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Monday, May 28, 2012

Focus at the Forefront for Del Potro, Azarenka, Simon, Baker

Focus is the key at the French. It was the difference between players struggling but surviving, and some players like David Nalbandian getting ousted in the first round.

The first two days of the French Open mostly played to form. Seeded players handled their unseeded opponents, routinely in many cases. However, what is the future for Juan Martin Del Potro and Victoria Azarenka at the French Open? Can they reel their games in as they go along at a Slam?

Del Potro struggled mightily to get past Albert Montanes in four grueling sets. Give Montanes his due; he is an excellent clay court player. But, what does this mean for Del Potro's form? What about his physical state? He looked like he was limping and not sure of himself. Fortunately for Del Po Montanes lost his focus and his game allowing the Argentine to roll in the fourth set. Credit to Del Potro for not panicking and keeping his focus when Montanes was rolling, but he will need more to move deep in this tournament.

Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka also struggled with Alberta Brianti, who is ranked outside the top 100 on the WTA tour. Azarenka was down a set and 4-0! How does that happen? Well when you hurt yourself with errors you can lose to anybody, trust me. First round matches are always tough for players as they get used to the court surface, but I think even more so for Vika. She is learning to live with the expectations of being a grand slam champion and the #1 ranked player in the world. Her focus must improve if she plans to continue her winning ways.

Gilles Simon and Ryan Harrison got after it in a very interesting first round match-up. Harrison was playing great early on. He was up a set and nearly had the second set, before getting broken. It seemed Harrison lost his focus and intensity a little, and frustration starting to creep in too much. Simon, on the other hand, was able to become even more focused and consistent forcing Harrison to hit for more and more. This game plan worked in the favor of the Frenchman who is an excellent competitor despite not having any huge strokes. Simon is living proof that your brain can win you matches.

Late in the evening Brian Baker, in his first French Open at age 27, also worked hard to keep his focus to finish off Xavier Malisse. Baker has been on a roll making the final of Nice and winning a wildcard from the French federation by winning a USTA playoff. Baker was in control for much of this match. He was the aggressor and really had Malisse behind most of the day. Malisse did battle in the second and third set, even when down a break. Baker mentioned he lost his focus for a couple of games in the third allowing Malisse to work his way back on serve. Baker would win convincingly in the third set tiebreak. He looked far more confident than the crafty veteran from Belgium. Winning matches does wonders for the confidence. Baker was composed in what could have been a very anxiety-provoking situation. What an opportunity and Baker did not let it slip away. He was aggressive and took the match from Malisse. Good for Baker. Even on clay the aggressor is going to win if he puts the ball away.

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