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Women's Look Forward

Sorry, too late...

Gstaad: Three Events, No Waiting
With three tournaments this week, on two different surfaces, you'd think there would be a tournament where some seeds would hold.

It wasn't Gstaad. Only two of them made the quarterfinal. Gaston Gaudio made it through on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was joined by Nicolas Massu. The #7 seed edged Jan Hernych 7-5 2-6 6-4. That will put him up against Luis Horna, who beat Alessio di Mauro 6-3 6-4.

But the only seed left in the top half, #3 Radek Stepanek, is out. Qualifier Frantisek Cermak eliminated him 6-7 6-4 6-4. And one of the top unseeded guys, Feliciano Lopez, played a good first set but then went tamely; Potito Starace took him out 7-6 6-0.

The final match was an even bigger surprise. Stanislas Wawrinka, a fast-rising Swiss player, posted his second straight win over a higher-ranked clay expert; he beat talented Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 3-6 6-4 7-6 -- saving three match points along the way.

Cermak's singles success may not be matched in doubles; he and Leos Friedl, the #2 seeds, had their match suspended, meaning that he faces a very long day Friday. #1 seeds Martin Damm and Radek Stepanek did advance, but #3 Suk and Vizner had to retire when Vizner suffered a rib problem.

Bastad: That's More Like It
The real world finally landed at Bastad on Thursday: All those Swedish clay-haters are out.

The last was #7 seed Robin Soderling, who has had better clay results here than at any other tournament, since he made the semifinal last year and even managed to win a match this year. One match. Oscar Hernandez took out the Swede 1-6 6-3 6-2, which will probably cost Soderling a few ranking spots.

But the match of recent Roland Garros winners will be coming off: #1 seed Rafael Nadal beat countryman Alberto Martin 6-2 6-4, meaning that he'll face Juan Carlos Ferrero next. Ferrero too beat a fellow Spaniard; the #5 seed topped Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3 6-4. That means we have four Spaniards in the quarterfinal: Nadal, #3 seed Tommy Robredo, and Ferrero in the top half, and Hernandez in the bottom, which has no seeds left.

The final quarterfinalist is Jiri Vanek, who edged qualifier Florent Serra 6-4 1-6 6-3.

The two doubles quarterfinals played both followed form: #1 Aspelin/Perry and #3 Acasuso/Prieto made the semifinal.

Newport: Less-Unhappy Ending
Newport follows a rather peculiar schedule: Get the first two rounds over in three days so they can spread out the quarterfinal over two days. But, in this case, it worked pretty well. Because it meant that Greg Rusedski didn't have to play on this day of all days. Instead, it was American Day: #2 seed Vincent Spadea, the top player left in the draw, survived high winds to take out qualifier Dusan Vemic 6-3 6-4, putting him up against #7 seed Paul Goldstein, who edged Alexander Waske 6-3 3-6 7-6.

The doubles cost us both Wimbledon champions. In one of the remaining first round matches, Stephen Huss and Chris Haggard, the #4 seeds, lost 3-6 7-6 6-3 to Spadea and Giovanni Lapentti (who obviously did get over his cramps). Spadea and Lapentti then made the semifinal by walkover. Huss's Wimbledon partner Wesley Moodie had at least made it to the quarterfinal, but he and Jeff Coetzee went out 7-6 6-3 to #3 seeds Bracciali and Vico. Also in the semifinal are #1 seeds Oliver and Parrott.

Men's Match of the Day

Gstaad - Second Round
Potito Starace def. Feliciano Lopez 7-6(8-6) 6-0

If you were watching the Tuesday newspapers, you may have seen a headline along the lines of "Diet sodas cause obesity."

Translated from newspaper-speak into actual science, that means "We here at the newspapers don't understand statistics." The study (assuming the results are reproduced) shows that diet soda and weight gain are linked -- but it is much more likely that the link is not that diet sodas cause obesity; rather, it's that overweight people tend to drink them -- and, since the diet sodas don't satisfy hunger in the long term, the diet drinkers end up eating just as much other food as if they'd skipped the sodas. Regular sodas do supply calories, so at least they reduce the desire for other food.

It's sort of that way with the statement "Spaniards are good on clay." Yes, most of them are good on clay -- but that's not because they have some genetic affinity for ground-up bricks. It's just that they have a lot of it, so the players who do well on clay tend to look good as juniors and get the most encouragement and experience.

But Feliciano Lopez shows that clay habituation is not universal. His weapons are mostly offensive, and he's had his best Slam success at Wimbledon. Indeed, that may have cost him this week; having lasted so long at Wimbledon, he had very little time to adapt to clay -- a surface where he's never done well. It was rather surprising even to see him playing this week, but he probably didn't want to cross the Atlantic yet, since next week is Davis Cup.

Potito Starace, on the other hand, likes clay just fine. And he needed a good result right about now; after having a solid second half last year (French Open third round as a qualifier; Gstaad semifinal as a qualifier), he hasn't been doing too well this year. This may help him get on track. Though, of course, he still has to make the semifinal to defend his points. But his draw is good for that purpose: He faces Razvan Sabau next.

Women's Look Forward: Fed Cup
The ITF calls it "Fed Cup." We might be tempted to call it "The quest for live bodies."

The problem is particularly severe for the United States team that is playing Russia in Moscow. On (indoor) clay, too, which was doubtless chosen just to drive the Americans crazy.

Oh, the initial American lineup wasn't a bad team at all: Both Wimbledon finalists (Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams). But with Serena Williams unavailable, the #3 singles player was Mashona Washington (who has been having a good couple of years on hardcourt and grass, but not on clay), and the fourth was Corina Morariu. Morariu is a fine doubles player -- the #3 American behind Lisa Raymond and Meghann Shaughnessy -- but there was nobody for her to play with except Davenport, and that meant that Davenport was supposed to play both singles and doubles. One week after a very long fortnight at Wimbledon, in which she got hurt. And then Davenport pulled out, to be replaced by Jill Craybas.

Craybas is supposed to play second singles. Which makes sense, on clay; she's a scrambler, whereas Washington likes faster surfaces. But still, it's a team with one Top 50 singles player (Venus is #8, Washington #52, Craybas #60) and only one significant doubles player. You have to wonder why they even chose Washington if they won't let her play second singles. Whatever the thinking, it places a big burden on Venus.

It might have been even bigger. The Russians had their own fragility problems, with Nadia Petrova and Svetalana Kuznetsova both begging off with injuries. Maria Sharapova was never a serious possibility (and clay isn't her surface anyway). That leaves Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina playing singles, with Dinara Safina and Vera Douchevina as backups, and the Russians don't really have a doubles team either, even though they can boast Elena Likhovtseva and Vera Zvonareva and Petrova. It's a team that isn't nearly as deep as it ought to be.

It is, frankly, a tie where the only guaranteed winner appear to be the trainers. Health might be the single most decisive factor.

France, on the other hand, is so confident that they decided to host Spain on hardcourt, which is hardly the favorite surface of any of their players. Not that the Spanish are any too happy with it.... But with the French team boasting a healthy Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce, plus Nathalie Dechy and Severine Beltrame (a last-minute replacement for Virginie Razzano, who has ankle problems), a sweep looks quite possible. Especially given that the Spanish team is, theoretically, headed by Nuria Llagostera Vives, who really hates hardcourts. (Note the absence of Conchita Martinez.) Their best player on the surface is probably Anabel Medina Garrigues; Arantxa Parra Santonja and Maria Sanchez Lorenzo round out the team.

Those two ties (United States vs. Russia and Spain versus France) are the semifinals. The rest are, under one or another fancy name, relegation.

Argentina and Belgium, which are playing on hardcourts in Belgium, are both missing their top players: Argentina lacks Paola Suarez (not officially their top player any more, at least in singles, but that's injury); Belgium lacks Justine Henin-Hardenne. It's hard to say which team suffers more. Belgium still has Kim Clijsters, and she's the best player in the tie and really ought to win both her singles matches. But Belgium's #2 is Els Callens, with the other spots going to Kirsten Flipkens and Evelyn Vanhyfte. Argentina answers with Gisela Dulko, who is a lot better than Callens these days, plus Mariana Diaz-Oliva (also probably better than Callens, though it depends on how fast the court is) and Vanina Garcia Sokol; they don't even list a fourth player. Argentina might well win the non-Clijsters singles, and that brings it down to the doubles. If we were Belgium, we'd probably have played on grass, to help Callens and hurt the Argentines. But maybe they chose the surface to try to get Henin-Hardenne on the team. On paper, Dulko is the strongest doubles player in the tie. In practice, Clijsters and Callens ought to be able to win it, if the singles doesn't wear them down too much.

Switzerland, which hosts Austria on outdoor clay, is without Patty Schnyder and Emmanuelle Gagliardi. They might have a chance even so. Timea Bacsinszky is a mildly promising youngster, and while Myriam Casanova has ceased to be a force in singles, she was still respectable in doubles before she got hurt. (The other two members of the team, Gaelle Widmer and Stefanie Vogele, are insignificant.) That wouldn't add up to much against a strong team -- but Austria's team is Yvonne Meusburger, Sandra and Daniela Klemenschits, and Wimbledon junior finalist Tamira Paszek. The Klemenschits sisters will presumably play doubles, with Meusburger and probably Paszek playing singles. Bacsinszky, on form, would win her match against the non-Meusburger; Meusburger would beat Switzerland's non-Bacsinszky. But if Bacsinszky can somehow beat Meusburger, it could come down to the doubles....

Had Croatia fielded its team of Karolina Sprem, Jelena Kostanic, Sanda Mamic, and Nina Ozegovic last year, they might have been in pretty good shape against a German team of Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Julia Schruff, Sandra Kloesel, and Angelique Kerber, especially as they are playing on clay (which Groenefeld likes, to be sure, but so do Sprem and Kostanic) in Croatia. As it is, Sprem and Kostanic are both slumping badly. Groenefeld is likely to win both her singles matches, and that leaves Germany needing only one more win. Though there really isn't much to the rest of the German team. Groenefeld and Schruff will be playing singles for Germany, against Sprem and Kostanic, with Kostanic and Mamic listed as facing Kerber and Kloesel in the doubles. Sprem leads off the tie against Schruff; it will be interesting to see how her nerves hold up.

The Czech team (Nicole Vaidisova, Klara Koukalova, Kveta Peschke, Iveta Benesova) clearly chose to play on carpet to drive their opponents crazy. Clay is probably the hosts' best surface (it was certainly Koukalova's until she won 's-Hertogenbosch), but opponent Italy is without Silvia Farina Elia, and their #2 and #3 players, Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, are definite clay-lovers. Based on recent results, the Italians might be better off playing Roberta Vinci in #2 singles; she's probably going to be in the doubles as well. Their fourth is Antonella Serra Zanetti, another slow-courter. Overall, the Italian team is a little stronger, but given the surface, it's going to be a very near thing.

In the World Group II playoffs, we have a Puerto Rican team headed by Kristina Brandi and Vilmarie Castellvi that faces an Indonesian team that still lacks Angelique Widjaja, and with Wynne Prakusya still trying to get back some sort of form; Puerto Rico has the clear advantage.

Japan is hosting Bulgaria on indoor hardcourt, but they don't have Ai Sugiyama or Shinobu Asagoe. Bulgaria has Sesil Karatancheva, promising young Tzvetana Pironkova, and playing captain Magdalena Maleeva. It must have been fascinating for the Japanese to pick a surface: Maleeva loves carpet, but Karatancheva is best on slow surfaces. The hosts probably chose to play indoors because their players like it best.

There is the footnote that Maleeva announced at Wimbledon that she won't be returning there. She hasn't (to our knowledge) stated just when she will retire -- but it will be interesting to see what her motivation is like. "Playing Captain" is certainly a nice way to ease out of the sport.

Thailand hosts the Slovaks on outdoor hardcourt; the Thai team, of course, is Tamarine Tanasugarn and not much else. The Slovaks, though, are again without Daniela Hantuchova or Janette Husarova, leaving them with Henrieta Nagyova and Lubomira Kurhajcova as their top two. Pretty good odds that that one will come down to the doubles. The Thais should have picked something faster than hardcourt, though, to help Tanasugarn.

China looks ready to roll over Slovenia; China, which hosts the tie on hardcourt (it says indoor hardcourt), is lacking Peng Shuai, but Li Na is back, and Zheng Jie will play second singles, with Li Ting and Sun Tiantian for doubles. (Or so we would guess). The Slovene team of Katarina Srebotnik, Tina Krizan, and Andreja Klepac, and Sandra Volk (replacing Tina Pisnik, who finally had started winning matches again, at least at the Challenger level) might have a chance on clay. Odds don't look good on anything faster than that.



Thank you for all these moments over the last years! Supported you until your final point!
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