WTA finals sans the Williamses; Kim/Justine's last battle; Mauresmo/Myskina factors - TennisForum.com
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WTA finals sans the Williamses; Kim/Justine's last battle; Mauresmo/Myskina factors

WTA finals sans the Williamses
Henin-Hardenne's and Clijsters’ last battle; Mauresmo, Myskina will be factors;
Paris: Henman’s 'greatest achievement?'; Sizing up the Tennis Master Cup Houston
By Matthew Cronin

Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Who would have thought back at Wimbledon after Serena and Venus Williams stomach-churning final that neither of the sweet-swinging sisters would appear again on court in 2003?

Certainly not this reporter, who believed that, at least Venus would recover in time for the fall season and play the season-ending Bank of America WTA Championships. But alas, Venus’s abdominal tear (please don’t call it strain) is worse that she originally thought and even though it was conceivable that she could have played this week in LA, she’s either not willing to risk further injury that could impede her chances in Australia, or has lost a little interest in competing.

A combination of both theories is likely the most accurate call.

With that said, all the hard work that the ambitious tournament owners put into promoting the event could now go down the wash. Trying to sell baleful of tickets right after the disastrous Southern California fires would have been tough enough, but now promoters have no local woman they can call their own – not the Compton-born Williamses, nor Orange County’s injured Lindsay Davenport.
Who’s left to entice the hordes to put down their double latte’s and head downtown?

Jennifer Capriati is certainly popular, but outside of the mentally struggling Floridian – who hasn’t won a match since falling to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semis of the US Open – there’s no player who wets the appetite of the Santa Monica Boulevard opinion makers.

Not defending champ Kim Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo, Elena Dementieva, Anastasia Myskina, Ai Sugiyama or Chanda Rubin.

Henin-Hardenne's and Clijsters’ last battle
Yes, this could be a very difficult event for the Belgians, certainly with the way Mauresmo and Myskina have been playing. But, the fact of the matter is a Williams-less Staples Center is an eerie, vacuous place, a tournament where most nights it will seem like one is watching the Olympic trials, but when the torch is lit in Athens, the previous gold medal winners will be nowhere to be found.

Because Serena and Venus have proved themselves to be largely better than the rest of the field who is playing Championships – and with the huge exception of Justine – what exactly is everyone playing for?

For Justine, it’s not only the moniker of people’s No. 1, which she has already pretty much bagged with her two Slams and slew of other titles this year, but the year-end ranking itself, which is historically crucial. She took off a couple weeks to prepare for the tournament, so there’s no question she’ll go hard to attain queen of the world status and player of the year distinction.

All that’s left for Clijsters this year is to defend her title, get back to No. 1 and her reputation, which can really only do by winning the title. Given that’s she’s won four out of the five possible Californian crowns, it would be ludicrous to count her out. In many ways, indoors is her best surface. But Justine could be waiting and, for Kim, she’s arguably become a tougher nut to crack than either Venus or Serena.

Capriati could certainly use this crown as a confidence booster, as could Mauresmo, who’s rarely healthy for more than a couple of months straight. But when she is, can take down anyone in the field. But of course, we’ve been writing that for about five years.

Mauresmo, Myskina will be factors
As well as Myskina has performed this fall, she only has an outside shot here. The same goes for Dementieva. Rubin and Sugiyama have almost no chance. If Nadia Petrova would have upset Myskina in Philadelphia Saturday and qualified, she would have been a true threat. However, the big Russian still doesn’t know how to deal when the high rollers are at the table.

One Russian who would have been a substantial threat here is Quebec champ Maria Sharapova. Next year.

Paris: Henman’s 'greatest achievement?'
Tim Henman is a conundrum. How is winning the Tennis Masters Series Paris qualified as the greatest achievement of his career is mind baffling, but that’s what he said.

Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Beating Andrei Pavel in the final is a nice win, but since neither veteran is headed to Houston, who really gives a fish or chips?

Are his Wimbledon defeats really that crushing that he’s forgotten all his heart-warming wins there?

Of course, when you are looking to build toward next year, it’s an important step, especially considering that he tripped up Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the quarters and an angry Andy Roddick in the semis.

Sunday’s victory means that the serve-and-volleyer extraordinaire will now return to the Top 15. It was the Brit’s first Masters Series title.

“I’ve played well in patches, but not as consistently,” Henman said. “That’s the battle, isn’t it? That’s the challenge for me. Because I know the tennis I’m capable of, and it’s whether I can string it together. And, you know, I look at it when I was at my highest ranking, I played some good tennis. But I think if I play the tennis I’m capable of for longer periods, then I don’t think No. 4 will be my highest ranking. That’s what excites me, what motivates me.”

Sizing up the Tennis Master Cup Houston
Roddick goes into Houston leading the points race and the No. 1 player, a terrific accomplishment, but only if he holds off Juan Carlos Ferrero for the year-end No.1 spot.

“I was hoping for more and I could have definitely put a lot of pressure on some other guys if I would have gotten a couple more rounds or won here,” Roddick said. “But I haven’t been No. 1 before and I got that this week. I put in a semifinal when I hadn’t really played well on this swing. There are definitely some positives and that’s what I’ll try to take into Houston.”

Glancing at the men who will play in Texas, they stack up almost perfectly (if you you are lining up the favorites one through eigh)t:
1. Roddick
2. Ferrero
3. Federer
4. Guillermo Coria
5. Andre Agassi
6. Rainer Schuettler
7. Carlos Moya
8. David Nalbandian

If Nalbandian is healthy by service toss, I’d put him in the No. 5 spot over Agassi, because the second-time dad hasn’t played since the Open.
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