Addition by subtraction?
Addition by subtraction?
Dave Solomon 08/17/2003
NEW HAVEN — The absolute domination of Venus Williams is one thing that will not be missed at the 2003 Pilot Pen Tennis tournament.
It may be indelicate to say that event is better off without its four-time defending champion, who from 1999 to 2002 won 15 of 16 matches in straight sets. But whatever is lost this year in Williams’ considerable star power is gained in a competitive free-for-all between Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and a second tier of favorites that could very possibly capture the 2003 championship next Saturday.
Watching Venus Williams grow into an all-time great during the course of the last four years hasn’t necessarily translated into competitive semifinal or final matches. Once the novelty wore off and the Pilot Pen became Williams’ tournament to lose from the moment she committed, the tangible elements of surprise and suspense were removed from the draw.
They discovered as much at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Fla., in April, a 56-draw Tier II tournament that did not include either Serena or Venus Williams — but did include a surprise winner. Tenth-seeded Elena Dementieva (who is the No. 9 seed at this week’s tournament) upset Davenport for that championship.
After an obligatory preface from Bausch & Lomb Tournament Director John Arrix that he wished the Williams sisters were at his tournament, he explained that the dynamics of the 2003 Bausch & Lomb were changed — and not negatively so — by the absence of Venus and Serena Williams.
"In the short term, there’s not such a dependency or focus on one player in the draw," said Arrix, a Wilton resident, whose father founded the tournament in 1980. "In the long term, it also allows tennis fans to identify with other players on the tour. Yes, Venus and Serena are key assets, but there are a lot of other very talented, attractive upcoming players.
"We had a very similar draw to the one New Haven has this year. And I’m a big believer that it’s great to have different winners because you’re not dependent on any one player."
With Serena definitely out of the U.S. Open and Venus questionable with an abdominal strain, the importance of the Pilot Pen seems to intensify for someone like Capriati, who hasn’t won a tournament since the 2002 Australian Open, more than 18 months ago. Davenport, who lost three Pilot Pen finals to Venus Williams in the last four years, could also use this week as a confidence springboard heading into New York.
Unlike the previous four years, players as far down the seedings as Dementieva, Jelena Dokic (11th), Vera Zvonareva (10th), Nadia Petrova (13th) and Anna (Smashnova) Pistolesi (15th) cannot be dismissed as contenders. I’d include No. 4 Daniela Hantuchova if she promised to nourish herself at the food court twice a day.
"The one thing about (not having Williams in the field) is that it does open up for new possibilities after Venus won the last four times," Pilot Pen Tennis CEO Mike Davies said. "It’s a great chance for a Capriati or a Davenport to win an event going into the U.S. Open … and going into an Open with Serena out, and not knowing whether Venus is going to be able to play or not. So that’s going to be very interesting to watch.
"That’s not to say that people wouldn’t want to see Venus here. She’s a big name … a big star and we’ve been damn lucky to have Venus here four times in a row. I wonder how many tournaments outside the Grand Slams she’s played four years in a row? Very few. But if you’re an avid tennis fan who has been coming to the Pilot Pen and have seen (Venus) win four times, I’m sure you’d be very eager in seeing someone else win. Tennis fans in the area have had ample time to see Venus Williams play. So I think it could be good for the public."
There still have to be enough quality players and big names to keep fans interested, but with the late addition of the immensely popular Capriati and five of the top 10 women in the world overall (17 of the top 25), The Pen won’t be lacking for name recognition. From a fan’s perspective, and certainly the media’s, the element of uncertainty this year is a plus.
It’s not a statement about Williams, or her widespread popularity here. It’s a competition issue. It’s about the possibilities that exist for wacky, intense week of tennis with so many players having a realistic chance to win.
"Do I miss (Venus)? Of course," Tournament Director Anne Worcester said. "I would never spin this to say we don’t need Venus. But there is no foregone conclusion (who will win this year). And that’s probably very good."