x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Pleasure in the unfamiliar in the world of tennis

The recent weeks have lacked major star power on the ATP and WTA Tour events, but that has allowed less heralded players to take centre stage, writes Graham Caygill.

Mikhail Youzhny was the Swiss Open winner.
Mikhail Youzhny was the Swiss Open winner.

The post-Wimbledon spell in the tennis calendar may be lacking a little in star power at present, but that does not mean that there is no interest or fun to be enjoyed in the action going on.

At present, the men's game sees the leading quartet of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer hoovering up the prizes, while in the women's game, 2013 has been dominated by Serena Williams, with the world No 1 having seven titles to her name already.

But with the majority of the big names on the calendar resting up ahead of the US Open next month, it has given some of the lesser-known names on the ATP and WTA tours their respective moments in the spotlight.

Take Mikhail Youzhny. The Russian, 31, is a solid professional, who has had a good, but unspectacular, career. Two US Open semi-final appearances is not to be sniffed at for a man once ranked as high as No 8 in the world, but hardly the success likely to see him step out of the shadows of the likes of Djokovic.

It was therefore pleasing to see him taking the acclaim on Sunday in Gstaad after winning the Swiss Open, the eighth title of his professional career, which began in 1999.

His emotions were summed up well when he said: "When you win a tournament, it doesn't matter how you've played or who you beat."

The top four always put on a show of joy when they win a title, especially at a grand slam, but also the other events on the calendar. But there is still that expectation they were going to win beforehand.

That is why it refreshing to see players like Youzhny, and John Isner, who prevailed in Atlanta on Sunday, get their moments, while Fabio Fognini, the world No 16, has had a great month, winning in Stuttgart and Hamburg.

It has been the same for the women too, with Dominika Cilbulkova, the world No 21, winning in Stanford on Sunday, while Elina Svitolina, 18, was celebrating in Azerbaijan after lifting the Baku Cup, an emotional moment, since it was her first WTA title.

Yes, there was no Williams, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova in the field, but that should not take away from what could be a great career for the Ukrainian.

Business is set to return to normal next week with the Rogers Cup in Montreal for both tours, which starts the push toward New York and the last major of the year, but it has been refreshing to see some different names in the winner's circle in the past few weeks before we get back to seeing the usual faces in the latter stages.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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