surprise winners

The Way the Body Works: Players Recovering from Stomach Bug Expected to Play Better at the Sony Ericsson Open

The top tennis players in the world converge this week for the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in pristine Key Biscayne, Florida. As the world’s premier tournament outside of the four grand slams, these next two weeks are sure to bring many storylines and possibly some surprise winners on both the ATP and WTA tours.

Last week during the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament saw several high-profile players pull out due to a sweeping 48-hour long stomach bug that effected players, coaches and fans alike. One theory not yet tested in tennis is just how successful these same players will be in the week after their bodies and immune systems have had to fight off a vicious virus. That being said, will the players affected by last week’s stomach bug perform better or worse than their healthier counterparts this week in Key Biscayne? The answer: much better, and here’s why.

When the body is forced to fight an infection or virus, the immune system is initially compromised. But because of immunological memory, the body becomes more alert and “remembers” the pathogen it previously killed. You may have experienced this added alertness after recovering from a cold – you are less likely to contract another cold or virus directly after your initial cold because your immune system is more alert to foreign pathogens.

As tennis players’ immune systems are no different than our own, it’s very likely that they will respond in the same manner: the players who pulled out last week from the BNP Paribas Open are less likely to contract any new virus this week, and thus more likely to have extra energy as their bodies should be fully recovered and their immune systems more alert.

The list of pull-outs is no short list, and includes Petra Kvitova, Francesca Schiavone, Gael Monfils, Vera Zvonareva, Vania King, Jurgen Melzer, Mike Bryan, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Magdalena Rybarikova. Meanwhile, even Roger Federer stated he felt “under the weather” at the beginning of the tournament.

As the players range anywhere from number 1 on the ATP rankings to number 86 on the WTA rankings, it will be interesting to see the players’ progression through the draw. As some will undoubtedly fizzle out due to other factors, it’s no certain science, but I would bet that at least a few of these players will have better than expected results during the next two weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schiavone or Melzer bust through with excellent runs, and now you would know why. It’s all thanks to their immune system.

Indian Wells: Midweek blowouts and quasi-surprise winners

Depending on what you consider interesting tennis, the men’s round of 16 and the first batch of women’s quarterfinals were either very exciting or extremely disappointing. If you like blowouts and quasi-surprise winners, the day session was for you. Sam Querrey and Tommy Robredo kicked off the day session on Stadium 1. While they’re only four spots apart in the rankings, Sam was slightly favored in the match. However, it very quickly became clear that Tommy had the upper hand when he rushed to a 4-0 lead in the first set. Sam managed to salvage one game, but the entire 6-1 first set took just 27 minutes. Much like John Isner against Andy Roddick, Sam appeared to give up a bit. He played better in the second set, but not much, snagging just three games. Perhaps more surprisingly, Tommy aggravated an injury early in the second set and pretty much hobbled around the court, even after taking a medical timeout. Sam put it best in the post-match press conference, saying, “that made it more frustrating. I wasn’t winning the points, and he was limping at the end of some of them.” Not being able to capitalize on the fact that your opponent is obviously handicapped out there is pretty bad. To be fair, Tommy may have been limping between points and grimacing when he moved, but it didn’t stop him from giving 100%. He would go all out for most balls even though it caused him obvious pain. At one point he lost a rally and just doubled over before taking the balls to serve. When asked whether he feels he’ll be prepared to face Juan Martin del Potro tomorrow, Tommy said answered, “I hope so. I have one entire day. That’s the good thing of playing at 11:00 in the morning. It’s harder because you have to get up early, but if you win, you have a lot of time to recover.” Hopefully he recovers fast because he’ll need to be at the top of his game to beat del Potro.

Next up on the big stage was Ana Ivanovic and Marion Bartoli. Apparently, I haven’t watched Bartoli play enough because I was absolutely stunned by her throughout the match, and I don’t mean in terms of quality. She has some of the most bizarre strokes and movements that I’ve ever seen. First off, she plays with a two handed backhand and forehand which I don’t think we’ve really seen since Monica Seles. It wouldn’t be that strange to see a player with one unconventional stroke, but Marion also has one of the strangest service motions I’ve seen. She has a very distinct ball bounce, and then takes the racquet back sideways, stops, tosses the ball and then brings the racquet up. In her post match press, Marion was asked about her unconventional game and seemed quite offended, responding that her backhand was exactly the same as everyone else’s and the only oddity was that she hit her forehand two handed. She even made a short quip at the journalist, saying, “Maybe your technique, technique-wise you are better than mine, but I think my backhand is pretty classy.” Crazy bouncing and practice swings aside, Marion was battling a stomach virus out there and said she was lucky to get away in two sets because she wouldn’t have made it through a third.

Following Bartoli/Ivanovic was Viktor Troicki and Novak Djokovic. There’s not much to say about this match because there wasn’t much of a match. Troicki won one game and the match lasted just over an hour. Considering their amazing five setter at the US Open last year, this match was extremely uncompetitive. Novak even said, “I think he had a very bad match in general… It wasn’t easy playing against a good friend, obviously, but, you know, one of us had to lose.” To make matters even more unfortunate, Novak and Viktor had to play doubles just an hour after their singles match. They lost pretty badly to the Quereshi/Bopanna and it’s tough to imagine that the singles match didn’t at least play into that defeat a little bit.

Djokovic was set to face the winner of the next match, Andy Roddick vs. Richard Gasquet. This one was a bit unpredictable, but Gasquet can be quite the wildcard. He’s either rather spectacular or spectacularly bad. Today it was the former. It was a big win for a guy who hasn’t had the best luck lately. In particularly he mentioned that he was happy with his backhand returns. He has a tall task ahead, facing Novak Djokovic, who is still undefeated this year. When asked about it, he responded, “I think I can play well in, as I said, a big match against him. I feel confident, so I have nothing to lose. This is the best way to play a good match.” It’s a good thing he’s got a positive outlook on the experience because this will certainly be his toughest test at this year’s BNP Paribas Open and it would probably be the biggest upset of the tournament if he finds a way to win. That’s how good Novak is playing right now.

The night session was pretty much the opposite of the day session, and definitely the opposite of what most people expected. The general consensus was that the two night matches would be completely one sided and probably around an hour each. Somdev Devvarman hasn’t really had a big breakout to this point. He’s 26 and went to UVA for college, where he was a very successful NCAA player. He actually beat John Isner for the 2007 NCAA singles championship title. No one expected him to play as well as he did against Nadal. It ended up being quite a close match. Granted, Nadal didn’t play his best tennis. Devvarman did a great job of getting Nadal out of position, but couldn’t seem to really capitalize on those points. In his press conference Nadal said that he was playing quite poorly at the beginning of the match.

Coming into the tournament, everyone thought Roger would be playing Milos Raonic in the 4th round, but Ryan Harrison slipped through and won an incredible match against the Canadian in the 3rd round. There were no expectations for Harrison for this match. He’s only 18 years old and has played a handful of big matches, none of which were like this one. There’s something totally different about playing Roger Federer. Ryan’s young enough that Roger’s really already a legend for his generation. The one good thing about low expectations is that it often leads to fearlessness, and Ryan Harrison played some fearless tennis against a guy he considers to be the best tennis player of all time. He mentioned that he was a little nervous at the beginning, missing his first five serves, but he settled in a little bit and managed to hang in there with Roger. He was quite happy with his results here in Indian Wells and definitely wants to continue to improve and play against more top players.

Out on Stadium 2, Juan Martin del Potro defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber, Stanislas Wawrinka defeated Tomas Berdych, Ivo Karlovic defeated Albert Montanes, and Yanina Wickmayer defeated Shahar Peer.