Monday, November 3
Updated: November 4, 3:19 PM ET
Henin-Hardenne most likely to finish No. 1
By Pam Shriver
Special to ESPN.com
It's likely that Justine Henin-Hardenne will finish the year as the No. 1 player, although Kim Clijsters still has a chance. In this case, Jennifer Capriati might prove to be the spoiler as you can always count on her for a dramatic match.
Basically, it's down to the "Healthy Eight" as the WTA Championships begin on Wednesday (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET) at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. With the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport out with injuries, the change to a round-robin format with only eight players instead of 16 might prove to be an advantage. Otherwise, if there'd been an early upset or two, the field would have been even more depleted -- name-wise, that is, not talent-wise. With fewer "name" players, it'll be even more important to have the top four players appear on the first few nights of play.
WTA Championships round-robin groups
Red Group Black Group
K. Clijsters J. Henin-Hardenne
A. Mauresmo J. Capriati
E. Dementieva A. Myskina
C. Rubin A. Sugiyama
The two Belgians, Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters, leading separate groups, will be vying for No. 1. Most likely, Henin-Hardenne has No. 1 locked up with her two major victories at the French Open and U.S. Open. However in 2001, Lindsay Davenport finished up No. 1 without winning a major title, so it is possible to do if you have an incredibly consistent year and stay healthy like Clijsters has done this season.
The top American in the tournament is Capriati. Whatever tournament Capriati is in, you can always be on the lookout for a dramatic match. From her come-from-behind victory to win the 2002 Australian Open to this year's U.S. Open semifinal against Henin-Hardenne, who is in her group in L.A., and even last year here in the semis against Serena Williams, count on Capriati to shake things up.
One of the big stories this year in women's tennis has been the rise of the Russians. Representative of that, there's one in each group with Elena Dementieva in the red group and Anastasia Myskina in the black group.
Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo is always a factor. She should be able to be a little more relaxed at the Staples Center. Playing indoors is a little easier for her big swings and her big shots.
The final two qualifiers, Ai Sugiyama and Chanda Rubin were the workhorses on the WTA Tour this year. Neither one reached the semifinals or finals in a major tournament this year. They're here instead because the regular tour provided them enough opportunities to qualify. But it was close. At Scottsdale, Sugiyama had probably one of the most dramatic days of the Tour. She had to play the semifinals and final in the same day holding off three match points to defeat Alexandra Stevenson 7-6 (7) in the third set in the in the semis and then beat doubles partner Clijsters in the finals. Then she went on to play a semifinal and final in doubles with Clijsters -- winning it all. If Sugiyama hadn't had that great day -- or lost to Stevenson -- she wouldn't be here now.
Sugiyama is popular as the best Asian player on the tour and is among the best doubles players. Rubin's also a real likeable person. She won a year and half ago here at the regular-season tournament in here beating Serena in the quarterfinals, so they know her here in L.A.
There's also an interesting storyline to keep an eye on in the doubles matches as Martina Navratilova is playing in the Championships again, teamed up with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.