Sarasota Herald Tribune reports:
By MIC HUBER
SARASOTA -- A player who possesses one of the top names in women's tennis is among the first group of athletes to announce their intentions to play in the Sarasota Clay Court Classic to be held March 31-April 6 at The Meadows Country Club.
Anna Smashnova, who lived up to her name with a smashing year in 2002, is on the early entry list for the Women's Tennis Association tournament. Among the other players on the list released Tuesday is Bradenton's Sarah Taylor, who had a breakout year that included a pair of semifinals and a ranking that reached No. 77.
"Anna is our top entrant at this point and we are excited to have her back," tournament director Lesley Eckert said. "She had an unbelievable 2002 and moved up the rankings considerably since she played our event."
In fact, Smashnova began 2002 ranked No. 87 and had to qualify to get into the main draw of the Sarasota tournament. She began her ascent up the rankings with two tournament wins in January and continued her strong play throughout the year to become the first player from Israel to qualify for the WTA's season-ending championship that brings together the top 16 players in the world.
After qualifying in Sarasota, Smashnova lost in the second round to top-seeded Jelena Dokic, who eventually won the tournament.
Last year, the first year of the tournament in Sarasota, the event drew an unusually strong field, that included, among others, Dokic, Mary Pierce, Anastasia Myskina, Meghann Shaughnessy, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez.
Positioned nicely in the WTA calendar, between two major events -- Key Biscayne and the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., -- tournament officials are expecting another strong field.
"Anna is a great start to what we hope is another great field this year," Eckert said.
Joining Smashnova and Taylor among the early entrants is Els Callens, Marlene Weingartner, Virginia Ruano-Pascual and Alina Jidkova.
Tickets for the 2003 tournament are on sale and available at www.sarasotaclaycourtclassic.com
or by calling 941-894-0040 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tournament organizers are also recruiting volunteers for the 2003 tournament. Log onto the website or call the tournament office at 894-0040 for more information.