Women's Look Forward: Amelia Island, Budapest
Most tournaments claim some sort of unique distinction. But a lot of these "unique" attributes are actually rather commonplace. If Luxembourg is the only tournament in the nation of Luxembourg, well, Bogota is the only tournament in Columbia.
But Amelia Island was long unique in a unique way: It was the only Tier II event with a draw larger than 48. It was once a Tier I, and it had managed to maintain its 56-draw field through all the years since (well, it did fall back to a 48-draw one year, but it managed to get the 56-draw field back last year). Until now. This year, for whatever reason, it's gone back to the "large Tier II" standard of a 48-draw: Sixteen seeds, all of whom get first round byes.
Though it remains the only clay Tier II with larger than a 28-draw. And, curiously in such a large draw, it features only four qualifiers.
That uniqueness is fortunate, because it isn't exactly an all-star field this year. Defending champion Venus Williams -- who has been missing in action almost as much as Martina Hingis -- isn't coming back. Serena Williams of course played last week. Kim Clijsters is resting. That leaves Justine Henin-Hardenne, who should have won last year but collapsed in the final, as the top seed. #2 is Lindsay Davenport, who won her only clay Tier II title here six years ago. In a field rather like this one, in fact.
And many of the players who are here aren't in the best shape. Henin-Hardenne is surely tired after five matches at Charleston. Jennifer Capriati is the #3 seed, and she is just coming off strep throat; it's hard to imagine she's at her best. Monica Seles is in the draw (seeded an absurdly low #6; even based on her results in recent years, she should surely be top four), but she's just off a stress fracture and likely out of form; she's back amazingly quickly, as a matter of fact. #4 seed Daniela Hantuchova continues to look even more spindly than usual. #5 Jelena Dokic hasn't been playing all that well. #7 Patty Schnyder is posting dreadful losses. And we see players barely in the Top 30 seeded: Paola Suarez is #15 (and a threat here); Alexandra Stevenson is #16 (and probably not a threat). If there aren't a lot of stars, at least it's a very unpredictable event.
Let's go down the draw looking for interesting matches, round by round.
Panova vs. Krasnoroutskaya. Call this part of the draw "little Russia": Four straight Russians (Dementieva, Panova, Krasnoroutskaya, Zvonareva). This will be the first all-Russian contest, with the small but steady Panova (who, however, has had most of her success on faster surfaces) against the stronger, flashier, but more erratic Krasnoroutskaya. With the winner to face Dementieva.
Zvonareva vs. Granville. Two rising stars. One is Russian and likes clay, the other American but likes faster surfaces. The edge is probably with Zvonareva, because of the surface and because she's rising faster now, but it's not open-and-shut.
Bedanova vs. Mikaelian. Two talented young players, neither of whom has done much lately. They also met in the Sarasota first round, with Mikaelian winning in three sets.
Ruano Pascual vs. Pierce. They're ranked close together, and while Pierce has posted more big wins, Ruano Pascual can drive opponents crazy. Especially on clay. And Pierce is just the sort of player she likes to target.
Craybas (or a qualifier) vs. (14) C. Fernandez. Fernandez once again comes here with a chance to hit the Top 25 (though this time she has a lot of points to defend, so it won't be easy), and she likes clay a lot. But this is green clay, and that's Craybas's best surface. The American has done well at Charleston and Amelia Island for three years now. Fernandez will have to work for her first win.
Tulyaganova vs. (6) Seles. Tulyaganova at last seems to be recovering her form, and she likes clay. So does Seles, and it will be easier on her bad foot. But it's a tough first match for Seles after her injury.
Black or Callens vs. (16) Stevenson. They all prefer faster courts. Who will survive the clay?
(10) Dementieva vs. Panova or Krasnoroutskaya. An all-Russian contest, which often results in a rather lousy match. But they're all solid players, or should be. Panova is slumping, but Dementieva isn't in the best shape either, and Krasnoroutskaya fades in and out frequently. It's hard to predict.
Zvonareva (or Granville) vs. (8) Coetzer. Zvonareva has the bigger weapons; Coetzer is steadier, loves this surface, and has more experience. Both have been playing well. This could be a fine match.
Frazier (or a qualifier) vs. (12) Raymond. Most noteworthy for Frazier's return to the court; she hasn't played since the Australian Open. Neither player likes the surface much, but Raymond probably likes it less. Still, she has been playing....
(15) Suarez vs. Likhovtseva. The surface helps Suarez, but Likhovtseva just missed a seed and has had good results on green clay at times. And she's about due.
Bedanova or Mikaelian vs. (3) Capriati. Capriati looked lousy at the start of the year, then improved; how will her enforced rest have affected her? Given the quality of her opposition, she'll probably need to come out firing.
(7) Schnyder vs. Matevzic (or Tu). Suggestion to the networks: Forget your endless stream of Williams/Williams/Capriati matches. Show this. Two left-handed shotmakers, with Schnyder having the edge in power but not playing her best right now. It ought to be a lot of fun.
Ruano Pascual or Pierce vs. (9) Shaughnessy. Ruano Pascual and Pierce both like clay; Shaughnessy doesn't, really. This has genuine upset potential.
The round of sixteen, if the seeds hold, would feature Henin-Hardenne vs. Fernandez (a blowout if Henin-Hardenne has any energy left), Dechy vs. Seles (a real test for Seles if she isn't 100%), Hantuchova vs. Stevenson (nice draw for Hantuchova, who should get to the quarterfinal without facing a single clay player), Dementieva vs. Coetzer (interesting section, that, with Zvonareva and Krasnoroutskaya and Panova all in there), Dokic vs. Raymond (a good chance for Dokic to finally get her game in gear), Suarez vs. Capriati (an even better test for the American than her opening match), Schnyder vs Shaughnessy or Ruano Pascual or Pierce (another truly interesting contest), and Martinez vs. Davenport (a real change of pace for Davenport, who will have faced a fastcourter in her first match).
The draw for this week's other tournament, Budapest, was not available at press time; watch for a report in Tuesday's Daily Tennis.
The Rankings The biggest ranking news involves a player who isn't even here: Iva Majoli. Last year, Majoli won Charleston, and those points come off this week. And since she isn't playing, all her points from last year will come off. That's going to drop her to right around #50.
Patty Schnyder, last year's finalist, can't hope to defend all her points, either, even if she wins; she beat then-#1 Jennifer Capriati last year, as well as Serena Williams (who, however, was only #7 at the time). If she suffers another early loss, she will probably end up around #21.
There probably won't be that much activity in the Top Ten. Serena Williams will see her point total drop slightly, but not enough to threaten her #1 ranking. Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters didn't play at Charleston last year, so Clijsters will stay #2. Justine Henin-Hardenne also didn't play, so her total can only increase -- but not enough to threaten Venus. The first actual contest is for #5, with Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati contesting the ranking. But Davenport has almost a 200 point lead, and nothing to defend; Capriati has 151 points. It's theoretically possible for Capriati to get the #5 ranking back -- but only if she wins and Davenport loses very early. And it's not likely even in that case.
Neither Amelie Mauresmo nor Chanda Rubin is here, which gives Daniela Hantuchova a chance at both. She has a real shot at Rubin; they're only 16 points apart if we calculated correctly (though Hantuchova has seventeenth tournament points, so the gap is actually rather larger). Mauresmo is a tougher target, but it could happen.
Jelena Dokic lost first round at Charleston last year; that, combined with the points Anastasia Myskina will not be here to defend, means that she will probably get back into the Top Ten (though she's likely to give the ranking back to Myskina at Warsaw).
Last year's Charleston semifinalist Sandrine Testud obviously doesn't care much about her points coming off. But quarterfinalist Stephanie Foretz will get hit pretty hard. And Budapest winner Martina Muller, already down to #89, is likely to fall out of the Top 100. (It seems to be a lousy year to be named Martina, if you aren't Navratilova: Last year, there were three Martinas in the Top 100: Hingis, Muller, and Sucha, and all three won at least one title. Next week, none will be holding titles, and Hingis will probably be the only one left above #100, and she'll be falling out later this year.)