Women's Look Forward: Los Angeles, Helsinki
Women's Look Forward: Los Angeles, Helsinki
Los Angeles has always been a city ahead of its time.
It's only been two years since the WTA announced its new tiers-within-tiers tournament system. Until then, there was a huge gap between the Tier I and Tier II prize money (about $600,000), and raising the prize money didn't earn you any more points and meant you had to pay more to the WTA.
Los Angeles tried for bigger prize money anyway, and discovered that it isn't prize money alone that pulls in players; San Diego still pulled in a stronger field. And so, when the WTA opened the doors to bigger prize money -- Los Angeles slid back. (Chances are the fact that the year-end championships also moved to Los Angeles played an additional role: Local advertisers would want to put some of their cash toward the Championships, which gets more publicity anyway.)
But Los Angeles did retain one of the features of its attempt at "super-sizing": It still has a 48-draw field (even though this has historically forced them to start action on Sunday rather than Monday; the new venue in Carson has happily cured that). Sadly, the field has suffered this year; with the Williams Sisters both injured, and Jennifer Capriati, and Justine Henin-Hardenne not all that interested in hardcourts, the field has only three Top Ten players: #1 seed Kim Clijsters, #2 Lindsay Davenport, and #3 Chanda Rubin, the defending champion. Ai Sugiyama is the #4 seed, Jelena Dokic #5, Magdalena Maleeva #6, Conchita Martinez #7, Amanda Coetzer #8, Elena Dementieva #9, Meghann Shaughnessy #10, Silvia Farina #11 (meaning that the tournament at least has 11 of the top 20). Eleni Daniilidou #12, Elena Bovina #13, Nadia Petrova #14, Alexandra Stevenson #15, and Francesca Schiavone #16. If a seed pulls out, Svetlana Kuznetsova (who would have been seeded had this week's rankings been used) will take her place.
Even though the seeds include almost every Top 30 player in the field, there are some intriguing unseeded players as well. Maria Sharapova, who in the past hasn't done much on hardcourts, will be putting in her first hardcourt appearance since her big grass season. We mentioned Kuznetsova. Magui Serna, ever upset-minded, is lined up to face Kuznetsova in the first round. Mary Pierce is here. Elena Likhovtseva just beat Magdalena Maleeva at San Diego, is likely to face her again in the second round. Angela Haynes, the latest player out of Compton, California, will be playing her third straight California event. Lina Krasnoroutskaya is yet another Russian with chances for a U. S. Open seed. Alicia Molik has had a fine year when she's healthy. And Amy Frazier is always a threat on hardcourts. That gives us a number of good first round matches: Yoon Jeong Cho, a solid hardcourt player, will face hard-working Emilie Loit. Sharapova opens against Katarina Srebotnik, who has been improving her hardcourt game. Serna vs. Kuznetsova, if Serna has one of her good days, could be excellent. Mary Pierce has been doing well lately, and she plays solid Tamarine Tanasugarn. We'll also see Molik face steady clay-courter Paola Suarez and Frazier take on former top ten player Barbara Schett.
Several seeds could be threatened in their early matches. It's hard to imagine Cho or Loit threatening Clijsters unless Clijsters is out of gas after three straight events, but how will Petrova deal with her young countrywoman Sharapova? Silvia Farina Elia is still recovering from surgery, and she'll face Shinobu Asagoe, who beat Daniela Hantuchova at Wimbledon. Jelena Dokic has been playing a bet better lately, but we'd still give Kuznetsova the edge in their match. Mary Pierce, if she's on, can blow Francesca Schiavone off the court. We mentioned Maleeva/Likhovtseva. Alexandra Stevenson will probably face Krasnoroutskaya, and given their respective hardcourt games and Stevenson's current slump, that has strong upset possibilities. Bovina has been struggling, too, meaning that Molik might has a shot at her. And while Lindsay Davenport is better on any surface than Amy Frazier, Frazier is more likely to pressure her here than anywhere else.
Still, you get the feeling that this tournament resolves around three questions: Can Kim Clijsters keep it up? Can Lindsay Davenport raise her game? And, if the answer to both questions is "No," can anyone other than Chanda Rubin take advantage?
The week's other event is Helsinki, which has exactly the sort of field you would expect of a Tier IV at the very end of the clay season, a week after Sopot: It's Sopot redux with a lot of the good parts left out. Anastasia Myskina isn't here, so Patty Schnyder gets the #1 seed, Anna Pistolesi is #2, and Denisa Chladkova #3. Petra Mandula is the #4 seed (she was #8 at Sopot, but neither Iroda Tulyaganova nor Maja Matevzic nor Dinara Safina are here); the top four are the only Top 50 players in the field. Rounding out the seeds are #5 Flavia Pennetta, #6 Anca Barna, #7 Clarisa Fernandez, and #8 Karolina Sprem; the rest of the field consists of players ranked roughly between #65 and #100. Which is not to say they're all bad (though some of them are pretty weak). Silvia Talaja, who opens against Schnyder, used to be Top 30. Evgenia Koulikovskaya -- well, she isn't great, but she's the player with forehands on both sides; she's fun to watch, and she opens against a qualifier, so she might at least last until she faces Pennetta in the second round. Gala Leon Garcia, who opens against Chladkova, used to be a solid clay player though she's fallen on hard times. The match between Anabel Medina Garrigues and Patricia Wartusch features two clay experts competing for the right to face Fernandez. #8 seed Sprem, who has had two finals this year and seems to be turning into a real clay prospect, opens against Cristina Torrens Valero, who is in a horrid slump but who had a terrific summer clay season a couple of years ago; the winner of that is likely to face upset-minded Barbara Rittner. Klara Koukalova, who just made the Sopot final, will open against once-solid Henrieta Nagyova, with the winner to face Barna. And, at the bottom of the draw, promising Myriam Casanova will face Pistolesi if both can beat qualifiers. There are no world-shakers in this draw -- but almost everyone here loves clay; they should produce some very competitive matches.
The Rankings. It's been a pretty quiet few weeks since Wimbledon. (In fact, it's been a pretty quiet few weeks even including Wimbledon.) The only major change lately was that Lindsay Davenport passed Venus Williams to grab the #4 spot.
This week, everything gets wild and crazy again. Starting at the very top. Had Kim Clijsters won San Diego, that would have been it; she would have been #1 after Los Angeles. But Clijsters did not win San Diego; when the chips were down, she did a Jana Novotna. And because she has so many points in her seventeenth tournament, that means that she has to score big points at Los Angeles. A final may do it -- but its quite likely she'll have to win the whole thing.
Justine Henin-Hardenne remains set at #3 -- though she's now up to #2 in the WTA Race, and there is a real possibility that she'll move up to the rankigns #2 spot at the U. S. Open, given that Serena Williams is unable to play. But the #4 spot is very much up for grabs; Lindsay Davenport just barely leads Venus Williams, and Davenport has finalist points to defend and Venus has nothing. Davenport will have to reach the final, and earn decent quality points, to stay #4.
And then there is Chanda Rubin, the defending champion. She has enough points to defend that Daniela Hantuchova can take the #1 spot if Rubin loses her opener. Though Rubin needs only one win to clinch the #8 spot.
The players from #11 Maleeva to #15 Dokic are separated by a total gap of only about 150 points, and none of them except Ai Sugiyama has much to defend (Sugiyama earned 214 points here last year). We might see Sugiyama fall out of the Top 15. The rest could end up in any order, though Dokic is likely to end near the bottom also, since she's second in points to defend (118).
Good Luck: RENA, MATTEK, HAYNES, GULLICKSON, HARKLEROAD, RUBIN, GRANVILLE, LEE-WATERS, SCHNYDER, JACKSON, PERRY, KING, SUGIYAMA, PIERCE, TULYAGANOVA, IVANOVIC, KUZNETSOVA, MOLIK, DANIILIDOU, MEDINA GARRIGUES, PETROVA, PENNETTA, GOLOVIN, PEER, LI, SCHIAVONE, RAZZANO, ZVONAREVA, SPREM, SREBOTNIK, VINCI, & SAFINA