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Aug 19th, 2003, 08:01 PM
Busy tour slate takes toll on players
By Jason York and Jim Fuller , Register Staff
August 19 2003
New Haven Register

Lindsay Davenport, the top seed at the Pilot Pen and ranked No. 4 in this week’s WTA Tour rankings, said she would need relatively minor surgery on the inflamed nerve in her left foot at the end of the current season. Davenport would be sidelined, however, for 8-12 weeks after the procedure.

With the WTA Tour ranking heavily reliant on tournament participation to bolster player rankings, Davenport has played through the pain. There have been good days; there have been bad days. Davenport has had to play through all of them.

Davenport, 27, said Grand Slam tournaments are more conducive for productive play while carrying an injury.

"In a tournament like (Pilot Pen), you play four matches in five days, where at the Open, if you win it, you play seven over 14 or 15 days," said Davenport, who turned professional in 1993, has been ranked No. 1 in the world and has won three Grand Slam titles each in singles and doubles.

Second-seeded and world No. 7 Amelie Mauresmo has had to deal with a cranky back most of the summer, though she said her fitness level is quite high at the moment. Mauresmo also was spared full exposure to the grueling summer hard-court schedule ahead of the U.S. Open because she played Fed Cup matches for France on clay.

The Rogers AT&T Cup in Toronto was her first hard-court tournament this summer, and Mauresmo’s back flared up a bit.

"The hard courts are very tough when you have an injury," Mauresmo, 24, said.

Jennifer Capriati, seeded third and ranked No. 7, believes a shorter WTA Tour schedule would benefit the health of the players, saying, "Maybe that would be a way to go instead of all these little tournaments all year long, all the time."

The current WTA Tour schedule for 2003 is 45 weeks. If a player decides to participate in Fed Cup (women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup), that’s an additional two weeks.

Capriati, 27, said most players would be able to properly train for the season if it were at 40 weeks.

There would be time to relax and for a progression from conditioning to court work.

"Then you are in the best possible shape you can be, if it’s done the right way," Capriati said.

With the schedule in its current format, Capriati said she’s been lucky so far to avoid injuries.

Capriati added that she does experience aches and pains, which let her know it has been a long year.

But Capriati, who has won three Grand Slam titles and been ranked No. 1 in the world, said she has built her own time off into the schedule. She’s accomplished many of her playing goals and feels she has nothing to prove in some of the WTA Tour’s smaller events.

"At this stage in my career, I don’t feel forced into playing anything," Capriati said.

Mauresmo said it’s a Catch-22.

"You have tournament directors, sponsors that want to see the best players coming into their tournament," Mauresmo said. "It’s very hard to find the right balance. I don’t know if there is an ideal situation for the way the tour is made."

GRANVILLE DISAPPOINTED

Former NCAA Division I singles champion Laura Granville was routed 6-1, 6-1 by qualifier Myriam Casanova in the Pilot Pen’s first round.

Granville, 22, who won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2000 and 2001 in her first two years at Stanford, will play in the U.S. Open next week. She would have liked to get in two or three matches this week, but she said Casanova prevented that from happening.

"That was one of the hardest hit balls I’ve faced this year," Granville said of Casanova’s ground strokes. "She really had me on the defensive most of the time."

Granville, who was ranked No. 33 in the WTA Tour rankings this week, said she’s still adjusting to the lifestyle of the tour two years after turning professional. A wild-card entry into the Pilot Pen in 2001 was one of her first WTA tournaments.

When Granville was at Stanford, where the rare occasion of on-the-court trouble arose, she at least had teammates on whom to rely.

Now it’s different, she said, because of the constant travel, wear and tear on her body and the loneliness.

Her coach, Ola Mahmqvist, does not always travel with her.

Her father and other friends and family sometimes travel with her, but when they don’t, there is often nowhere to turn when things go wrong on the court.

"That’s the up and down of being a tour professional," Granville said. "That’s the one thing I’ve had to learn."

AN INSPIRATION TO QUALIFIERS EVERYWHERE

Alicia Molik may be out of the Pilot Pen singles draw, but she is far from forgotten.

Molik made a piece of history when she advanced out of qualifying to reach the final at Sarasota, Fla., in April. Molik became the first qualifier to play in a U.S.-based WTA event final since Chanda Rubin at the 1991 Houston event.

Molik, who lost to Elena Bovina 6-3, 7-6 in Monday’s first round, became the poster girl for every qualifier in New Haven and tournaments of past, present and future.

While no qualifier has reached the quarterfinals in New Haven since Magui Serna in 1999, hope always springs eternal.

Sure, 180 U.S. tournaments have passed since a qualifier won a WTA event. For those trivia buffs, Anke Huber holds the distinction at the Schenectady, N.Y., event in August 1990.

But after seeing qualifiers reach the main draw quarterfinals in 22 of 43 events this season, it is clear that qualifiers are much more than just names to fill out a tournament draw.

With victories by qualifiers Casanova and Cara Black on Monday, Cinderella is alive and well in New Haven.

"Of course, I hope I can do well," the 86th-ranked Casanova said after her 6-1, 6-1 win over Granville. "There is no pressure on me in the next match (against Amelie Mauresmo on Wednesday).

I am happy that the last two matches were easy (Casanova defeated No. 21 Silvia Farina Elia 6-0, 6-1 in Sunday’s qualifying final), and I didn’t take so long, so I can have some power for my next match."

CHANGE AT THE TOP

As Kim Clijsters discovered last week in Toronto, life at the top of the women’s tennis world isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Capriati and Davenport, the two former No. 1 players at the Pilot Pen, know all too well the burden that goes with earning membership in the most elite club in women’s tennis.

"I think it takes a certain person," said Capriati, who held the top spot for a total of 17 weeks between October 2001 and June 2002. "You have to be a very strong-minded, confident person — almost somebody who does not have a lot of feelings to not let that stuff kind of get to you.

"I couldn’t believe, first of all, that I even got to No. 1, so I was just pretty happy to be there. I wasn’t sure if I was really ready for it, but I wanted to try and hold a position like that. It was tough and it was something that I guess I wasn’t ready for right at that time."

The first time she was No. 1, Capriati held the top spot for only three weeks. Clijsters nearly lost it after one week, but she held off No. 2 Serena Williams by 44 points.

Davenport had a little more staying power, retaining No. 1 for 17 weeks before alternating with Martina Hingis for the next two years.

"I always thought it was a huge honor and a lot of fun once I got there," Davenport said. "I think it is a lot of pressure trying to get up there, trying to win Slams, trying to win tournaments. Once I got there, it wasn’t as hard as maybe it is (made out) to be."

FINISHING TOUCHES

Seven months and a change of venues has done little to alter Vera Zvonareva’s success rate against Sarah Taylor.

When the two met in the Round of 16 in January’s Moorilla International in Hobart, Australia, Zvonareva posted a dominating 6-2, 6-0 victory.

The two met again on Monday in the first round of the Pilot Pen.

The result was a resoundingly familiar 6-2, 6-0 victory for Zvonareva.

"I am feeling very confident about my game, so everything I tried to go with my game today, everything was good," said Zvonareva, who won the first set on Sunday before rain suspended the match. "I really didn’t give her a chance to come back."

As impressive as Zvonareva was on Sunday, she looked downright unbeatable when the match resumed.

Zvonareva, the world’s No. 14 player, was most pleased with her ability to close out the match decisively. Three of her 15 losses this season have come after winning the first set.

"Sometimes I try to do something and then I have more mistakes and they have the chance to come back," Zvonareva said of her opponents. "I was trying to keep with the same game I had before — to pressure her — and I think I did well."