Belgian battle highlights Williams-less WTA Tour Championships
LOS ANGELES : The WTA Tour Championships won't feature a Williams, but the elite season finale will boast a showdown for the year-end world number one ranking between Belgian rivals Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Clijsters, the current top ranked player, stunned Serena Williams for the title here last year.
But despite climbing to the top of the rankings she has so far come up short in Grand Slam competition, and Henin-Hardenne, the French and US Open champion, could end the year in the number one spot.
"I'm very excited about that," Henin-Hardenne said.
"Last year I was getting married two weeks after the championships, so I was a little focused on that. This year, it's going to be very different."
The two Belgians are joined in the eight-woman field by France's Amelie Mauresmo, American Jennifer Capriati, Japan's Ai Sugiyama, Russians Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina, and Chanda Rubin.
Mauresmo, who beat Myskina in the final of the Philadelphia indoor tournament on Sunday, qualified last year but could not play because of an injury to her right knee.
This year, of those who qualified for the tournament, Serena Williams is still nursing a knee injury, Venus Williams is still feeling the effects of an abdominal strain, and Lindsay Davenport recently underwent foot surgery.
Also on display when the tournament begins at the Staples Center on Wednesday will be a new round-robin format in place of the former single-elimination schedule.
That's part of an effort to improve the drawing power of a tournament that last year lacked atmosphere in the Staples Center - cavernous home of basketball's Los Angeles Lakers.
"I think all the players are very excited about the format," Henin-Hardenne said. "I think it's going to be great for everybody."
The two groups for the round robin were announced Sunday, with Clijsters, Mauresmo, Dementieva and Rubin in the red group and Henin-Hardenne, Capriati, Myskin and Sugiyama in the black group.
Four doubles teams will compete - cut back from eight teams - including Martina Navratilova and partner Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.
Organizers are also planning several events to mark the 30th anniversary of the women's tour. On Sunday the tournament will honor Billie Jean King, a group of former world number one players and the nine founding members of the tour.