Women's Look Forward: Week of January 27
Posted on 1/26/2003 at 4:36 PM
Women's Look Forward: The Pan Pacific
At the start of the 2002 Pan Pacific, the tournament boasted that the winner there had been the year-end #1 for five straight years .-- a feat matched by no other tournament.
Don't bet on it this year. The Pan Pacific is the pride of the Far East, the only Tier I event played in Asia. But that is both blessing and curse. It is scheduled for the week after the Australian Open. To an extent, that helps, because at least the women are in the right time zone to play it; the Pan Pacific has always been stronger than the Princess Cup, Japan's other big event (which finally gave up the unequal struggle to get players this year). But most of the women have been playing for three or even four weeks straight, and so want a week off. The net result is that the Pan Pacific competes with Moscow and Charleston for the dubious title of "weakest Tier I event."
Until last year, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport went far to remedy that deficiency. But last year, Davenport was out, and Hingis, Jelena Dokic, and Monica Seles were the only Top Ten players present. This year, it's Hingis who is out.
The field, in fact, tells us a lot about how tennis has changed in the last year. In 2002, Hingis was the top seed. And Anastasia Myskina had to play qualifying here -- and she lost.
At the rate things are going, Myskina could almost have been the top seed this year, had she chosen to return. Jennifer Capriati was supposed to be the #1 seed, but she pulled out to protect her eyes. Also withdrawing was Anna Kournikova, last year's semifinalist, citing a back problem. That's going to cost Kournikova; she'll lose 189 points and will probably fall below #50. (Maybe she and Martina Hingis, who will slip to about #31 and will fall off the doubles rankings because she'll have only two events left, can commiserate somewhere.) That leaves Jelena Dokic, Monica Seles, and Lindsay Davenport as the only Top Ten players in the field, and they're ranked #8, #9, #10, respectively (though Seles is the #1 seed, Dokic #2, and Davenport #3). The #4 seed is Chanda Rubin, Magdalena Maleeva is #5, Silvia Farina Elia #6, Anna Pistolesi #7, and Elena Dementieva #8.
Even so, it isn't too bad a field -- there are some very good players who had to play qualifying. The #1 qualifying seed, for instance, was Elena Likhovtseva, and Daja Bedanova #2, Laura Granville #3, and Rita Grande #4. Also in the qualifying draw was Lina Krasnoroutskaya. Not bad for a pre-tournament! What we have is a situation that seems to arise a lot lately: A tournament lacking the very top players, but with nearly everyone from #15 on down. Odds are pretty good that Seles or Davenport will win; the other contenders aren't in their league. But the winner will certainly have been made to work.
To demonstrate, let's march down through the seeds.
#1 seed Seles, like all Top Four seeds at 28-draw events, gets a first round bye. After that, though, she will face either a qualifier or Ai Sugiyama. Sugiyama has historically done well in her home country, though the Pan Pacific -- much the strongest Japanese event -- hasn't been her favorite. Still, Seles has hardly played this year, and injured her ankle at the Australian Open. It's not often that we would list Sugiyama as having a chance against Seles. But if it's going to happen, this is likely to be the place. Sugiyama likes to exploit others' weaknesses, and there may be more than usual available to exploit.
#7 seed Anna Pistolesi was born in the Soviet Union before moving to Israel. Given the number of Russians she'll be facing, she might feel like she's back home. Her first round will look like a mismatch. Literally. Pistolesi, the shortest player in the Top 20, will face Elena Bovina, who is tied with Lindsay Davenport as the tallest player on the WTA Tour. If it were a contest of raw power, Bovina would flatten Pistolesi. She may anyway, especially as Bovina is now ranked only one spot behind the Israeli. But Pistolesi makes her living frustrating players stronger than she is. The bad news is, she'll have to do it twice -- because after Bovina, she faces Nadia Petrova (or a qualifier). Petrova is still rediscovering her game after her long injury, but she has no shortage of weapons.
#4 Rubin, after her first round bye, will face either Amanda Coetzer or Katarina Srebotnik. That's a tough section to call; neither Coetzer nor Srebotnik likes indoors. And Rubin had a very tough time indoors last year. Still, Srebotnik probably likes indoors least, and Rubin most.
Last year, #8 seed Elena Dementieva was ambushed here by Anna Kournikova. She might be ambushed by another fast Russian, Tatiana Panova, in the second round. (Panova opens against a qualifier.) Dementieva has far more power than Panova, but Panova can cheat on Dementieva's forehand (which almost always goes crosscourt) and outlast her backhand, so we'd give Panova a shot. That's if Dementieva gets that far. That may not be a good bet, since she opens against Meghann Shaughnessy -- and Shaughnessy seems to have rediscovered her 2001 form this year.
#6 seed Silvia Farina Elia opens against a wildcard. Which would seem like good news, until you hear that the wildcard is Mary Pierce. Of course, Pierce is still having a lot of trouble with her health and fitness, and Farina Elia is very steady. That could be a great match -- or a terrible one. The winner faces either Clarisa Fernandez or Tamarine Tanasugarn. Tanasugarn avoids indoors, but it suits her game. It doesn't suit Fernandez's, but she's rising. All in all, an interesting section.
#3 Lindsay Davenport, after her bye, will face either Alexandra Stevenson or Iva Majoli. Majoli, early in her career, loved indoors -- but she hasn't done well on it lately, and she can't seem to finish matches either. Considering that Stevenson loves indoor surfaces, Stevenson seems the strong favorite in the first round. Strong enough to beat the several-times-champion? Now that's another matter.
#5 Magdalena Maleeva loves playing indoors; on this surface, she's probably the top threat to Davenport and Seles. And her draw is nice. She opens against a Japanese, but it's Soari Obata, who needed a wildcard to get in (even qualifying would have been tough for her). The second round is likely to pit Maleeva against Lisa Raymond (who opens against Paola Suarez). Raymond is a pretty tough customer indoors -- but so is Maleeva.
Of all the seeds, #2 Jelena Dokic clearly has the best draw: A bye, then a qualifier or wildcard Angelique Widjaja. If there is any problem, it's that she'll have to face Maleeva having played only one match this year, and that against much weaker opposition.
If form holds at all, our quarterfinalists would be
(1) Seles vs. Bovina or Petrova or (7) Pistolesi
(4) Rubin vs. Shaughnessy or (8) Dementieva or Panova
(6) Farina Elia or Pierce vs. Davenport
(5) Maleeva vs. Dokic.
By the looks of things, if Seles is healthy, she should be able to defend her finalist points. The bottom half -- who knows?
The Rankings. The turnover from last year to this at the Pan Pacific has been very high, and that is likely to hurt some people. Defending champion Hingis is out, and she'll end up around #30. Last year's finalist Seles is back, but she's down to #9 and leads Lindsay Davenport by only about 300 points. Seles still leads Davenport in safe points, but not by much; if Davenport wins, she will be #9 (or even #8, ahead of Dokic), dropping Seles to #10. And there are other combinations that could put Davenport ahead of Seles. That's likely to be it for moves in the Top Ten; Rubin has an outside shot, but she probably has to win the tournament, and even that won't be enough if Davenport does well.
Last year's semifinalists were Kournikova, probably bound out of the Top Fifty, and Farina Elia, who had one of her best-ever indoor results here last year. The Italian just made it up to #15 again. She'll probably lose that spot next week.
The other player we'd watch is Stevenson, currently #21. She's currently 33 points from the Top 20, and has nothing to defend. Given that Hingis will be falling out of the Top 20, Stevenson should make it. Even #19 should be easy enough; a first round win might do it; it depends on how #22 Dementieva performs. If both Stevenson and Dementieva do well, the other player to leave the Top 20 will be Nathalie Dechy.
Thanks Bob Larson!!