INDIAN WELLS – It's a his-and-hers event, offering competition for tennis players of both genders, but the emphasis at the Pacific Life Open likely is going to fall decidedly on the “his” half.
The women's draw just doesn't seem that attractive, not with the two ranking players on the WTA Tour, Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, having chosen not to compete at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Additionally, such figures in the women's game as Mary Pierce, Nadia Petrova and Svetlana Kuznetsova have not presented themselves for the start of play today. The Williams sisters also are no-shows, not that that is surprising. Neither of the sisters has exercised here since 2001, when Serena won the tournament.
They haven't said so publicly, but the women players involved here are known to feel that once the men start taking their cuts on Friday, the women are pretty much forgotten. Not a problem this year. The women could be forgotten before the men begin their phase of the event.
The circumstances relate as much to the compelling possibilities contained in the men's draw as to the lack of them on the women's side. The most intriguing matter deals with Roger Federer, this event's champion the last two years, possibly having a fifth confrontation with Rafael Nadal, the muscular young Spaniard who last week extended his series advantage over the Swiss star to 3-1 by besting him in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Open 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Federer, the No. 1 seed, is in one half of the draw, Nadal, the No. 2 seed, in the other. At first blush, Federer's half would seem a breeze for him – until one looks deeply into it. Lurking there is Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open champion, but unseeded here. The new hope of Great Britain, Andy Murray, and Mark Philippoussis are other unseeded players in Federer's half.
Nadal would seem comfortably enough placed in a quarter in which Lleyton Hewitt and surprise Wimbledon finalist Marcos Baghdatis also are lodged. No. 3 seed Andy Roddick drew into a quarter that is positively bulging with talent, including Andre Agassi, Tommy Haas (a two-time winner this season), James Blake (coming off a triumph last week at Las Vegas) and Tommy Robredo.
There are 32 men's seeds, all of whom have byes. Thus, none of them is apt to be visible before Saturday.
Federer's time in the desert should be considerably more taxing than the period ahead for Justine Henin-Hardenne, the No. 1 women's seed. The Belgian is in a half of the draw devoid of name players, with a single exception: No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva. In the draw's other half, meantime, are such possible contenders as Lindsay Davenport, a winner here in 1997 and 2000; former Wimbledon queen Maria Sharapova; Anna-Lena Groenefeld, a comer from Germany who just won a tournament in Acapulco; and Martina Hingis.
The comebacking Hingis' presence offsets to some degree the absences of Clijsters and Mauresmo. Clijsters has chosen this week to permit what she terms some “niggling” injuries to heal. Mauresmo simply did not enter.
Ninety-six players form the women's field. Thirty-two are seeded, thus have byes. Anybody looking for marquee names today is going to have to look hard.
Sign on the Indian Wells concourse: “Coachella Valley Massage Team.” Turned out the reference was to Jolein Price, who is offering rubdowns for $2 a minute. “With all the excitement here, they help people not get their necks in a knot,” she said.
Agassi, Steffi Graf, Hingis, Sharapova, Bob and Mike Bryan, Blake and Mardy Fish took part in an exhibition yesterday at La Quinta Resort and Club. It was a benefit for the Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation, which funds programs that support brain tumor patients and their families. . . .
A tournament handing out 32 seeds has to be welcomed by the top seeds, who thus are spared having to oppose players of demonstrated quality in an opening round. Nobody, it seems, thinks of the spectators. Would you thrill to a program on which the most compelling match could be one between Karolina Sprem and Shinobu Asagoe? . . .
Dementieva might have one of the least rigorous draws ever in a tournament of this one's standing. She could go through to the quarterfinals without having to engage other than qualifiers or “lucky losers.” . . .
The women's winner here receives $332,000, the men's winner $455,000.