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Monday, September 29, 2008
Fall results will have a significant impact

Can this be the year some of the big dogs -- and dogettes -- remember that the rankings points earned after September are just as valid as the ones earned in July, and that a strong finish this year can pay off when it comes to confidence, not to mention seedings, in 2009?

That's a possibility, given the three big winners last week were Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Roddick and Jelena Jankovic. Tsonga fired the loudest shot across the bow of his peers, for reasons that have a lot to do with the paragraph I just wrote. Tsonga reached the Australian Open final this past January, only to lose to first-time Grand Slam title winner, Novak Djokovic. Tsonga finally got a chance for some payback in Thailand a few days ago, and he made the most of it. He beat Djokovic to earn -- believe it or not -- his very first ATP Tour title. So much for all those comparisons to Anna Kournikova, eh?

In addition to improving his chances at qualifying for the Tennis Masters Cup, the official ATP Tour's year-end championships, Tsonga just positioned himself to pick up where he left off at the first major of 2009. It was important for him to do that as part of his psychological rebound from the knee injury that kept him out of the mix in the spring and summer.

Then there was Roddick, who had to outlast a surprising challenge from Dudi Sela to win the China Open in Beijing. Roddick struggled over the summer, and had injury issues of his own (right shoulder.) But he can still salvage his year with a strong fall run and a good performance at the TMC in Shanghai. The win in Beijing vaulted him up to sixth place in the race for qualifying for Shanghai. This was Roddick's third title of the year, which may not seem like many, but it was enough to leave him tied for third place on the leaderboard with Djokovic, Andy Murray, upstart Gilles Simon and a guy named Roger Federer.

In a fine gesture, Roddick also donated a $25,000 cut of his prize money to aid in relief efforts for families who suffered the ravages of the Sichuan earthquake this summer. He called it an "honor" to be able to do that, and said in his view, "it's an athlete's privilege and responsibility to give back." I thought it an unexpected and admirable gesture.

The women's division of the China Open was won by Jankovic, who avenged her loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova last week in Tokyo by taking the title. The win moved her within 25 ranking points of the top spot, currently held by Serena Williams. This means Jankovic still stands a great chance of overturning the established order and finishing with the year-end No. 1 ranking, which ranks right behind winning a major as a resume item.

All too often, the fall schedule is a twilight zone of sorts, with the top players more or less mailing it in (or neglecting even to drop their letter in the mailbox) as they plan for the new year. Something tells me this year will be different, and more interesting, for both the ATP and WTA players.