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tennisIlove09
Mar 1st, 2003, 10:30 PM
Serena and the seeds drown in Scottsdale
"LA" Alexandra aims for top 8; Dokic all alone in loss

By Matthew Cronin
********************



Susan Mullane/
Camerawork USA, Inc.
FROM THE STATE FARM CLASSIC IN SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – For the first time in a decade, ******************** decided take a Challenger-level player's approach to tennis and actually drove 750 miles from Oakland, Calif. to rainy Scottsdale, Ariz. After successfully grinding into the hotel parking lot and hearing that Serena Williams was about to play Alexandra Stevenson, I romped through the mud to the tournament. What was my reward for putting in a 22 hours of brain-dead swerving: pullouts and upsets.

No. 1 and defending champ Serena withdrew from the State Farm Classic because of tendinitis in her left knee; fever ridden, No. 9 Lindsay Davenport fell in three to Ai Sugiyama; out-of-match-shape No. 4 seed Jelena Dokic was outpunched by Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4, 6-2 and Italy's Francesca Schiavone upset elder countrywoman Silvia Farina Elia 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

So the tr.net jinx was born in an attractive yet sprawling suburb 125 miles east of the minute town of Quartzite, which houses thousands of gem-hungry snowbirds in funky RVs parked across its parched flatlands.

Maybe it's good for the rest of the players to have a couple weeks off from Serena, who had begun the year in her now typical dominating fashion. Recall that Serena injured her left knee last summer and was forced to pull out of the Canadian Open, but still cruised the US Open. At this point, the injury doesn't appear to be very serious.

"It's just a nagging pain I've always had," she said. "Usually I'm able to play through it, and it doesn't even hurt. I think it was good judgment for me to pull out because I think I have a bright future this year and I want to continue to do well." Serena added that the knee began to bother her in Paris two weeks ago, when she scorched Amelie Mauresmo for the title.

"My knee bothered me in Paris, but it wasn't that bad," she said. "It's just that my body is telling me to rest because I have been playing a lot and I have been working hard and doing a lot of off-court stuff. So my body needs a slight bit of a rest. I'll be ready to recharge again soon. Don't worry."

Is this a bad omen for Serena, who began her remarkable 2002 run here last year when she outlasted Jennifer Capriati in an incredible final? Maybe not. But it was certainly disappointing.

"It really is because all the magic happened here last year," she said. "It was the beginning of an unbelievable year for me. I have a lot of points to defend but I'll just take it with a grain of salt."

Here is one important fact about Serena: even though she recently moved back to LA, her last three of her last four "defeats" have been in the Southwest and all within an eight-hour drive of each other: to Chanda Rubin last summer in Manhattan Beach; to Kim Clijsters in November at the Championships in downtown LA; and to her knee here at Scottsdale.

"LA" Alexandra aims for top 8


Courtesy of the WTA Tour
Stevenson responded by wasting Stephanie Foretz 6-3 6-0, the same woman who stunned her in the first round of last year's US Open.

"The second set was nice," Alexandra said. "I got payback. 6-0 was nice. There was chance for me to be broken and I wouldn't let it happen."

Alexandra was disappointed that she didn't have a chance to face her good friend Serena, but considering how badly her year has gone so far, she'll take it.

"I was looking forward to playing her very much. I know how much it sucks to be hurt because I've been hurt so much," said Stevenson. She has been battling inflamed feet since Australia and has only won five matches in seven tournaments this year after beginning of the year at a career high ranking of No. 18. "Serena was going to be a tough match and I was planning on winning it. Tomorrow, I have to beat Nathalie Dechy and she's no pushover. They all wan to beat me. I have to have my 'A' game ready."

As always, Stevenson has her sights set high. She ranked No. 26, but is planning on ending the year in the top 8. She says she needs to be a top 10 player, because she recently purchased a home in Manhattan Beach four blocks from the water and desires a higher-end home on the sand.

"There are 20 girls ahead of me I feel I should be ahead of now," Stevenson said. "There's no reason why not. A lot of the girls I've beaten are in the top 8 and I deserve to be up there."

Alexandra is so confident that she feels like on a good day, the top 4 can be hers, too. "I feel like I can beat them and compete with them," she said. "It makes me feel very upset that they are up here and I'm not."

Dokic all alone in loss


Susan Mullane/
Camerawork USA, Inc.
After skipping the Australian swing, Dokic has had a hard time getting her year started. She made an excellent hire in coach Heinz Gunthardt (Steffi Graf's former tutor), but Dokic has never had the German's work ethic and doesn't move nearly as well.

Gunthardt has a home in Switzerland and neither of Dokic's parents are here, but Jelena is OK with that.

"I can rely on myself a lot and not a coach to play with me or some one else," she said. "It's nice to have support, but I don't have any problems in regards to that."

Shaughnessy is the hometown girl and was the far more consistent player. Dokic didn't serve well and played poor defense.

"It was me more than anything," said the ninth-ranked Dokic. "Just like the rest of the season. I think it was pretty much the same story. My game is not there. She played OK and kept the ball going. I gave her a lot of points. I should have been a little more patience. It's just not happening right now. But I'm not putting any pressure on myself. Physically and mentally, I'm struggling. But I'm not worried. I've proved I can be to top 5 or top 10."