Women's Look Forward: Paris
There is an air of throwback about this week. It feels like five or ten years ago.
That's even apart from the fact that Sandrine Testud is in the draw. What's next -- a comeback for Steffi Graf?
Over the past several years, the number of events on the WTA Tour has increased substantially (or, more correctly, it rose then fell, but the total is still larger than in the mid-to-late Nineties). However, most of the new events are small -- Tier III or lower. That's partly deliberate; the WTA can't add too many new Tier II+ events, or it will run out of Gold Exempt players to play at them. But it's also because tennis is adding events in places where it's a lot easier to scrape up Tier III money than Tier II cash.
But relatively few of those new events are indoor tournaments. And, since this is the indoor season, that means Paris stands alone.
It's lonely in another sense, too: The field is badly depleted. Both the French favorite, Amelie Mauresmo, and the defending champion, Serena Williams, pulled out on Friday. (We haven't heard anyone call it Black Friday yet, but given that Venus Williams also withdrew from the Pan Pacific on that day, the name seems to fit.)
Which means two things: First, that Kim Clijsters really ought to win her first title of the year, and second, that somebody else has a real opportunity here. Especially since the field is so lacking in big indoor names. Looking at the field, you'd be more inclined to think that this is a clay event. Clijsters, the #1 seed, certainly likes indoors (in terms of results, it's far and away her best surface), but #2 seed Elena Dementieva has had her best results on slow surfaces, #3 Patty Schnyder is a clay-lover, #4 Jelena Dokic likes everything just about equally (and plays every event she can get to, so her presence doesn't say anything about surfaces), #5 Francesca Schiavone has never been noted for indoor results, #6 Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi loves slow courts, and #7 Silvia Farina Elia and #8 Magui Serna both have all their titles on clay (and most of their other good results on grass).
Looking at the most noteworthy unseeded players, the story is perhaps a little more mixed. There are, of course, quite a few French players here, though Mauresmo's withdrawal means that none are seeded. Mary Pierce will be making her comeback here, though she unfortunately opens against countrywoman Nathalie Dechy. Testud is also in the field -- and, in the old days, she liked indoors. Emilie Loit is a solid floater who opens against Schiavone. There are also two French wildcards: Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, who definitely likes indoors, and Australian Open surprise Tatiana Golovin, who hasn't been around long enough to really show a surface preference. Other unseeded players include Alexandra Stevenson, who likes indoors but who is still looking for her form; Eleni Daniilidou, who doesn't like indoors at all; Elena Bovina, for whom the surface is comfortable enough; and Daniela Hantuchova, who overall has had her best results indoors but who is just in from the Pan Pacific and who of course is fragile anyway.
Which gives us at least one fascinating first round match: Testud, who is French and who is not jet-lagged but who hasn't played at the WTA level in a year and a half (but who was apparently given an injury ranking; she did not take a wildcard), against Hantuchova, slumping and just off a plane.
Also of interest in the early going: Stevenson (indoor-loving but slumping) against #7 seed Farina Elia; #8 seed Serna against Petra Mandula; Pierce versus Dechy; Loit versus Schiavone; and Golovin against #6 Smashnova-Pistolesi -- a good chance for the young Frenchwoman to show what she can really do.
In later rounds, we could see Daniilidou against Clijsters, Pierce or Dechy against Serna, Bovina against Dokic (with Dokic even more jet-lagged than Hantuchova), and Testud or Hantuchova against Smashnova-Pistolesi or Golovin.
We'll say it again, though: It's Clijsters who will win or lose this event; she's the only player in the field ranked above #10, and there are only four Top Fifteen players in the draw. Injuries have turned what is usually a pretty solid Tier II into a very weak event.
That goes for the doubles, too. The top seeds are a pickup team, Loit and Mandula, with a combined ranking barely above #40. (Loit, at #16 last week, is the top doubles player in the field.) Serna and Vento-Kabchi, also a pickup team, are #2 -- and Vento-Kabchi isn't as good as her ranking without Angelique Widjaja.
Almost the whole draw is pickup teams, in fact. #4 seeds Daniilidou and Hantuchova are new together. Amazingly, Tina Krizan is playing without Katarina Srebotnik (who is hurt); she's teaming up with Elena Tatarkova. Elena Dementieva is playing not with Lina Krasnoroutskaya but with Denisa Chladkova (and Chladkova is no doubles player). The one fairly familiar team is #3 seeds Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder, last year's champions. But, of course, they haven't done much since; if they had, they wouldn't be seeded #3 in this extremely weak doubles draw.
The Rankings. We're still in the era of Calendar Shift, which means that the points coming off this week are not those from Paris 2003 but from Antwerp 2003 (plus Doha 2003). That's bad news for Antwerp champion Venus Williams, who will find herself without a single title and who will fall to #17 or so. (Though her special ranking of course still applies.) Other players with over 100 points to defend include last year's finalist Kim Clijsters, Daniela Hantuchova, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Lina Krasnoroutskaya, and Doha winner Anastasia Myskina.
And that means Myskina, at least, will be falling, giving back the #6 ranking she just achieved; she will fall to #7 (possibly lower), with Serena Williams probably returning to #6.
There will be no moves in the Top Five, though; only Clijsters is in action, and she can't go up or down. The only other move in the Top Ten could be posted by Elena Dementieva. She's barely behind Chanda Rubin; a semifinal would make her #9, and a win could move her as high as #6. And if Clijsters doesn't win, then Dementieva is as good a candidate as any.
Hantuchova just put herself back in the Top 30, but she'll need to reach at least the quarterfinal to stay there, and probably the semifinal. Krasnoroutskaya, who is not playing, is certain to fall out of the Top 30.
Other players will surely climb, but it's much too early to examine all the contingencies in such a wide-open draw. We will of course keep you up to date.