Bob Larson's www.tennisnews.com
Women's Look Forward: Miami
They don't call it "the fifth Slam" for nothing. This year, Miami is actually stronger than the Australian Open. And it isn't the first time.
How strong? Well, every Top Ten player is here. The highest-ranked player absent is #13 Patty Schnyder. Indeed, of the players ranked high enough to be seeded based on last week's rankings, only four -- Schnyder, Conchita Martinez, the injured Anne Kremer, and the retired Martina Hingis -- aren't here. And even several long-injured players are back: Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian, the #32 seed, is playing her first event since the Australian Open, as are Anna Kournikova and Alicia Molik.
Which is not exactly good news for Serena Williams. The #1 seed and defending champion has a very tough row to hoe. She starts with a first round bye, of course (since all 32 seeds get one), but then she faces either Francesca Schiavone (who is currently ranked above #32 seed Mikaelian; she would have been seeded if they had used this week's rankings) or upset artist Barbara Rittner, who last week beat Jelena Dokic. After that, it's probably Tatiana Panova, who has no offensive weapons but who can scramble enough that she just might draw some Serena errors. She hasn't any real chance to win, but she could tire Serena out. Then in the round of sixteen, Serena would face Elena Bovina, who is one of the few players really able to hit with Serena. Then either Lindsay Davenport or Monica Seles, and then Kim Clijsters, who is here with a shot at the #2 ranking.
Sister Venus may also open against an upset artist, since she'll face either the Upset Artist herself, Magui Serna, or Shinobu Asagoe. Things won't be too bad in the rounds after that: The rusty Mikaelian, then either Meghann Shaughnessy or Magdalena Maleeva (Maleeva is seeded higher, but Shaughnessy likes the surface better. Both have beaten Venus in the past two years -- but Shaughnessy did it on hardcourts at an event Venus wanted; Maleeva did it indoors at an event where Venus perhaps wasn't quite as interested in).
Of the other major contenders, #3 seed Clijsters has it perhaps the easiest; although second round opponent Yoon Jeong Cho is tough, she isn't in the Clijsters league. Third round opponent Paola Suarez is a clay player. Her theoretical fourth round opponent Anna Pistolesi is in a slump, and doesn't like hardcourts anyway; we might see Lisa Raymond come through -- but she prefers faster surfaces. And in the quarterfinal, Clijsters would face either #5 seed Daniela Hantuchova, whose game and ranking are both slumping, or #9 Jelena Dokic, who is in terrible form this year; we're almost tempted to predict that Svetlana Kuznetsova will be Clijsters's opponent. In any case, Serena should be her first major problem.
#4 Justine Henin-Hardenne also faces a fairly opener. Her third round is more interesting, as she might face either Tamarine Tanasugarn or Vera Zvonareva, and Zvonareva is looking quite solid at present. Then comes probably Amanda Coetzer, then Amelie Mauresmo. But hardcourt really isn't Henin-Hardenne's surface.
Not all the other contenders to do well here are seeded high. Monica Seles is never to be discounted, and her draw is quite easy until she faces Lindsay Davenport. But they will face off in the Round of Sixteen! And Davenport too will have had an easy draw to that point.
Jennifer Capriati's draw is full of players better than their rankings (Daja Bedanova, Laura Granville, Iveta Benesova), but it's hard to see them threatening her. Ai Sugiyama or Anastasia Myskina, though, her potential round of sixteen opponents, are tougher. And then comes Venus.
Given her recent form, it's hard to imagine Daniela Hantuchova doing well here, but Amelie Mauresmo is perhaps more of a threat. Her big problem is that she'll face Chanda Rubin in the fourth round. And on a hardcourt. Can Mauresmo stay healthy and in form?
With 32 seeds, we really can't look at all of the possible outcomes of this event. In any case, even if you think both Williams Sisters can be beaten, it's hard to imagine anyone but Clijsters or Davenport or Seles or maybe Capriati winning here. But there are some quite interesting early-round matches.
Schiavone vs. Rittner. Winner takes on Serena. Both are very good players on their good days. Both have a lot of not-so-good days.
Matevzic vs. Black. Two players with no big weapons but a lot of interesting shots. It should be fun to watch, even though the winner is in the same sixteenth as Clijsters and won't be going very far.
Ruano Pascual vs. Kuznetsova. Two of the higher-ranked unseeded players. Ruano Pascual is a veteran with a lot of touch though not much power; Kuznetsova is a fast-rising prospect. This could be very interesting indeed.
Schett vs. Molik. Two players with big power and not much speed. Molik has been away for a while, but she was in fine form before hurting herself, and Schett has been in terrible shape. The winner takes on Hantuchova, and has at least a shot there.
Kruger vs. Gullickson. A veteran who has seen her career ruined by injury versus a player who is a solid prospect but who just isn't ready. (We've seen her live; she really isn't.) It's likely to be ugly, but we'd like a gauge of both players' forms.
Chladkova vs. Zvonareva. Another match of players who just missed seeding. Zvonareva is probably the better player, but she tends to prefer slow courts.
Safina vs. Kournikova. Call it "The Case of the Russian Head Case." And Kournikova, of course, has been absent for a long time. Against any opponent other than Safina, we'd give Kournikova relatively little chance. But Safina is as screwy as her brother. Whoever wins, she'll be in trouble against steady Ai Sugiyama in the second round.
Asagoe vs. Serna. A steady player against a talented but inconsistent opponent. The winner has the bad luck to face Venus Williams.
Tulyaganova vs. (16) Bovina. A once-top-player versus a rising star. And Tulyaganova is finally showing signs of life.
(9) Dokic vs. Ruano Pascual or Kuznetsova. Given Dokic's recent form, and the skills of both her potential opponents, this has real upset potential.
Tanasugarn (30) vs. Chladkova or Zvonareva. Zvonareva is now ranked almost as high as Tanasugarn, and Tanasugarn likes faster courts anyway.
Bedanova vs. (31) Granville. Granville has had good hardcourt results lately, but has shown signs of nerves. Bedanova is in a truly dreadful slump, but showed some improvement at Indian Wells. And she's a solid player when she's on.
(19) Dementieva vs. (16) Bovina. Two young Russians. Dementieva has more experience; Bovina a better head and more game overall.
(22) Raymond vs. (15) Pistolesi. Given Pistolesi's current form and the surface, this may not come off -- but if it does, it's a scrambler versus a fairly aggressive player, neither of whom has a big weapon, on a fairly neutral surface.
(17) Sugiyama vs. (11) Myskina. Myskina has a fairly simple game. She has more power than Sugiyama, but Sugiyama is good at sniffing out and exploiting weakness....
(13) Maleeva vs. (23) Shaughnessy. A good indoor player against a lower-ranked player who is stronger on hardcourts. And Shaughnessy has looked good this year.
The Rankings. You know the drill: "Serena Williams is safe at #1." Even if she loses first round and Venus wins Miami, Serena's lead should be on the order of 1000 points.
The race for #2 is getting just a little interesting, though. If Kim Clijsters can win the thing, and Venus loses early, we might just see a new world #2.
Clijsters certainly won't be falling; her lead over Justine Henin-Hardenne is just too big. But Henin-Hardenne won't be threatened, either -- not yet, at least; she's too far ahead of Lindsay Davenport. And it's likely that Davenport will be #5 when this is over. She was only a few dozen points behind Jennifer Capriati when the tournament started, and Capriati had finalist points to defend and Davenport none. Indeed, it remains to be seen if Capriati can stay ahead of Amelie Mauresmo; Mauresmo has more safe points than Capriati, since she has nothing to defend. Even Daniela Hantuchova, who also went out early last year, has a shot at passing last year's finalist.
#9 Jelena Dokic also needs to watch out; both Chanda Rubin (who has nothing to defend) and Anastasia Myskina are in striking distance of her. Two of those three will round out the Top Ten. We really don't know which two.
Monica Seles had better come back strong; she has a lot to defend and might end up falling even below her current #12. Several Russians are also in trouble: An early loss might cost Elena Dementieva her spot in the Top 20, and Tatiana Panova appears bound out of the Top 25 unless she can beat Serena. Even further down the list, Martina Hingis is bound out of the Top 60 -- but the fact that she isn't back yet means that she would come back with an injury ranking if she came back at all, so that hardly matters.