Giving tennis more than a shot

A 2011 Review, Part 4 – The Year Of The Returns (2)

I started the last part of my yearly review, yesterday, with the great comeback of Argentine Juan Martín Del Potro, the best comeback we’ve seen this season in the ATP. However, his was not the only great comeback, as two others caught my attention and that of many tennis fans: those of Russian Dmitry Tursunov and of Croatian Ivo Karlovic, two players who have struggled with injuries and who have managed to make successful comebacks this season or, in the case of Tursunov, particularly this season.


Dmitry Tursunov: third comeback a charm

If there’s one player who has had to overcome serious injuries over the last couple of seasons, it’s Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov. With a 2009 season marred by not one, but two ankle surgeries, then a third one for his foot in 2010, he had slipped as low as outside the top 500 in the middle of 2010, only to slowly climb his way back up the rankings at the end of last season.


Starting 2011 ranked no 197, he failed to qualify to the Brisbane tournament and lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Viktor Troicki. He then went and won the Singapore Challenger (d. Lukas Rosol in the finals), qualified and lost in the round-of-16 in Rotterdam (to Tomas Berdych) and then lost in the semi-finals in Marseille (to Robin Söderling).


After a first round loss in Dubaï and a dead rubber Davis Cup win, Tursunov went back to the Challenger Tour, where his good play (quarter-finals in Sarajevo, win in Bath and finals in Athens) permitted him to climb back into the top 100, a ranking he only improved as the year went on.


Dmitry Tursunov's best result of the season, on the ATP Tour, was his victory in s'-Hertogenbosch, where he defeated Ivan Dodig in the finals (Photo: REUTERS/Paul Vreeker/United Photos)


His best result on the ATP Tour this season was his taking the s’-Hertogenbosch title, defeating Ivan Dodig in the finals.


Tursunov ended the year ranked no 40, and I hope that, in 2012, he will have consistent performances in order to maintain and, hopefully, improve this ranking. (His career-best ranking was no 20, in 2006.) He might be really funny outside the courts (read his tweets and watch some of his interviews if you haven’t, you’ll see what I mean, even though he is, at times, quite controversial), it’s really on the court that I prefer seeing him.


Ivo Karlovic: and why not improve his game at the same time?

An Achilles injury cut Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic’s season six months short, and if the comeback trail was not always easy this season, I think that the improvements the 32-year-old made to his game compensate for the difficult beginning of 2011 he had. However, coming back from any kind of injury is not easy and the more or less lasting lack of synch for several months is, in my mind, absolutely normal in a veteran of Karlovic’s age.


At first, most of us were sure, seeing him ace his way to the quarter-finals of Doha (l. Nikolay Davydenko), that it would be same old for the Croatian. However, it was soon pretty obvious that it was not, as he suffered first-round losses at the Australian Open and in Zagreb, which made him fall out of the top 100, but it is a first-round loss to Janko Tipsarevic in Delray Beach, where he was finalist in 2010, that made him fall out of the top 200 completely.


This was only to come back stronger, as Karlovic made several adjustments to his game, that still revolves around his immensely powerful serve, but to which he added, with the help of his team, among which better volleys and improved forehand and backhand, the latter being a shot that was seriously lacking in the past. At 32, it’s not too late to improve, as Karlovic proved, and even though his backhand remains his weakest shot, he improved it enough to ensure that it wouldn’t be, as it was the case in the past, an immense nuisance. 


One of the good wins of Ivo Karlovic this season was when he defeated Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the second round of the US Open (Photo: AP/Paul J. Bereswill)


This helped him many times during the season, as he reached the quarter-finals in Indian Wells (l. Rafael Nadal), and a surprising semi-final in Houston on the American green clay (coming from the qualifications, he then lost to Ryan Sweeting). He didn’t know a good European clay season, but as clay is not his best surface, it was quite to be expected. However, surprisingly, he didn’t do so good on grass either.


It is with the return to hard court action that Karlovic got his best results, reaching the third round both in Montreal (l. Tomas Berdych) and at the US Open (l. Alexandr Dolgopolov after defeating Richard Gasquet in the second round, although his best feat was when he and Frank Moser defeated the Bryan brothers in the doubles) and then went on to a 10-win streak on the Challenger Tour, winning in both Sacramento and Tiburon before suffering a back injury in his first-round match in Vienna and having to abruptly end his season.


However, despite the abrupt end of his season, Ivo Karlovic almost made it back into the top 50, ending the year ranked no 56 in the world. Something tells me that if he can avoid injuries next year, he will quickly make it back to the top 30 in 2012. Especially with his improved game.


Off to the off-season? Not just yet.

This concludes this 2011 review and should mean that I will be enjoying a deserved mini off-season. However, I might very likely be back tomorrow with a little about the new captain and sub-captain of Argentina’s Davis Cup team, as Martín Jaite (captain) and Mariano Zabaleta (sub-captain) will be officially introduced to the media. Of course, I won’t let this pass by without writing about it.

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