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Venus Forever
Feb 22nd, 2004, 09:51 PM
Women's Look Forward: Dubai, Bogota

by Bob Larson


Suddenly this Middle East season is getting serious. With next week's event at Doha upgraded to a Tier II, there is a genuine reason for players to head to the Persian Gulf.

We'll see if it actually happens. Doha and this week's event, Dubai, are still in a lousy spot in the calendar. (If we were the WTA, we'd have scheduled these events before Antwerp and Paris, to let people continue a nice smooth progress westward).

If the initial draw is an indication, it seems to have worked. Dubai isn't Filderstadt -- but it isn't bad, either, being clearly stronger than the indoor events of the past two weeks. At least, if everyone who signs up is able to play.

The withdrawals, in fact, have already begun; Silvia Farina Elia, who was in the Antwerp final, is out. But she was unseeded, so it doesn't upset the draw much. Assuming things don't get worse.

It is a rather strange draw; it's no surprise that a wildcard went to Selima Sfar -- but why are they giving wildcards to Nicole Pratt and Eleni Daniilidou? Still, we'll see quite a few people we haven't seen for a while. Justine Henin-Hardenne, who has had another week to recover from her respiratory problems, is the #1 seed. Venus Williams will try to shake off her leg problems as the #2 seed. Jennifer Capriati will finally try to play this year; she's the #3 seed. Anastasia Myskina will be seeded #4. Ai Sugiyama, with big points to defend this week, is the #5 seed. Jelena Dokic, who hasn't done much this year, will try to change that as #6. Francesca Schiavone will try to keep climbing the rankings as #7. And Conchita Martinez, now that the indoor season is over, is making an appearance as the #8 seed.

Even with Farina Elia out, there are some quite solid unseeded players, too. Magui Serna. Meghann Shaughnessy. Lina Krasnoroutskaya. Daniilidou. Svetlana Kuznetsova. Plus Magdalena Maleeva, trying to prove that her indoor results were no fluke.

Looking at early round matches, we see several seeds who may have their hands full. #5 Sugiyama starts against Lina Krasnoroutskaya -- though it gets easier after that, as she would face a tired Nicole Pratt or a qualifier. #6 Dokic has to contend with Petra Mandula, who will probably be very happy to be playing on hardcourt after weeks of carpet. And after that, she would face Shaughnessy.

Ir we were to pick the player with the worst draw, though, it would probably be #7 Schiavone, who has to open against Svetlana Kuznetsova, then Maleeva.

None of the high seeds is so troubled. The top four, of course, get first round byes. After that, Henin-Hardenne would face slumping Tamarine Tanasugarn or wildcard Sfar. #2 seed Venus will have to work a little harder, since she faces either Alicia Molik or Maria Vento-Kabchi -- who has a history of fairly good results in the Middle East. #3 seed Capriati will not have an easy comeback; she will open against either Daniilidou (another player happy to be away from carpet) or Tina Pisnik. The biggest threat to #4 Myskina is Magui Serna.

In the quarterfinals, we would have Henin-Hardenne versus Martinez, Venus against Schiavone, Capriati against Sugiyama, and Myskina against Dokic. Of those, Capriati against Sugiyama looks by far the most interesting.

We've already seen some mildly interesting results in the qualifying. Henrieta Nagyova, who used to be so good in low-level WTA events but who now is struggling to stay in the Top 100, lost in the first round of qualifying to Camille Pin. And Alexandra Stevenson is out in a third set tiebreak to young German Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who went on to lose to Angelique Widjaja.

The doubles field isn't particularly inspiring; the top team is Liezel Huber and Ai Sugiyama, with Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva #2. Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja are back together as the #3 seeds. There aren't many particularly noteworthy unseeded pairs; we do observe that Anastasia Myskina is playing with Lina Krasnoroutskaya, but they will face Huber and Sugiyama in the first round. The other team to watch might be Ting Li and Tian Tian Sun, but they too had a tough draw, opening against Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva.

If Dubai is reasonably strong, the other side of the coin is, it looks as if nearly everyone who is willing to play this week is in Dubai. There wasn't much left over for Bogota -- always a relatively weak event anyway (the price it pays for being the only event played in that part of the world). The result is that anyone ranked above about #125 earned direct entry. The only Top 30 player in the draw is perpetual champion Fabiola Zuluaga, who is naturally the #1 seed. Maria Sanchez Lorenzo is seeded #2, Emilie Loit #3, and Ashley Harkleroad (the one American to truly prefer clay) is #4; they are the only Top 50 players in the field. The wildcards are a strange pair, with no Columbians on the list; American Megan Falcon received one (making her one of three Americans in the draw, Harkleroad and Samantha Reeves being the others) and Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino being the other. The rest of the field is the usual assortment of clay-courters: The #5 seed is Anabel Medina Garrigues, Ludmila Cervanova is #6, Arantxa Parra #7, and Melinda Czink #8. Of all the seeds, only Harkleroad appears to have a particularly difficult opening match, starting as she does against former Roland Garros quarterfinalist Marta Marrero.

It's interesting to note that Tatiana Panova again elected to play qualifying rather than take a spot in the main draw. Despite her speed, her clay results have not been exceptional; it remains to be seen if she can make that pay off.

The Rankings. This week once again brings us calendar shift; although it's the week of Dubai, points are coming off from Scottsdale and Acapulco. That leaves several players quite vulnerable: Acapulco champion Amanda Coetzer is already barely clinging to the Top 40, and isnít playing; she could end up around #50. We don't even want to think what's going to happen to the player Coetzer beat in that final, Mariana Diaz-Oliva, who is stuck in Bogota qualifying this week. Last year's semifinalist Shinobu Asagoe, who beat Elena Dementieva, is also looking at a fall to around #50.

Scottsdale champion Ai Sugiyama isn't under quite as much pressure, but her #8 ranking is in a good deal of danger. Last year's Scottsdale finalist, Kim Clijsters, literally doesn't care what happens this week; she earned only 170 points last year, and that score has been her seventeenth or eighteenth tournament for much of the time since. Semifinalist Meghann Shaughnessy, though, will need to repeat to stay in the Top 30, and semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson had better prepare to bid the Top 100 goodbye.

There will be far less movement at the top of the rankings. Justine Henin-Hardenne will of course stay #1, and Kim Clijsters #2. Of the other players in the Top Ten, #3 Amelie Mauresmo, #5 Jennifer Capriati, #6 Serena Williams, and #7 Anastasia Myskina didn't play at this time last year, and #4 Lindsay Davenport and #10 Elena Dementieva lost their opening matches; #8 Chanda Rubin earned a mere 33 points. Thus only Sugiyama has to worry about defending. What that all comes down to is this: The #1, #2, and #3 rankings won't change. There is just a possibility that Jennifer Capriati could overtake Lindsay Davenport to gain the #4 spot, but she has to win, and even then it's not likely; she has to earn effectively all possible quality points (that is, she must beat Sugiyama in the quarterfinal, Venus in the semi, and Henin-Hardenne in the final. Anything else and she's out of luck). #7 Myskina has real chances to move up; a semifinal might make her #6, and a final certainly would; a win, or a final with a semifinal victory over Henin-Hardenne, would move her to a career-high #5.

It looks as if Elena Dementieva will move up to #8 even though she isn't playing. She will move ahead of Chanda Rubin because of the points Rubin loses. And she will move ahead of Sugiyama unless the #5 seed can win the title this week.

Volcana
Feb 22nd, 2004, 10:11 PM
All I hope is Venus plays, and gets out of the event uninjured. Anything else is gravy.

Maggie&MomoFan
Feb 22nd, 2004, 10:45 PM
Venus vs Magdalena in the qtrs would be interesting.

Buitenzorg
Feb 22nd, 2004, 10:56 PM
Thanks venusforever ... that is a great article ;)

crazillo
Feb 22nd, 2004, 10:58 PM
Great article. Maleeva is the favourite against Schiavone IMO.

jerk-in-the-box
Feb 22nd, 2004, 11:44 PM
Thanks Venus Forever. Very informative answering pretty much all the questions I had

LindsayRocks89
Feb 23rd, 2004, 04:18 AM
great article

Daniel
Feb 23rd, 2004, 05:46 AM
Very good article. thanks. Hope Anastasia gets #6 at the end of the week :)

cadiac
Feb 23rd, 2004, 07:27 AM
Go Go Tamarine :bounce:

Rub
Feb 23rd, 2004, 07:42 AM
i want to see venus and capriati back on tour! so that at least... justine will have some real challenge defending this title! :bounce: