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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
For these scufflers, time to turn it around


Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, pre-foot injury, were doing fine on the tennis circuit. They didn't need a change of scenery. For others, though, shifting to the hard courts of the U.S. Open Series, which began this week in Atlanta, is an opportunity to finish the Grand Slam season on a high.

Which players need a good summer to reverse slumps? Andy Roddick, for one.

Men

Andy Roddick: Doing well in Indian Wells and Miami is one thing, but producing at majors is another. Roddick knows it.

Since falling agonizingly short in last year's Wimbledon final, Roddick's next four Grand Slam results read like this: third round (U.S. Open), quarterfinals (Australian Open), third round (French Open) and fourth round (Wimbledon).

Inactivity and illness didn't make for a good buildup to Wimbledon, where Roddick, in the men's upset of the tournament, got dumped by Yen-Hsun Lu.

Time is running out to land major No. 2, given that Roddick turns 28 in August.

Marin Cilic: All of a sudden, Croatian tennis is fading. Ivo Karlovic, who excelled in 2009, is hurt, while injuries have curtailed Ivan Ljubicic's renaissance. Croatia lost arguably its biggest Davis Cup series ever, against nemesis Serbia, this month.

Most worrying is Cilic's form. After looking like a Grand Slam champion at the Australian Open, the 21-year-old has gone a mediocre 13-10 since the first round of the Davis Cup in March. That included a first-round loss at Wimbledon.

Fernando Verdasco: Spain's sporting success has been unparalleled recently. Rafa wins another Wimbledon and the nation claims a maiden World Cup. The clay-proficient duo of Albert Montanes and Nicolas Almagro added to the joy by winning titles in Germany and Sweden, respectively, over the weekend.

Verdasco could ride some of the momentum. Investing heavily in the clay-court season, perhaps going in as the third favorite at the French Open, Verdasco exited to Almagro in the round of 16. (Foot/toenail issues were bothersome, but who told him to overload his schedule?)

Further, Verdasco suffered the embarrassment of losing to clay-court specialist Fabio Fognini in the first round at Wimbledon.

Women

Victoria Azarenka: Even though she has never appeared in a Grand Slam semifinal, Arizona-based Azarenka is one of those players who can get on a roll and win a big one. Trouble is, many thought it would have happened by now.

Overcoming another tough loss to Serena in Melbourne, Azarenka began 2010 with a sparkling 11-3 record. Subtract an impressive cameo on grass in Eastbourne, England, and the record since for the 20-year-old is 9-9 (yes, there were a few injuries).

Azarenka, still one of the game's most combustible characters, got fined for missing a news conference at the French Open and was bageled at Wimbledon.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: Good thing for Kuznetsova that she won major No. 2 last year in Paris. No one can say her U.S. Open title in 2004 was a fluke.

Now, we know that Kuznetsova is a free spirit who can drift mentally during matches, but not reaching one semifinal in 2010 is pretty remarkable for someone with her weapons.

Kuznetsova's ranking sits at No. 21 -- prior to this year, the last time the Russian was outside the top 20 was in early 2004.

Kim Clijsters: The pressure was off Clijsters last year, an environment she thrives in. Throw in the love from the fans and Clijsters was bound to do well in New York.

As the pressure heightened in 2010, Clijsters' game has dipped. Maybe a little of the motivation has departed, too. Sure, a foot injury hindered the Belgian ahead of Wimbledon, but Clijsters really shouldn't have blown a lead against Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals, especially after getting such a huge lift by ousting Justine Henin a day earlier.

She'll be happy to return to North America.