Women's Look Forward: Week of April 26
Posted on 4/25/2004 at 4:16 PM
According to a recent radio news report, a Romanian football (soccer) team owner, upset with his players' performance, gave them an ultimatum: Win your next game -- or I'll make you go to a classical music concert.
If that sort of threat really works, expect to hear a lot of Beethoven and Mozart filtering out of the WTA offices during player meetings. It's getting harder and harder to get them to turn out. Warsaw has one Top Ten player: Amelie Mauresmo. The last Tier II event to be that weak was Linz last year, but there, the Top Ten player was at least Justine Henin-Hardenne, who was #1 in the world.
(For the record, Warsaw last year had four Top Ten players: Mauresmo, Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova, and Jelena Dokic.)
It's not quite so bad in terms of gold exempts. Venus Williams is here as the #2 seed, and she's a Top Three gold exempt. And even though there is only one Top Ten player, every seed in the draw is Top 20: Venus at #2, Vera Zvonareva seeded #3, Svetlana Kuznetsova #4, Paula Suarez #5, Silvia Farina Elia #6 (assuming she can play; she had to pull out of Fed Cup with a fever), Patty Schnyder #7, and Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi #8.
There are some quite solid unseeded players, too: Fabiola Zuluaga (who is especially dangerous on a clay court), Elena Bovina, Eleni Daniilidou, Francesca Schiavone, and Magdalena Maleeva. Plus Daniela Hantuchova, if she still counts as solid. In any case, she's making her clay debut after skipping Fed Cup.
If the singles is less strong than one might hope, the doubles draw is flatly ridiculous. There are only two teams in the field with combined rankings less than 100! Svetlana Kuznetsova is in singles, but she isn't playing doubles, so Elena Likhovtseva will play with Vera Zvonareva as the #1 seeds. Paula Suarez isn't playing, either, so the #2 seeds are Silvia Farina Elia and Francesca Schiavone, who last week had a combined ranking of #85. Tina Krizan and Katarina Srebotnik are the #3 seeds; Elena Bovina and Denisa Chladkova #4, based almost solely on Bovina's results (and they'll be tested in the first round by the top unseeded team, Olga Blahotova and Gabriela Navratilova, who are having a very good year). Expect surprises.
The weakness of Warsaw doesn't really spell strength for Budapest, which has only four Top 50 players in the field: #1 seed Emilie Loit (who comes in with a ten match WTA winning streak plus one win in Fed Cup; she's at a career high), #2 Petra Mandula (also at a career high), #3 Aniko Kapros, and #4 Anca Barna. Below that, the players start to bunch up: #5 Barbara Schett (who seems to be playing her best tennis in a couple of years), #6 Iveta Benesova (another player who has been hot this year), #7 Arantxa Parra, and #8 Jelena Jankovic are all between #51 and #60. Next in line for a seed is #64 Melinda Czink, but given the clay surface, the biggest unseeded threat may be #80 Marta Marrero, who opens against Jankovic.
The doubles makes us wonder how any of these players are staying alive; there are only fourteen teams in the field (top seeds Mandula/Schett and Benesova/Kurhajcova have byes), and even so, there are eight teams in the field with combined doubles rankings below #500. Three of them are below #1000. There are three players in the field we've never heard of, and a bunch of others who have only one or two WTA matches here or there in their careers. Bryanne Stewart, seeded #3 with Samantha Stosur, still plays singles, but barely (it's interesting to note that she didn't play singles qualifying here, even though there were nine byes in the qualifying draw); she has trouble getting into Challengers, and is living off her doubles despite barely being Top 100. Again, it spells opportunity for the winners -- but starvation, perhaps, for the losers.
The Rankings. Venus Williams, last year's Warsaw finalist, is finally on the rise in the rankings. Or was. Now she finds herself with points to defend again. Given what she has coming off, it doesn't appear likely that she can hit the Top Ten this week. The good news is, she won't need much to hang onto her #13 ranking; she should at least be able to stay Top 15. And she has nothing else to defend until Roland Garros, so she has at least a decent chance to move up before Paris.
Similarly, defending champion Amelie Mauresmo can't possibly move up, but it appears she has enough points in the bank that she'll stay #3.
Vera Zvonareva will again be going for the Top 10. But she has 131 points to defend, and #10 Ai Sugiyama has nothing. Zvonareva needs at least a final and possibly a title to do it.
It appears that Jelena Dokic's failure to play will cost her her Top 20 ranking; she has 119 points to defend. Normally we'd nominate Fabiola Zuluaga to replace her, since she's at #23 and playing and she likes clay, but Zuluaga has 99 points coming off. Also in some danger is Denisa Chladkova, with 117 points on the line.
We will likely see one big move in doubles: Last year, Liezel Huber and Magdalena Maleeva won Warsaw, but neither is playing this year. That puts Huber's Top 15 ranking slightly at risk (though only slightly); Maleeva appears sure to fall out of the Top 20.
Key Matches. The single biggest match at Warsaw is almost certainly the semifinal between Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva. Venus beat Zvonareva at Charleston, but Zvonareva did beat the American at Roland Garros last year. For Venus, that match is what she needs to hold onto her points. For Zvonareva, she needs the win to hit the Top Ten -- and she really needs to beat Venus, not someone else; if she beats, say, Maleeva instead, she won't earn enough quality points.
Also of interest at Warsaw is the first round match between Elena Bovina and Katarina Srebotnik, both trying to come back from injury. Srebotnik has been back for a longer time, but Bovina is the better player. The clay probably helps Srebotnik. It's an interesting duel. The winner, unfortunately, has to face Paola Suarez, who will be just in from Argentina but who is the best natural clay-courter here.
We mentioned all those points Denisa Chladkova has on the line. She opens against Silvia Farina Elia, who has been sick. A win for Chladkova would really help her; if she loses, she'll fall below #60.
Finally, we'd pay careful attention to the possible quarterfinal between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Silvia Farina Elia. Kuznetsova is the better player overall, but she hasn't played a clay match this year (she skipped the green clay season, and they're playing Fed Cup on carpet), and last year she had only three wins. Whereas clay is Farina Elia's native surface, and probably her second best (after grass).
Budapest doesn't feature any such big matches; it's a Tier V, so it's going to take a lot for anyone to move up here. Perhaps the most noteworthy contest will be Loit's quarterfinal with Schett; if Loit is to have any chance of making the Top 25, she needs to win this title, and Schett will be the first major obstacle in her way. http://www.tennisnews.com/news.php3?id=4419&orig=index