Commentary

Jankovic has been upstaged this season by fellow Serbs

Richard Gasquet's decision to bow out of his Davis Cup match because of a blister clearly didn't sit well. Justine Henin's roller-coaster season has challenged her stranglehold atop the rankings. These are just a few of the 2008 underachievers.

Originally Published: April 30, 2008
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

The tennis season is already more than one-third done, and who would have thought Roger Federer and Justine Henin would have three minor titles between them? Federer's battle with mononucleosis essentially explains why his campaign has gone the way it has and he is showing signs of a revival, but Henin's dip is harder to explain.

Here's a look at a few players who have noticeably underachieved so far in 2008.

Men

David Nalbandian: So much was expected from the gifted Argentine after he took out Federer and Rafael Nadal twice each en route to claiming the Madrid Masters and the Paris Masters at the end of 2007.

Nalbandian

Nalbandian

But Nalbandian has been, well, Nalbandian in 2008.

Tabbed by more than a few to triumph at the Australian Open, Nalbandian, paunch still in tow, produced the kind of display not uncommon of him, going down tamely to Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round in just more than an hour and a half.

And reaching back-to-back finals -- winning in Buenos Aires -- during the Latin American clay-court swing hardly can be described as extraordinary, especially since the 26-year-old didn't face anyone in the top 20.

Flashes of his brilliance did emerge against Federer in the opening set of the quarterfinals at the Monte Carlo Masters, and an emotional Nalbandian toppled Swede Robin Soderling 9-7 in the fifth set last month to clinch Argentina's spot in the Davis Cup semis, rallying from a break down in the fourth and fifth.

"I gave it all, ran all the way to hell and back,'' he said afterward.

If only he'd bring that motivation to every match.

Richard Gasquet: Toughness and Gasquet make for strange bedfellows.

Gasquet

Gasquet

We all know about his second-round withdrawal at the U.S. Open last August due to a sore throat, but missing the crunch part of France's Davis Cup quarterfinal against the United States because of blisters raised more eyebrows, including those of Christian Bimes, head of the French Tennis Federation. Rumors abounded that Gasquet was too intimidated to face Andy Roddick in the fourth tussle, although he was well enough to play a so-called dead rubber later that day. Gasquet, his pretty game firing, came back from two sets down to overcome Roddick in last year's Wimbledon quarterfinals, the only time the 21-year-old has gotten past the fourth round of a major.

Remember, too, that chasing a spot at the Masters Cup in 2007, he almost skipped the Paris Masters due to a slight knee injury, "scared'' of how French fans would react "if things go wrong.''

His current ranking of ninth betrays his season: a 10-8 record without a single quarterfinal appearance.

"His mental side can be very strong, but maybe to be like a top player, he needs to be more consistent all during the year,'' said countryman Cedric Pioline, a retired two-time Grand Slam finalist.

Marcos Baghdatis: Baghdatis is one of those streaky players. Unfortunately for him, he's been more streaky bad than good.

Baghdatis

Baghdatis

A particularly low point came at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in March, when the engaging Cypriot endured a bagel in the third set of his third-round tilt with Stanislas Wawrinka (speaking of streaky … ). There's more -- he won only six points in the decider.

Baghdatis skipped the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami due to personal reasons and sustained an ankle injury that kept him out of the Monte Carlo Masters, but the 22-year-old should be back for the French Open, at the latest, said his agent, Jean-Philippe Bernard.

Struggling with the expectations after reaching the 2006 Australian Open final has been an arduous experience.

"He sees his way now, but he knows it may take a little time,'' mentor Patrick Mouratoglou said. "He thinks if it comes quickly, it's OK. If not, he wants to prepare to be ready for 2009.''

Dropping some weight might help, which Mouratoglou acknowledged.

Meanwhile, the next two years are vital.

"Then it becomes much more difficult, because you begin to think more and may struggle,'' Mouratoglou said. "He has to win a major title the next two years.''

Dishonorable mentions: Fernando Gonzalez was brilliant at the start and finish of 2007, but went missing in between. Eliminate a minor title on home turf, and the explosive Chilean is only 4-4 entering this week. Andy Murray has gone AWOL when it counts, while the wait continues for Tomas Berdych.

Women

Justine Henin: Henin was dominant last season, cruising at the French Open and the U.S. Open, and compiling a Federer-like 63-4 record.

Henin

Henin

Duplicating those numbers wasn't going to be easy, but few expected the petite Belgian to begin 2008 so slowly. An inspired Maria Sharapova trounced the world No. 1 in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and Henin suffered an even worse defeat in her second-biggest tournament, blitzed 6-2, 6-0 by Serena Williams in the Miami quarterfinals. (Earlier in Miami, Henin disclosed she still was coming to terms with her accomplishments in 2007, when she also reconciled with her family.)

There was an early farewell at the Dubai Duty Free Open, too.

"A lot of people say she's the female Federer, but in a way, she's not,'' said Sam Smith, a former pro and now an analyst with the BBC. "Federer is very fluid and does things quite easily, but Henin, every time she strikes a ball, she's giving absolutely everything, and I just think it takes so much out of her.''

Given that the French Open is around the corner, a Henin revival could be in the works. The 25-year-old is seeking a fourth straight crown.

"If she doesn't win there, it would have to take something special,'' Smith said.

Jelena Jankovic: At this time a year ago, the bubbly Jankovic was favored to become Serbia's first Grand Slam singles winner. She since has been upstaged by Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic, who took the honors by winning in Melbourne.

Jankovic

Jankovic

As consistent as she is, the big ones still elude the 23-year-old -- a three-set loss to Williams in the Miami finale wasn't as close as the score suggested.

Jankovic's two-handed backhand, court coverage and never-say-die attitude are weapons. Then there's the rest.

"Often, if you haven't seen Sharapova or Henin for a few months, when you see them back, they've worked on something, something is a bit better,'' Smith said. "With Jankovic, people have been talking about that serve for a year, and she's doing a bit more with the forehand, but she's not going forward with that game.''

Jankovic, fifth in the rankings, continues to look for a coach.

"Djokovic took on [coach Marian] Vajda a few years ago, and every time you see Djokovic, the serve is better, the forehand is better, he's really cleaned up his game,'' Smith said. "She needs someone like that for her game, just to make a few tweaks, because she should be winning Slams.''

Nicole Vaidisova: Vaidisova's future appeared rosy at the end of 2007.

Vaidisova

Vaidisova

She almost inflicted a rare defeat on Henin after recovering from mono and, more motivated, vowed to curb her temper.

But following a decent start, the Nick Bollettieri-reared Czech, barely 19, fell apart. A loss in Dubai to Ivanovic, now miles past her on the depth chart, paled in comparison to second-round failings against Casey Dellacqua and Alisa Kleybanova in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. Kleybanova, then outside the top 80, advanced in straight sets, a bagel featuring in the second.

Vaidisova, unsurprisingly, has split with coach Alex Kodat, also her stepfather, and has turned to mild-mannered Brit David Felgate. Felgate enjoyed a productive partnership with Tim Henman.

"David has quite a track record of sorting players out,'' Smith said. "He's very experienced and won't change things radically. I hope he simplifies things for Nicole. She's still a very talented player and has so much.''

Dishonorable mentions: The oh-so-nice Svetlana Kuznetsova, she of the huge arsenal, is 0-for-3 in finals. Fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze has struggled to justify her top-10 ranking.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.