Women´s look forward: Filderstadt. Japan Open
Women's Look Forward: Filderstadt, Japan Open
You have to give the WTA credit. The schedule shift resulting from the Olympics caused a lot of events, including even the Canadian Open, to be shuffled around the schedule a little. But they arranged it so that the really big event of the fall indoor season -- Filderstadt -- hasn't been moved.
There is nothing left on the WTA Tour like Filderstadt -- a Tier II which is stronger than many Slams. San Diego used to be in the same league, but it's moved up to Tier I status. Philadelphia has never been quite the same since the Tour Championships moved to Munich and temporarily eliminated it (and we suspect it will never be the same again, because the eight-draw championships format means that fewer players are in the Race to the end). And Sydney has suffered a little because fewer players seem to want an Australian Open warmup. Filderstadt, though, is still Filderstadt.
As in, The event where Top 20 players often end up in qualifying -- and, as often as not, lose. The tournament that can reasonably expect 18 of the top 20 to be in the field. It is, in all seriousness, the toughest event on the WTA schedule, bar none; the handful of events with stronger fields are also played out over a longer time, so players get more rest.
At least, it's the toughest in most years. Injuries being what they are, it's suffering a little in 2004. Justine Henin-Hardenne is worn out again, and was forced to withdraw. Serena Williams cited her knee as a reason for withdrawing. Defending champion Kim Clijsters is still struggling with her wrist. And Jennifer Capriati also pulled out. Venus Williams isn't playing, either; it may be that this was expected to be a Serena tournament, but it's noteworthy that neither Venus nor Serena has really had much luck indoors (relatively speaking, of course); after Venus Williams had her stunning second half of 2000, in which she won Wimbledon, Stanford, San Diego, New Haven, the U. S. Open, and the Olympics, she lost her only indoor tournament, at Linz; for Serena, in her brilliant 2002, she won only one of her two indoor events in the fall. Neither sister has ever won this crown jewel of the indoor season -- the past five winners have all been #1 at some time in the two months following the event; the roster of career winners includes Martina Hingis (four times), Kim Clijsters (twice), Lindsay Davenport, Anke Huber (twice), Iva Majoli, Mary Pierce, Martina Navratilova (five times since 1984), Gabriela Sabatini, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Pam Shriver; probably the weakest winner in the past twenty years is 1998 champion Sandrine Testud, and she had to beat Davenport to earn it. Frankly, the lack of a Filderstadt title is the biggest single lack in Serena's glittering resume; you'd think she'd do everything she could to play here.
Still, it's an impressive field. Even the qualifying was stronger than last week's tournament in GuangZhou; the top qualifying seed was Fabiola Zuluaga, #25 last week; Eleni Daniilidou, #30 when the seeds were announced, was #2, Lisa Raymond #3, and Jelena Kostanic #4. Jelena Jankovic, who was seeded #3 at GuangZhou, managed to be only the #5 seed in Filderstadt qualifying. Iveta Benesova and Emilie Loit took the #6 and #7 seeds, meaning that we had seven Top 40 players in Filderstadt qualifying.
As for the main draw, it has four of the world's top five; only Henin-Hardenne is missing. Amelie Mauresmo is the #1 seed, and #2 Lindsay Davenport is here to compete for the top ranking. Anastasia Myskina is seeded #3, and Svetlana Kuznetsova #4. Elena Dementieva is #6 in the world, but she ends up seeded a mere #5. Then comes the big hole, where all those players pulled out. As a result, Vera Zvonareva is #6, Nadia Petrova #7, and Ai Sugiyama #8. Patty Schnyder is Top 15, but she is unseeded. So are Karolina Sprem, Silvia Farina Elia, Elena Bovina, Paola Suarez, Magdalena Maleeva, Nathalie Dechy, Alicia Molik, and Francesca Schiavone -- Top 25 players all. In fact, apart from German wildcards Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Marlene Weingartner, the only players in the field who are not Top 25 are Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi (who was Top 25 when entries closed), former champion Mary Pierce, Daniela Hantuchova, and Elena Likhovtseva. Even with all the players absent, this is one tough, tough tournament.
The doubles is a rather different story. Paola Suarez is in the singles draw, and partner Virginia Ruano Pascual is in qualifying (and won her opening match), but they're skipping the doubles. (This is, after all, an indoor event, and this team, so dominant on other slower surfaces, still have only one indoor title!) So Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs took the #1 seed. Svetlana Kuznetsova is reportedly re-thinking her doubles schedule, so Elena Likhovtseva is playing this week with Janette Husarova; they're #2. The #3 seeds are a new team, Alicia Molik and Ai Sugiyama, who reportedly will be together next year also. Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva remain together for the moment; they're #4.
Martina Navratilova is coming back next year, but she's taking a break for the moment, so Lisa Raymond is here with Mary Pierce; they're unseeded. Lindsay Davenport is playing doubles for the first time since Amelia Island; she's back with Corina Morariu. And it seems clear that Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario plans to stay un-retired; she is playing with Daniela Hantuchova -- good news for Hantuchova, who had very good results with the Spaniard three years ago, and has never even threatened that level since.
This year, rather unusually, Filderstadt has competition. This week also hosts the Japan Open -- though that's not really much of a threat to the Filderstadt field. In fact, only one player at Tokyo would have gotten direct entry into Filderstadt! That one player is defending champion Maria Sharapova, who will be playing her third straight event (the first time she has ever done that). And even Sharapova's presence may have been dictated by the WTA rules: A player who wins her first title is required to go back and defend it. Sharapova in fact won two titles last year (the other was Quebec City), so she could have defended in Canada instead, but this strategy improves her chances of making the year-end championships.
At least the field isn't lacking in young stars who don't wear much in the way of clothes; after Sharapova, the #2 seed is Tathiana Golovin. Ai Sugiyama chose to play Filderstadt (and that tells you how much players love Filderstadt, that even Sugiyama played there rather than here), but Japan does get one high seed in #3 Shinobu Asagoe. Kristina Brandi is #4, Meghann Shaughnessy, after struggling with her shoulder for the last several months, returns to action as the #5 seed, Nicole Pratt is #6 (and is the last Top 50 player in the draw), Klara Koukalova #7, and Arantxa Parra Santonja #8. There is one interesting wildcard in the draw in Vancouver winner Nicole Vaidisova. And Vaidisova will be teaming with that other noteworthy youngster, Sesil Karatancheva in the doubles. Karatancheva also won her opening qualifying match, and was to face Anne Kremer in the second round. Other than that, there isn't much to note in the doubles except that Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik are together again this week; they're the top seeds.
It appears several players pulled out at the last moment. Jelena Dokic's withdrawal is probably no surprise. It's more surprising to see that Amy Frazier is out, given her historic success here.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
We're tempted to give you noteworthy qualifying matches from Filderstadt, but we don't have the final schedule yet. In any case, there are plenty of fine matches in the first round. In fact, let's just list every first round match except the ones involving qualifiers and wildcards:
Sprem vs. Farina Elia. Neither likes indoor courts much. Sprem has a big edge in power, Farina Elia in guile. Hard to predict a winner, but it should be fun to watch.
Sugiyama vs. Smashnova. The Israeli hates indoors, and Sugiyama is happy enough on fast courts. But the two courts at Filderstadt are very different, and under the right circumstances, Smashnova might have a chance; Sugiyama is one of the few top players who can't absolutely overwhelm her.
Zvonareva vs. Likhovtseva. They're both Russian, and they've played doubles together. Zvonareva is the better player, but anything can happen when two Russians face off.
Pierce vs. Suarez. Odd to say that Suarez is the higher-ranked. But Pierce hates facing her anyway -- Suarez has won all four of their meetings starting from the 2001 Australian Open.
Maleeva vs. Dechy. Two fairly good indoor players. Edge to Maleeva, but a lot depends on how well Dechy has recovered from her latest injury.
Molik vs. Schiavone. Both ranked right around #20. On paper, the surface would seem better for Molik -- but historically indoor surfaces have been Molik's worst; she's done well on grass, and has clay finals and hardcourt titles, but she has almost no record indoors; last year, she lost in Moscow and Filderstadt qualifying, qualified for but lost first round at Zurich, and made the quarterfinal at Luxembourg; this year, she lost her only indoor match at the Pan Pacific; she didn't play a single indoor main draw in 2001 or 2002. Definitely trickier than it sounds.
In the doubles, we have an interesting first rounder between Black/Stubbs and Pierce/Raymond; also Molik and Sugiyama will make their debut against the fairly tough team of Farina Elia and Schiavone; it will also be interesting to see how Hantuchova/Sanchez-Vicario do against Myskina/Zvonareva.
The Japan Open doesn't offer as much, especially since the top two seeds, Sharapova and Golovin, have byes (of course, the top four at Filderstadt have byes, but that still leaves plenty of other names!). Vaidisova will open against Yoon Jeong Cho, who at last is showing signs of life again; in addition, #3 seed Asagoe will face Tamarine Tanasugarn, who two years ago would have been one of the top seeds here.
There is one funny item in the Tokyo doubles draw: Jill Craybas is supposed to be playing doubles with Marlene Weingartner (they're the #3 seeds, in fact), opening against Karatancheva and Vaidisova. But Weingartner is playing singles at Filderstadt. Presumably there will be some changes there....
The time has come. Over the next several weeks, Lindsay Davenport (assuming she doesn't get hurt again) will be making a run for the #1 ranking. Her last event of 2003 was Filderstadt, where she made the quarterfinal. Amelie Mauresmo also made the quarterfinal, and with slightly better quality points. After that, the Frenchwoman has nothing to defend until her title at Philadelphia comes off -- but Davenport has historically played more, and done better, indoors.
And that means that there is a real chance that Davenport can take #1 this week. She came in about 200 points behind Mauresmo. If we subtract off points to be defended, here are how the top six stand in safe points:
Very roughly speaking, that means that if Mauresmo loses her opener and Davenport makes the final, Davenport is #1; if Davenport wins, she will certainly be #1 if Mauresmo loses by the quarterfinal, and probably even if Mauresmo reaches the semifinal. We also see that Myskina could overtake Henin-Hardenne with a title (maybe even a final), and Kuznetsova can overtake Henin-Hardenne with a title. Kuznetsova can pass Myskina by lasting a couple of rounds longer. Even Dementieva has a chance for the #4 ranking if she wins the title. Things have been pretty stable in the rankings since Bali. Not any more.
In the long term, the genuine question is whether anyone else can make an impression in the contest for year-end #1. Davenport's lead over Mauresmo in the Race is nearly 600 points, and she has fewer events. That's a very big gap at this time of year. It appears Justine Henin-Hardenne is out of it; she's far off the pace and still not healthy, and as last year's Filderstadt finalist, she'll be losing some ground. Based on her Race score, Anastasia Myskina could still do some damage, but only if she gets her game together -- fast. That leaves Kuznetsova. She is #3 in the Race. The next few weeks should tell us if she has a chance to end the year higher than that.
Since Kim Clijsters isn't playing, she will take yet another rankings hit. Last year, she earned 292 points at Filderstadt. The loss of those will drop her to no better than #10. And Vera Zvonareva could boot her out of the Top Ten if she can win Filderstadt.
Further down the rankings, Filderstadt semifinalists Mary Pierce and Elena Bovina (who beat Davenport last year) have a lot on the line. So does Virginia Ruano Pascual, who at this time last year was winning Tashkent. The Spaniard's results at Hasselt brought her close to the Top 50 again, but she could well lose all that ground and more. Tashkent finalist Saori Obata is also likely to slip.
One odd effect of the strength of Filderstadt is that the value of matches varies greatly. If, say, Vera Zvonareva wins the event, she could pick up close to 500 points; the tournament is that strong. But if the upsets break just the right way, and Davenport or Mauresmo wins it, she might earn as little as 350 points or so. A big haul, but not that big. Besides, there are so many tough players in the draw that if we predict two players to meet in a particular round, odds are fairly high that it won't happen.
But the closest thing to a sure bet for a key match is the Filderstadt semifinal, Mauresmo vs. Kuznetsova or somebody. If Mauresmo wins this, odds are that she stays #1 (though even in that case, it could depend on quality points).
Elena Bovina could fall out of the Top 20 with an early enough loss. She faces Kuznetsova in the second round. Win that and she should be safe.
At the Japan Open, watch for the quarterfinal, Sharapova vs. Shaughnessy (or someone). If Sharapova wins that, she's back up to #7 in the world, though that's as high as she can hope to rise at this time.