Winners out of the shadows

Argentina's Juan Monaco is having a breakout fall. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I know you're too humble to brag and pound your chest in the finest Novak "yes, I AM the man" Djokovic fashion, but admit it: You looked at that schedule and those draws a few weeks ago and said Nadia Petrova is a lock to win Tokyo and, like, who else even has a shot at Kuala Lumpur with Juan Monaco in the draw?

That's what you've got to love about the fall, the sheer, breathtaking who-woulda-thunk-it nature of the results (heck, even Richard Gasquet -- first among equals in the ranks of the underachieving French -- won a tournament this past week, at Bangkok) .

Enjoy the novelty now, because things are about to get a little more serious. And predictable.

The WTA is in Beijing this week for the final "Premier Mandatory" event of the year. The ATP has two hefty 500-Series warmups this week, a primer for the following week's Shanghai Masters 1000 tussle. The stakes remain fairly high for the men even later, with still another pair of ATP 500 events before the last regular tour event of the year, the Paris 1000 Masters .

The win by Petrova in Tokyo was truly a stunner, even if it was her second title of the year, which is one more than Caroline Wozniacki, the 2011 year-end No. 1, has managed. Petrova also won on the grass at 's-Hertogenbosch, where she triumphed over Radwanska. Unfortunately for her résumé, it was WTA No. 64 (at the time) Urszula, not No. 3 Agnieszka.

That stigma was wiped away in Tokyo, where Agnieszka (who was also the defending champ) was Petrova's championship match victim. Tokyo must be the best win of the Russian's career: Before that, she had knocked off two top-10 players at the same event only once in her career; in Tokyo, she eliminated three (the others were No. 7 Sara Errani and No. 9 Sam Stosur). And the win was all the more resonant -- or baffling? -- because Petrova had to quit the previous week's event in Seoul, South Korea, where she was laid low by back trouble after having won just one match.

In some ways, these two weeks were a microcosm of Petrova's wildly fluctuating career. She has won 11 titles and her year-end ranking has been as high as No. 6 (2006). But since then, she has fluctuated from No. 29 to No. 11 and became notorious for shrinking from, rather than rising to, an occasion.

Monaco is a different story; the 28-year old from Argentina is in the midst of a career year. He has won three titles (Vina del Mar, Houston, Hamburg) and he lost in the final of another (Stuttgart). Those wins vaulted him into the top 10, and the triumph in Kuala Lumpur will increase his chances to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals -- a capstone for all but the most successful and jaded of players.

While there's certainly nothing unusual about a top-10 player (and No. 2 seed at Kuala Lumpur) winning a tournament, Monaco's achievement is noteworthy because he earned all six of his previous ATP Tour titles on clay. This is a guy who won exactly one match this year in the hard-court events he has played since Wimbledon (two Masters 1000s and the U.S. Open).

The key to Monaco's breakthrough was a very tight win (7-6 in the third) over No. 17 Kei Nishikori, an accomplished hard-court player and a tough out under any circumstance. Now that he knows -- instead of merely believing -- that he can win a title on hard, Monaco is more likely to ask higher-ranked players some difficult questions in the upcoming events in Asia and even Europe.

Monaco and Petrova must be aware of the meaning of the old expression, "While the cat's away, the mice will play." Let's see if they can keep up the game.