Women's Look Forward: Sydney, Canberra, Hobart
Women's Look Forward: Sydney, Canberra, Hobart
Call Sydney the most ironic event on the WTA Tour. For years, it was permitted to pay less in prize money than any other Tier II (because of currency exchange rates), but it still had one of the strongest fields of any event on the Tour.
Why? Because it is the one and only Tier II available as an Australian Open warmup. For the top players, it's a choice between playing Sydney or coming into Melbourne cold.
As a result, we've frequently had every top player except the Williams Sisters in the Sydney draw, and a cutoff for direct entry somewhere around ##28.
Not this year. Sydney now pays full Tier II prize money, but while it's still pretty strong -- the top player in qualifying was Flavia Pennetta, #38 when entries closed, and she lost first round! -- it's no longer frighteningly so.
The qualifying was still mildly interesting, if for no other reason than the presence of all the young Russians. It fell off swiftly below Pennetta; with two Tier V events this week, most mid-level players elected to be seeded at Canberra or Hobart; the only other Top 50 player to sign up was Maria Vento-Kabchi, and she pulled out. But Anna Chakvetadze, of win-over-Myskina fame, beat #5 qualifying seed Virginie Razzano in the opening round of qualifying, Evgenia Linetskaya took out #7 seed Marissa Irvin, and Maria Kirilenko also made the second round -- though all three lost in that round.
The main draw, after Justine Henin-Hardenne withdrew (see story in today's Daily Tennis), has only three Top Ten players -- but it's three pretty solid Top Ten players: World #1 Lindsay Davenport, #3 Anastasia Myskina, and #6 Elena Dementieva. And below that -- well, below that it looks like Sydney always used to. #11 Vera Zvonareva is the #4 seed, Nadia Petrova is #5 though there is doubt about whether she can play, Australia's #1 Alicia Molik is #6, and Gold Coast champion Patty Schnyder is #7, meaning that the field includes 7 of the top 14 players in the world. The #8 seed went to Ai Sugiyama, though she is no longer Top 20. But we have a couple of unseeded Top 20 players in Karolina Sprem and Francesca Schiavone. Top 30 players in the field include Nathalie Dechy, Lisa Raymond, Tatiana Golovin, Magdalena Maleeva, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Likhovtseva, and Fabiola Zuluaga. Australians will be cheering at the presence of Samantha Stosur, who was given a well-deserved wildcard after her performance at Gold Coast. As you can well imagine, there are some fine first round matches.
The doubles has its interest, too. The rumors from last year are true: Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs are back together; they're the #1 seeds. Conchita Martinez, who needed a wildcard to get into the singles, is again playing with Virgina Ruano Pascual; they're the #2 seeds. Elena Dementieva has apparently decided to stick with Ai Sugiyama for a while; they're #3. Barbara Schett is playing her next-to-last event; she and Patty Schnyder are #4. Martina Navratilova and Daniela Hantuchova will be making their debut together; they are unseeded. And, in a surprising move, Lindsay Davenport chose to play doubles; she is once again teaming with Corina Morariu.
An interesting feature of the draw is the emptiness of the bottom quarter: Myskina's section of the draw contains four qualifiers or Lucky Losers, the injured Nadia Petrova (which means we might well see another Lucky Loser), plus Daniela Hantuchova. That might be the easiest path to the semifinal ever recorded in a Tier II.
The week's other two events, Canberra and Hobart, are both Tier IV tournaments, but Canberra has long been slightly the stronger, and it appears that it's so this year also. It has, in Silvia Farina Elia, the only Top 25 player at either event; she is, naturally, the #1 seed. The #2 seed is Anna Smashnova, who last year was talking about retirement but obviously has recovered enough from her divorce to at least try playing; we'll have to see if she's over the slump she suffered. Meghann Shaughnessy is the #3 seed, Marion Bartoli #4, Emilie Loit #5, Nicole Pratt #6 if she can play (she withdrew last week), Maria Sanchez Lorenzo #7, and Tathiana Garbin #8. Tatiana Panova, Vera Douchevina, Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Anne Kremer give us interesting floaters. Auckland champion Katarina Srebotnik is also here, and Michaella Krajicek will once again be trying to translate junior success into a WTA win -- which she might finally manage, given that she opens against a wildcard.
The doubles hasn't nearly the interest of the singles, or of the Sydney doubles; the most interesting point is that Marion Bartoli and Emilie Loit are both here, but not playing together. Bartoli is #1 with Anna-Lena Groenefeld; Loit is #2 with Claudine Schaul. And Tina Krizan is trying out Tathiana Garbin as the #3 seeds. But it's a weak field even for a Tier IV; Bartoli/Groenefeld is the only team with a combined ranking above #100.
The top seed at Hobart is last year's winner Amy Frazier. Gisela Dulko, just off reaching the Hopman Cup final is #2. Iveta Benesova takes the #3 spot, with Shinobu Asagoe #4 even though her results at Auckland made her the #2 player in the field. Anabel Medina Garrigues is #5, Maria Elena Camerin #6, Dinara Safina a surprisingly low #7, and Klara Koukalova #8. We have three interesting floaters: Nicole Vaidisova (though she was sick last week), Li Na, and Kveta Hrdlickova Peschke, who earned direct entry based on very strong Challenger results last fall; based on the form she showed then, she is probably playing better than some of the seeds.
Noteworthy First Round Matches.
Almost all of these are at Sydney. At Hobart, we'd mention only the contest between top seed Frazier and Li Na -- the more so since Frazier will come in tired. Canberra features a match between top seed Farina Elia and Tatiana Panova; there is also Krajicek's match with Lauren Breadmore. But Sydney -- just about everything is good there, even though the top four seeds have byes.
For starters, we have two matches between Top 20 players: #6 seed Alicia Molik will face Francesca Schiavone in a replay of a Hopman Cup match won by Molik; we'll also be treated to a contest between #7 seed Patty Schnyder and Karolina Sprem.
#8 seed Ai Sugiyama will also have her problems, since she opens against Tatiana Golovin, and Golovin looked better at Gold Coast than did Sugiyama.
Other noteworthy matches feature Nathalie Dechy against Lisa Raymond in a contest of players without big power; Samantha Stosur's big serve against Jelena Kostanic's touch; Eleni Daniilidou facing Conchita Martinez in a contest of slowcourt-loving one-handers who slumped badly last year; and Jelena Jankovic against Elena Likhovtseva in a contest which could have Top 25 implications if Jankovic is over her sickness.
In one sense, this week hardly matters: The rankings after Sydney will be used to seed only the Pan Pacific and Pattaya, which are weak enough that the outcomes won't matter much. But there are some interesting implications, related mostly to the fact that last year's champion Justine Henin-Hardenne and finalist Amelie Mauresmo aren't playing (Mauresmo has another minor injury, though she doubtless wants to play Melbourne). Mauresmo's absence means that Lindsay Davenport is sure to stay #1 -- but Mauresmo leads Anastasia Myskina by only 534 points, and has 226 to defend. If Myskina can win Sydney -- and this seems like a good surface for her, apart from the fact that Davenport has been hobbling -- she will likely move up to #2 in the world, with chances for #1 at Melbourne.
#6 Elena Dementieva is less than 100 points behind #4 Maria Sharapova. If she can win, she will certainly hit #4; a final would probably do it.
For the moment, Justine Henin-Hardenne should stay #8. That will last only one more week.
Vera Zvonareva needs to pick up only 60 points to pass Jennifer Capriati and reach the Top 10, but she has a huge "tail" of points in her eighteenth and higher tournaments; she will need at least a semifinal to do it.
Several other players have significant amounts to defend. Canberra champion Paola Suarez isn't playing, and will almost certainly lose several ranking spots; she might even fall out of the Top 20 if everything goes wrong -- though the player she beat in the final, Silvia Farina Elia, obviously also will have points come off, which helps Suarez's situation a bit, as does the fact that Francesca Schiavone has 130 points to defend. Hobart champion Amy Frazier will also lose some ground, though she'll probably stay Top 30, but the player she beat in that final, Shinobu Asagoe, will probably lose the career high she just gained. Asagoe also won the Hobart doubles, and isn't playing this week, though she built a bit of a cushion for those points at Auckland. We might well see Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs swap the #3 doubles ranking, since they won Sydney last year, and Stubbs is playing Sydney while Black is sitting out the Hobart doubles to concentrate on singles qualifying!
There are only a few which are really key for rankings reasons, most of them at Sydney. We'd mention the Davenport/Dementieva semifinal, which will determine whether Dementieva makes #4; the Zvonareva/Molik quarterfinal, which would likely put Zvonareva in the Top Ten if she wins (though the odds of her beating Myskina seem remote), and the final, which if won by Myskina would make her #2.
There are, however, quite a few players with question marks hanging over them; we can hope this week will answer those questions. Perhaps the biggest question of all occures at the very top of the rankings, with Davenport. She pulled out of Hopman Cup, and there was talk that she might miss the entire Rebound Ace season. Has she recovered? She'll be fairly well tested in her opening match, when she faces either her friend Lisa Raymond or Nathalie Dechy.
Conchita Martinez and Eleni Daniilidou are both in poor form, and Martinez skipped the entire indoor season. They face each other in the first round to see which is more messed up.
Ai Sugiyama hasn't looked very good lately, either. Tatiana Golovin is a tough test.
Jelena Jankovic made big strides in the second half of last year, but she still has trouble against top players. She will have to tackle first Elena Likhovtseva, then Alicia Molik. And to think she could have signed up for a nice easy Tier V....
Just how badly is Nadia Petrova hurting? She gets to open against a qualifier, but then she has to take on Daniela Hantuchova.
Away from Sydney, the big question appears to be Anna Smashnova's mental state. She won't face much opposition in the early stages, but her semifinal against Meghann Shaughnessy could be revealing.
Handicapping the Australian Open is very tricky right now. It is likely to become much easier over the next week.