Women's Look Forward: Amelia Island
Women's Look Forward: Amelia Island
And now for something completely different.
People complain about the transition from Roland Garros to Wimbledon, and having only two weeks to prepare for grass. But, in a way, you could argue that this week represents the toughest transition on the WTA Tour. The change from clay to grass is certainly difficult, but at least the week after Roland Garros features only Birmingham, a Tier III event. The top players all go off and practice on grass somewhere rather than playing.
But, for Americans in particular, the transition from hardcourt to clay is at least as bad as the transition from clay to grass (since the clay to grass transition is at least from a slow surface to a fast) -- and there is no quiet week this time: Amelia Island follows right after Miami, and it's on clay, and it's a Tier II, and it's a 56-draw event, even.
Historically, that combination of circumstances tended to leave Amelia Island one of the weaker Tier II events. Not last year, though, when it had Justine Henin-Hardenne (the event where she first suffered from her sickness), Amelie Mauresmo, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, and Ai Sugiyama -- seven of the top ten.
We knew that this year would have most of the Top 50 -- the cutoff for qualifying was Marta Domachowska, who is a bit above #70. But would the strength be at the top or in the midrange?
It turns out to be some of each. We have six Top Ten players: #1 seed Lindsay Davenport, #2 Serena Williams, #3 Anastasia Myskina, #4 Alicia Molik, #5 Venus Williams, and #6 Vera Zvonareva. (It's an interesting list of missing names: No Amelie Mauresmo, last year's finalist, meaning she won't get to #1 at this time; no Maria Sharapova, meaning that she won't either; and no Elena Dementieva, who won her first title here two years ago. It's also interesting to see both Williams Sisters at the same event, though it not a Slam or Miami or even a hardcourt event.)
That same proportion extends through the Top 25: We have 15 Top 25 players in the field, or 60%. Though, ironically, it seems to include most of the clay-haters -- Ai Sugiyama, Shinobu Asagoe, Amy Frazier. For that matter, Davenport herself, and Serena. Maybe they reason that green clay is better than red.
The other seeds with byes are #7 Nadia Petrova and #8 Patty Schnyder; seeded but still required to play first round matches are #9 Elena Likhovtseva, #10 Karolina Sprem, #11 Jelena Jankovic, #12 Silvia Farina Elia, #13 Sugiyama, #14 Mary Pierce, #15 Asagoe, and #16 Frazier.
The wildcards are a fascinating lot, because they didn't go to marginal American prospects; the organizers seemed to be doing their best to help out tennis as a whole. So one direct entry went to young Israeli Shahar Peer, who did so well at Miami and has a game that seems suited to clay. Daja Bedanova will get another chance to try to get her game in gear now that she's winning at least an occasional match again. Eleni Daniilidou will also get to try to rebuild after Miami destroyed her already-tattered ranking. The one very strange wildcard is Nicole Pratt -- a veteran looking to rebuild, yes, but on clay?
We also have several solid floaters: Conchita Martinez is a past champion here, and we also have Magdalena Maleeva and Anna Smashnova (the latter doubtless thrilled to be back on clay), as well as youngsters Evgenia Linetskaya and Vera Douchevina and Peng Shuai (though the latter in particular will probably have to adjust to playing on clay). It's a nicely balanced field.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
With eight first round byes, we naturally lose some potentially interesting contests. But there are still some pretty nice opening-round matches:
(10) Sprem vs. Ruano Pascual. This will be a good test of whether Sprem's current problems are personal or just the result of having to play on surfaces she hates.
Washington vs. (15) Asagoe. Who will be better at pretending this isn't clay?
(11) Jankovic vs. Douchevina. A young player versus a younger player. Jankovic perhaps likes clay better. Both are definitely on the rise.
Groenefeld vs. Maleeva. Until very recently, Groenefeld's only halfway-decent results were on clay. It's not exactly Maleeva's favorite surface -- but she has the big edge in experience.
Peng vs. Shaughnessy. No love for clay here, but a solid young player versus a slumping player who has been very good in the past.
Smashnova vs. (9) Likhovtseva. On this surface, this is far too close to call. Particularly since Smashnova would like to rebound and get back into the Top 30, and she likes clay a lot.
(13) Sugiyama vs. Sanchez Lorenzo. Sugiyama is slumping, and this is clay. There is a lot of upset potential here.
Linetskaya vs. Medina Garrigues. A very solid young player with limited clay experience against a clay veteran who isn't nearly as good overall.
(14) Pierce vs. Bedanova. Probably a blowout. And the injury potential is high. But it's hard not to wish Bedanova well after all she's been through.
Kostanic vs. Daniilidou. A good surface for both, assuming Daniilidou has any life left in her at all.
This is the week that the pressure lands squarely on Lindsay Davenport's back. Her #1 ranking has been threatened several times in the last few months, but mostly by Amelie Mauresmo, who of course could be counted upon to choke when playing for #1. But, this week, Davenport is defending her title from last year, meaning that she is the one who has to put up points to confirm her hold #1. And while she has won this event twice, it is the only Tier II-or-better she's ever won on clay. The numbers say her chances of defending aren't all that good.
Luckily for her, Maria Sharapova did not win Miami. Had the Russian done so, Davenport would have trailed the Russian in safe points. But with Mauresmo and Sharapova not playing, Davenport is safe; theonly question is how big her margin will be (the choices being "small" or "very small").
It appears that we'll have a new #2, though. Maria Sharapova didn't make it last week, but she will this. Amelie Mauresmo was last year's finalist, so Sharapova is guaranteed a career high without striking a ball.
Serena Williams has the chance to gain points, but she's more than 600 points behind Sharapova; she'll stay at #4.
Anastasia Myskina isn't defending anything, so she has a chance to pass #5 Elena Dementieva -- but she needs at least a final, and possible a title, to do it.
Venus Williams got the #8 ranking back from Alicia Molik last week, but with both of them in action, Molik has the chance to take it back. Molik has had decent clay results in her career (finals at Sarasota 2003, Budapest 2003, Vienna 2003) -- but it's amazing to note that Venus had better results on clay than any other surface last year.
Vera Zvonareva comes in at #10, with 87 points to defend; there doesn't appear to be any chance that she could move above that ranking. She could theoretically lose the #10 spot to Nadia Petrova or Patty Schnyder -- but not easily; Petrova has semifinalist points to defend, and Schnyder, while she isn't defending much, is very far back; either would need a title and very good quality points.
Two players with over 100 points on the line are not defending: Justine Henin-Hardenne and Paola Suarez. And neither has much cushion left. Suarez will probably drop out of the Top 25; Henin-Hardenne will lost the Top 35 spot she just regained.
We said that Davenport is secure at #1, and she is. But she isn't very secure. If she wants to hold off Sharapova in particular, she could certainly use some good points this week. Her draw won't make it easy, given that she would face Sprem or Venus in the quarterfinal, and semifinal opponent Anastasia Myskina is the Roland Garros champion, even if she seems to have forgotten the fact.
That semifinal is big for Myskina, too, since a win for her would put her back at #5 if she plays Davenport. If she plays someone else, it might not.
We'd also be watching Serena Williams -- especially her matches with Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinal and Alicia Molik in the semifinal. This clay season is her single best chance to improve her ranking -- but Schnyder's bloopy game is well-equipped to drive Serena crazy. And while Molik's is more like what Serena is used to, it's big for Molik, since a win might well put her back at #5.
Of interest for other reasons is the Round of Sixteen match between Karolina Sprem and Venus Williams as they meet on a very Sprem surface. There is a nice second round contest between Conchita Martinez and Jelena Jankovic. Both like clay. Jankovic is rising, and Martinez seems finally to be playing well again. It's a tricky test for both. The winner of that will play the winner of a second round match between Nadia Petrova and Magdalena Maleeva. Whoever comes out of that section of the draw will have earned her points!