Women's Look Forward: Luxembourg, Guangzhou, Seoul
Women's Look Forward: Luxembourg, Guangzhou, Seoul
We tend to think of the year as having four seasons, but this isn't set in stone. In ancient Egypt, they had three seasons (to oversimplify to the point of falsehood, Flood, After the Flood, and Before the Next Flood). And women's tennis has seven seasons: Rebound Ace, Spring Indoors, Spring Hardcourts, Clay, Grass, Summer Hardcourts, and Autumn Indoors.
Which means we've finally come to the last season of the year. The leaves change and fall away (or bud forth, south of the equator), the wind grows cold, the courts get covered. Luxembourg is the beginning of the end.
It's a nice way to end, really. Until this year, this was a Tier III event, but it has been unusually strong for a Tier III. And, being right next door to Belgium, it had reason to hope for a strong field this year even though it's the first event of the season and those tend to be pretty weak.
Unfortunately for the organizers, Justine Henin-Hardenne is nursing her various wounds. And, of course, the players who were at Beijing generally don't want to fly halfway around the world to get here -- even if you ignore the fact that all the top players there ended up hurt. So this should-be-strong event ends up with only three Top Ten players: #1 seed Kim Clijsters, #2 Nadia Petrova, and #3 Patty Schnyder. #4 seed Nathalie Dechy is only barely Top 15.
It gets a lot better below that; we do have most of the players from #20 to #30. Daniela Hantuchova is #5, Francesca Schiavone #6, Dinara Safina #7, and Silvia Farina #8. The unseeded cast includes Lisa Raymond (who was give a wildcard -- interesting that it didn't go to Claudine Schaul), Magdalena Maleeva (also a wildcard and, as we expected, taking the chance to play a few more indoor events before she retires so she can go out on a high note), Anna Chakvetadze (who will be trying to get back into the Top 30), Anne Kremer (who of course needed the third wildcard), Anna Smashnova, Eleni Daniilidou, Anna-Lena Groenefeld (we'll see if she makes it in from Beijing), and Samantha Stosur, playing her first event since winning the U. S. Open doubles with Raymond.
The tournament at GuangZhou is a Tier III, which means that it ought to be the second-strongest event of the week. It doesn't look as if that will quite work out -- though watch out for this event in a few years, if the Chinese keep things up as they are going. For the moment, the big news is the return to action of Vera Zvonareva after missing every event since San Diego. Below that, it's a very Chinese event. Peng Shuai takes the #2 seed. Li Na is #3, though her ranking has been falling (and is likely to fall more), and she gave an interview last week in which she sounded rather lost and confused. Maria Kirilenko is the #4 seed, though she'd be #2 based on this week's rankings. The third Chinese player to be seeded is #5 Zheng Jie, who also happens to be the last Top 50 player in the field. Nuria Llagostera Vives is #6, Marta Domachowska #7, and Martina Sucha #8. Fully 13 of the 26 players with direct entry are ranked below #100 -- though some of them, notably Victoriya Kutuzova, are quite promising, and Ashley Harkleroad has been rising steadily in Challengers and will probably be back in the Top 100 once she's played a full schedule with an appropriate mix of slow surfaces. Jamea Jackson, who didn't miss seeding by much, is also fairly promising.
Seoul is only a Tier IV, theoretically supposed to be weaker than GuangZhou, but in practice it's the stronger tournament by a significant margin. The top seed belongs to Jelena Jankovic, the only Top 20 player to appear in the Far East this week. Nicole Vaidisova, who is still limited by age restrictions, is here as the #2 seed. Tatiana Golovin gives us three seeds who are under 21 years old. Relative veteran Gisela Dulko is #4. Ai Sugiyama, who is a veteran however you reckon the term, is #5 -- but then we have another youngster in #6 Vera Douchevina. Shinobu Asagoe is #7, and Marion Bartoli #8, meaning that all seeds here are Top 50. (In this draw, only five players below #100 earned direct entry). That leaves room for some fairly noteworthy unseeded players: Meghann Shaughnessy, who is trying to snap her long losing streak. Tatiana Panova, who also has been struggling. Yoon Jeong Cho, Korea's best hope, who has slowly been rebuilding her ranking. (Korea's sort-of-#2 player, Mi-Ra Jeon, is not here -- not even in qualifying.) Mashona Washington's ranking is slipping, but she did quite well at events like this last year. Tamarine Tanasugarn will be trying to stay on the right side of #100. Laura Granville will be seeking to take her solid indoor Challenger results to outdoor WTA hardcourts. Akiko Morigami had a great summer before hurting herself; Shahar Peer had a great summer, period. It's a draw with a lot of potential for surprises.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
The fact that Luxembourg is deep without being particularly strong gives us a lot of really interesting matches. Lisa Raymond, whose ranking is in the tank but who likes fast courts, will take on #6 seed Francesca Schiavone, who prefers her courts slower. Indoor-loving Magdaleena Maleeva will take on higher-ranked but much less experienced Anna Chakvetadze. #7 seed Safina will take on Luxembourg's main hope Anne Kremer. #8 seed Silvia Farina Elia is in a slump, but she's had better indoor results (including a final here seven years ago) than slowcourt-loving opponent Anna Smashnova. And Eleni Daniilidou will take on jet-lagged Anna-Lena Groenefeld.
We have to note a minor inconsistency at Seoul: Severine Bremond is back to being "Beltrame," at least in the initial draw. We'll see if that lasts. Doesn't seem like a good omen for her match against Jankovic. The contest between slumping Meghann Shaughnessy and slumping Tatiana Panova is more intriguing, since one of them has to win; which one may depend on how fast the court is. #3 seed Golovin, who has never been right since hurting her ankle, will have to face Cho. #5 seed Sugiyama faces Jill Craybas, who is sort of a lesser version of herself. #7 Asagoe has started to get her form back recently, but she goes against the much more powerful Granville. And #8 seed Bartoli, who has been slumping, takes on Tanasugarn, who has been slumping even more. #2 seed Vaidisova also has her hands full as she takes on speedy Shahar Peer.
GuangZhou, given the weakness of the field, doesn't offer much -- though it will be interesting to see how Zvonareva comes back; she's fortunate enough to face Li Ting in her first match. The other match worthy of attention is surely Kutuzova versus Jackson: Jackson is ranked higher, but Kutuzova has shown a slightly better ability to produce the Really Big Win.
We have a bit of calendar shift on our hands here. Luxemburg used to be played a month later in the schedule (good news for defending champion Alicia Molik, who has a bit more time to recover before the points come off). What comes off this week is Hasselt, won by Elena Dementieva over Elena Bovina, plus Guangzhou (won by Li Na over Martina Sucha) and Seoul (won by Maria Sharapova over Marta Domachowska). Those were all small events; Dementieva has only 163 points to defend, Bovina 154, Sharapova 112; the player with the most on the line is in fact Li, with 165.25.
What that means is that we won't be seeing much movement at the top of the rankings. Sharapova is set at #1, though her margin over Lindsay Davenport will slip a little. And, with Kim Clijsters having 88 points to defend, there is no way she can pass Davenport -- yet. She's still in line for the year-end #1.
The next spot that's really in play is Dementieva's #8. #9 Nadia Petrova is over 300 points behind her, and Patty Schnyder a couple of dozen points behind that, but they're playing and Dementieva isn't. Given the paucity of quality points in this draw, and their seventeenth tournament scores, it's unlikely that either can pass Dementieva with a final, but if either can win the title, she should be #8. As between Petrova and Schnyder, they're close enough that whoever lasts longer will probably be ranked higher.
Bovina, who is still hurt and unable to play, will fall from #20 to probably a bit below #25. If Li struggles again and loses early, she could end up in the #55 range.
With Nadia Petrova and Patty Schnyder in the same half of the Luxembourg draw, their semifinal meeting will have the #9 ranking (and a chance for #8) on the line. We'd have to call that the week's biggest match. Of the two, Petrova appears to have the better chance of getting there; the players in her quarter are messed up or jet lagged or sick or indoor haters. Schnyder has the much tougher task, since she will likely face Dinara Safina in the quarterfinal.
We'd also keep our eyes on Anna Chakvetadze. She's in a position where she can step up -- or fade. She opens against Magdalena Maleeva, then takes on Daniela Hantuchova. They're both matches where she has a chance to be competitive -- or collapse.
We'd also be interested in how Li Na performs, given her comments last week. Her draw is fairly kind; the first seed she would face would be Marta Domachowska. The really interesting one would be the semifinal against Peng. Then there is Maria Kirilenko. How will she perform after her so-improbable title at Beijing? Her first two rounds are easy, but then comes Zheng Jie (or the Kutuzova/Jackson winner). A significant challenge for a player who isn't used to playing so many matches in a row.