Serena & Venus in Rome
Women's Look Forward: Rome
Women's Look Forward: Week of May 13
Women's Look Forward: Rome
For only the second time this year, Venus and Serena Williams are in the same draw. And it isn't even a Slam.
It's perhaps a small consolation for the Italian Open, which finds itself without Martina Hingis and Monica Seles, who are stronger draws in Europe. But it's still a pretty impressive line-up; every healthy player in the Top Ten is here. The only absentees are Monica Seles (who pulled out with a stomach virus), Lindsay Davenport (still recovering from surgery) and Martina Hingis (still suffering from a damaged ligament).
It's an interesting list of absentees, because Hingis and Seles are both at their most threatening on clay. So is Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won't be playing here either. Their absence renders the draw unusually wide-open. It is, in fact, an absolutely fascinating draw. Particularly since the courts are reported to be fairly fast this year. Let's look it over.
#1 seed Venus Williams, like all the other Top 8 seeds, gets a first round bye. In the second, she'll face either Anna Kournikova or a qualifier. Three years ago, this would have been a genuinely fascinating match-up; Kournikova was at her best on clay, and Venus her worst. Now, the real question is, can Kournikova even play well enough to get to the second round. The good news for her, of course, is that she still has nothing to defend, so losses can't hurt her.
Venus may have a more interesting time in the third round. The seed she's supposed to face is #14 Iroda Tulyaganova. Tulyaganova had two clay titles last year. This year, though, she has been struggling. And she opens against Tathiana Garbin, who doesn't have the best tools but who likes to try different things until she finds one her opponent can't answer. That's been working well for Garbin lately. In the second round, Tulyaganova will face Angeles Montolio or a qualifier. Montolio's ranking has roughly doubled in the past few months, but she also has a clay title; this is the sort of event where she can get back on track.
Next down the draw is #10 seed Meghann Shaughnessy, who is slipping fast. And while she opens against a qualifier, trouble lurks in the second round. Shaughnessy will have to face the winner of a match between Anne Kremer and Paola Suarez. Kremer hasn't really been right since her big green clay results, but she is Top 25. Suarez isn't, but that's because of injury; she's one of the best clay-courters out there. Based on results this year, both would seem to have the edge on Shaughnessy.
#5 seed Justine Henin, just off the biggest result of her career, has her own problems. She's probably played harder than ever before in her life, and her second round opponent will be tough: Either Francesca Schiavone, a good clay player who also happens to be Italian, or Fabiola Zuluaga, another good clay player though her ranking is way down due to injury. Henin is clearly better than either of them -- and better than Shaughnessy on clay -- but how much will she have left after playing fourteen sets in five days?
That particular problem may have hurt #3 seed Kim Clijsters at Berlin. But she's now had a week off. In that light, her draw looks pretty good. After her bye, she will face a qualifier or Elena Likhovtseva. Likhovtseva, after a long streak of bad results, finally did a bit better at Berlin, and if form holds, she's due for another good result or two -- but probably not that good.
If seeds held, Clijsters would face #16 Tatiana Panova in the third round. Panova might face trouble in the second, though, when she faces Henrieta Nagyova (who will start against wildcard Antonella Serra Zanetti). But Nayova also has played a lot lately (she just made the Warsaw final). This is a tough section to predict.
#9 seed Silvia Farina Elia starts against a qualifier, then another qualifier or Barbara Schett. That's an interesting match in all sorts of ways. Schett is one of the top unseeded players, and she's been playing doubles with Farina Elia. Both like clay. Schett has more power, Farina Elia is much steadier. A lot will depend on whether Schett has one of her good days.
Farina Elia is likely to face #8 Sandrine Testud in the Round of Sixteen, but Testud will have to contend with Emmanuelle Gagliardi first -- and Gagliardi is having one of her best years. She also has some resemblance to Testud, in that both sit there and slug it out, and like nothing better than to wear you down, down, down. Both like faster surfaces, too. The edge is to Testud, but it could be a fine match.
#6 seed Jelena Dokic won her first career title here; this is the event that turned her from a hovering-around-#25 player into a hovering-around-#10 player. She'd really like to do well again. It won't be easy. In the second round, she'll face either Anna Smashnova -- who has been so solid this year that she's in the Top Ten in the WTA Race -- or Adriana Serra Zanetti, who is Italian and also enjoying her best career year. After that, she'll face a rematch with #11 seed Daniela Hantuchova, who beat her at Berlin. That's if Hantuchova gets through; she'll start against Anastasia Myskina, another player who is having a hot year, then probably upset artist Magui Serna. This is truly one of the most wide-open sections in the draw.
#15 seed Tamarine Tanasugarn is one of the worst clay players in the draw. It may not matter in the first round, when she faces a qualifier. It will surely matter in the second, when she will face either Gala Leon Garcia or four-time champion Conchita Martinez. Neither of the Spaniards has been in very good form lately, so it appears that Leon Garcia actually might have a chance -- but either should have more than a chance against Tanasugarn.
The real question is, can any of them do anything with #4 seed Serena Williams? On clay, we'd choose Martinez at her peak over Serena as she is now. But Martinez isn't at her peak. It will be interesting, though, to see how Serena reacts to playing back-to-back 56-draw events. This is the heaviest schedule Serena has played in her life, and it's on her worst surface. The good news is, her opening match will be against Rita Grande (or a qualifier). Grande made the Top 25 last year, and she's Italian, but even though her game looks like it evolved for clay, her best results have been on faster surfaces and she has been in a bad slump anyway. Even though Serena has only the one clay final in her career, we'd say she's in good shape to reach the quarterfinal, and her chances for the semifinal don't look bad.
The bottom quarter, headed by #2 Jennifer Capriati and #7 Amelie Mauresmo, is full of question marks. Starting with Mauresmo's neck. She pulled out of Berlin, and it cost her her spot in the Top Ten. And she'll have a tough match in the second round -- either Nathalie Dechy, who just earned her way back into the second round, or Cristina Torrens Valero, yet another of those pesky clay-courters you really wish would play someone else. A healthy Mauresmo would brush them aside. But Mauresmo just hasn't been herself this year, and now she's hurting.
The other seed in this section, #12 Elena Dementieva, finally won a title in doubles, but she's way out of whack in singles. Luckily for her, she has a relatively easy draw. She'll open against Ai Sugiyama -- the sort of player likely to drive her nuts on any other surface, but Sugiyama, even though she relies on touch and ability to get balls back, doesn't like clay at all. After that, Dementieva would face either Magdalena Maleeva, another clay hater, or Martina Sucha, who seems to have cooled off lately. A funny little voice inside us says that Sucha has the best shot here, but rational thought says Dementieva, even in her present rather dubious form, is the clear favorite.
The next section is another really interesting one, since it contains #13 seed Patty Schnyder, the new and improved Janette Husarova, and the still-recovering but badly under-ranked Mary Pierce. Schnyder hasn't done anything since her big result at Charleston, but she's shown once again that she has the goods. She starts against Husarova, who will take advantage of any inconsistency. The winner will presumably face Pierce, who opens against a qualifier. It's another section where we wouldn't be able to guess the winner even if we were foolish enough to stick our necks out and try. Whoever comes through will almost certainly face #2 seed Jennifer Capriati, who will face a qualifier in the second round.
We can only say again what we said before: It's wide open. This is one of the toughest periods on the WTA tour: One week after a 56-draw on clay, the players face another 56-draw on clay. No other two-week period on the Tour is as wearing. If Berlin was unpredictable (and it was), Rome is even more so.
The Rankings. Rome is, of course, the last event before the Roland Garros seeds are announced, so this is big.
Had Jennifer Capriati done well enough at Berlin, she would have made #1. As it is, she's well back of Venus Williams -- but since neither has anything to defend, Capriati has a shot at passing Venus. It doesn't really matter much, though; they will be the top two seeds at Roland Garros.
It's the same in the contest for the #3 spot: It will be either Kim Clijsters or Serena Williams, with the other being #4. Clijsters has about a 90 point edge. But the winner here will almost certainly earn in excess of 400 points.
We also know who will get seeds #5-#7: Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, and Justine Henin. But not in that order. Hingis, since she isn't playing, is certain to fall to #8, and so will get the #7 seed. Henin starts 25 points behind Seles, but she's playing and Seles isn't. Henin won't have to do much to earn the #5 ranking and seed.
Jelena Dokic will be ranked #9 and will get the #8 seed.
Right now, the players in the next block, ranked #10-#13 and in line for the #9-#12 seeds, are Sandrine Testud, Amelie Mauresmo, Silvia Farina Elia, and Daniela Hantuchova. Of these, Mauresmo is in the most trouble; she has over 300 points to defend, meaning that she's barely ahead of #14 Meghann Shaughnessy in safe points. Testud is set -- indeed, she's all but guaranteed to stay in the Top 10. Farina Elia looks safe, too. But there is just a chance that Mauresmo or Hantuchova could fall out. The leading candidates to supplant them are Shaughnessy and Elena Dementieva.
The next "big spot" is the #18 ranking, good for the #16 seed. Right now, it's Iroda Tulyaganova's, but Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario has enough points to defend that it's a virtual tie. Candidates to displace them include Patty Schnyder, Anna Smashnova, Barbara Schett, Tatiana Panova, Magdalena Maleeva, Anne Kremer, and Daja Bedanova, all of whom are within 100 points of Tulyaganova.
Amanda Coetzer is currently #34, in line for the #32 seed. Coetzer has nothing to defend, but isn't playing either. That means that nearly any player who got direct entry into the draw has a chance to earn that last seed. The leading candidates: Rita Grande, Cristina Torrens Valero, Henrieta Nagyova, Martina Sucha, Magui Serna, or Janette Husarova.
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