Women's Preview: Week of August 30 (Exclusive)
Women's Look Forward: U. S. Open
It was stunning, when the seed list came out: Everyone was present. Even Elena Bovina, who last played at Roland Garros.
That's on paper. In fact, Bovina withdrew shortly afterward, and it's going to be interesting to see how many others are really able to play. In light of the injury situation, we're going to do a rather different sort of preview, listing the seeds, their injuries, and their hardcourt/USO results. Players who have been hurt in the weeks since Wimbledon are shown in ALL CAPS, just to show how many of them there are (though a few of those cases of "flu," and at least a few of the others, seem a bit dubious).
· 1. MARIA SHARAPOVA. Recent results: Has missed most of hardcourt season. USO history: 3-2 record; best result a third round; best hardcourt title is a Tier II. Latest injury: Pectoral; also back; withdrew from Los Angeles and has not played since.
· 2. LINDSAY DAVENPORT. Recent results: Prior to winning New Haven, had been injured since Wimbledon. USO history: 1998 champion; 2000 finalist; five semifinal including last three years straight. Latest injury: Back; played only five games between Wimbledon and New Haven.
· 3. Amelie Mauresmo. Recent results: Played limited hardcourt schedule; made Canadian Open SF, New Haven F -- but didn't look good in the late rounds. USO history: Has made QF last four years straight, but has only one SF (2002). Latest injury: Nothing major, but she played some very long matches in high temperatures.
· 4. Kim Clijsters. Recent results: Won three of four summer hardcourt events; has been the dominant player of the summer. USO history: 2003 finalist; other than that, nothing better than a QF. Latest injury: Has been healthy since Rome.
· 5. SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA. Recent results: 2005 record of 27-14, but 2-3 in last three events. USO history: 2004 champion, but never past third round before that. Latest injury: Hurt back at Canadian Open; withdrew from New Haven.
· 6. Elena Dementieva. Recent results: has not made a final since Charleston; has three first round losses in last seven events; lost in the New Haven QF. USO history: 2004 finalist; 2000 SF. Latest injury: Shoulder problems during grass season; seems to be healthy now.
· 7. JUSTINE HENIN-HARDENNE. Recent results: Undefeated on clay, but lost 1R at Wimbledon and lost the F at the Canadian Open, her only hardcourt warmup. USO history: 2003 winner; never past fourth round in other years. Latest injury: Withdrew from San Diego citing a hamstring injury.
· 8. SERENA WILLIAMS. Recent results: Only one tournament since Wimbledon; withdrew from third round of Canadian Open. USO history: 1999, 2002 champion; finalist in 2001; QF last year. Latest injury: Knee; has had ankle problems since the clay season.
· 9. NADIA PETROVA. Recent results: Made the Rome final and Roland Garros SF, but nothing better than a QF since. USO history: Reached QF for first time last year; only one other Fourth Round showing. Latest injury: Pectoral strain suffered at Canadian Open.
· 10. VENUS WILLIAMS. Recent results: Wimbledon title, Stanford F. USO history: Two titles, two finals, two semifinals -- but lost in the fourth round last year. Latest injury: Withdrew from Stockholm and the Canadian Open with flu.
· 11. Patty Schnyder. Recent results: Cincinnati title, Stanford semifinal, San Diego quarterfinal, New Haven second round. Not the best trend.... USO history: Has never lost first round -- but has only once reached the quarterfinal. Latest injury: She's about the healthiest player on the Tour.
· 12. MARY PIERCE. Recent results: Won San Diego but hasn't played since. USO history: Has never been past QF in 12 tries. Latest injury: A shoulder problem that took her out of Los Angeles and the Canadian Open.
· 13. ANASTASIA MYSKINA. Recent results: Wimbledon QF, Stockholm F, Canadian Open SF. USO history: Made QF in 2003, but lost 2R last year; career record of 8-6 with two 1R losses. Latest injury: Hurt ankle at Canadian Open; withdrew from New Haven.
· 14. ALICIA MOLIK. Recent results: Hasn't won a match since Miami. USO history: Never been past third round. Latest injury: Ear infections have rendered her almost unable to play. Lost first round at New Haven in first match since Birmingham.
· 15. Nathalie Dechy. Recent results: In four events since Wimbledon, has only one quarterfinal. Lost first round at New Haven. USO history: Best result is a fourth round in 1998. Latest injury: No major injuries lately.
· WITHDRAWN: 16. ELENA BOVINA. Recent results: Has not played since Roland Garros. USO history: QF in 2003 -- but also two first round losses in four appearances. Latest injury: Her problem is with her shoulder.
· 17. Jelena Jankovic. Recent results: Three match losing streak. USO history: Reached second round last year, in first USO. Latest injury: Has been healthy all spring and summer.
· 18. ANA IVANOVIC. Recent results: Made Canadian Open third round before withdrawing; only event since Wimbledon. USO history: Never played main draw. Latest injury: Pectoral strain at Canadian Open.
· 19. VERA ZVONAREVA. Recent results: 1-3 since Wimbledon, and injured. USO history: Has never lost before third round, but has only one fourth round. Latest injury: Hurt ankle and has not played since San Diego.
· 20. ELENA LIKHOVTSEVA. Recent results: San Diego and New Haven Rounds of 16. USO history: In 12 tries, has never been past fourth round; lost 1R last year. Latest injury: Sick at Los Angeles.
· 21. Daniela Hantuchova. Recent results: Los Angeles F, Cincinnati SF, New Haven, Stanford QF, San Diego 2R, Canadian Open 1R. USO history: 2002 QF; 3R last two years. Latest injury: Well -- does playing way too many tournaments since Wimbledon count?.
· 22. Dinara Safina. Recent results: Round of 16 in all three post-Wimbledon tournaments. USO history: never been past fourth round. Latest injury: Prone to back problems, but seems to be healthy now.
· 23. SILVIA FARINA ELIA. Recent results: Hasn't won a match since Wimbledon due to injury. USO history: Only one fourth round and two third rounds in 13 attempts. Latest injury: Shoulder problems.
· 24. TATIANA GOLOVIN. Recent results: 1-4 record since Birmingham due to injury. USO history: Third round in first appearance last year. Latest injury: Right ankle sprain She thought she was over it. Maybe not.
· 25. Shinobu Asagoe. Recent results: Had 5 match losing streak before reaching Canadian Open Round of 16. USO history: QF last year; two third rounds and two first round losses before that. Latest injury: Has been playing a limited schedule, but no injury listed.
· 26. FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE. Recent results: 9-4 since Wimbledon with a SF at Los Angeles. USO history: In the last three years, has one quarterfinal and two Round of Sixteen showings. Latest injury: Hurt her knee at Los Angeles and missed New Haven.
· 27. Nicole Vaidisova. Recent results: Made Canadian Open QF with a win over Dechy in only post-Wimbledon event. USO history: Made first appearance last year as a qualifier; lost 1R. Latest injury: Healthy as far as we know.
· 28. Gisela Dulko. Recent results: Three Top 25 wins since Wimbledon, though all of them were over players with physical problems. 6-4 record in that time. USO history: Second round in only career appearance last year. Latest injury: Healthy as far as we know.
· 29. Flavia Pennetta. Recent results: Two clay SF since Wimbledon, but 3-3 on hardcourts with two losses to non-Top-50 players. USO history: Has never won a main draw match. Latest injury: Healthy as far as we know.
· 30. ANNA CHAKVETADZE. Recent results: Won at least two matches in all three events since Wimbledon; her New Haven SF was her best-ever result. USO history: Made 3R last year with win over Myskina in first appearance. Latest injury: Withdrew from Canadian Open, but came back strong at New Haven.
· 31. Ai Sugiyama. Recent results: Having a terrible year, but made San Diego final; won at least one match at all summer hardcourt events. USO history: Round of Sixteen last two years; has won the doubles. Latest injury: Healthy as far as we know.
· 32. ANNA-LENA GROENEFELD. Recent results: Made Stanford SF with a win over an injured Davenport. New Haven QF. Won Canadian Open doubles. But also lost 2R at San Diego, 1R at Canadian Open. USO history: Lost her only previous match. Latest injury: Hurt knee at New Haven; also had a hand problem at Los Angeles.
· 33. Vera Douchevina. Recent results: Made Stockholm SF; lost 2R at New Haven. USO history: Third round last year; lost 1R in 2003. Latest injury: Some nagging problems but seems to be basically healthy.
So to sum up the situation: Clijsters is clearly the player who has been playing the best, especially on hardcourts -- but her motivation may not be all we expect; she's already talking retirement (she told a Belgian newspaper that she expects to retire well before the 2008 Olympics). Plus she has problems with Slams. Slam problems go double for Mauresmo. Davenport's health is always an open question, and she has trouble with Slams, too. Henin-Hardenne hasn't looked the same since the clay season. Sharapova has been injured, and still hasn't won anything better than a weak Tier II on outdoor hardcourt, plus she hasn't won anything but a Tier III in the last half year -- and that on grass. Kuznetsova is hurting. The rest of the Russians are hurting of slumping or both. Serena Williams, who has perhaps the best history here, seems unable to get healthy. Venus hasn't played since Stanford. If you can find an actual favorite in that list, you're smarter than we are.
And even with 32 seeds, we have some fairly interesting unseeded players: Eleni Daniilidou, trying once again to get her game together. Sania Mirza has been climbing fast. Kveta Peschke is having perhaps the best year of her long career. Ashley Harkleroad needed a wildcard to get in, but her recent Challenger results argue for much better; since Wimbledon, she has two titles (Louisville $50K, Washington $50K), a final (College Park $50K), and two semifinals (Lexington $50K, Bronx $50K); if she could just figure out Camille Pin (who handed her two of her three losses), she'd be in great shape. Shahar Peer lost too soon at New Haven, but she has been climbing steadily. Peng Shuai handed Kim Clijsters her only loss of the summer hardcourt season. Amy Frazier has had a crummy year, but she knows hardcourts. Magdalena Maleeva is playing her last U. S. Open; it may be her last Slam. Meghann Shaughnessy is starting to show life again. Sesil Karatancheva is rapidly moving up the rankings. Lucie Safarova won her first title at Estoril this year, and backed it up at Forest Hills. Evgenia Linetskaya has been having problems with her game and her family, but she really looks like she has the talent to contend. Conchita Martinez is, well, almost the player who used to be the Conchita Martinez. (If that makes any sense.) Anna Smashnova has been rebuilding her game since a horrid 2004. Karolina Sprem hasn't, but we all know it's hidden in there somewhere....
Noteworthy First Round Matches
(1) Sharapova vs. Daniilidou. This will be Sharapova's first match after her injury. Daniilidou has been playing better lately than before her own injury -- but she's never liked hardcourts much.
Kremer (Q) vs. Raymond. Veterans fallen on hard times. They both could really use a win right now.
Granville vs. (22) Farina Elia. This is probably Farina Elia's worse surface, and she's still trying to come back from injury anyway. And it's Granville's natural surface. On the other hand, Granville's game is fairly predictable; maybe the Italian veteran can read it.
(26) Vaidisova vs. Peschke. Young talent versus a canny veteran; Peschke, who is almost 14 years the elder in this contest, can also claim to be having a very good year.
Harkleroad vs. Zuluaga. The American is making a comeback. Zuluaga is sinking. Sure, they're about 100 ranking spots apart, but if anyone has the advantage, it's surely Harkleroad -- unless she's tired after all those Challengers.
Chan (Q) vs. Serena Williams. Is Serena healed? Truly healed? If not, then why can't she get well? At least her draw is about as nice as it gets.
(25) Schiavone vs. Kostanic. You'll never see this on TV, at least away from the Adriatic, but it should be a lot of fun to see some pretty unconventional tennis. Assuming Schiavone's knee is up to playing, anyway.
Fedak vs. Glatch (WC). A steady scrambler against a kid just starting her career; Glatch made the semifinal at Forest Hills, though that was against feeble opposition.
Gagliardi (LL) vs. Maleeva. Historic, if nothing else.
Karatancheva vs. Shaughnessy. Which wins: Great speed or great serve?
(6) Dementieva vs. Safarova. Safarova is one of the Hot Young Things of the Tour -- and last year's finalist Dementieva is all messed up.
Kutuzova (Q) vs. (29) Chakvetadze. Lots of raw talent here -- and very little polish.
(24) Asagoe vs. Cohen-Aloro. Last year's quarterfinal really ought to win her first match at least.
Martinez vs. (11) Schnyder. What is the highest number of different spins ever recorded in a Grand Slam match?
(32) Medina Garrigues vs. Sprem. They both hit hard. They both like clay. Medina Garrigues is ranked far higher -- but she isn't necessarily better, deep down.
Li Na vs. (2) Davenport. Davenport is #1 again, but she needs a good result to stay on top. And, these days, she's so fragile that three straight weeks of tennis are a high-risk proposition for her. The last thing she needs is a tough opener -- but Li Na is a very tough opponent, assuming her ankle is healthy.
Let's start this with our rough cut of the basic facts: Here are the Top 25 in safe points going into the U. S. Open:
1 (2) SHARAPOVA 4362
2 (1) DAVENPORT 4155
3 (3) MAURESMO 3655
4 (4) CLIJSTERS 3181
5 (7) HENIN-HARDENNE 2815
6 (8) SWILLIAMS 2569
7 (10) VWILLIAMS 2506
8 (9) PETROVA 2290
9 (5) KUZNETSOVA 2154
10 (6) Dementieva 2141
11 (11) SCHNYDER 2132
12 (12) PIERCE 2076
13 (13) MYSKINA 2057
14 (14) MOLIK 1759
15 (15) DECHY 1483
16 (16) IVANOVIC 1405.75
17 (17) JANKOVIC 1395.25
18 (21) LIKHOVTSEVA 1291
19 (18) ZVONAREVA 1254
20 (20) BOVINA 1209
21 (19) HANTUCHOVA 1194
22 (22) SAFINA 1146
23 (23) FARINA ELIA 1033
24 (28) VAIDISOVA 1004
25 (32) PENNETTA 991
We note that, because Maria Sharapova has less to defend than Lindsay Davenport, she is again on top in this regard, though by a relatively small total of just over 200 points -- a margin small enough that she is by no means assured of regaining the #1 spot. With these numbers as they are, either Sharapova or Davenport could easily be #1, and Mauresmo has an outside shot. Theoretically, even Clijsters has a chance -- but it won't happen. (She can regain the lead in the Race, though.)
The other major moves are by last year's champion Kuznetsova and finalist Dementieva. They fall to the very bottom of the Top Ten, effectively tied with #11 Schnyder; #12 Pierce and #13 Myskina are also within spitting distance. The players from #14 down are not likely to threaten the Top Ten.
Davenport and Sharapova are close enough that who ends up at #1 may depend on quality points, but assuming both reach the semifinal, chances are that the one who lasts longer is #1, with ties going to Sharapova. If Sharapova makes the quarterfinal and Davenport the semifinal, it depends very much on quality points. If they both lose by the quarterfinal, odds are that Sharapova will be #1.
Mauresmo has to reach at least the semifinal, and probably the final, to get into the act; she likely won't be a factor.
Davenport, Sharapova, and Mauresmo will certainly be Top Five when this is over. Clijsters probably will be also, though she's a lot less secure. Henin-Hardenne and the Williams Sisters are the only real candidates to take the final Top Five spot, with the Sisters needing at least quarterfinals to get there.
That leaves three spots in the Top Ten, currently Petrova's, Kuznetsova's, and Dementieva's. Given that Petrova has less than a 200 point lead over #13 Myskina, any three of the six could end up Top Ten, in any order.
Anna Chakvetadze, with 234 points to defend, would fall out of the Top 30 if she loses first round; Shinobu Asagoe, with 308 points on the line, could end up below #40.
Jennifer Capriati loses 544 points, but she's already off the rankings.
That's everyone with over 200 points to defend, though there are quite a few with 100-200 points who could see their rankings affected significantly.
Let's take all the players we've listed above as having a lot on the line -- Davenport, Sharapova, Mauresmo, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne, Serena, Venus, Petrova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Schnyder, Pierce, Myskina, Asagoe, and Chakvetadze -- and see what they're facing.
Asagoe is probably in the worst form, but her opener against Stephanie Cohen-Aloro is one she ought to be able to win. Her second round against Evgenia Linetskaya is much tougher if Linetskaya is back in form. And then Asagoe has to face Schnyder. If she doesn't win that, she'll be well below the Top 30.
Schnyder herself will have to be on the alert from the start, since she opens against Conchita Martinez. Martinez has a huge lead -- 8-2 -- in their head-to-head, but they haven't met in over a year, and Schnyder has been playing better lately. The second round should be easy, and Schnyder will obviously have the advantage on Asagoe as well. Then, theoretically, she would face Dementieva.
That's if Dementieva makes it that far. She's a real candidate for "first high seed to lose." She opens against fast-rising Lucie Safarova. Her second round will be easier, but then she would face Chakvetadze. Given recent form, that might be the match that lets Chakvetadze defend her points.
The young Russian may not have it all her own way, though, since she opens against another Russian, qualifier Viktoriya Kutuzova. Yet once again, the second round is easier, after which comes Dementieva.
Whoever manages to come out of that eighth of the draw -- Asagoe, Chakvetadze, Dementieva, Schnyder, Safarova, or a big surprise -- will have to deal with Davenport. And Davenport's draw is about as nice as it gets: First Li Na, who is a very good player but still trying to find her form after injury, then nothing much, then #32 seed Anabel Medina Garrigues, who is pretty well played out, then Nathalie Dechy or Tatiana Golovin. It looks as if Davenport's biggest problem, for four rounds, will be just staying healthy. After that comes the Dementieva section winner, then Mauresmo, then Sharapova. Dementieva is a mess, Davenport just beat Mauresmo at New Haven, and she plastered Sharapova at Indian Wells. By that logic, she should win the whole thing. Seems unlikely to be that simple.
Sharapova has a pretty nice first four rounds also. On clay, or even Rebound Ace, Eleni Daniilidou would be a real threat -- but probably not on DecoTurf. The first seed she would face is Flavia Pennetta, who is mostly a clay specialist. Then comes Alicia Molik, who is a very good player who beat Sharapova at Zurich last year, but who is still trying to recover from ear problems. The quarterfinal, against Petrova or Kuznetsova, is obviously more of a challenge, and then comes Clijsters, the best player of the summer.
It will be interesting to see whether Kuznetsova or Petrova can make it to face Sharapova. Both have been having physical problems. Petrova's draw is very easy -- the first seed she would face is Farina Elia, who has been hurt herself. Kuznetsova's is only a little tougher; she gets two easy rounds, but then has to face Nicole Vaidisova. Then the two face each other for the right to face Sharapova.
Mauresmo has a relatively easy first round against Roberta Vinci, then faces the Shaughnessy/Karatancheva winner. She would then face the injured Groenefeld. Her Round of Sixteen is against Myskina, then she would face Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinal. Myskina has a lot of slumping players in her way: She opens against Tamarine Tanasugarn, then Amy Frazier (assuming the latter beats Carly Gullickson), then Elena Likhovtseva (or maybe Magdalena Maleeva). It was Frazier, of course, who beat Myskina at Wimbledon last year and arguably started her year-long slump.
Of all the major contenders, Clijsters was the one who benefited most when Elena Bovina withdrew; they were supposed to meet in the Round of Sixteen. Or is that a benefit? She now has to face Ana Ivanovic, which is hardly an improvement. At least she shouldn't have too much trouble getting there; her first two rounds are easy, and the first seed she faces would be her ex-doubles partner Ai Sugiyama. Nothing she can't handle easily. The quarterfinal is much more interesting, because she's supposed to face either Venus or Serena Williams.
And, yes, it could be either, because the Sisters are drawn to meet in the Round of Sixteen! Obviously it's a shock to see two Slam winners facing off that early -- but neither has much in the way of other results. And, of course, both sisters have to last long enough to meet. Both have easy early rounds, but Venus faces Daniela Hantuchova -- finally back in the Top 20 -- in the third round, while Serena (who has been in even worse form lately) will face either Francesca Schiavone or Peng Shuai. Based on Serena's recent results, either of those could spell trouble; Schiavone in fact was the player who beat Serena at Rome this year (and while Serena still had her ankle injury back then, she doesn't seem much better these days).
Which leaves Henin-Hardenne and Pierce, who face each other in the Round of Sixteen for the right to face Mauresmo. The Belgian has a truly easy draw: Her first two opponents are no threat, and the seed in her part of the draw is Gisela Dulko. Pierce's route passes through Jelena Jankovic, so there is just a chance she won't make it. But, the way things are going these days, you have to feel as if the winner of their meeting will be the favorite in the quarterfinal against Mauresmo.