Daniela Hantuchova, the No. 9 seed from Slovakia, must have gone out on court today secretly hoping that her opponent, Julia Vakulenko, hadn’t quite fully recovered from her ankle injury. Vakulenko had been one of the hottest players on tour in the first half of the year, shooting up the rankings from No. 118 in January to No. 33 in May. But since spraining her ankle at a tournament in Birmingham, England in June she had lost five straight first-round matches.
While it was wrapped as she came on court, Vakulenko’s ankle appears to be 100 percent, or at least close enough for her to continue this year's impressive run. The 24-year-old from the Ukraine, who reached the second round in her previous Open main draw appearances (2003 and 2004), took out Hantuchova in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, becoming the first player this year to upset a top-10 seed in the tournament.
The matched featured two players who were virtually mirror images of each other in terms of game-styles, with both entrenched on the baseline, ripping groundstrokes from corner to corner. Vakulenko took the first set, in large part by breaking Hantuchova three times in a row to start the match. Hantuchova fought back in the second, getting the only break of the set in the fourth game. At one set apiece, Vakulenko again broke Hantuchova in her opening service game, and won the match with a strategy that worked for her throughout the match, the drop shot from the baseline, this time for a clean winner.
Vakulenko has given plenty of top players fits throughout 2007, although big wins and injuries have gone hand-and-hand for her all year. After qualifying in Warsaw in May, she beat then No. 2-ranked Kim Clijsters, in Clijsters last professional match before announcing her retirement, to reach the quarters. But then, in the quarters, she was forced to retire with a wrist sprain. The next week, in Berlin, she beat No. 2-ranked Amelie Mauresmo and No. 8-ranked Dinara Safina, back-to-back, to reach the semis. However once again she was forced to retire, this time to Ana Ivanovic with a forearm injury. Two tournaments later she suffered the ankle sprain.
But with her big win today over Hantuchova, it’s clear Vakulenko is headed in the right direction once again. If she can stay injury free, she very well may be the most dangerous unseeded player in the tournament.