Serena Williams a heavy favorite to win WTA Championship in L.A. sanex championships
Story and player capsules by Jerry Magee
UNION-TRIBUNE Staff writer
November 5, 2002
"Return of the Cat Woman." She's Serena Williams. She has several roles, a feline impersonation being just one of them. She acts. She studies art. She's irrepressible. And she is altering how some women dress for tennis.
No dainty frocks for Serena. Through her procession through this year's U.S. Open, the junior of the Williams sisters wore an outfit that she might have borrowed from somebody in the cast of "Cats," the musical.
Now the tension builds. How will Serena present herself when she competes in the $3 million WTA Championships, beginning tomorrow at the Staples Center in Los Angeles? No one can say. How she will play is more predictable. If anyone other than Serena goes away with the $750,000 first prize in these Home Depot Championships presented by Porsche, it will be an upset comparable to a cat becoming pals with a dog.
Meantime, cat suits are hot items. At the Puma outlet at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, a woman who answered the telephone yesterday said the store is sold out of the model Serena wore at Flushing Meadows.
Serena is dressed by Puma. In Carlsbad, there is a Puma store on Paseo Del Norte. No, said Marisa Ditimus, the store's assistant manager, the store does not have the cat suit in stock, but it carries Serena's line and it is going well.
"It's really flashy," said Ditimus, "lots of gold and white and orange." Yes, she said, women are coming in and asking for the cat suit.
For Serena, winning the final event of the WTA Tour's season would give her four straight major championships, she having swept the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, in each one defeating sister Venus in the final.
This time, Raquel Giscafre, a onetime tennis tourist who is an officer of Promotion Sports Inc., which presents the Acura Classic at La Costa, said she gives Venus a big chance.
"I wouldn't write her off," said Giscafre. "She is a very good player who has had plenty of rest."
Venus' recent appearances have been few. "Emotionally, losing to her sister had to be very tough for her," said Giscafre, who also fancies the chances at the Staples Center of Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.
"She has a good game for indoors," Giscafre said of Hantuchova. "She is very versatile; she can come in. She hits flat; she can really rush an opponent. I really love her game."
The Staples Center event is limited to the 16 women who scored best during the year in the Porsche Race to the Championships. Two of the qualifiers have had to be replaced – Martina Hingis, idled by a foot problem, and Amelie Mauresmo, who cited inflamed cartilage in her right knee in withdrawing.
Should there by any additional withdrawals, Alexandra Stevenson of San Diego, the No. 1 alternate, would join the field for an event in which first-round losers receive $45,000. Stevenson mounted a surge at the Generali Ladies Linz, an indoor competition in Austria. She had victories over Anastasia Myskina of Russia, Hantuchova and Jennifer Capriati before losing to Justine Henin of Belgium in the final.
1. Serena Williams
She is to women's tennis what Barry Bonds is to baseball, but Bonds doesn't have her advantages. You can't walk tennis players. For anyone other than Serena to capture this event would represent an upset of the most pronounced sort. The junior of the Williams sisters has run the table in the last three Grand Slam events – the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open – in each of those tournaments outplaying her sister in the final. In all, she has won seven championships. Entering the Staples Center event, she has to be considered among the finest women players ever. What athleticism! And she is only 21.
2. Venus Williams
Her height, her reach, her power and her strokes are still there. It's her enthusiasm for tennis that can be questioned. After the U.S. Open, she said she had wearied of the travel and the constant scrutiny that are part and parcel of participating on the women's tour. Losing to a younger sibling in three straight Grand Slam finals can be deflating. If her focus is there, Venus is a factor in this one. She has, after all, been a finalist 11 times in 2002, or more than anyone, with seven triumphs, including at La Costa. But since Flushing Meadows, she has been a no-show. Does she still want it? The question remains.
3. Jennifer Capriati
After outlasting Martina Hingis in an Australian Open final played in searing heat, Capriati had captured three of five Grand Slam events. She then was a semifinalist at Wimbledon, losing to Amelie Mauresmo. She fell to Mauresmo again in the U.S. Open after serving for the match in the second set. From there, her performances have fallen off. She comes into this event following an unrewarding indoor season. Nor has she ever done well in the WTA Champion-ships, never progressing past the quarterfinals. She must raise the recent level of her game to contend in Los Angeles.
4. Justine Henin
If Steffi Graf was Fraulein Forehand, Henin is Madame Backhand. She hits it with one hand, which few women do, and she hits it with great overspin and accuracy. Women's tennis has a first flight made up of the Williams sisters, Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and, when she is fit, Martina Hingis. Henin, soon to be a bride, is at the forefront of the second flight. She has not broken through in a major event, but a fast indoor surface should suit her. Her best results have been at Wimbledon.
5. Kim Clijsters
The sturdy 19-year-old from Belgium is a three-time winner this season and a three-time finalist. Hers has been an in-and-out year, but she would seem to be peaking. Indoors, she reached the semifinals at Leipzig, then defeated Davenport, Mauresmo and Daniela Hantuchova in consecutive three-setters to prevail at Filderstadt. In Luxembourg, she won again, surrendering only 14 games – the fewest of any tour champion in 2002. Should you be looking this week for the hot hand, here it is.
6. Monica Seles
Her story is the stuff of tragedy as it is played out in the theater – of a person striving with all her might to avert a denouement that has been preordained. Seles has been unable to lift her career to where it had been before her stabbing in Germany in April 1993, but she keeps trying. She can be a championship factor. She bested Hingis in this year's U.S. Open and scored two tournament triumphs – at Doha and Madrid. She won the WTA Championship in 2000.
7. Daniela Hantuchova
The willowly young woman from Slovakia comes to L.A. from the Canary Islands after joining Janette Husarova to capture the Fed Cup for her country. Hantuchova, 19, underscored her potential when she roundly outplayed Hingis in the final in winning at Indian Wells in March as a No. 18 seed . Hantuchova has failed to score a second time, but she has been a finalist three times.
8. Jelena Dokic
This has been Dokic's first full year in the top 10. Her ranking has been as high as No. 4. Through the season's last half, she was complaining of fatigue, but she kept showing up for the next tournament, and the next. At La Costa, she defeated both Capriati and Anna Kournikova before falling to Venus Williams in the final.
9. Anastasia Myskina
She is one of three players competing in the WTA Championships for the first time (Anna Smashnova and Hantuchova being the others). Myskina, from Moscow, is not a big hitter, but she knows how to win. Consider her performance at New Haven, where she upset both Henin and Hingis.
10. Lindsay Davenport
After not joining the tour until July while she convalesced following knee surgery, Davenport made it her quest to qualify for this event. And here she is. She had to default to Serena Williams in last year's final in Germany after injuring a knee in a semifinal escape against Clijsters. In 1999, Davenport won this event. A player with reach, a strong serve, excellent service returns and a sweetheart backhand, the Southern California woman will have many supporters at the Staples Center.
11. Silvia Farina Elia
As Mrs. Elia, she has performed more strongly than she did as Silvia Farina. The Italian woman (with residences in Milan and Rome) was married to Francesco Elia, her coach, in 1999. In October 2001, then 29, she gained her highest singles ranking, No. 14, an improvement from the No. 69 she had been the previous year.
12. Chanda Rubin
The WTA Tour's web site is conducting a poll: Name this tournament's darkhorse. Rubin is a candidate, a strong one. Like Davenport, she is coming off knee surgery, but she has not been slowed. She won on the grass at Eastbourne, becoming only the second unseeded player to score there in 27 years. On hardcourts, she got past Serena Williams at Manhattan Beach, then outplayed Davenport in the final. At the U.S. Open, she twice came within a point of serving for the match against Venus Williams.
13. Patty Schnyder
Little Orphan Annie with a tennis racket. Her crown of curls gives her a resemblance to the comic-strip character. Schnyder, from Switzerland, once had an association with a guru who plied her with vast amounts of orange juice. Having severed this relationship, Schnyder is in the process of returning her game to where it was in January 1999, when she held the No. 8 ranking.
14. Anna Smashnova
At 5-foot-2, the native of Minsk in Belarus who makes her home in Israel has to rely on her court coverage, which is exceptional. She might have improved more in 2002 than any other player. Smashnova, 26, began the year ranked No. 88, but proceeded to win titles in Auckland and Canberra before scoring her first top-10 victory in almost eight years in Miami over Henin, then ranked No. 7. In all, Smashnova has captured four tournaments this season, a total bettered by only the Williams sisters.
15. Magdalena Maleeva
All one has to know about the junior of the three tennis-playing Maleeva sisters is that she triumphed in Moscow, getting past Mauresmo, Venus Williams and Davenport. Her game must be sharp; she was a runner-up recently in Luxembourg to Clijsters.
16. Elena Dementieva
In on a pass – Mauresmo's withdrawal. This Russian woman, 21, demonstrated her mettle at Filderstadt, where she eliminated Hingis in what for Dementieva was her first top-10 victory in a year. She is a big (5-foot-11), athletic player whose crosscourt forehand is her most potent stroke
Wonder if I'll see the catsuit at my local club? I hope not, trust me, most of the women there could not pull it off!