Taking Stock: Five underachievers of 2012
Mardy Fish took a disappointing second-round exit at the Australian Open to No. 71 Alejandro Falla. (Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, we looked at the players who have been punching above their weight class (i.e., rank) through the early part of the year. But what about the ones who have racked up disappointing loss after disappointing loss and are still struggling to find not just their A-game, but even their C-plus game?
Setting aside those who have been affected by injury (such as Andy Roddick, Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils), here are my top five underachievers so far in 2012.
Mardy Fish: Aside from his Davis Cup triumph over Stanislas Wawrinka in Switzerland, No. 8 Fish has easily been the highest-ranked underachiever on either Tour. One could make the argument that Caroline Wozniacki trumps him, but at least she's made three quarterfinals, one of which was at a Grand Slam tournament. Fish's 2012 results don't come close.
Nine of the ATP's top 10 have advanced to at least one final already, with seven of them winning titles. That lone holdout is Fish, who hasn't even made a quarterfinal. Part of that is Fish's own doing; his Australian Open lead-up consisted of exhibition events at Hopman Cup and Kooyong. But the top American is a meager 2-3 this year, with losses to No. 71 Alejandro Falla (in the second round of the Australian Open), No. 388 Albano Olivetti and No. 34 Mikhail Youzhny. The latter two defeats were particularly surprising given that they were on quick hardcourts.
You have to wonder if the 30-year-old's short offseason has something to do with his slow start. Fish limped into and out of the World Tour Finals at the end of November and was back on the court four weeks later in Perth.
If he is fatigued, the decision to fly to Europe and the Middle East to play Marseille and Dubai, respectively, is even more curious. Sure, he got a nice appearance fee for the French tournament, but there's something to be said about staying home and trying to get some wins under your belt in San Jose, Memphis and Delray Beach. As it is, Fish will head to Indian Wells next week with little confidence or match play.
Fernando Verdasco: It's become all too easy to forget that Verdasco was once a top 10 player who clinched the Davis Cup for Spain in 2008 and almost knocked out Rafael Nadal in the 2009 Australian Open semifinals. He hasn't been the same since losing to Milos Raonic last year in back-to-back matches in the San Jose final and first round of Memphis, his career in a virtual free fall after falling out of the top 10 last April.
Verdasco opened 2012 with a semifinal loss to David Ferrer in Auckland. But the 28-year-old Spaniard followed that up by relinquishing a two-set lead to Bernard Tomic in the first round of the Australian Open, losing his second match in Sao Paulo to No. 64 Albert Ramos and stumbling in the second round of Buenos Aires to No. 118 Igor Andreev. Those underwhelming results dropped him to No. 27 entering this week's event in Acapulco, where he has looked better and defeated Nicolas Almagro on Thursday to make the semifinals.
When he had his breakthrough year in 2009, Verdasco played like a man who believed he could win the big tournaments and he was hungry to compete. But if there's one thing that's evident in watching Verdasco over the last year it's that he just doesn't look like he enjoys playing tennis. It seems like a chore, a burden, and his frustration appears to give way to apathy. The good news for Verdasco is that perhaps he can build on his run in Mexico and he doesn't have much to defend through Indian Wells (third round) and Miami (first round).
Donald Young: After beating Grigor Dimitrov in the first round of Memphis last week, Young said he had trouble stringing together wins in 2011. "I could win a match, maybe two," he said, "but to do it three or four times in a row was something I didn't do." Unfortunately for Young, not much has changed in 2012. He has yet to win back-to-back matches, and suffered yet another bad loss on Monday when he was routed by Ryan Sweeting 6-1, 6-1 in Delray Beach.
Young will go into Indian Wells, where he scored a major upset over a slumping Andy Murray last year, with a 2-5 record. Not ideal for the 22-year-old American, who showed such marked improvement at the U.S. Open last year.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: Sometimes I just want to grab Kuznetsova by the shoulders, shake her and say, "You are a two-time Grand Slam winner! You have more natural athleticism and talent than 99 percent of the other women on Tour! What is wrong with you?!?" But I don't. I just watch her matches, see her ranking fall from No. 19 to No. 27 and shake my head.
Despite those two major titles, the 26-year-old Kuznetsova has arguably underachieved throughout her career, largely because of that head of hers. Notwithstanding a retirement in Sydney, three of her losses this year have been in three sets. Kuznetsova knows she can hit every shot in the book, but when she's low on confidence, her judgment gets cloudy and she doesn't know what to do on the court. Add her tendency to get nervous in tight matches, and you get one of the Tour's most skilled players on the cusp of tumbling out of the top 30. (To her credit, though, Kuznetsova teamed with Zvonareva to win the Australian Open doubles title.)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: We keep waiting for the Russian to break out. This year's early returns suggest that we'll have to keep waiting. Her fitness, the one thing that she desperately needs to improve, hasn't gotten better. And while her ranking (No. 15) hasn't slipped yet, her level of play has been dire. Granted, she's experienced some shoulder discomfort, but Pavlyuchenkova has won only one match that was played to conclusion all year (she's 2-5 overall), beating Klara Zakopalova in the first round of the Australian Open. Meanwhile, she has lost to Kaia Kanepi, Andrea Petkovic, Vania King, Ksenia Pervak and Simona Halep. This is a player we have come to expect to make the fourth round or quarterfinals of Slams and she's having trouble just winning a match.