Women's Look Forward: Berlin, Warsaw
NOTE: This preview was written before Martina Hingis withdrew from Berlin. We have revised as best we could, but we may have failed to notice some changes.
This is your final warning.
Amelie Mauresmo, snap out of it or snap out of the Top Ten. Mauresmo is the defending champion at Berlin, and she's barely clinging to the #10 spot. She has only one title this year; last year, she already had three titles excluding Berlin. If she wants to hold that Top Ten ranking, she needs to at least reach the final, and probably win.
The good news is, she's in the soft half of the Berlin draw.
We continue to think the WTA's draw software needs a good kick in the source code. But it doesn't matter to Mauresmo. What matters to her is the players on her side. The top seed is #2 Kim Clijsters, who is making great strides on clay this year but who still looks like a hardcourt player -- and who is physically fragile right now. Also in the bottom half are #4 Serena Williams, who has never made a clay final and has only one semifinal; #6 Jelena Dokic, who loves clay but who had to pull out of Hamburg with an injury; #10 Silvia Farina Elia, whose steadiness is close to legendary but who rarely threatens top players; #11 Daniela Hantuchova, whose game is built around faster surfaces; #15 Amanda Coetzer, who is no longer in the Top Twenty, and #16 Tamarine Tanasugarn, who last won a clay match at Roland Garros 2000 (and that against a wildcard; last year, Tanasugarn's three clay losses on 2001 were to players ranked #177, #373, and #165, and this year, she's already lost to #65). In the entire bottom half, Mauresmo is the only player to have won Berlin.
The top half -- well, until Hingis withdrew, that could almost have been the bottom half at Roland Garros. Now, it's a bit more open, but it's still quite tough. It's headed by Roland Garros champion and #1 seed Jennifer Capriati. Also in this half: #5 Justine Henin, promoted into Hingis's spot, whose best surface is probably clay; #8 Sandrine Testud; #9 Meghann Shaughnessy, #12 Elena Dementieva; #13 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, of the three Roland Garros titles and the 1995 Berlin title; and #14 Iroda Tulyaganova, who won two clay titles last year. Plus Conchita Martinez, the 1998 and 2000 winner here, is in the top half as a floater. Whoever reaches the final in that half is going to earn it.
Even within the halves, it's not a particularly balanced draw. The top clay floaters -- Anastasia Myskina, Conchita Martinez, Francesca Schiavone, Mary Pierce, Paola Suarez, Angeles Montolio, Gala Leon Garcia -- aren't very evenly spread out.
Let's look at the sixteen seeds and their paths to the quarterfinal. The top eight seeds, of course, have byes.
The top section is headed by #1 Jennifer Capriati and #14 Iroda Tulyaganova. Capriati looks like she should have a fairly easy path to the Round of Sixteen; she'll face either Meilen Tu or Adriana Serra Zanetti in the second round. Tu's best surface is hardcourts. Serra Zanetti is having a career year, but (despite being Italian) she too seems to prefer faster surfaces.
Tulyaganova doesn't have it nearly as easy; she'll start against Gala Leon Garcia. Leon Garcia isn't ranked all that high, but clay is her surface. Historically, it's also been Tulyaganova's -- but Tulyaganova has been in a bad slump lately. The good news: The winner of that match will face a qualifier before having to go against Capriati. Capriati probably won't feel too worried in the Round of Sixteen, either; Tulyaganova has been having a lot of trouble lately.
The next eighth is headed by #8 Sandrine Testud and #12 Elena Dementieva. Dementieva's chances improved dramatically when Barbara Rittner, her potential first round opponent, withdrew. Now she'll face Angelika Roesch, who isn't nearly the same threat, though she is German; her most noteworthy attribute is that she has 32 events -- and still has earned only 256.5 points. After that, Dementieva must contend with Marlene Weingartner or lucky loser Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian. Weingartner is as inconsistent as they come, but she likes clay a lot, and she's German. And Mikaelian is a solid prospect.
Testud faces complications of her own. She hasn't played red clay yet, and she'll be thrown straight into the fire in the second round, when she goes up against either Martina Sucha or Anastasia Myskina. Myskina has been threatening to break into the Top 25 for weeks, and hasn't quite managed it, but it seems nearly certain she'll get there eventually. And Sucha is having a career year. Testud's worst surface is probably clay. She'll need to be on her mettle from the start. Predicting who will come out of this eighth is almost impossible.
The second quarter was headed by #3 Martina Hingis, who has been replaced by #5 Justine Henin; the first seed she will face is #17 Tatiana Panova, promoted to replace #13 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (talk about a shaken-up section). Henin shouldn't have much trouble getting through; she will face a clay-lover in the second round, either Martina Muller or Rossana Neffa-de Los Rios, but she has more tools than either. Panova's case is more complicated, since she doesn't like clay all that much. But she'll open against slumping countrywoman Elena Likhovtseva, then a qualifier.
The next eighth has also been frantically shuffled, showing the strange effects of the current seeding system. Meghann Shaughnessy was in this eighth before and after, but as the #9 seed, she used to be the lower-ranked seed, but now gets promoted to the higher-ranked seed. The net effect of this is to give her a first-round bye but a nasty set of second round opponents. She'll face either Janette Husarova or Nathalie Dechy in the second round. Husarova is having her best year ever, and Dechy seems at last to be finding her form again. And Shaughnessy hasn't been playing well this year.
Sanchez-Vicario, the #13 seed, can't be thrilled with her draw, but she's surely happy to be away from Hingis. She'll start against Tina Pisnik (who is having her best year to date), then either Conchita Martinez or Eleni Daniilidou. Given Shaughnessy's problems, it looks like Sanchez-Vicario might have a shot at the quarterfinal.
Which brings us to the bottom half, and Mauresmo's eighth of the draw. The other seed is #10 Silvia Farina Elia. Mauresmo shouldn't have much trouble in the second round, where she faces either a qualifier or Lilia Osterloh. Farina Elia has it tougher; she'll start against Katarina Srebotnik. Still, Farina Elia is steady, and Srebotnik (though she clearly prefers clay) is anything but. The second round will pit Farina Elia against either wildcard Anca Barna or slumping Rita Grande. It seems likely that the two seeds will meet. That's a tough meeting to interpret. Both players like clay. Mauresmo has much bigger weapons, and is the better player overall. But she's inconsistent, and she's having a tough time lately. Don't count Farina Elia out.
#16 seed Tamarine Tanasugarn, on the other hand, has been saved by the bell. He odds still aren't good (see the list of her clay losses above) -- but her opening opponent, Iva Majoli, is out, meaning she'll start against a Lucky Loser. The winner of that will face either qualifier Marta Marrero or Magdalena Maleeva; given their clay records, the edge is probably to Marrero. In fact, Marrero suddenly looks like the favorite to reach the Round of Sixteen. If she does, she'll be up against #4 seed Serena Williams -- if Serena makes it that far. She'll face either Barbara Schett or Francesca Schiavone in the second round. It was Schett who beat Venus at Roland Garros last year, and Venus is clearly better on clay than Serena. And Schiavone, too, is a solid clay player. This section -- indeed, this whole quarter -- is wide open. It should be Mauresmo's to win -- but Mauresmo hasn't been herself lately.
The next section down is headed by #6 Jelena Dokic and #11 Daniela Hantuchova. Much depends on Dokic's health. She wound up withdrawing from Hamburg. If she can't play, or can't play at full strength, that opens a big opportunity for Mary Pierce or Lucky Loser Chanda Rubin, who will play for the right to play Dokic. It's also a big opportunity for Paula Suarez and Magui Serna. Suarez faces Hantuchova in the first round, and given their respective clay results, that just might be interesting. Ditto when upset artist Serna faces the winner. It's Dokic's section to win or lose if she can play. Can she?
At the very bottom, we have a section headed by #15 seed Amanda Coetzer and #2 Kim Clijsters. Clijsters is hot -- but she's also likely to be tired, and she'll open against a very solid clay player, either Angeles Montolio or Anna Smashnova. Coetzer has it even worse; she's no longer Top 20 (meaning that she's actually ranked below potential second opponent Anne Kremer), and she has a lot of talent coming her way -- first Daja Bedanova (though Bedanova has never done much on clay), then Kremer or clay expert Cristina Torrens Valero.
If the seeds hold, the quarterfinals would look like this:
1 Capriati vs. 8 Testud
5 Henin vs. 9 Shaughnessy
4 S. Williams vs. 7 Mauresmo
6 Dokic vs. 2 Clijsters
Of these, Serena and Testud don't like clay much. Dokic is hurt. Mauresmo and Shaughnessy are slumping. The others look all right in their sections. But it's the sort of tournament guaranteed to produce surprises.
Anna Kournikova's decision to play Warsaw is starting to look like a good move. The Russian is the #3 seed there. (Which tells you as much about how strong Berlin is as about how weak Warsaw is.) If Kournikova were playing her best, she would seem like a sure bet to win this thing. As it is -- well, somebody is going to be in for a pleasant surprise. It might even be Kournikova.
The only Top Fifty player in the draw is #1 seed Henrieta Nagyova, who finally won a match at Bol but who still looks to be in a deep slump. Still, she has an easy draw. The #2 is Tatiana Poutchek, and she'll have a tougher first round against Silvija Talaja. Kournikova, #3, starts against a qualifier, then the slumping Jana Nejedly or Seda Noorlander, who is two-handed on both sides and can be run out of a lot of points. The #4 seed is another Russian, Alina Jidkova, who has had just about the best year of any player here, but who also has a tough draw, going against Selima Sfar in the first round, then probably Tathiana Garbin in the second.
The #5 seed, who would face Nagyova in the semifinal, is Virginia Ruano Pascual, a top doubles player trying to rediscover her singles game. Kournikova would face #6 Samantha Reeves in the quarterfinal, assuming Reeves, whose best results have been on faster surfaces, can survive Jana Kandarr and the slumping Russian Elena Bovina. Jidkova's potential quarterfinal opponent is #7 Jelena Kostanic, who has been hot lately but who must go through a lot of clay experience in Emilie Loit, Vera Zvonareva, and Eva Bes. The #8 seed is Stephanie Foretz, who did so much damage at Charleston; she opens against the fascinated left-and-right-handed-forehand player Evgenia Koulikovskaya in a match we'd watch just to see Koulikovskaya try things you'd never let your kids do at home.
As for who's going to win this thing -- well, we aren't in the prediction business, but this time we'll make one: That the winner will be highly unpredictable. Nagyova has more titles than everyone else in this draw combined (our feeble memories show Talaja with two and Ruano Pascual with two, but that's about it for the others), but her form is just too bad right now.
The Rankings. The withdrawal of Hingis with a sprained ankle changed just about everything this week. She had a semifinalist points to defend, and so will be falling to #7 behind Serena Williams (who will almost certainly return to her career best ranking of #4), Monica Seles, and Lindsay Davenport; it will be Hingis's worst ranking since 1996. She might even fall behind Justine Henin if Henin somehow wins here, or Jelena Dokic if Dokic does well.
Serean's will probably be the week's most dramatic move, but we could also see action at the top. Venus Williams is currently #1, but because she failed to defend at Hamburg, her lead is relatively small. And Venus does have a few points to defend, though not many. #2 Jennifer Capriati has rather more -- but the tournament is worth more this year. If Capriati can reach the final, she might reclaim the top spot; if she wins, she's sure to be #1 again.
Defending champion Mauresmo comes in with 483 points to defend and only a 100 point lead over #11 Sandrine Testud. It looks almost certain that Testud will be heading back into the Top Ten.