Nadal is not one to go through the motions as he continues his comeback from a left wrist injury this summer. However, he might already have one eye on Australia and the other on the clay-court season in spring 2017.

    The good news for the legendary Spaniard is that he moved ahead of Dominic Thiem for the No. 7 spot in the Race to London to qualify for the World Tour Finals. He also increased his lead over No. 9 Tomas Berdych to 420 points.

    Nadal did win the doubles title with Pablo Carreno Busta, so the week was bittersweet.

Winners: ATP Second-Place Finishers

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    Grigor Dimitrov had a fine week at Beijing.
    Grigor Dimitrov had a fine week at Beijing.Etienne Oliveau/Getty Images

    A couple of silver medals to give out this week for the ATP’s Lost Generation of mid-20s stars. Sadly, Milos Raonic was unable to compete against Dimitrov for an intergenerational clash when an ankle injury forced him out of their potential semifinal showdown at the China Open.

    Dimitrov must be recognized for a pair of tough three-set wins over Steve Johnson and Pouille, who are both top-20 caliber players. Then he dusted off Nadal in the quarterfinals before getting a pass to the final against Murray.

    The Bulgarian lost 6-4, 7-6(2), but it was a spirited effort in comparison to the way he collapsed last month against Murray in the U.S. Open fourth round when he won only five games in three sets.

    Kudos also to David Goffin, who nearly won his first level-500 trophy, falling to Nick Kyrgios at Tokyo 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

    It’s an important confidence boost for the wily Belgian, who has mostly struggled since a great spring that saw him nearly crack the top 10. The big win for Goffin was defeating Marin Cilic in the semifinals, but he couldn’t quite overcome Kyrgios’ huge serve in the final.

Loser: Angelique Kerber

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    Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    Once again, Kerber is finding it difficult with life as the No. 1 player in the WTA. After losing in the third round to Petra Kvitova at Wuhan, China, Kerber had the same result against dangerous Elina Svitolina at Beijing’s Premier Mandatory tournament.

    Granted her opponents were excellent, but Kerber fell short just when she needed to assert her place at the top.

    Will Kerber hold off Serena Williams for the year-end No. 1 ranking? She had her upper right leg wrapped up, which is symbolic of the toll that she has endured to produce two major titles and chase down the top spot with a lot of running, grinding and heady offensive play.

    She’s still in pole position to stay on top at Singapore, but there are a few cracks in the Kerber foundation. If she’s not at her physical best, the difference will be more losses to top-10 players and a short stay at No. 1.

    Serena will be gearing up for another dominating run of tennis, and players like Kvitova, Madison Keys and Garbine Muguruza could take a leap forward in 2017.

Winner: Nick Kyrgios

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    KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

    Kyrgios can be downright scary with his tennis when he’s composed with patience and power. His heavy serve certainly gives him that extra weapon that could mean bigger titles in the future.

    The 21-year-old Aussie kept his nerves in fighting past intelligent shotmaking from an in-form Goffin. He’s the champion of 500-level Tokyo and moves up to a career-high No. 14 in the rankings.

    But skepticism runs hot with Kyrgios, and it’s fair to wonder if he can follow up Tokyo with a bigger title in Shanghai. He’s shown his talent often enough with big-match wins, but he has a tendency to be “feast or famine,” the latter often an immediate response to a big win or title. It wouldn’t be that surprising to see him lose to veteran Sam Querrey in his first match at Shanghai.

    Kyrgios gets applause this week, and his talent is unquestionable. If he can learn to carry on his supreme efforts from one tournament to the next and adopt a workmanlike approach from stars like Djokovic and Murray, we could see him evolve into a top contender at majors, possibly at his home country’s 2017 Australian Open.

Loser: Dominika Cibulkova

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    Kevin Lee/Getty Images

    After getting to the Wuhan final, Dominika Cibulkova was in the top eight of the WTA rankings, poised to go to the World Tour Finals at Singapore—a cash-laden tournament for only that elite eight.

    But she lost her advantage with defeat in her first match at the China Open—a three-setter to solid Alize Cornet. She can’t really blame fatigue. After all, Cornet was the player coming off a lengthy three-setter just to get to Cibulkova.

    Now with Johanna Konta’s surge to the final, Cibulkova slips down to ninth, just below the cut line. There’s time to clinch a spot, but she will have more pressure to win if she is to get in.

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska

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    WANG ZHAO/Getty Images

    She’s been a perennial top-five player, but few people list Radwanska as a serious contender for tennis’ biggest trophies. She’s more artist than imposer, so just when everyone forgets about her talents, she can swoop in and win a Premier Mandatory title when there’s a bit of bracket chaos.

    Radwanska topped Konta 6-4, 6-2 with her usual blend of precision tennis, but even that overshadowed how easily she ran through her draw without losing a set the entire week.

    WTA Tennis pointed out that Radwanska is only the fourth player to win three Premier Mandatory titles (along with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka): "The club is small because there's not a lot of those tournaments. It's great to be a part of that group. It definitely feels like a small Grand Slam because everyone is playing it and it's a big draw. I didn't have a bye here. It's a really tough week." 

    Radwanska will head to Singapore as the defending champion, but she might be a dark horse to win the 2017 Australian Open. There’s no question that she has the skills and consistency, but can she overcome more powerful players?

Loser: Simona Halep

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    Etienne Oliveau/Getty Images

    Simona Halep is one of the most fun players to watch on tour. She hustles on defense, improvises with her baseline aggressiveness and has scored plenty of big wins in the past three years. She’s ranked No. 4, and in 2016, she won in Madrid and at the Rogers Cup.

    But she often tosses out inexplicable losses like last week’s 6-0, 6-3 loss to No. 36 Shuai Zhang. Then again, she was upset by Zhang in the Australian Open, a match that spurred Zhang on to a successful run in 2016 that has come full circle with another win over Halep.

    But how does Halep’s 41-16 record include losses to an aging Samantha Stosur at the French Open, Daria Gavrilova at Rome, or a 6-1, 6-2 loss to qualifier Laura Siegemund at Stuttgart, Germany?

    Halep’s the kind of star who cannot let up or lose focus for a minute, and she usually doesn’t, but other less consistent but more talented ball strikers can give her problems.

    Sometimes, Halep simply does not have her day and is not able to impose her way of playing. The Zhang loss in Beijing saw her nearly double her 12 winners with 23 unforced errors. She needs to reverse those figures to control a match.

    How about Singapore ahead? Halep’s capable of winning it all, especially if Serena Williams decides to stay home, but she could also get bounced in her round-robin matches.

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