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Small crowds not a worry
By Ramona Shelburne
L.A. Daily News
Much has been made of the disappointing crowds the first few sessions of the WTA Championships at Staples Center. But considering the blase reputation of Los Angeles fans, is it really a surprise they haven't been packing them in the first few days of the tournament?
"That's just what people in L.A. are like," said Mona Scott of Los Angeles, at Staples to watch the day-session matches, Magdalena Maleeva vs. Daniela Hantuchova and Jelena Dokic vs. Anastasia Myskina. "They don't come out to see the 'underseeds' play. They're so laid-back and have so much else going on.
"I think people will just wait to see the bigger players. I think it'll be better tonight when Serena plays and later in the week when it gets closer to the finals."
The only hole in that argument is that the crowds have been small no matter who is playing. An estimated 3,200 people turned out Wednesday night to watch a first-round match between Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport, two of the most popular players in women's tennis. Some of those fans even left before the late match pitting Compton native Venus Williams against Patty Schnyder.
"Certainly our expectations were very realistic about day sessions," tournament director John Arrix said. "We've been doing this a long time and day sessions, time of year, for indoor events do not do well. You know you've got kids in school and our expectations were very realistic and accurate. Our expectations, going forward for the tournament is a typical tennis tournament pattern where each session will grow and hopefully have a good final with a solid crowd on hand.
"Tennis is unlike any other sport. It is a sport that you have to set your roots and you've got to establish credibility, and I think that next year, people will understand the validity of our advertising message that this is the top 16. You never, in a men's or women's game, get the caliber of a first-round match that you saw last night. That is a final at 95-98 percent of the tournaments on the tour."
The season-ending tournament was at Madison Square Garden in New York from 1977 to 2000. Last year it was moved to Munich, Germany, and attendance fell from 94,133 in 2000 to 36,500 in 2001.
Davenport, a Laguna Beach native, echoed Arrix's sentiments and pointed to the need for patience in building a fan base.
"It takes time for something to grow," Davenport said before the tournament. "I think that you need to keep it somewhere, I don't think we want to keep moving it around every year.
"I think they really don't have a full five-year plan on this tournament, they don't really know what's going to happen. I think we just need to figure it out as soon as possible and stick to that. And even if it doesn't go well for a year or two or whatever, you just gotta keep it going."
Just deal with it After 66 tournaments in a season that began Dec. 31, 2001, just about every player at the WTA Championships has complained of fatigue. After her first-round defeat to unseeded Magdalena Maleeva (6-2, 7-5), No. 7 seed Daniela Hantuchova said she had "nothing left." She competed in the Federation Cup for Slovakia last week in Spain.
"Maybe she shouldn't play every week before Spain," Maleeva said. "I looked at her schedule already before Spain and I was wondering why she has to play every week. Everybody is tired. I'm dead. You just deal with it."
Hantuchova has a good reason for pushing her self so hard. Since starting the year at No. 38 in the world, she played in 25 tournaments and has won more than $1,187,000 (fourth-highest on the WTA Tour) and upped her ranking to No. 8.
Today's Matchups What: Home Depot WTA Championships presented by Porsche Where: Staples Center 12:30 p.m. Quarterfinal 1: No. 4 Justine Henin (Belgium) vs. No. 5 Kim Clijsters (Belgium)
Janet Lee (USA)/Wynne Prakusya (Indonesia) vs. Lisa Raymond (USA)/Rennae Stubbs (Australia)
Quarterfinal 2: No. 6 Monica Seles vs. No. 2 Venus Williams
Nicole Arendt (USA)/Liezel Huber (South Africa) vs. Cara Black (Zimbabwe)/Elena Likhovtseva (Russia).