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bandabou
Jun 25th, 2004, 07:53 AM
Wimbledon - First Round
Karolina Sprem def. Venus Williams (3) 7-6(7-5) 7-6(8-6)

This was the day when we kept writing Matches of the Day and trashing them. First Raymond's win over Asagoe. Then Ruano Pascual's over Pierce. Or maybe Sequera's over Martinez.

Yeah, right. How could we possibly settle on any match but this one?

Really, this wasn't just Karolina Sprem against Venus Williams. It was Sprem against her nerves and her clay footwork, too. She was slipping and skidding all over the place, and it wasn't just the dew on the grass; she did try to slide more than a few times (shades of that inspirer of so many Croat players, Goran Ivanisevic). But when she fell, she got up quickly -- in at least one case, inducing a Venus error as a result.

Really, it should have been shorter than it was. Sprem was up a break on Venus repeatedly, in both first and second sets. But the rule is close to universal: It's easier to break than to hold when you're nervous.

It's unfortunate that Sprem couldn't polish it off in the second, because it produced the Tiebreak That Went Bad. We won't rehearse the details of how the umpire awarded Sprem an extra point in the tiebreak (in a process which also caused them to play a point on the wrong side and caused Sprem to hit a second serve on what arguably should have been a first serve); you'll probably see it replayed thirty or forty times. It shouldn't have mattered anyway; Venus had the chance to win the tiebreak on her serve, and didn't, and that let Sprem, helped by that extra point he awarded her, finish off the second set. In a way, you have to pity Sprem. She was clearly so nervous that she didn't really know what the score was, and accepted the point because she trusted the chair umpire. But we know our Williams Fans; they'll be calling her "cheater" for the next dozen years. Venus took it very well; she was clearly upset about the loss, but didn't blame anyone except herself, and took the error with class.

It will hurt her even so: She was last year's finalist (indeed, she had been in the last four finals, winning two of them), and that was the biggest single result on her record -- a third of her points. Venus came in at #8; the loss will drop her far below the Top Ten -- looking at the numbers, the likeliest result is #14 or #15. And she's almost used up her special seeding exemptions, meaning that, come the U. S. Open if not before, she'll have to use her actual ranking.

Of course, she has now hit bottom; she has no more points to defend. From now on, she has nowhere to go but up.

That's where Sprem is going, too. This is her first-ever Top Ten win, and it comes at a Slam, where the points are doubled, and she gets the extra points based on Venus's special ranking. She came in at #30. This will probably move her above #25. And she is in a part of the draw that is rather well cleaned out. She very possibly is not done. Maybe that will help her with the nerves next time.

We said from the first that this was an incredibly tough draw for Venus; we were even more right than we thought....

Bob larson´s tennisnewsletter.

Brαm
Jun 25th, 2004, 08:00 AM
"But we know our Williams Fans; they'll be calling her "cheater" for the next dozen years. "

Did he really say that?????

spike83
Jun 25th, 2004, 08:24 AM
"But we know our Williams Fans; they'll be calling her "cheater" for the next dozen years. "

Did he really say that?????the fact is, even Venus said it, 1 point doesn't make a match, especially not when Venus then goes on to 6-4 up in the tiebreak, and serving. and still she couldn't finish it, K'Lina just breezed trough to matchpoint.

Brαm
Jun 25th, 2004, 08:27 AM
the fact is, even Venus said it, 1 point doesn't make a match, especially not when Venus then goes on to 6-4 up in the tiebreak, and serving. and still she couldn't finish it, K'Lina just breezed trough to matchpoint.
What's this got to do with my post? :confused:

I'm talking about Larson's comment. He's really rude here! :eek:

bandabou
Jun 28th, 2004, 05:30 PM
Wimbledon: Paying the Price
The repercussions came quickly. The chair umpire who cost Venus Williams so dearly will not be working again at this Wimbledon. But the real question was, which player in the bottom half would take advantage of her absence?

It was not to be Anastasia Myskina. In a third round match on Friday, she took on Amy Frazier, and it was about a un-grass-like as a match could get. It really looked like two hardcourters struggling on clay. But finally Frazier managed to get enough balls in on a match point to win it. She put herself back in the Top 30 -- indeed, probably put herself back in the Top 25 -- 4-6 6-4 6-4.

You have to wonder a little bit about all the people oohing and aahing about Maria Sharapova. Maybe that cute little dress of hers keeps the men from looking at her lousy little footwork, but we thought the women would notice. Crummy footwork or not, she once again proves the rule: Hit hard enough, and it doesn't matter too much if you're tripping over your feet. She won the all-glamour (and all lowcut-dress-with-bare-shoulders) contest with Daniela Hantuchova 6-3 6-1.

That was about typical of the six third round matches on Friday. Other than Frazier vs. Myskina, all the matches were two sets, and the winner in no case lost more than six games. #5 seed Lindsay Davenport lost exactly three in beating Tatiana Panova 6-2 6-1 (though the Russian at least is back in the Top 100); #11 Ai Sugiyama also lost three in beating Marion Bartoli 6-1 6-2, putting herself briefly at the head of the group of five players (Sugiyama, Petrova, Suarez, and Zvonareva, with Sharapova on the outside of the race) looking for two or at most three spots in the Top Ten. #12 Vera Zvonareva is at the back of that pack, but she too looked good, beating Gisela Dulko 6-4 6-2; that leaves Dulko just short of the Top 50.

The one third round upset was rather mild. Tamarine Tanasugarn has made the Wimbledon fourth round in five of the last six years. She made it six of seven with a 6-2 6-4 win over Alicia Molik -- only the second time this year (in 14 events) that Molik has lost to a player ranked below her (the first being to Nagyova at Estoril). Tanasugarn, #66 coming in, will gain at least a dozen places, and is one win away from the Top 50; Molik, who had just hit a career high of #26, will lose at least two spots but should stay Top 30.

In addition to the six third round matches, 17 second round matches remained to be completed. One went very quickly: Meghann Shaughnessy, who had been tied 8-8 with qualifier Nuria Llagostera Vives, polished off the last two games for a 6-4 4-6 10-8 win. Llagostera Vives still earned her first WTA win since Bogota 2003.

Few of the high seeds needed much more time on the court. #1 Serena Williams pounded Stephanie Foretz 6-0 6-4 to put herself one win away from the Top 25. #4 Amelie Mauresmo was almost as quick in disposing of qualifier Jennifer Hopkins 6-3 6-3 (it's still the first WTA win since Charleston 2002 for Hopkins, and her first Slam win since the 2002 Australian Open). Jennifer Capriati had much more of a struggle against the still-not-fully-well Elena Baltacha, but even on grass, Capriati was able to handle Baltacha's serve, and advanced 6-4 6-4. #9 Paola Suarez is usually vulnerable on grass, having come in with a 5-9 career record at Wimbledon, but Els Callens just isn't herself these days, and lost 6-2 6-2. And #14 Silvia Farina Elia took advantage of her last grass event of the year with a 6-3 6-3 win over namesake Silvija Talaja.

The highest seed to struggle, once again, was #10 Nadia Petrova -- though, admittedly, she faced the highest-ranked opponent; Maria Vento-Kabchi was the #2 unseeded player. Petrova edged her 6-3 3-6 6-2.

Patty Schnyder, in a way, justified her low opinion of her results on grass. Her two worst losses of the year, in terms of opponent rankings, came on the green stuff: She lost to #58 Medina Garrigues at 's-Hertogenbosch, and at Wimbledon topped it off with a loss to #115. Countrywoman Emmanuelle Gagliardi, who has been in a horrible slump, beat the #16 seed 6-2 6-7 6-2.

If Karolina Sprem is looking like the Most Impressive Newcomer of late 2003 through early 2004, Tatiana Golovin is looking like the Most Impressive of 2004 as a whole. She put herself on the verge of the Top 40 with a 6-1 6-0 drubbing of Francesca Schiavone, ending the Italian's quest for a Top 15 ranking. Even more amazing, Ludmila Cervanova -- who came here with a four match losing streak and who is mostly a clay player anyway -- upset #26 Lisa Raymond 6-4 6-3, raising a real possibility that Raymond would drop out of the Top 30.

The other seed in action was #25 Nathalie Dechy, who beat Maria Sanchez Lorenzo 6-1 6-1 to become the player most likely to dump Raymond from the Top 30 (except for the minor detail that she had to face Capriati).

Another Frenchwoman, Virginie Razzano, provided the biggest surprise among the unseeded players, posting her second big win of the tournament as she beat Elena Likhovtseva 6-1 6-2. Nor is she the only player ranked below #100 to reach the third round: Rita Grande beat Arantxa Parra Santonja 5-7 6-2 6-3, while Anne Kremer beat qualifier Sun Tian Tian 6-3 7-5. Kremer is up to 16 events now, and can't get more injury exemptions -- but she has her ranking up to around #120, so she will at least be able to get into better qualifying fields. And, by the looks of things, she might at last be ready to do damage again.

Virginia Ruano Pascual, in her past Big Wimbledon Wins, has tended to lose in the next round. Not this time; she beat Henrieta Nagyova 6-4 6-4, putting her just below the Top 50. Magui Serna is already there; she set up a meeting with Serena by beating Jane O'Donoghue, the one remaining British player, 6-3 6-3.

Friday's other singles match ended with Tatiana Perebiynis beating Milagros Sequera 6-2 7-5.

Saturday's entire action, of course, was rained out, forcing play on the middle Sunday.

It's interesting to note that the men are now further along than the women, despite finishing on Sunday whereas the women's final is on Saturday: Men's third round singles action is done; the women have two matches still to complete. Tatiana Golovin and Emmanuelle Gagliardi were at 3-3 in the third set, and #14 Silvia Farina Elia had split sets with Virginia Ruano Pascual, before Sunday's rain ended action.

Eight matches did complete on Sunday, every one of which followed form. (A rather surprising statement, given that the women will have five or six unseeded players in the fourth round, equalling or nearly the six the men have; the women, what's more, have lost four of their top eight seeds, the men three of seven players seeded #8 or higher.) Serena Williams beat Magui Serna 6-4 6-0, though she needs at least one more win if she wants to stay in the Top 20. Amelie Mauresmo is one win away from taking the #3 ranking back from Anastasia Myskina after her 6-1 6-4 victory over Ludmila Cervanova. Jennifer Capriati saw to it that Nathalie Dechy did not stay in the Top Thirty 7-5 6-1. Paola Suarez kept herself in the race for the Top Ten with a 6-1 4-6 6-0 victory over Anne Kremer. Nadia Petrova is now at the head of the block of players trying to hit the Top Ten after she finally won an easy match, 7-5 6-2 over Tatiana Perebiynis. Magdalena Maleeva will probably be Top 20 following her 7-5 6-3 win over Denisa Chladkova. Rita Grande won a battle of players just getting back into the Top 100 as she beat Virginie Razzano 6-4 4-6 6-3. And Karolina Sprem won two more tiebreaks, over Meghann Shaughnessy, to clinch a Top 25 spot and move to within one win of hitting the Top 20. (Yes, we know, Shaughnessy was seeded and Sprem wasn't, but Sprem came in ranked higher even so, so it isn't an upset.)

The doubles was about as productive of withdrawals as upsets; not only did Jelena Dokic bail out, but #10 seeds Elena Dementieva and Lina Krasnroutskaya withdraw. The Russians had, of course, made the semifinal last year (and beaten the Williams Sisters, though that didn't matter rankings-wise); they will be falling out of the Top 50. Taking their place as seeds were Alicia Molik and Magui Serna, who took part in a mass advance by seeds on Friday: 14 seeded pairs in action, 13 through. The one pair to fall were #12 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian, who haven't been the same since Li got hurt this spring; they lost their fourth straight match 6-2 6-3 to qualifiers Dominikovic and Rodionova. But #1 Ruano Pascual/Suarez won their nineteenth straight Slam match 6-2 6-2 over Lucky Losers Augustus and Grandin (who took Dokic's place). Also advancing in straight sets were #3 Navratilova/Raymond, #4 Petrova/Shaughnessy, #5 Huber/Sugyiama, #6 Black/Stubbs, #9 Casanova/Pratt, #11 Bartoli/Loit, #13 Myskina/Zvonareva, #14 Farina Elia/Schiavone, #15 Callens/Mandula, and of course #17 Molik and Serna. If they win their next match, or if Casanova and Pratt do, then Kim Clijsters will be out of the doubles Top 20.

One other seeded team advanced in straight sets, but that deserves particular mention. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario came back in doubles at least partly with an eye on the Olympics, and has played her last two events with Anabel Medina Garrigues as a result. Unfortunately, Medina Garrigues isn't much of a doubles player; she came in ranked #102. And so the all-Spanish team of Medina Garrigues and Sanchez-Vicario, who were wildcarded in, lost to the half-Spanish team of Husarova and Martinez, the #7 seeds, 6-2 6-2. If we were the Spanish Olympic officials, we'd name Martinez and Ruano Pascual for doubles -- but we'll find out soon enough; final rosters are due today (Monday).

What we had thought would be the most interesting unseeded match proved instead a blowout; Lisa McShea and Milagros Sequera had just come off a title at 's-Hertogenbosch, but they lost to Prakusya and Tanasugarn 6-1 6-3. Tanasugarn, who until about two years ago was a singles specialist, finds herself on the verge of the Top 30 in doubles.

The rain on Sunday meant that the first round still isn't over; Nathalie Dechy and Daniela Hantuchova are up a set on a pair of wildcards, but will have to wait to finish.

Most of the schedule, of course, was second round matches, and form once again held (though the top two teams, #1 Ruano Pascual/Suarez and #2 Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva, didn't get a chance to play). #3 Navratlilova/Raymond, #4 Petrova/Shaughnessy, #5 Huber/Sugiyama, #6 Black/Stubbs, #11 Bartoli/Loit, and #15 Callens/Mandula all advanced in straight sets, though #7 Husarova/Martinez needed three sets, and #8 Vento-Kabchi/Widjaja were pushed to 16-14 in the third by Prakusya and Tanasugarn.

Only one team was upset; #9 Casanova/Pratt, who haven't played all that much together, lost in three sets to the Chinese team of Yan and Zheng. The draw also lost #13 seeds Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva; Myskina, for the second time this year, has a toe problem.

We currently calculate the doubles rankings as follows:

1..(2) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4623*
2..(1) SUAREZ .............4623*
3..(3) KUZNETSOVA .........3319*
4..(4) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2978*
5..(6) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2704*
6..(7) PETROVA ........... 2606*
7..(8) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2601*
8.(10) BLACK ............. 2307*
9..(9) RAYMOND ........... 2126*
10..(5) SUGIYAMA ...........2124*
11.(12) STUBBS .............1967*
12.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1720*
13.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1625*
14.(15) HUBER ............. 1576*
15.(18) BARTOLI ........... 1322*
16.(16) WIDJAJA ........... 1259*
17.(21) ZVONAREVA ......... 1216
18.(17) VENTO-KABCHI .......1204*
19.(20) CASANOVA ...........1203
20.(11) Clijsters ......... 1110
21.(23) MOLIK ............. 1107*
22.(24) PRATT ............. 1106
23.(27) SERNA ............. 1087*
24.(22) Maleeva ........... 1074
25.(29) VINCI ............. 1073*
Wimbledon: Rain, Rain, Can We Make a Deal?
At Daily Tennis, we have an interesting relationship between rain and Slams. We cover every match, so the first few days are utterly exhausting. (Go ahead. You try to figure out the significance of, say, Popp vs. Montanes or Grande vs. Santangelo when it's match #54 you've had to cover in the day.) Rain can sometimes be a welcome break.

But the price can be high -- as on Thursday, when they played about two and a half days' worth of matches.

The price for the players can be pretty high, too. On Thursday, Goran Ivanisevic had to play five sets to reach the third round. Which put him up against another past champion, Lleyton Hewitt. (Talk about a top-heavy draw: There were only three past champions in the field, all in the top quarter.) You could see some of the weariness. The serve was working pretty well, but of course Hewitt is a great returner. And he lobs pretty well, too, and Ivanisevic isn't really a natural volleyer, so the Australian was murdering him there at the net. Left with just the serve, Ivanisevic didn't last long. Hewitt eliminated the 2001 champion 6-2 6-3 6-4. And that was it. The End, in big curlicued Olde English letters. After 15 Wimbledons, and 49 Wimbledon wins, Goran Ivanisevic was retired.

Today's feature looks back on the distinguished career of one of tennis's most outspoken characters.

The rain may also have cost Juan Carlos Ferrero, who had been pushed deep into the fifth set by Stefan Koubek in the first round. Ferrero just didn't seem to be there against Robby Ginepri, who is liking grass more and more with each passing year. His routine 6-3 6-4 6-1 win over Ferrero will almost certainly put him in the Top 30. Ferrero, though, will fall from #5 to no better than #6.

The Spanish did manage to get a player into the fourth round despite Ferrero's loss. Carlos Moya is now certain to be the top Spanish player after Wimbledon; he beat Dmitri Tursunov 6-1 6-4 7-5.

It's not just chair umpires who make mistakes. The ATP does it, too. And, in the urgency of Thursday's immense number of matches, we didn't check it. Jan-Michael Gambill did not lose on Thursday; he made it through to the third round.

Which just meant that he had to face Sebastien Grosjean. Some reward. Even the television commentators are finally noticing just how much Grosjean likes grass. He took out Gambill 7-6 6-3 6-3.

Even with Ivanisevic gone, Croatia is not without its influence at Wimbledon. The matches above were all third rounders, but most of Friday's schedule was second round matches -- no fewer than nineteen of them. Including two big-serving Croats, Ivo Karlovic and Mario Ancic. For the second straight year, Karlovic is in the third round, having beaten Gilles Elseneer 6-4 6-4 3-6 7-6. As for Ancic, he finally beat a non-seeded player at Wimbledon, making the third round for the first time with a 4-6 7-6 2-6 7-5 6-4 win over Lucky Loser Julien Benneteau.

Nor did every veteran go out; Wayne Ferreira, playing in his fifteenth consecutive Wimbledon, made the third round for the tenth time by beating Karol Kucera 7-6 6-3 6-1.

The top seed to lose, not surprisingly, was #3 Guillermo Coria, who seemed to be spending almost as much time talking to the trainer as actually playing. He lost to the promising German Florian Mayer 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-4 (and would later lose in doubles, too); at least he can boast of his first Wimbledon win, and he is guaranteed to keep the #3 ranking.

Still, his loss guarantees that Andy Roddick will end up no worse than #2. Not that there was much question about that, based on the way he is playing; he handily beat Lucky Loser Alexander Peya 6-3 7-6 6-4.

For Tim Henman, it took a couple of games longer to get in gear, but only that; the #5 seed beat qualifier Ivo Heuberger 7-5 6-3 6-2. Other seeds advancing quickly were #30 Vincent Spadea, who made the Wimbledon third round for the first time in nine tries, 6-1 6-1 6-2; #26 Taylor Dent, who beat Lucky Loser Stefano Pescosolido 6-3 6-3 7-6; and #25, who also made his first third round, beating wildcard Mark Hilton 7-5 6-4 6-2.

#20 seed Tommy Robredo, though, is out, and it just might cost him his Top 20 ranking; he took on Karol Beck, who is turning into a very good grass player; Beck made his first-ever third round at any Slam 6-3 6-2 7-6. Also out is #22 Andrei Pavel, who will probably make the Top 20 despite his 7-6 6-3 6-3 loss to Kenneth Carlsen.

Rainer Schuettler has shown a clear ability to make life tough for himself this year. It's just possible that he would be on his way home by now had not Greg Rusedski slipped and fallen in a heap in the forth set; it looked as though he banged up his serving wrist just a little, and he was never the same. Of course, the very fact that it was well into the fourth set might have been the cause. The #8 seed beat Rusedski 6-7 7-6 6-7 6-2 6-2. There is speculation that it might be Rusedski's last Wimbledon -- though it's hard to imagine Rusedski wanting to retire with his ranking in the pit where it is now. On the other hand, will he want to play enough qualifying to get back into main draws?

Other seeds to advance with a lot of effort included #11 Mark Philippoussis, last year's finalist, who won a serving battle with Martin Verkerk 4-6 6-3 7-6 7-5; #12 Sjeng Schalken, who took out a tired Todd Martin 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-3 and will probably stay Top 30 at least as a result; #24 Fernando Gonzalez, who almost blew a two set lead but put things together in the fifth to beat Igor Andreev 7-5 6-3 5-7 6-7 6-3; and Hicham Arazi, who is in the third round for the third time after his 6-7 6-4 6-3 7-6 win over David Ferrer.

If you took your scores from the ATP, watch out for the result of the contest between #21 Juan Ignacio Chela and Thomas Enqvist; for the second straight day, the ATP had the score wrong. Enqvist blocked Chela's attempt to make the third round for the first time in his career 6-3 6-7 6-1 3-6 6-3.

Alexander Popp continued his streak of never losing early at Wimbledon; he had the day's most lopsided win, beating Albert Montanes 6-1 6-0 6-1. Also reliving past glories was Xavier Malisse, a 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 winner over Tommy Haas.

Then came Saturday, and more rain, and more waiting to see just how far behind the tournament would fall. By late afternoon, it was far enough behind that they decided to play on Sunday. And the rain never did stop; for the second time in four days, the entire session had to be postponed.

By the end of Sunday, there was a certain air of deja vu around the place. All eight of last year's quarterfinalists had reached the third round -- and, as it turned out, seven of eight would reach the fourth round.

The one exception was Jonas Bjorkman, who for the second straight week found himself facing a young countryman with a big serve. At Nottingham, it was Robin Soderling who disposed of his nation's #1 veteran. At Wimbledon, Joachim Johansson did the damage, beating Bjorkman 6-7 7-6 7-6 6-3. The loss costs Bjorkman his Top 30 ranking; he'll end up around #35.

The other Johansson, Thomas, had the bad luck to run into Roger Federer, who continued to be his incredible grasscourt self. The result was an easy 6-3 6-4 6-3 win for the #1 seed. It appears that Johansson, #123 coming in, will end up just short of the Top 100. Federer, incidentally, made it that much harder for Andy Roddick to get to #1. With Federer in the fourth round, Roddick has to reach at least the final to have a chance.

The American once again looked ready for the challenge. He, too, remains undefeated on grass this year following his 6-3 7-6 7-6 win over Taylor Dent. Dent will probably be Top 30 next week (up from #31), but he can't hit the Top 25.

The Great American Surprise of this Wimbledon, though, is surely Vincent Spadea, who now has as many wins at this Wimbledon as at his entire previous eight. He took out #8 seed Rainer Schuettler 6-4 6-2 6-3, which may well be enough to put him in the Top 25. Schuettler, though, ends up at no better than #8, and it will be #9 if Lleyton Hewitt makes the semifinal or Sebastien Grosjean wins Wimbledon.

Even so, Germany finds itself with two players in the fourth round. Florian Mayer continues to look like the country's Next Big Thing, having ended Wayne Ferreira's final Wimbledon 4-6 6-4 6-1 6-4. The German came in at #66, and at this time last year didn't even have an ATP qualifying match; he was still playing mostly Challenger qualifying. He is very close to reaching the Top 50.

Alexander Popp isn't going to hit the Top 50 any time soon, unless he goes beyond his standard quarterfinal here -- but, for the third time in three tries, he's in the fourth round, having beaten Kenneth Carlsen 7-5 6-4 6-4. That at least will keep the German within spitting distance of the Top 100.

Feliciano Lopez is finally out before the fourth round. In the biggest-serving match of them all, Ivo Karlovic beat the #18 seed 7-6 7-6 6-7 7-5.

And Karlovic has company from his homeland (on both the men's and women's sides, since Karolina Sprem is also in the fourth round). Mario Ancic is in his first Slam fourth round with a 7-5 6-3 7-5 win over #25 Dominik Hrbaty, who once again fails to perform at the required events. Ancic too is knocking on the door of the Top 50; Hrbaty falls just short of the Top 20.

This is supposed to be Tim Henman's big chance. He's not doing a very good job of taking advantage, having struggled in his first match and at the beginning of his second. And, in his third, he struggled again, despite facing Hicham Arazi, who was having neck problems and who prefers clay anyway. Henman kept getting in trouble on serve, and while he rescued things in the first two sets, he couldn't overcome it in the third. He needed four sets to advance 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-2. Once more win and he will be in line for the #5 ranking -- but if he loses his next match, he'll fall to no better than #7.

And that next match will be against last year's finalist Mark Philippoussis. Philippoussis beat Fernando Gonzalez 6-4 6-1 6-7 7-5 (meaning that Gonzalez won't be making the Top 20 just yet), and faces a bleak prospect: If he wins that fourth round match, he'll stay Top 50. Otherwise, he looks to be out.

Sjeng Schalken has that dilemma cut in half: Win his fourth round match, and he should be Top 25. Lose it, and he won't be. He gave himself the chance to reach that ranking with a come-from-behind win over Thomas Enqvist, 5-7 6-2 3-6 7-6 6-2.

The other player to reach the Round of 16 was 2002 semifinalist Xavier Malisse, who beat Karol Beck 6-3 6-3 6-4. Beck still has his best-ever Slam, and is very close to the career-high #60 he briefly reached last fall.

Friday's doubles was, as usual, far more routine than the singles; almost all the seeded teams, especially the high-seeded teams, advanced. In fact #1 Bjorkman/Woodbridge, #3 Bryan/Bryan, #6 Black/Ullyett, #7 Arthurs/Hanley, #8 Damm/Suk, and #9 Etlis/Rodriguez all advanced without loss of a set; they had to play a combined one tiebreak. The top team to lose was last year's semifinalists Erlich and Ram, the #10 seeds; they took one on of the best unseeded teams, Novak and Stepanek, and lost 6-4 7-6. The Israelis will be falling from #19 and #20 to probably somewhere around #30. Also out are #13 Cermak and Friedl, but #11 Paes/Rikl advanced in three sets, and #12 Palmer/Vizner in straights.

The biggest loss, in fact, wasn't even as a result of match action. Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro, who were supposed to be the #4 seeds, withdrew, replaced by Lucky Losers Ayala and Vahaly, who promptly lost to Lopez Moron and Skoch. It appears likely that Santoro will keep his #7/#8 ranking even so, though Llodra is in danger of falling out of the Top Ten.

Sunday's action was mostly more of the same: #5 Knowles and Nestor became the final seeded team to reach the second round with a 6-1 6-3 win over Ginepri and Merklein (though there is one first round match still to complete: Sa/Saretta and Karlovic/Thomas were at 6-6 in the third -- no tiebreak, remember -- when the weather halted play). In second round action, #2 Bryan/Bryan, #3 Bhupathi/Mirnyi, #7 Arthurs/Hanley, #8 Damm/Suk, #12 Palmer/Vizner, and #16 Knowle/Zimonjic all advanced -- though #9 Etlis and Rodriguez, who made the third round last year, are out, as are Leander Paes and David Rikl, last year's semifinalists; they'll be heading down to around #30. Also out are #15 Hood and Prieto. #1 Bjorkman and Woodbridge were about to win their match against Arnold and Garcia when play was stopped, but #14 Malisse and Rochus were in a dogfight with Leach and MacPhie, on serve late in the third set. #6 seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett didn't play; they're awaiting the Sa/Saretta/Karlovic/Thomas winner.

At present, we calculate the men's doubles Top 18 (which is as far as we trust our list) as follows:

1..(3) BBryan.............4545
1..(3) MBryan.............4545
3..(5) Bhupathi...........4075
4..(1) Bjorkman...........3885
5..(2) Woodbridge.........3850
6..(6) Mirnyi.............3820
7..(7) Santoro............3770
8..(8) Llodra.............3260
9..(9) Nestor.............3180
9.(10) Knowles............3180
11.(11) Ullyett............3155
12.(12) Black..............3030
13.(13) Hanley.............2980
14.(14) Arthurs............2580
15.(15) Damm...............2445
15.(15) Suk................2445
17.(17) Rodriguez..........2275
18.(18) Etlis..............2070

Women's Match of the Day

Wimbledon - Third Round
Amy Frazier (31) def. Anastasia Myskina (2) 4-6 6-4 6-4

Yes, we know, this happened on Friday. It's hardly a strong candidate for Match of the Day for Monday. But look at Sunday's matches; the only "upset" was Sprem's win over Shaughnessy, and that wasn't actually an upset, and in any case, Sprem doesn't really need any more publicity right now.

And this was the biggest outcome of the tournament so far, men or women. Anastasia Myskina has never won a grass tournament, but she has a couple of finals, and she likes the surface, and she came into this match with a nine match losing streak.

You probably have seen the match by now: Breaks all over the place, Frazier having half a dozen match points and blowing all but the last (of course, every winner blows everyone but the last), and seeming unable to serve the match out. Myskina scrambling like mad but having more than usual trouble keeping the ball in. As it turned out, Myskina would withdraw from her doubles match on Sunday, so she may have been suffering already. It was still a shock. Frazier has some very good wins in her career -- she retired Steffi Graf, she took out Martina Hingis at San Diego 2000, she beat #8 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario at Roland Garros 2001. But the Hingis win was her last Top Five victory, and her only Top Ten win in the last two years was over Hantuchova at Stanford 2003, and her only Top Twenty win this year was over Dokic at Amelia Island. She didn't seem to be ready for an ambush. Wrong, obviously. And, with the win, she puts herself back in the Top 30 -- close to the Top 25. For at least the third time, after people have written off her career, she's back.

And, as a result, Myskina may lose the #3 ranking she gained at Roland Garros. Certainly she won't be moving up. If Amelie Mauresmo can win her fourth round match, then Mauresmo will be #3 and Myskina #4. Though neither has much to defend this summer. With Kim Clijsters losing points fast, we could have a wild race for the #2 ranking this summer.

Men's Match of the Day

Wimbledon - Third Round
Ivo Karlovic def. Feliciano Lopez (18) 7-6(14-12) 7-6(7-3) 6-7(2-7) 7-5

When two of the biggest serves in tennis meet, something has to give. And the something, in this case, was Feliciano Lopez's streak of Wimbledon fourth rounds.

Lopez is a very atypical Spaniard; he's never had much luck on clay, posting most of his big career results on hardcourts, indoor and out.

Well, plus on grass. In fact, it's been largely Wimbledon that's made him what he is. When he arrived at Wimbledon 2002, he had exactly one Slam match win, but he made the fourth round with wins over Canas and Schuettler. Last year, he did it again, though he beat rather lesser players (the best of them was probably Youzhny).

Now, finally, he's out in the third round, to the Incredible Tiebreak-Playing Croat. Given how big Wimbledon has been for Lopez, it will cost him surprisingly little -- he came in at #22, and will lose between one and four places, with two being perhaps the most likely number. It will be more interesting to see how this affects his future results.

And Ivo Karlovic's, too. It was his breakthrough here last year that made him a respectable player, and now the 25-year-old has gone himself one better. He still doesn't have much of a ground game -- but with that serve, it almost doesn't matter. #62 coming in, he joins the large clump of players just on the edge of the Top 50. Now if only he didn't have to face Roger Federer next....

The Good, the Bad, and the Retired
You could make the case that some guys with a single Slam title don't deserve it. Not so Goran Ivanisevic. The surprise in his case is not that he had so many but so few.

People think of Ivanisevic as a grass-court player, and of course that's where he won his only Slam and had his other three Slam finals. But though Wimbledon was his best major, with a winning percentage in excess of 75%, he had a winning record at all four Slams, with two Australian Open quarterfinals (1989, 1994), three Roland Garros quarterfinals (1990, 1992, 1994), and a U. S. Open semifinal (1996). In terms of titles, he covered everything. In his career, he had a total of 22 titles:

Clay: Stuttgart 1990, Bucharest 1993, Kitzbuhel 1994
Grass: Manchester 1991, Wimbledon 2001
Hardcourt: Adelaide 1992, Dubai 1996
Indoor Hardcourt: Sydney 1992
Carpet: Stuttgart 1992, Stockholm 1992, Vienna 1993, Paris 1993, Tokyo 1994, Grand Slam Cup 1995, Zagreb 1996, Milan 1996, Rotterdam 1996, Moscow 1996, Zagreb 1997, Milan 1997, Vienna 1997, Split 1998

It's obviously the portrait of a guy who likes fast surfaces (in addition to Wimbledon, his two Masters Series titles were on carpet: Stuttgart 1992 and Paris 1993), but he could survive anywhere, and he really liked clay a lot -- to the very end, you could see him trying to slide on grass; indeed, he appeared to twist his ankle one last time in the last service game of his career.

All those singles titles naturally translated into some pretty good rankings as well. He peaked at #2 in 1994, and ended the year in the Top Ten six times (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996); he was Top Five in 1992, 1994, and 1996.

Nor was he, like so many other great singles players, allergic to doubles; in fact, his first title came in doubles in 1988, at the age of 17, when he won Frankfurt; he ended up with nine doubles titles, and he twice made the Roland Garros doubles final (1990 and 1999). His best ranking in doubles was #20. And what American tennis fan could forget his dramatic doubles match against the United States in Davis Cup two years ago? Unable to play singles, Croatia put him in the doubles almost more as a good luck charm than anything else -- and the Croats won the match, and the tie, even so. Pain seemed to inspire him; he was popping painkillers on his way to the 2001 Wimbledon title, and was playing with a shoulder that would require surgery later that year.

In Dubai, Ivanisevic quit after trying to slide for a ball on hardcourt one too many times. If there's ever a wing in the Hall of Fame for bizarre injuries, it could easily be named after the Croat. Not only has he managed to injure himself sleeping and splashing on the beach, but also suffered a hand injury while shutting a door and required stitches after banging into his doubles partner. In fact, as far back as 1998, a web site calculated that Ivanisevic was one of the all-time leaders for receiving stitches with 28 -- and that's only on his head. (Does running out of racquets count? How about getting hit on the back of the head with Marc Rosset's serve?)

That Davis Cup result was emblematic of his service to his country in national competition. He did have a brief quarrel with the Croatian tennis federation, but could usually be counted on to play where needed. He also brought home an Olympic bronze medal in 1992 -- the first Olympic medal won by his newly-created country.

And his service extended beyond just Davis Cup and the Olympics. When local tournaments needed him, he turned up, even if it didn't fit his schedule. He even helped to manage Zagreb 1996, where he was part-owner. "For the first time in my life I see what it is like to run a tournament," he told an interviewer that year. "When I got to Zagreb they tell me Yevgeny Kafelnikov has pulled out and we need another big name. So I sit in the office and start calling players. But they won't come. They are busy. They are tired. It is tough.

"So my colleagues on tournament committee say, 'OK so you must win tournament yourself or you are in big trouble.' Great! Very relaxed I am after that. Never felt such pressure. They are going to hang me if I don't win the tournament!"

That was typical of an interview style that endeared him to fans and press: He said what he thought, and what he thought was often hilarious. He himself spoke of a "Good Goran," a "Bad Goran," and an "Emergency Goran." Neither did he hesitate to caricature his own famous serve; when they reduced the time between points to 20 seconds, he declared "It doesn't matter to me. I can play four points in twenty seconds."

But perhaps his most significant legacy to the sport and his country is the generation of Croatian players he has inspired and supported. Mirjana Lucic (who, ironically, falls off the WTA rankings the week Ivanisevic plays his last match) was called "female Goran" because of her serve; Mario Ancic is still the "baby Goran"; Ivanisevic has played mixed doubles with Iva Majoli, Croatia's other Slam winner. Karolina Sprem, their biggest young female talent, talks freely of how his results influenced her. And Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia's #1 in his absence, admits to being inspired by him.

The crowd went wild when he won his first round match at Wimbledon. And his second, which he won in five sets. But they applauded even more when he lost, in the third, to Lleyton Hewitt. He will be missed.

AjdeNate!
Jun 29th, 2004, 01:41 AM
Just a point of correction... it was NOT K-Lina's first top 10 win.
See 2003 Internationaux de Strasbourg. Round Two.
Karolina Šprem d. #10 Jelena Dokic 75 16 63

Rtael
Jun 29th, 2004, 01:48 AM
Go e-mail Bob Larson to tell him how imperfect he is! ;) :p

AjdeNate!
Jun 29th, 2004, 01:50 AM
Done. And ESPN, too. :yeah: They said it wrong as well.
I'm a facts junkie. If you're gonna say it, it better be right. :p

bandabou
Jun 29th, 2004, 11:08 AM
Wimbledon: Missing Ingredient
Amy Frazier was playing at the pro level before Maria Sharapova was born. She played her first Slam when Sharapova was four months old, and her first Wimbledon before Sharapova reached the age of 15 months. She reached the second round, too.

You'd think, after this much time as a pro, she would have learned how to serve!

Contrary to what we've heard several announcers say, Frazier did not beat two seeds to get to the fourth round; she is a seed herself -- for all that even the WTA once forgot to put a seed number by her name. That's how good her return game is.

But even though she's 5'8" (1.73 m), she has a serve that looks like something out of the 1980s. She was broken repeatedly against Anastasia Myskina in the third round, and still won because she was able to break with even greater regularity. Against Maria Sharapova, she was up a break in the first set. She served for the set in the second. She double-faulted twelve times. Naturally Sharapova kept breaking back. And Sharapova finally earned the key hold. In the end, she reached the quarterfinal 6-4 7-5.

It was Frazier's fourth Wimbledon fourth round. She's never made it past that level. Chances are, she'll end the fortnight at #25.

Silvia Farina Elia, though, looks as if she'll actually be able to stay Top 20. Last year's quarterfinalist had been in a slugfest with Virginia Ruano Pascual, which was suspended after two sets, and a slugfest it remained. But Farina Elia finally won the contest 2-6 6-4 7-5. Ruano Pascual ends up at #53; Farina Elia is currently #19, with Serena Williams the only player with a reasonable shot at passing her.

Though, theoretically, Tatiana Golovin could, too; she too was in a suspended third round match, against Emmanuelle Gagliardi -- but she came back strong and finished quickly, 6-2 2-6 6-3. That should put Golovin in the Top 40 for the first time. Unfortunately for her, it also earns her a meeting with Serena.

Speaking of players at career highs, add Karolina Sprem to the list -- and, in her case, the high is in the Top 20. She beat Magdalena Maleeva 6-4 6-4.

We did eliminate the first of our candidates to make the Top Ten. Vera Zvonareva had to face Lindsay Davenport, and Davenport had one of her better serving days, advancing 6-4 6-4. That means the best Zvonareva can finish is #12, and Sharapova and Sprem and Farina Elia and Serena are all moving up on her.

For the moment, the player in the lead in the contest for that Top Ten spot is Ai Sugiyama. Unlike all the other Japanese players, Sugiyama has not particularly enjoyed Wimbledon or grass; it was, in fact, her worst Slam coming into this year. But she's in the quarterfinal (and, clearly, out of her spring slump); she beat Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-3 7-5. Tanasugarn ends up just short of the Top 50.

The twelve remaining players are an interesting lot: Amelie Mauresmo, who faces Farina Elia next, is the top-ranked. We have two other guaranteed Top Ten players (Davenport and Capriati), four others struggling for Top Ten spots (Sugiyama, Petrova, Suarez, Sharapova), two others just inside the Top 20 (Farina Elia, Sprem) though separated by as much of an age gap as Frazier and Sharapova, plus Serena just inside the Top 25, Golovin who is just entering the Top 40 -- and Rita Grande, who came in at #103.

It's also interesting to note that we have one very one-handed quarter: Mauresmo, Farina Elia, and Grande are all one-handers; only Suarez plays with a two-hander in that part of the draw (and seems most unlikely to be the semifinalist). The rest of the field is your basic WTA collection of two-handers.

We thought, briefly, that we were going to have a Match of the Day in doubles, as Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez saw their Grand Slam hopes threatened. They were down 3-1 in the first against the Japanese team of Shinobu Asagoe and Rika Fujiwara. But, perhaps unfortunately for the sanctity of the term Grand Slam, the world's top pair recovered, and posted a 7-6 6-1 win. They are, of course, assured of the #1 ranking whatever happens here.

The other high seeds also tended to do well, though #2 Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva had to wait to play; their second round opponents are Nathalie Dechy and Daniela Hantuchova, who finally completed their first round match 6-4 6-1 over Borwell and Webley-Smith. But #3 Navratilova and Raymond beat Russell and Santangelo 7-5 6-3, while #4 Petrova and Shaughnessy remain on track for another meeting with Ruano Pascual and Suarez after their 6-3 6-0 win over #15 Callens and Mandula. That's a tough loss for Mandula, who was already down to #40 and had big points to defend; she's sliding back toward #50. Plus #6 Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs beat Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder 7-6 6-4.

A couple of doubles results somehow managed to sneak by us on this crazy weekend. For starters, Silvia Farina Elia and Francesca Schiavone, the #14 seeds, are out, having given Gisela Dulko and Patricia Tarabini a walkover. In addition, Janette Husarova and Conchita Martinez made the second round over Grande and Pennetta -- not that it did them any good, since they lost 6-4 3-6 6-4 to Marion Bartoli and Emilie Loit in the third.

The draw is about as messed up as we are; four teams (Navratilova/Raymond, Petrova/Shaughnessy, Black/Stubbs, and Bartoli/Loit) have made the quarterfinal, but four, including Kuznetsova/Shaughnessy, are still back in the second round, and four more are in the third. That last list includes Tatiana Golovin and Mary Pierce, who kept Alicia Molik out of the Top 20 as they beat Molik and Serna, the #17 seeds, 7-6 6-7 6-3. That also ends a five match winning streak for Molik and Serna.

In context, with some teams so far ahead of others, the rankings don't mean all that much, but we currently calculate the Top 25 as follows:

1..(1) SUAREZ .............4623*
2..(2) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4623*
3..(3) KUZNETSOVA .........3319*
4..(4) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2978*
5..(6) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2735*
6..(7) PETROVA ........... 2694*
7..(8) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2689*
8.(10) BLACK ............. 2356*
9..(9) RAYMOND ........... 2202*
10..(5) SUGIYAMA ...........2124*
11.(12) STUBBS .............2047*
12.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1724
13.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1629
14.(15) HUBER ............. 1576*
15.(18) BARTOLI ........... 1424*
16.(16) WIDJAJA ........... 1259*
17.(21) ZVONAREVA ......... 1216
18.(17) VENTO-KABCHI .......1204*
19.(20) CASANOVA ...........1203
20.(11) Clijsters ......... 1110
21.(23) MOLIK ............. 1107
22.(24) PRATT ............. 1106
23.(32) LOIT ...............1103*
24.(27) SERNA ............. 1087
25.(22) Maleeva ........... 1074

We note with some interest that the partner-swapping between Kevin Ullyett, Daniela Hantuchova, Rennae Stubbs, and Todd Woodbridge has been un-swapped. After Stubbs played with Ullyett and Hantuchova with Woodbridge at Roland Garros, Hantuchova is back with Ullyett. It worked, too, even though Hantuchova's ranking is low enough now that they didn't get seeded and so didn't get a bye; they beat Jared Palmer and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-2 7-6. Stubbs, in an even more fascinating move, hooked up with Woodbridge's partner Jonas Bjorkman, though we'll have to wait and see how that works; they got a walkover over Tu and Olivier Rochus, putting them in the third round without playing a ball. But Jennifer Capriati, who skipped ordinary doubles to play mixed, had about her usual doubles luck; although she and Scott Humphries managed to win their mixed opener, then lost easily in the second round to Sugiyama and Hanley, 6-4 6-2.
Wimbledon: Do Not Forsake Me O My Darling
Could this be the week that Andre Agassi finally leaves the Top Ten?

If you put a gun to our head and forced us to guess, we'd guess no. But it's coming closer. As of now, Agassi is down to #10, and Lleyton Hewitt is #9.

It was a closer thing than one might have expected. Lleyton Hewitt is a former Wimbledon champion. Carlos Moya hadn't even played the lawns in the past two years, and prior to that, had a 4-6 record here, with no results better than a second round. But he does serve pretty well, and his forehand is always dangerous. Against a lesser opponent, he might have had his first Wimbledon quarterfinal. Against Hewitt, he went down 6-2 6-4 4-6 7-6. Moya still will probably end up back in the Top Five.

For Agassi, in addition to being behind Hewitt, there remains the possibility that Sebastien Grosjean could pass him, though the Frenchman would need a final to do it. But he continues to look very good here, having made the quarterfinal for the second straight year. He took on Robby Ginepri, and all but the third set proved utterly routine. In that set, after going up a break, Grosjean melted down for about five games, giving the break back and ending up 5-3 down. But he managed another break, worked things to a tiebreak, and won that easily to advance 6-2 6-2 7-6. That guarantees that Grosjean will stay Top 15 if not better, and he doesn't have much at all to defend this summer (third round at the Canadian Open, first round at Cincinnati and the U. S. Open). Ginepri can at least console himself with a Top Thirty ranking -- until Newport comes off.

Ginepri will, however, end up behind Vincent Spadea. Spadea lost pretty routinely to Sjeng Schalken, 6-2 7-5 3-6 6-2, but it's still his best-ever Wimbledon, and is likely to leave him at #25. Certainly no worse than #26. As for Schalken, who makes the quarterfinal for the second straight year, the win assures that he will stay Top 25.

It will tell you how well Ivo Karlovic serves to note that Roger Federer broke him only once. But the Croat couldn't manage a single break of his own. As so often happens, his fate was decided by tiebreaks, and Federer won both of those. The top seed won consecutive grass match #21 6-3 7-6 7-6. With Moya out, that assures that Federer will stay #1 in the Race when all this is over.

In the Race, but not yet in the rankings. Because Andy Roddick is also through. He found it almost impossible to break Alexander Popp's serve -- except when it counted, at the end of sets. And Popp managed only one break of his own. For the first time in his career, Popp is out before the quarterfinal, 7-5 6-4 6-4. Popp will fall just below #100; Roddick of course remains at #2, but with the chance to move up.

In the day's last match, Tim Henman made it five out of five serious candidates to win who made the quarterfinal, beating Mark Philippoussis 6-2 7-5 6-7 7-6. That also meant that five of last year's quarterfinalists -- Federer, Roddick, Henman, Grosjean, and Schalken -- are back this year.

There are some first-time quarterfinalists, to be sure. Mario Ancic finally has his breakthrough Slam, advancing when Xavier Malisse retired trailing 7-5 3-1; the Croat is pushing toward the Top 40. And Florian Mayer is right behind after his 6-3 6-7 7-6 6-4 win over Joachim Johansson.

The doubles is an incredible mess, with first, second, and third round matches being played. The first round is finally over, with Sa/Saretta beating Karlovic/Thomas 12-10 in the third. In second round action, #1 seeds Bjorkman/Woodbridge and #5 Knowles/Nestor both advanced. But all the people complaining about Old Lady Navratilova should look at Old Man Rick Leach, who is in the third round with Brian MacPhie; they advanced when Roland Garros champions Malisse and Olivier Rochus retired. It's curious to note that both would retire twice on this day: Malisse in singles and doubles, and Rochus in doubles and mixed doubles.

The big news, though, came in the third round, as #16 Knowle and Zimonjic beat last year's finalists Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi 6-4 3-6 8-6. That takes Bhupathi out of the race for #1, and Mirnyi won't be moving above his current #6, though he isn't especially likely to fall below it, either. The other upset came as Davydenko and Fisher beat #8 seed Martin Damm and Cyril Suk 15-13 in the third -- though Damm and Suk should stay at their current #15. We did see Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley beat Novak and Stepanek in straight sets; that keeps Hanley's Top Ten hopes alive.

Allowing that things are all a mess due to some players having progressed so much deeper than others, we calculate that the Top 20 is something like this:

1..(3) BBryan.............4545
1..(3) MBryan.............4545
3..(5) Bhupathi...........4075
4..(1) Bjorkman...........3960
5..(2) Woodbridge.........3925
6..(6) Mirnyi.............3820
7..(7) Santoro............3770
8..(8) Llodra.............3260
9..(9) Nestor.............3255
9.(10) Knowles............3255
11.(11) Ullyett............3155
12.(13) Hanley.............3080
13.(12) Black..............3030
14.(14) Arthurs............2680
15.(15) Suk................2445
15.(15) Damm...............2445
17.(17) Rodriguez..........2275
18.(18) Etlis..............2070
19.(21) Zimonjic...........1925
20.(24) Hood...............1815

We note with some interest that the partner-swapping between Kevin Ullyett, Daniela Hantuchova, Rennae Stubbs, and Todd Woodbridge has been un-swapped. After Stubbs played with Ullyett and Hantuchova with Woodbridge at Roland Garros, Hantuchova is back with Ullyett. It worked, too, even though Hantuchova's ranking is low enough now that they didn't get seeded and so didn't get a bye; they beat Jared Palmer and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-2 7-6. Stubbs, in an even more fascinating move, hooked up with Woodbridge's partner Jonas Bjorkman, though we'll have to wait and see how that works; they got a walkover over Tu and Olivier Rochus, putting them in the third round without playing a ball. But Jennifer Capriati, who skipped ordinary doubles to play mixed, had about her usual doubles luck; although she and Scott Humphries managed to win their mixed opener, then lost easily in the second round to Sugiyama and Hanley, 6-4 6-2.

Women's Match of the Day

Wimbledon - Fourth Round
Karolina Sprem def. Magdalena Maleeva (21) 6-4 6-4

At least, this time, the story of the match is simply the match.

If all you saw was the changeovers, you might wonder how Karolina Sprem did so well here. She had her right ankle wrapped, and was sitting with that leg stretched out on the breaks -- but it didn't seem to affect her as she took on Maleeva. She was certainly hitting in her usual all-or-nothing way -- and, usually, getting the ball in. She blasted past Maleeva in the first. The second was perhaps a little tighter; Sprem has shown signs of nerves in the past, and sprayed some balls at 5-3 on Maleeva's serve. But though Maleeva held, and saved the first match point against her, Sprem finally came through.

And that means that Sprem, who was barely in the Top 60 when the year started, is a Top 20 player. As of right now, she's at #18, though Silvia Farina Elia and Serena Williams could either or both of them pass her. Even if they do, though, she stays at #20. And, of course, she could still go higher. She faces Lindsay Davenport next -- and she's one of the few players who can match Davenport's power with power, assuming her ankle holds up. Win that and she's thinking about a Top 15 spot. And, possibly, a Slam final; the bottom half of this draw is looking quite weak. We hate to think what will happen with her nerves if she gets there -- until this week, she had never been past the second round of a Slam. But who knows -- it might give her the confidence to actually play her best.

Maleeva finds herself on the bubble, rankings-wise. Right now, she's #20, but that's still a risky position. Serena Williams gets the last Top 20 spot if she reaches the semifinal; otherwise Maleeva keeps the #20 spot.

Men's Match of the Day

Wimbledon - Fourth Round
Tim Henman (5) def. Mark Philippoussis (11) 6-2 7-5 6-7(3-7) 7-6(7-5)

The British said beforehand that they weren't worried. If Mark Philippoussis couldn't beat Ian Flanagan, he wasn't in shape to threaten "Oor Tim."

That, evidently, was before Philippoussis had half his points on the line and had desperate need to defend them. The Australian has been a completely different player this week. And, of course, Henman has struggled. It showed, in particular, in the fourth set. Henman had the match on his racquet; he served for it -- and was broken. But he pulled it out in the end.

And so last year's finalist had to watch 550 of his points disappear. That was over a third of his total. It was even bigger when you consider that Philippoussis has earned almost nothing this year. He falls below #40, and is if anything likely to fall further before he can start climbing.

For Henman, this still doesn't guarantee anything except that he won't fall in the rankings. He came in at #6, and right now he's at #5, but Lleyton Hewitt could still overtake him. On the other hand, if Henman can make the semifinal, he is guaranteed to move up to #4 in the world. Problem is, he has to beat Sebastien Grosjean to do it. And Grosjean, despite his #10 seeding, is arguably Top Five on grass, and he was a semifinalist last year, so he won't have any particular reason to be nervous -- and he's looked much better so far than has Henman.

Crazy_Fool
Jun 29th, 2004, 11:23 AM
Henman doesn't have to play Grosjean in the semi's. if he gets there, he will play Roddick, Seb is in the other half.

Martian Willow
Jun 29th, 2004, 11:28 AM
"But we know our Williams Fans; they'll be calling her "cheater" for the next dozen years. "

Did he really say that?????

...it's not just Wertheim who reads this board, then... :lol:

hollywood7172
Jun 29th, 2004, 12:02 PM
"But we know our Williams Fans; they'll be calling her "cheater" for the next dozen years. "

Did he really say that?????
while what he said isn't completely untrue, the way he said it was a little juvenile, esp. for a person in his posistion. he shouldn't lump all williams fans together like that. i know many levelheaded, classy williams fans.

and i also do think it's unfair to call sprem a cheat. calling justine a cheat i can understand, but this incident is the umpire's fault.

bandabou
Jun 30th, 2004, 10:52 AM
Wimbledon: Weapon of Mass Self-Destruction

Nadia Petrova is unusual among female tennis players in that she has a really, really good serve. She's equally unusual in that she hasn't a clue what to do with it.

Most of the top Russians have something special about their games: Anastasia Myskina has her speed (as did Anna Kournikova, back in the day), Elena Dementieva has a great forehand, Maria Sharapova just plain hits big. Petrova -- the one top Russian who didn't really grow up as part of the crowd; she spent a lot of time in Egypt when she was young -- perhaps benefited from that exile in that she learned how to serve very well (which is about as un-Russian as good government). But she truly hasn't managed to take the pieces of her game -- her spectacularly big, thoroughly solid game -- and turn them into a whole.

And while Jennifer Capriati can't match The Serve, she at least has an integrated game. And she doesn't tie herself in knots too easily. And so she took out Petrova 6-4 6-4 despite Petrova's frequent service winners.

And that means that Petrova will once again fall short of the Top Ten, though she should rise above her current #13; her likeliest ranking is #11.

At least Petrova looked like she belonged out there. Tatiana Golovin didn't seem ready to be on the same court with Serena Williams. Serena assured that she would stay Top 25 with a 6-2 6-1 win; Golovin will end up at #40.

Also into the quarterfinal in straight sets is Amelie Mauresmo, who beat Silvia Farina Elia 7-5 6-3. The one player to really struggle in the top half was Paola Suarez, even though she had the easiest opponent in the entire field. She beat Rita Grande 4-6 6-0 6-2. (Curiously enough, Suarez has won a 6-0 set and lost a 4-6 set in both of her last two matches, and they are her only bagels of the year.) That win, with Petrova and Vera Zvonareva down, could spell a return to the Top Ten for Suarez.

Could. But it's not guaranteed. Two players could still pass her. One is Serena, if and only if she wins the whole thing. The other is Maria Sharapova, who is now assured of a career high of no worse than #13. She and Ai Sugiyama had just the sort of match you would expect them to have: Sharapova serving bigger, hitting bigger, making more errors, looking clumsier; Sugiyama struggling with her serve, but being much steadier and moving much better. But Sugiyama somehow never seems comfortable on grass -- odd for a Japanese player. Sharapova finally took control of the match 5-7 7-5 6-1. Sugiyama should return to the Top Ten even so; Sharapova will move up to #12 or #13, depending on how Serena does, and of course is in her first Slam semifinal.

Though she faces a tough task in the next round: Lindsay Davenport is the highest-ranked player left in the bottom half, and of course she's been in the Wimbledon final before. And opponent Karolina Sprem, apart from the inevitable nervousness, has been playing on a sprained ankle. It caught up to her to the tune of a 6-2 6-2 loss. Sprem will still move up to a career-high #18 or #19 -- again, depending on how Serena does.

In the doubles, Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez struggled yet again, and this time against a team that mostly likes clay. Struggle or no, they're halfway to winning the only Slam they've never won; they beat Gisela Dulko and Patricia Tarabini 6-3 3-6 6-3.

Next up for them is another team that needed three sets to make the quarterfinal; Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja took out Golovin (who isn't even ranked in doubles) and Mary Pierce 3-6 7-6 6-1.

Ai Sugiyama and Liezel Huber seem at last to be getting on track, at least a little; Sugiyama's chances of staying Top Ten are improved a bit after she and Huber beat Yan and Zheng 6-1 7-5.

Those were all third round matches, meaning that seven of our eight quarterfinalists are set: #1 Ruano Pascual/Suarez, #3 Navratilova/Raymond, #4 Petrova/Shaughnessy, #5 Huber/Sugiyama, #6 Black/Stubbs, #8 Vento-Kabchi/Widjaja, and #11 Bartoli/Loit. But one slot is still open, because the teams contending for it had to play their second round matches on this day. Neither seeded pair in that section had much trouble; #2 Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva beat Dechy/Hantuchova 6-3 6-2, while #16 Gagliardi/Vinci beat Beygelzimer and Poutchek 6-3 6-3.

We calculate the doubles Top 30 as follows:

1..(1) SUAREZ .............4666*
2..(2) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4666*
3..(3) KUZNETSOVA .........3319*
4..(4) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2978*
5..(6) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2735*
6..(7) PETROVA ........... 2694*
7..(8) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2689*
8.(10) BLACK ............. 2356*
9..(5) SUGIYAMA ...........2204*
10..(9) RAYMOND ........... 2202*
11.(12) STUBBS .............2047*
12.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1724
13.(15) HUBER ............. 1656*
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1629
15.(18) BARTOLI ........... 1424*
16.(16) WIDJAJA ........... 1331*
17.(17) VENTO-KABCHI .......1276*
18.(21) ZVONAREVA ......... 1216
19.(20) CASANOVA ...........1203
20.(29) VINCI ............. 1111*
21.(11) Clijsters ......... 1110
22.(23) MOLIK ............. 1107
23.(24) PRATT ............. 1106
24.(32) LOIT ...............1103*
25.(27) SERNA ............. 1087
26.(22) Maleeva ........... 1074
27.(28) SCHIAVONE ......... 1070.5
28.(33) MYSKINA ........... 1069
29.(31) CALLENS ........... 1058
30.(25) SUN ............... 1047.5

We've got to start paying more attention to mixed doubles. Who would have thought Lindsay Davenport would be playing mixed, but isn't playing regular doubles? She is, though -- despite not playing doubles since losing first round at Amelia Island. She and Bob Bryan are in the third round after a 6-4 6-2 win over Sequera and Arthurs.

The big draw in mixed, Martina Navratilova, is also though; she and Leander Paes, the defending champions, beat Gagliardi and Prieto 6-1 6-3. Other important teams to advance include Likhovtseva/Bhupathi and Stubbs/Bjorkman. But Kevin Ullyett and 2001 mixed champion Daniela Hantuchova are out 6-4 6-2 to Cara Black and Wayne Black. And Virginia Ruano Pascual remains jinxed on grass; she and Mark Knowles lost 6-3 6-3 to Callens and Koenig.

Wimbledon: Uneasy Lies the Head
For guys with a 14-match winning streak at Wimbledon, Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge sure didn't look very good. They started out slow, and even after they warmed up, they had their hands more than full with the team of Rick Leach and Brian MacPhie -- a team with even more combined years than Bjorkman and Woodbridge. But the top seeds survived, barely, 3-6 6-4 9-7.

And that means that we still have a contest for the #1 doubles ranking, because the Bryan Twins are out in a shocker, falling 6-3 3-6 6-4 to Justin Gimelstob and Scott Humphries.

The rest of the high seeds did fine. #5 Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor beat Parrott and Spadea 6-3 6-2; #6 Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett finally finished off second round action (the other matches were all third round contests) with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win over Andre Sa and Flavio Saretta.

We currently calculate the men's doubles rankings as follows:

1..(3) BBryan.............4545
1..(3) MBryan.............4545
3..(5) Bhupathi...........4075
4..(1) Bjorkman...........4060
5..(2) Woodbridge.........4025
6..(6) Mirnyi.............3820
7..(7) Santoro............3770
8.(10) Knowles............3355
8..(9) Nestor.............3355
10..(8) Llodra.............3260
11.(11) Ullyett............3230
12.(12) Black..............3105
13.(13) Hanley.............3080
14.(14) Arthurs............2680
15.(15) Damm...............2445
15.(15) Suk................2445
17.(17) Rodriguez..........2275
18.(18) Etlis..............2070
19.(21) Zimonjic...........1925
20.(24) Hood...............1815

Women's Match of the Day

Wimbledon - Fourth Round
Amelie Mauresmo (4) def. Silvia Farina Elia (14) 7-5 6-3

As a match, it wasn't all that incredible, unless you're a fan of one-handed backhands; while grass is Silvia Farina Elia's favorite surface, and Amelie Mauresmo prefers clay, Mauresmo is simply the stronger player, and that was just enough advantage to pull her through.

But there is a rather dramatic effect: This costs Anastasia Myskina the #3 ranking, which she enjoyed for exactly four weeks and one tournament. Myskina and Mauresmo came in fairly close together in points, and this win gave Mauresmo more than enough to pass the Russian; her lead exceeds 100 points.

Admittedly that is not a very safe lead, at least if Mauresmo stops here. Between now and the U. S. Open, Mauresmo has only four wins (Canadian Open quarterfinal, New Haven semifinal) -- but Myskina has only two; she made the Sopot quarterfinal, the Canadian Open third round, and lost her opener at New Haven. They both made the quarterfinal at the U. S. Open. And Myskina is certainly the happier of the two on DecoTurf; this summer represents a real opportunity for the Russian.

But there is no particular reason to think Mauresmo is done yet. Her quarterfinal is against Paola Suarez -- a very good, steady player, but one who has never liked grass at all. Mauresmo, who is incorporating more and more volleying into her game, is much happier here, and was a semifinalist in 2002. Her chances of making it again don't look bad at all.

And the prize is still out there: If Mauresmo can win the title (admittedly a big if), she will pass Kim Clijsters to become #2 in the world. And even if it doesn't happen this week, Clijsters won't be able to play until the U. S. Open. Given what she has to defend, she is certain to fall behind both Mauresmo and Myskina -- and possibly Lindsay Davenport as well. Whoever can stay in the lead among those three should get to #2 sometime this year. And Mauresmo currently has the clear inside track; Davenport has to win Wimbledon to pass her, and if Mauresmo beats Suarez, that's it; Mauresmo is guaranteed the #3 spot.

For Farina Elia, this is a disappointment, but things look a lot better than they might have. She came in at #19, and she is now absolutely sure of staying Top 20. She'll be #19 if Jennifer Capriati beats Serena Williams, #20 if Serena beats Capriati.

bandabou
Jul 19th, 2004, 06:11 PM
Stanford: Super-Symmetry
Om Friday, the upsets and the complete non-surprises came out even at Stanford: One surprise upset, one non-surprise upset, one surprise non-upset, one non-upset non-surprise. Topping the non-surprises: Venus Williams beat Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi 6-0 6-3.

More surprising was the amount of trouble Mashona Washington caused Lindsay Davenport. Just getting to the quarterfinal made Stanford the best tournament of the 28-year-old's life. But she fought Davenport level for two sets before the #2 seed finally advanced 6-4 3-6 6-1.

The other two matches both ended in paper upsets. Paper upsets because Amy Frazier loves hardcourts, and Patty Schnyder prefers clay; it was a little surprising even to see Schnyder here when could have stayed in Europe and played Palermo and Stockholm and the Olympics. Frazier clinched her Top 25 ranking (and left Schnyder at #15) 6-3 7-6.

Maria Vento-Kabchi, meanwhile, was putting herself at a career high. She beat #4 seed Francesca Schiavone 6-4 6-1. That moved the Venezuelan to #26 in the world; she had never been Top 30 before. Of course, she made the Stanford semifinal last year also, and that comes off next week....

What followed was not exactly a Super Saturday. The first singles match finally gave us a true everybody-loves-hardcourt contest as Frazier faced Venus. That was rather closer than the score: If Frazier could keep the point neutral until the third stroke of the rally, she could hang with Venus. The problem was surviving the serve and return. Venus served bigger, and her return pressured Frazier, never the best of servers anyway, into a colossal number of doubles faults, and Venus won 6-3 6-1.

The night match featured Lindsay Davenport frowning and glaring at the linespeople a lot, but she was never in any danger. She blocked Vento-Kabchi's bid for a Top 25 spot 6-3 6-2.

And then she blocked Venus's return to the Top Ten. Davenport took home her third title of the year (on three different surfaces), and snapped a six-match losing streak to Venus, 7-6 5-7 7-6.

It was a highly improbable doubles final (brought about by the fact that it was a highly improbable doubles field). Eleni Daniilidou and Nicole Pratt, the #2 seeds in a very weak field, beat Iveta Benesova and Claudine Schaul 6-2 6-4. It's Daniilidou's first doubles title; Pratt picks up her fifth, her first of 2004. It's been a rather wild year; this is the eighteenth different Tier II or higher event, and Daniilidou and Pratt are the tenth different team to win one of them. We've had only nine distinct winners at singles events. More evidence, perhaps, of the weakening of doubles; historically, doubles teams tended to clean up more than individual singles players.

Women's Match of the Day

Stanford - Final
Lindsay Davenport (2) def. Venus Williams (1) 7-6(7-4) 5-7 7-6(7-4)

It's hard to believe either player will look back on this with joy. It was about as close as it can get, but it was the closeness of big points blown. There weren't many breaks -- but there were break points everywhere. Three dozen of them. Venus Williams probably should have taken the first set. Lindsay Davenport was two points from the match in the second. It could have gone either way -- if either player had kept a few more balls in the court on key points.

Maybe it was the injuries. You know it's bad when even the linespeople were standing around with legs and arms wrapped. Davenport was having problems with her left wrist (the place where most of her early injuries took place, though her knees and foot have been catching up lately): She came out with it wrapped, and had it re-wrapped early in the match. Venus didn't have any obvious bandages, but even she seemed to be walking a bit softly by the end (blisters, maybe? Easy to believe, given the hot conditions and the extreme length of the match).

Which is not to say that it wasn't exciting. The commentators made a great deal of the fact that Davenport hadn't beaten Venus in almost four years -- hadn't beaten to her, in fact, since she broke Venus's all-summer-long winning streak that fall. That means a little less than it might; they've both been injured so much that they've really both been active for only about half that time. Still, Venus had won their last six meetings (two on grass and four on hardcourts). And both went through bad title droughts last year, and both have started to emerge this year. Both were looking for their third titles of 2004 -- for each woman, two more than she earned the year before.

The irony is, this doesn't do Davenport any good in the rankings; she came in #5, and she stays #5. But she's much closer to Anastasia Myskina than she was; she will certainly move up to #4 if she wins Los Angeles next week, and a final would likely put her over the top.

And, improbable as it may sound, she's #1 in the WTA Race, bare points ahead of Amelie Mauresmo and about 120 points ahead of #3 Justine Henin-Hardenne. That doesn't mean much in the context of the year-end rankings -- we have four players (Davenport, Mauresmo, Henin-Hardenne, and Myskina) between 2150 and 2450 points, which is as close to a tie as makes no difference. Still, being #1 in a near-tie is a lot better than being #4....

Venus Williams would have been #10 had she won. As it is, she rises only from #15 to #13. But she has another Top Ten chance next week. And she's up to #6 in the Race.

bandabou
Jul 21st, 2004, 10:27 AM
Los Angeles
Early last year, Laura Granville appeared as if she would become the first significant American college-educated player since Lisa Raymond: She was Top 30, and was winning consistently enough that she seemed a genuine candidate for the Top 20.

These days, she's looking more like a genuine candidate for a real job. Whatever changed, she's been sinking fast, and came here ranked #79. Nor will she be rising this week; Lucky Loser Anne Kremer beat her 6-3 5-7 6-0.

Tina Pisnik is still Top 50, but she's been struggling almost as much as Granville, with only three wins in her last eight events. But she stopped the bleeding, at least temporarily, with a 4-6 6-4 6-2 win over Barbora Strycova.

Akiko Morigami and Silvia Farina Elia both like grass a lot; Morigami won Surbiton and beat Eleni Daniilidou at Birmingham, while Farina Elia made the Wimbledon fourth round. Both were playing their first WTA matches post-grass (Farina Elia did play Fed Cup). It proved a surprisingly tough transition for the #12 seed; Morigami produces the tournament's first big upset by beating the Italian 6-2 6-4.

Other than that, it was a bad day for Japanese players. Qualifier Lilia Osterloh, who is down to #225 and hadn't won a WTA match since Birmingham 2002, broke her streak with a 7-5 7-5 win over Saori Obata, while wildcard Ashley Harkleroad, who has only two WTA wins in the six months and change since she reached the Auckland final, beat Shinobu Asagoe 6-3 6-2; Asagoe now has a four match WTA losing streak although she did win all the matches in her Fed Cup tie two weeks ago.

Jessica Kirkland came to Los Angeles ranked #285 -- too low to even get into the qualifying draw. But the wildcard, who had only one previous WTA match (at Indian Wells last year, where she qualified but lost first round to Svetlana Kuznetsova) had the advantage of facing the amazingly inconsistent Tathiana Garbin. Kirkland earned her first WTA win 6-1 6-3; she should rise to around #250.

After a rough patch this spring in which she lost first round in five of eight tournaments, Marion Bartoli finally seems to be back on track; she took out Tamarine Tanasugarn 2-6 6-4 6-4.

Late afternoon brought another match involving a seeded player, and another upset; Anca Barna topped #13 Fabiola Zuluga 6-1 6-1. There is a slight but real chance that that will cost Zuluaga her Top 25 ranking.

#11 Francesca Schiavone did better, becoming the first seed to win as she beat Shenay Perry 6-0 6-3. Schiavone, who had 129 points to defend, has little chance of moving above her current #18, but with Farina Elia out, she's almost certain to stay at that ranking.

The big battles of the day involved the #30 spot, outlined in the Match of the Day. Jelena Kostanic kept her hopes alive with a 7-6 2-6 6-2 win over Martina Sucha, and Nathalie Dechy killed Conchita Martinez's chances with a 6-4 6-4 win.

In the evening, #14 seed Chanda Rubin tried again for her first WTA win since February, and this time finally earned it. She was down 4-1 to qualifier Marissa Irvin in the third set, but came back to win 6-2 1-6 7-6.

In a contest to see who would be #60 next week, Arantxa Parra Santonja managed to beat Jill Craybas in two tiebreaks.

The doubles proved much more predictable than the singles. Top seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva beat Gisela Dulko and Patricia Tarabini in straight sets, and #4 Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy lost only three games against the didn't-quite-manage-to-be-an-Olympic-lineup of Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva.

Palermo: Coming Out of the Woodwork
We've commented time and again on how many first-time winners Palermo has produced, including important players such as Anastasia Myskina, Sandrine Testud, and Irina Spirlea. Maybe we should go back and look at how many players have played their first WTA matches here. Everyone who earned direct entry we've heard of. But the qualifiers? Marta Domachowska, who beat Alberta Brianti in the qualifying final, has six previous WTA events. Delia Sescioreanu has none; neither did the player she beat, Alice Canepa, though she was in the final of the Cuneo Challenger two weeks ago. Darija Jurak, who beat Valentina Sassi, will be playing her second WTA event. And Anastasia Yakimova, a winner over Tatsiana Uvarova, also will be making her WTA debut. If there is call for a Lucky Loser, it will be Canepa, so we have at least two and potentially three first-timers, and potentially as many as four players looking for their first wins.

Adriana Serra Zanetti has a reasonable number of career victories -- but not many lately. Since Tashkent 2003, she has only one WTA-level win, and that was all the way back at Hyderabad. She couldn't break the streak; Yulia Beygelzimer beat her 4-6 6-2 6-0. Barbara Rittner also failed to get her second win of the year; she lost to #3 seed Denisa Chladkova 4-6 7-5 6-4. The other seeds in action also advanced; #2 Anabel Medina Garrigues beat Julia Vakulenko 7-5 6-3, while #4 Katarina Srebotnik beat Sofia Arvidsson 6-3 6-4.

It's interesting to see that the Serra Zanetti sisters are not playing together in doubles despite a weak field where they might actually accomplish something. At least, Antonella did with Julia Schruff; they upset #4 seeds Mervana Jugic-Salkic and Angelika Roesch in two tiebreaks. Better luck attended the other seeds: The Italian pair of Grande and Pennetta, seeded #2, advanced in straight sets; #3 Kurhajcova and Nagyova came through in three.

Women's Match of the Day

Los Angeles - First Round
Nathalie Dechy def. Conchita Martinez 6-4 6-4

If you like round numbers, this match was for you. There is, curiously, almost no contest for the Top 20 this week; although Silvia Farina is out, it appears she is safe, and even Karolina Sprem, #20 coming in, will probably keep her spot. There is a contest for the Top 10, but all of the players involved have first round byes.

But the Top 30, now, that's another matter. Coming in, Maria Vento-Kabchi was #26, Jelena Dokic #27, Mary Pierce #28, Alicia Molik #28, and Meghann Shaughnessy #30 -- but Vento-Kabchi, Dokic, and Shaughnessy all had points to defend this week. That means that Pierce is safe, but no fewer than nine players were seriously competing for the four remaining spots at the low end of the list (and, implicitly, a chance for seeding at the U. S. Open): Vento-Kabchi, Dokic, Molik, Shaughnessy, Nathalie Dechy, Conchita Martinez, Jelena Kostanic, Daniela Hantuchova,and Eleni Daniilidou. This was the first blow in that contest.

The loss takes Martinez out of contention; the best she can hope for is to stay at her current #36, and Daniilidou is one win away from passing her, and Daniilidou's first round opponent is Teryn Ashley. Martinez is hovering around her lowest ranking in a year and a half (and she was injured the other time; she's healthy now, so there are no excuses). It's going to be interesting to see if she can rebuild on hardcourts.

As for Dechy, this almost clinches her Top 30 spot; as of now, she is #28 in safe points. And she has only 71 points to defend for the rest of 2003, so -- assuming she doesn't fall apart again -- she has a good chance to climb in the coming months.

bandabou
Jul 21st, 2004, 03:53 PM
Los Angeles: Keeping the Heat On
One more win, and Maria Vento-Kabchi will stay Top 30.

With last year's Stanford champion and finalist Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati not playing this week, Vento-Kabchi had more to defend here (163 points) than any player in the field. An early loss would mean that she would drop from #26 to no better than #31. She still might. But at least she still has a shot; she beat Gisela Dulko 6-2 6-2 (killing Dulko's chances of hitting the Top 50). Only problem is, that next win for Vento-Kabchi has to come against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Amy Frazier also has big points to defend, and there is just a chance she could lose her Top 25 place if she goes out early. But she looks good so far; she beat Alina Jidkova 6-2 6-2.

Surprisingly, we didn't see any Top 30 places settled in the early going. In addition to Vento-Kabchi, Daniela Hantuchova kept her faint hopes alive with a 6-2 6-4 win over Cara Black, who now has only one main draw win in her last twelve tournaments and has fallen out of the Top 100.

Petra Mandula isn't doing much better; her losing streak is up to four after her 0-6 7-6 6-4 loss to Nicole Pratt. The win moves Pratt past Conchita Martinez, who will end up no better than #37. And Elena Likhovtseva is only one win away from passing Martinez also; she beat qualifier Vilmarie Castellvi (who was playing her first WTA main draw) 6-3 6-2.

Speaking of four-match losing streaks, Claudine Schaul has one; she lost to Barbara Schett 6-3 6-4, and has won only two matches since picking up her first career title at Strasbourg. The loss opens a slight possibility that she will drop out of the Top 50.

Eleni Daniilidou is the last of the serious candidates for the Top 30, in terms of safe points, and for a while it looked as if she would be out of the race. But she came back from a slow start to beat Teryn Ashley 4-6 6-1 6-3. That left only #16 Meghan Shaughnessy -- who proceeded to lose to Jelena Jankovic 7-6 2-6 7-5. That didn't kill her chances at once, but it left her at #30, with a bunch of players on her heels.

Virginia Ruano Pascual had two opportunities at this event: She could hit the Top 50 in singles, or she could hit #1 in doubles. She failed in the first, losing to #10 seed Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi 6-2 6-1; she needs a doubles semifinal to manage the second. She's half way to the latter; she and Conchita Martinez, the #3 seeds, beat Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama 4-6 6-3 6-4.

Patty Schnyder needs to do better here than Serena Williams if she is to stay at her current #15. She took a small step in that direction with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Lindsay Lee-Waters.

In the other first round match, Iveta Benesova beat qualifier Abigail Spears 6-3 6-4.

We must admit to not being quite sure what happened in the first match of the second round. The WTA has been reporting a lot of wrong results this week, and while they've corrected some, this one they didn't correct, and we write this at 5:00 a.m. Los Angeles time, so we can't call anyone. Yesterday, they said that Lilia Osterloh beat Saori Obata, and the official draw confirms this, but today's score says Elena Dementieva beat Obata, not Osterloh, 6-3 6-2. In any case, we assume that Dementieva is in the second round -- though her point total depends on her opponent (Stats & Facts assumes she beat Osterloh).

The other two second round matches fired the first blows in the contest for the #10 ranking. #2 seed Venus Williams, playing her last event before her protected seeding expires, shook off her disappointing loss at Stanford to beat wildcard Ashley Harkleroad 6-2 6-1; #7 seed Nadia Petrova beat wildcard Jessica Kirkland 6-2 6-3. For the moment, Petrova remains #12 and Venus #13, but of course the week is young.

You would never know that Chanda Rubin hasn't played a doubles match this year. She opened her 2004 doubles season by teaming up with Daniela Hantuchova to beat Wimbledon champions Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs 1-6 6-2 7-6.

Palermo: Long Time No See
For a brief time in 2000, Guilia Casoni looked as if she might be going places. She made the quarterfinal at the Italian Open -- helped greatly by Lindsay Davenport's withdrawal from their third round match, but she did beat Dominique Van Roost in the second round. She made the third round at Roland Garros. She even made the third round at the U. S. Open (though she didn't beat anyone of note at either Slam).

Then -- nothing. She won her first match of 2001. She proceeded to lose her next ten straight WTA matches. She didn't play another WTA match from Palermo 2001 until this week. But her first career quarterfinal came at Palermo five years ago; they gave her a wildcard this year, maybe for old time's sake. It didn't do her any good. Conchita Martinez Granados beat her 6-3 6-0.

Another Italian did better. Antonella Serra Zanetti hadn't won a WTA match since Indian Wells, but she upset #6 seed Lubomira Kurhajcova 7-5 3-6 6-2. Also out is #7 seed Melinda Czink, who lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-4 2-6 6-3. That's only the fourth WTA win of the year for Groenefeld, against seven losses. Qualifier Marta Domachowska also claimed win #4 -- in her case, of 2004 and of her career; she beat another qualifier, Anastasia Yakimova, 6-1 6-4.

Even four WTA wins are more than qualifier Delia Sescioreanu can claim; she earned her first WTA win with a 6-3 6-3 victory over perpetually-slumping Rita Grande. Qualifier Darija Jurak, though, is still winless; she lost to top seed Klara Koukalova 7-5 2-6 6-4.

And while we're on the subject of WTA wins: Yuliana Fedak scored her first at this event last year, where she reached the quarterfinal. Those points are already off, but she seems to be liking the event even so; she trounced Severine Beltrame 6-1 6-1.

Henrieta Nagyova ended last year with a title at Pattaya City, but she's done absolutely nothing since; she has only two WTA wins all year. She added her third when Stephanie Cohen-Aloro retired trailing 6-3 2-1.

Nuria Llagostera Vives likes clay a lot, but she came here having just won the Vittel Challenger. And Emmanuelle Gagliardi loves long matches. The Swiss advanced to the second round 6-4 4-6 6-3; she and Maret Ani, the top doubles seeds, would also advance 6-1 6-1 over Arvidsson and Schneider.

Roberta Vinci has been hanging around the Tour for years, known mostly as a doubles player, and has never been ranked above #100 in singles. Could that finally be about to change? She came here ranked #106, and beat Julia Schruff 6-3 6-3. That won't put her over the top by itself, but it's getting close. Her doubles partner, Sandrine Testud, though, continues to lose; #8 seed Ludmila Cervanova beat her 6-4 7-6.

Singles action closed with #5 seed Flavia Pennetta beating Mervana Jugic-Salkic 7-6 7-5.

Women's Match of the Day

Palermo - First Round
Ludmila Cervanova (8) def. Sandrine Testud (WC) 6-4 7-6(7-2)

When Sandrine Testud came back early this year, and won her first two matches at the Ortisei Challenger, then beat Magui Serna at Doha, we thought she might have a respectable comeback in her. It was a pretty good start for a player who hadn't played in a year and a half.

Then she lost six straight matches, often to rather weak players. In the process, she used up just about all of her injury exemptions, and she didn't pick up enough points to get her direct entry into anything bigger than a $25K Challenger. When she didn't play Wimbledon, we thought she was through.

Then the French put her on their Olympic team.

It frankly makes no sense. They could have taken Emilie Loit, who would have made them stronger in both singles and doubles. Not that Loit is a singles medal threat, but it doesn't appear that Testud will be, either -- and France does have two medal threats in Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce, who will be forced to play as an Odd Couple in doubles while Testud plays with Nathalie Dechy. Just plain crazy.

And looking crazier. This loss gives Testud seven straight. She is and will remain below #300. She has played nine events. In effect, she's allowed eleven plus Roland Garros (eight injury exemptions, a maximum of three wildcards into WTA events, and Roland Garros is a freebie because it's a Slam). She can have three more wildcards into qualifying or Challengers. After that, it's earn the points or nothing. Admittedly she lost a fairly close match here, and Cervanova is a solid if not exceptional clay player. But it looks more and more as if the Olympics may be Testud's last chance....

Another One Bites the Dust
Retirements seem to be coming thick and fast lately. The latest: Marcelo Rios. After several years of injuries, the 28-year-old finally conceded over the weekend that he just couldn't do it any more, and quit. It wasn't really much of a surprise; there had been talk of retirement for years. He was competitive almost to the end; even in 2003, when he played only half a year and was hobbled even before he stopped, he finished with a record of 14-10. But the problems had started long before; since his career year of 1998, he had only once managed to play three Slams (2001).

What set Rios apart, more than anything else, was the fluidity of his game. Perhaps no other recent player, except Roger Federer, was as smooth -- and not even Federer made more use of his variety of shot. It showed in his results: Despite being only 1.75 meters/5'9" tall, Rios made it to #1 in the world -- the shortest #1 in recent years by two inches/five cm. (Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt are both listed a 5'11"/1.80 meters, and of course everyone else is taller still). That oh-so-smooth game translated into eighteen career singles titles, on every surface but grass:

Clay: Bogota 1995, Amsterdam 1995, St. Poelten 1996, Monte Carlo 1997, Rome 1998, St. Poelten 1998, Hamburg 1999, St. Poelten 1999, Umag 2000
Outdoor Hardcourt: Auckland 1998, Indian Wells 1998, Miami 1998, Singapore 1999, Doha 2001, Hong Kong 2001
Indoor Hardcourt: Grand Slam Cup 1998
Carpet: Kuala Lumpur 1995, Singapore 1998

It also translated into three years in the Top Ten (1997-1999), six in the Top 25.(1995-1999, 2002), and eight in the Top 40.(1995-2002). His career record was 391-192.(67%); after going 0-1 in 1993 at the age of 17, he had a winning record every year he played for the next ten years. Three times (1996, 1997, 1998) he won more than fifty matches in a year, including 68 in 1998.

There were two knocks on him. One was his lack of Slam titles; the other was his personality. The two may not have been unrelated. The French press several times gave him the Golden Lemon for being the hardest player to deal with; the extra attention at Slams probably brought out the worst in him. He ended up with one Slam final (Australian Open 1998), and never made it past a quarterfinal before or after (he totalled two quarterfinals and a final at the Australian Open, in five visits; two Roland Garros quarterfinals, in nine tries; one U. S. Open quarterfinal, in nine tries; and one lonely fourth round at Wimbledon, in three tries; he obviously didn't like grass, even though it certainly suited his touch).

None of which should detract from his amazing 1998, which he started with that Australian Open final, and backed it up with titles at Indian Wells, Miami, and Rome, plus four smaller titles. That was the year he went 68-17 -- a winning percentage of 80%.

It seemed to take a lot out of him. He would win only one more Masters-level event (Hamburg 1999). That gave him a total of five (Monte Carlo 1997, Indian Wells 1998, Miami 1998, Rome 1998, and Hamburg). After winning the seven titles in 1998, he would never again win more than three, or earn more than 47 match wins in a season. After 1999, he would never again finish in the Top 20. He won his last title in 2001; by 2002, although he did manage one final and 53 matches, he was losing large parts of each year to injuries; in that year, he missed three months with knee problems and retired from four matches. The shots were still there, but the ability to stay out there and deliver them wasn't. In 2003, he missed the Australian Open, made the final of Vina del Mar, the quarterfinal of Acapulco, the semifinal at Delray Beach, the second round at Indian Wells, the fourth at Miami, retired from his first round match at Roland Garros (only the second time he had lost his opener there), and didn't play another ATP match; one Davis Cup tie was all that was left. A year later, it's finally official.

He probably won't be missed in the press room. He'll certainly be missed on the court.

bandabou
Jul 23rd, 2004, 07:50 PM
Los Angeles: With a Little Help From My Friends
Serena Williams was almost certain to make #15 at Los Angeles all on her own. But a little help never hurt. In Serena's case, the help came from #5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova eliminated Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, the active player closest to Serena, 6-3 6-0. Not that Serena showed signs of needing the help; she beat Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-0 6-3.

The early action was mostly about Russians. In addition to Kuznetsova, #4 seed Elena Dementieva killed Chanda Rubin's chances for a return to the Top 20 7-5 7-6, and #7 seed Nadia Petrova ended Jelena Kostanic's run 6-2 6-2, leaving Kostanic just short of the Top 30.

Two more matches, and Lindsay Davenport will be #4 again. She knocked Amy Frazier from #23 to probably #25 6-2 6-4.

All those Russians are leaving Ai Sugiyama's #10 ranking in some danger, though; she lost 6-3 7-6 to Francesca Schiavone. That means Serena still isn't quite safe at #15 (since Schiavone could still pass her), and Sugiyama is bare points ahead of Petrova (who has already overtaken Paola Suarez), and Venus and Zvonareva could still pass her as well. Zvonareva finally won a match (she earned a walkover in the second round); she took out Marion Bartoli 6-3 0-6 7-6. And Venus continued to compete well in her last tournament before her special ranking comes off: She beat Elena Likhovtseva 6-1 6-1. That leaves her potentially one win away from taking the #12 ranking (depending on how Zvonareva and Petrova do, of course).

The doubles was routine: Virginia Ruano Pascual appears to have earned the #1 doubles ranking after she and Conchita Martinez, the #3 seeds, reached the semifinal with a 7-6 7-5 win over Bartoli and Kostanic, while #4 seeds Petrova and Shaughnessy beat Garbin and Mandula 6-2 6-2.

Palermo: Hard-Hitting Heart-Breaker
Every time we're ready to give up on Anna-Lena Groenefeld, she does this to us.

Groenefeld had a fairly impressive start to her career: She qualified for Bol 2003 and made the second round before losing to Vera Zvonareva. She qualified for Berlin. She won the Oyster Bay Challenger, then reached the second round at Bali and Leipzig, giving her wins in three of her first four WTA events.

And since then, coming to Palermo, she had gone 3-10 at the WTA level, with a bunch of qualifying losses and absolutely no noteworthy wins. Having reached #88 going into Wimbledon this year (where of course she lost first round), she came to Palermo ranked #109. We'd been thinking she was just another young (well, semi-young, by tennis standards; although she was still playing Junior events last year, she's 19) German washup.

So what has she done at Palermo? She's made the quarterfinal -- her first at the WTA level; indeed, it's her first back-to-back WTA wins. Does it mean anything? No idea. But she is one of only two unseeded quarterfinalists following her 6-0 6-3 win over Emmanuelle Gagaliardi. And she and Barbara Rittner, despite losing in the qualifying, made the doubles semifinal; the Lucky Losers beat Julia Schruff and Antonella Serra Zanetti 6-1 6-0.

The rest of the singles results were routine: #1 seed Klara Koukalova beat Henrieta Nagyova 6-3 6-0, #4 Flavia Pennetta won the day's closest match over Yuliana Fedak 6-2 6-7 6-2, and #8 Ludmila Cervanova topped qualifier Marta Domachowska 6-4 6-4.

Having finally won a match with Anabel Medina Garrigues, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario went on to make it two in a row; the unseeded pair beat top seeds Maret Ani and Emmanuelle Gagliardi 3-6 7-5 6-0 -- the first semifinal of the Spaniard's comeback (she did win back-to-back matches at Berlin, but that was a larger draw and brought her only to the quarterfinal).

Women's Match of the Day

Los Angeles - Quarterfinal DOUBLES
(3) Martinez/Ruano Pascual def. Bartoli/Kostanic 7-6(7-4) 7-5

Paola Suarez has been the world's #1 doubles player since the end of 2003, and for much of 2002 also. She owes it all to Virginia Ruano Pascual. Literally: For much of that time, including coming into this week, every point that counted toward her ranking total was earned with Ruano Pascual. (To be fair, Ruano Pascual has owed all her results to Suarez as well.)

But Suarez has played a few more events than her partner. She didn't earn much of anything along the way, but it was usually enough to let her win the second tiebreak (the first tiebreak for players with equal points is quality points; Ruano Pascual of course equalled her there. So the tiebreak was, essentially, best non-counting result).

The irony is, the whole time, Ruano Pascual has had the better per-tournament average. Most of Suarez's results with other partners were pretty poor. To our way of thinking, Ruano Pascual, not Suarez, probably deserved #1. But that's not the way the WTA does it. Ruano Pascual, instead of being #1, or at least co-#1, for seventy or so weeks, has been #2 for most of two years (she did earn the #1 ranking for a single week).

Now, finally, Ruano Pascual is playing without Suarez, preparing for the Olympics, where she will team with Conchita Martinez. This was the match that would push her past Suarez. And so, at last, we may see a little share of fairness. Assuming we calculated everything right, anyway.

The Old College Try
When the tournament at Stanford this year gave Amber Liu a wildcard, it was hard to blame them. After all, she was NCAA champion in both 2003 and 2004, and she's one of theirs. And yet, the cynical corner of our minds asked, "What's the point?" These NCAA champions never seem to do much -- and the one time we saw Liu play, she didn't appear to have the power or the precision to threaten on the WTA. And, indeed, her record in four WTA events is a less-than-impressive 1-4, and this week Liu lost in Los Angeles qualifying. Bea Bielik, her predecessor as NCAA champion, has perhaps an even worse history: She won her first two WTA matches, at the 2002 U. S. Open, but hasn't won one since (she did manage to qualify for Wimbledon last year), and has been struggling with injuries and has watched her ranking go through the floor. She left school early because she thought she had done all she could do -- and yet, it didn't prepare her for the Tour.

This struck us as worth investigating. Just how well do NCAA champions normally do at the Tour level?

The following is a list of the last 22 NCAA women's champions:

1982: Alycia Moulton, Stanford
1983: Beth Herr, Southern California
1984: Lisa Spain, Georgia
1985: Linda Gates, Stanford
1986: Patty Fendick, Stanford
1987: Patty Fendick, Stanford
1988: Shaun Stafford, Florida
1989: Sandra Birch, Stanford
1990: Debbie Graham, Stanford
1991: Sandra Birch, Stanford
1992: Lisa Raymond, Florida
1993: Lisa Raymond, Florida
1994: Angela Lettiere, Georgia
1995: Keri Phebus, UCLA
1996: Jill Craybas, Florida
1997: Lilia Osterloh, Stanford
1998: Vanessa Webb, Duke
1999: Zuzana Lesenarova, San Diego
2000: Laura Granville, Stanford
2001: Laura Granville, Stanford
2002: Bea Bielik, Wake Forest
2003: Amber Liu, Stanford
2004: Amber Liu, Stanford

That's a total of 18 names: Bielik, Birch, Craybas, Fendick, Gates, Graham, Granville, Herr, Lesenarova, Lettiere, Liu, Moulton, Osterloh, Phebus, Raymond, Spain, Stafford, Webb. Of those prior to Raymond (who is still an active WTA player), the author (who wasn't following tennis 20 years ago) remembers Fendick, Stafford, and Graham; of those after Raymond, the author knows Craybas, Osterloh, Webb, Granville, Bielik, and Liu, and vaguely recalls Lesenarova. Let's split these into two classes (pre- and post-Raymond) and look at their results.

For the Pre-Raymond group, who are retired, we'll look for WTA titles, finals, and doubles titles (we can't absolutely guarantee this list is right, because the WTA doesn't give player bios for any of these retired players, but it's close):

Fendick: Singles: Auckland 1988 W, Japan Open 1988 W, Auckland 1989 W, Oklahoma City 1993 F, Pattaya City 1994 F, Doubles: Auckland 1988 w/Hetherington, Wellington 1988 w/Hetherington, Taipei 1988 w/Hetherington, San Diego 1988 w/Hetherington, San Jose 1988 w/Hetherington, Auckland 1989 w/Hetherington, Oakland 1989 w/Hetherington, San Diego 1990 w/Garrison-Jackson, Indianapolis 1990 w/McGrath, Australian Open 1991 w/M.J. Fernandez, Auckland 1991 w/Neiland, San Antonio 1991 w/Seles, Oakland 1991 w/G. Fernandez, Indianapolis 1991 w/G. Fernandez, Houston 1992 w/G. Fernandez, Strasbourg 1992 w/Strnadova, Oklahoma City 1993 w/Garrison Jackson, Kuala Lumpur 1993 w/McGrath, Oakland 1993 w/McGrath, Sydney 1994 w/McGrath, Oklahoma City 1994 w/McGrath, Pattaya City 1994 w/McGrath, Singapore 1994 w/McGrath, Leipzig 1994 w/McGrath

Graham: Doubles: San Juan 1993 w/Grossman, Budapest 1996 w/Adams, Quebec City 1996 w/Schultz-McCarthy, Cardiff 1997 w/Guse

Herr: Singles: Phoenix 1986 W, Tulsa 1986 F, Doubles: Berkeley 1986 w/Moulton, San Diego 1986 w/Moulton, Phoenix 1987 w/Barg, Cincinnati 1988 w/Reynolds, New Orleans 1988 w/Reynolds

Moulton: Singles: Birmingham F 1983, Newport W 1983, Canadian Open F 1984, Doubles: Atlanta 1984 w/Walsh-Pete, Newport 1984 w/P. Smith, Indianapolis 1984 w/P. Smith, Brighton 1984 w/P. Smith, Berkeley 1986 w/Herr, San Diego 1986 w/Herr

Stafford: Singles: Taipei 1992 W, Doubles: Strasbourg 1993 w/Temesvari

Then we get to Raymond herself -- undeniably the best of the bunch. She has four singles titles, slightly exceeding Fendick, though they're all small (Quebec City 1996, Birmingham 2000, Memphis 2002, Memphis 2003). She has, as of this writing, 43 doubles titles including three Slams and the 2001 year-end Championships. She's been #1 in doubles, and as high as #15 in singles, and has been in the year-end Top 30 seven times. Not Hall of Fame, but certainly not a trivial player, either.

What comes after is pretty depressing, though. Lettiere and Phebus made no impression at all. Craybas did win the Japan Open in 2002, as well as the Madrid doubles in 2003; she has made a few brief runs at the Top 50 lately, but never quite made it, and she really isn't someone the top players worry about much. Osterloh peaked at #41 in the rankings three years ago, and did win the Shanghai doubles in 2000 with Tanasugarn, but she has only two career semifinals (Oklahoma City 1999 and Canberra 2002) and is now struggling to get back into the Top 200. Webb peaked at #107 in the singles rankings and had one career quarterfinal, at Pattaya 2000. Lesenarova spent a couple of years trying to be a pro,but .went nowhere (she ended 2000 at #375, played 16 events in 2001 but still ended up a mere #313 and without a WTA match; she was off the singles rankings by the end of 2002 though she still had a few doubles events). Bielik won her first two WTA matches, but that was two years ago; she hasn't won a match since, and is getting spanked by players who aren't even Top 100. Watching her, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that her college success is the result of her serve (which is very big but somewhat lacking in variety) and that the rest of her game is simply not adequate for pro tennis. Liu is a work in progress; to give her her due, she has lost to some very good players (Daniilidou, Clijsters twice, Frazier). Still, we noted her career 1-4 record above. That leaves Granville as currently the best post-Raymond player. She hit the top 30 for a month in mid-2003, and though she's been sliding badly, she is still a Top 100 player. And yet, her WTA record going into San Diego was a mere 42-48, and she has only three career semifinals (all at Tier III events), plus four quarterfinals (two of them at the Tier II level). And she has never beaten a Top Ten player.

Looking at the pre-Raymond results, while there are no Top Ten players, we see several, notably Fendick, who were significant factors on the WTA Tour. (We might add that many of Fendick's doubles wins came with Meredith McGrath, also a college player.) Since Raymond, there has been nothing. The sample is small, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that the gap between college and pro tennis has widened -- particularly in singles.

There are, of course, two possible reasons for this: Either the pro game has gotten better or the college game has gotten worse. One suspects a little of both. Certainly there is more competition at the pro level, implying that the overall quality has been raised. Meanwhile, tennis programs are suffering at many schools, which will not only depress the quality at the schools which have been cut but at those which have not, since the players won't be facing such tough opponents.

The sad thing is that this widening gap can affect players for years. For women, what would be their college years are often the years in which they perfect their games and achieve their greatest results. One has to suspect that, unless someone can somehow find a way for college players to spend more time playing Tour events (which probably means finding a way for them to get paid for playing Tour events, while still attending college at least part-time), the gap will continue to widen.

College players do seem to be a little better in doubles -- understandable, since they work on it more. But doubles doesn't carry much reward at the Tour level these days.

For the men, interestingly, the situation seems to be not quite as extreme. The past 28 years of NCAA champions are as follows:

1976: Bill Scanlon, Trinity (Tex.)
1977: Matt Mitchell, Stanford
1978: John McEnroe, Stanford
1979: Kevin Curren, Texas
1980: Robert Van't Hof, Southern California
1981: Tim Mayotte, Stanford
1982: Mike Leach, Michigan
1983: Greg Holmes, Utah
1984: Mikael Pernfors, Georgia
1985: Mikael Pernfors, Georgia
1986: Dan Goldie, Stanford
1987: Andrew Burrow, Miami (Fla.)
1988: Robby Weiss, Pepperdine
1989: Donni Leaycraft, LSU
1990: Steve Bryan, Texas
1991: Jared Palmer, Stanford
1992: Alex O'Brien, Stanford
1993: Chris Woodruff, Tennessee
1994: Mark Merklein, Florida
1995: Sargis Sargsian, Arizona St.
1996: Cecil Mamiit, Southern California
1997: Luke Smith, UNLV
1998: Bob Bryan, Stanford
1999: Jeff Morrison, Florida
2000: Alex Kim, Stanford
2001: Matias Boeker, Georgia
2002: Matias Boeker, Georgia
2003: Amer Delic, Illinois
2004: Benjamin Becker, Baylor

Obviously we haven't had any recent players to compare with John McEnroe, the glory of the NCAA circuit 26 years ago (though, given some of the things he's said since, you have to wonder how he passed his classes). But Bob Bryan is a Top Four doubles player, Jeff Morrison and Alex Kim and Sargis Sargsian and even Mark Merklein are touring pros even if none except Sargsian and Woodruff can claim even Granville-like numbers, and O'Brien and Palmer have both won doubles Slams. It's a stronger record than the women, at least. Perhaps the better results by the men may be more a result of the fact that men grow into their games more slowly; a 20-year-old man is still learning, whereas a 20-year-old woman, if she isn't playing regularly at the Tour level, very likely never will. Or it may just be that the men have more prize money; a woman whose results are equivalent to Morrison's or Kim's would probably be out of the sport, whereas the men can perhaps scrape along.

Still, the sad fact appears to be that playing college tennis is more help than hurt when it comes to playing pro tennis. It's a regretable choice for a young player to have to face.

bandabou
Jul 26th, 2004, 11:00 AM
Los Angeles: Suspicious Minds Think Unlike
Leave it to Russians to give us the only decent matches of Friday. Action started with #4 seed Elena Dementieva taking on #5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, with Kuznetsova having some vague hopes of moving up could she win here. But she faded as the match went along, and Dementieva made the semifinal 5-7 6-2 6-2.

Later, Vera Zvonareva would give Serena Williams the same sort of scare, but Serena won 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Then Lindsay Davenport took on Nadia Petrova, and beat the Headcasiest Russian Of Them All 6-1 6-1.

Venus Williams proceeded to put herself in line for the Top Ten with a 7-5 6-1 win over Francesca Schiavone. In fact, that result guaranteed that one or the other Williams would be #10 when the tournament was over: Serena would be #10 if she won the tournament, beating Davenport in the final; in any other situation, Venus was #10. Either way, Ai Sugiyama lost the #10 spot.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Venus/Serena final. Venus took on Davenport in the semifinal, and we are told that Venus had hurt her wrist tying her shoes shortly before the match. Whatever happened, she started by blasting Davenport to the tune of a 5-0 lead, and then had the wrist worked on and fell completely apart. Davenport made the final -- her second in a row -- 7-5 2-0, retired.

The conspiracy theorists of course were out at once. One theory: Venus didn't want to face Serena, and was willing to bow out to prevent it. Another theory: Venus conveniently got hurt just as her special ranking comes off, so she can come back in six months with another special ranking. But that latter requires that Venus miss both the U. S. Open and the Australian Open to get her six months' worth of injury in. It doesn't make sense.

In any case, the win put Davenport back at #4 in the world, ahead of Anastasia Myskina.

It also put her in her second straight final against a Williams -- this time against Serena. who handled Elena Dementieva easily. Dementieva isn't the first Russian to be afraid of her own serve (that is, after all, what cost Anna Kournikova so dearly), but you could see the doubts gnawing -- to the point that, in her second service game, she produced four double-faults. There really wasn't much to say about the first set; in the second, Dementieva was scaring Serena a lot, but didn't manage to actually win the games, and Serena made the final 6-3 7-6.

The final saw the roles reverse: It was Serena who couldn't hold serve. Davenport took home the title 6-1 6-3.

Only two doubles quarterfinals were scheduled for Friday, but they provided a bit of a shock: Tamarine Tanasugarn and Maria Vento-Kabchi upset #1 seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva 6-4 6-3. (That turned out to be less-than-great news for Tanasugarn, who on Sunday would end up playing two qualifying matches at San Diego because she had had to play her doubles semifinal on Saturday.) Also in the semifinal were Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder, 6-2 6-0 winners over Daniela Hantuchova and Chanda Rubin. Though they didn't last long in the semifinal; #4 seeds Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy, who seem to be rediscovering the form that won them four straight titles this spring, beat Schett and Schnyder 6-2 6-1. That put them in the final against #3 seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Conchita Martinez. Ruano Pascual didn't just settle for taking the #1 ranking, she gave it an exclamation point with a 6-2 6-1 win over Tanasugarn and Vento-Kabchi. But she couldn't take the title; that went to Petrova and Shaughnessy 6-7 6-4 6-3, giving them a Tour-leading five titles this year.

Palermo: Dramatic Quadrologue
It's not often that people pay more attention to doubles than singles, but Palermo might be an exception. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, after all, was around in the former. And she and soon-to-be-Olympic partner Anabel Medina Garrigues put on a fine show on Friday, edging another all-national-but-very-mixed-in-age pair, German veteran Barbara Rittner and youngster Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 6-0 3-6 6-1. That put the Spaniards in the final against #3 seeds Lubomira Kurhajcova and Henrieta Nagyova, who had beaten #2 seeds Grande and Pennetta 7-5 6-3. Saturday's final was relatively routine; the Spaniards won 6-3 7-6.

It's the first title for Sanchez-Vicario in her comeback, and it comes in her fifth event; she had only two wins before this week (of course, this is a Tier V, and her previous four events were much bigger: Berlin, Rome, Roland Garros, Wimbledon). It's title #68 for Sanchez-Vicario, and her first in two years -- it is, however, the first Tier V of her career! She now has titles with an even two dozen partners. Though the really odd statistic is this: Of those 68 titles, 30 have been on clay -- but Roland Garros is the one Slam doubles title she never won.

And that gave Medina Garrigues the chance to go for singles and doubles titles at the same event -- not uncommon, until fairly recently, at the big events, but quite rare at Tier V tournaments!

On Friday, #2 seed Medina Garrigues had actually one of the day's tougher matches, beating Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-4 6-3. Also losing seven games was #4 seed Katerina Srebotnik, who beat #8 Ludmila Cervanova 6-3 6-4. #3 seed Denisa Chladkova had no trouble with Antonella Serra Zanetti, winning 6-4 6-1; the only upset came as #5 seed Flavia Pennetta topped Klara Koukalova 6-4 6-2.

Saturday was utterly routine for Medina Garrigues, who advanced 6-1 6-1 over Chladkova. Pennetta, though, pulled off her second straight upset, beating Srebotnik 6-2 6-7.

And then Medina Garrigues did make it two titles in one week, beating Pennetta 6-4 6-4 in Sunday's final. It's the second career title for Medina Garrigues, who turns 22 next week; her first was also here, in 2001. In addition to the title, she finds herself back in the Top 50 for the first time since May of 2002, after her big injury at that year's Australian Open that left her unable to play from January until September. Based on her recent results (only one opening-round loss in her last seven events, and only four in 17 tournaments this year), it appears she's finally back.

Indianapolis: Bloodied But Unbowed
By Friday, Andy Roddick's blistered hand was feeling a lot better. Not because it had entirely healed; it hadn't (he'd taken time off, and his skin had softened). But because he was winning again. On a day marked by marathons, he had the only easy win, beating #6 seed Dominik Hrbaty 6-2 6-3.

Otherwise, upsets were the rule. Last year's finalist Paradorn Srichaphan took on Nicolas Kiefer -- who seems to be turning into this year's version of Srichaphan: Lots of tournaments, lots of medium-good results, mostly on hardcourts, mostly at optional events. The German beat the #4 seed in two tiebreaks -- costing him his #14 ranking. The #3 seed also went out on Friday as #10 Ivan Ljubicic upset Sebastien Grosjean 5-7 7-5 6-2.

The fourth quarterfinalist was Gregory Carraz, who beat qualifier Noam Okun 4-6 6-3 6-2. Not that Carraz proved much of a threat; on Saturday, Kiefer beat him 6-2 6-2.

The Big-Serving Battle, Roddick vs. Ljubicic, was altogether another matter. It wasn't exactly a happy contest; the two had more than a few words for each other (e.g. Ljubicic complained loudly when Roddick forgot to show him the new balls at the start of the second set). Ljubicic had Roddick on a string in the first set. In the second, Ljubicic still seemed to be playing better, but Roddick managed to hold serve long enough to get it to a tiebreak. He faced three match points, but saved them, and finally won the match 1-6 7-6 7-6.

The final was routine; Roddick beat Kiefer 6-2 6-3. The doubles final did much to make up for that routinely dull singles result; unseeded Jordan Kerr and Jim Thomas beat #2 seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett 6-7 7-6 6-3.

Women's Match of the Day

Los Angeles - Final
Lindsay Davenport (3) def. Serena Williams (1) 6-1 6-3

There really wasn't much to talk about. Lindsay Davenport played a clean match (by her hard-hitting standards, where you expect to hit nearly as many errors as winners); Serena Williams played an awful match, especially in the first set. She cleaned it up a little in the second, even threatening Davenport's serve a few times -- but the errors never really went away, and she was forever gasping for air and talking to herself. She looked almost like someone suffering from asthma. Certainly her game needed life support.

Whatever was going on with Serena, she finds herself once again disappointed this year. Since winning Miami in her first event back, she has had -- well, not bad results, really: two finals, a semifinal, two quarterfinals, and a withdrawal from a Round of 16. Her record is 20-5, with four wins over Top Ten players. But she has no titles, and she's losing to players she wasn't losing to before this. She will spend another week outside the Top Ten; she rises only to #14. Definite disappointment.

Ironically, her loss means that sister Venus will get to be #10.

As for Davenport, her ranking was #4 win or lose. And, win or lose, she was #1 in the WTA Race. But by doing as well as she did, she significantly strengthens her hope of gaining #2 next week. And she's the distinct #1 in the Race, over 300 points ahead of Amelie Mauresmo (yes, folks, neither of the Top Two has so much as made a Slam final!). She has four titles this year, tieing Justine Henin-Hardenne for the Tour lead. It's the most titles she's had since 2001, when she last earned the #1 ranking. An interesting scenario indeed....

Men's Match of the Day

Indianapolis - Final
Andy Roddick (1) def. Nicolas Kiefer (12) 6-2 6-3

This seems to be the day we talk about lousy matches. There really wasn't much to this one -- unless you count the rain that arrived so inconveniently at set point in the first set. Nicolas Kiefer has a steady game, but it's not exactly strong on variety: His serve is fairly predictable, he hits flat and medium-hard and doesn't tend to vary his court position much. He just didn't give Andy Roddick much to worry about. And Roddick didn't worry. He simply breezed.

Still, it's a fairly noteworthy victory. Last year, Roddick was all but unstoppable on summer hardcourts. Those points represent almost half his total; if he is to stay near the top of the rankings, he has to do well in the coming weeks. This is only a small step in that direction -- about a sixth of what he has to worry about. But he's off and running.

And, in consequence of the win, he's back in the #2 spot in the Race, having edged ahead of Guillermo Coria. It's still a weak #2 -- he's 300 Race points behind Roger Federer, which is the equivalent of a full Slam plus a Masters Series, or three Masters Series; if he is to have any chance of overtaking Federer, he probably needs to win the U. S. Open and two Masters, or all four remaining Masters. But it's possible, and it's possible for Roddick to do it on his own hook, without help from early losses from Federer -- if he can play one of the best second halves of the year in history.

Nicolas Kiefer has to be wondering what it will take for him to win a title. He's lost his last seven finals.

The flip side is, he's made a lot of finals this year. This is certainly his best year since at least 2000 -- and it's shown in his ranking, which is climbing toward the higher end of the Twenties. But there is a limit on that; his finals have been at optional events, and mostly at the smaller end of the scale. He's learning the Dominik Hrbaty lesson: You can only go so far at small events. He either needs to start winning, or start putting up the numbers at required events -- or, preferably, both. It's just one more step. But it's a big one.

bandabou
Jul 27th, 2004, 04:45 PM
San Diego: Two for One Deal
On Sunday, we gave preliminary results from San Diego. But we couldn't really finish our coverage at that time, because we needed this week's rankings numbers -- and of course they weren't out yet.

In total, twelve singles matches were played on Sunday -- five in qualifying and seven main draw. We mentioned on Sunday that Tamarine Tanasugarn had to play two qualifying matches, winning the first over Anne Kremer but losing the second to Marissa Irvin 5-7 6-0 7-5. Tanasugarn may still get in as a Lucky Loser (possibly for Venus Williams); unless she does get in, her chances of returning to the Top 50 don't look very good, though it was theoretically possible.

Other qualifiers are Marion Bartoli, who beat Vilmarie Castellvi 6-1 6-1; Jill Craybas, who edged Martina Sucha 5-6 7-6 7-5, and the surprising Lilia Osterloh, who makes back-to-back WTA main draws for the first time in almost two years.

In main draw action, we saw #9 seed Paola Suarez play singles for the first time since Wimbledon even as partner Virginia Ruano Pascual was taking over the #1 doubles ranking at Los Angeles. It didn't bother Suarez, who plastered Aniko Kapros 6-1 6-3. But #16 seed Silvia Farina Elia is winless in two matches on hardcourts this summer; she lost to Iveta Benesova 6-2 6-4. That leaves Benesova one win away from the Top 50, but chances are good that Farina Elia will lose her Top 20 ranking.

If Venus Williams is unable to play, a big beneficiary is likely to be Mary Pierce. Pierce set up a meeting with Venus or whoever replaces her by beating Claudine Schaul 6-4 6-2.

Amber Liu, the two-time NCAA champion, may have to think about sticking with her economics major. To give her credit, she's doing well in school. She's not doing so well on the tour. Jelena Jankovic lowered her record to 1-5 in WTA matches; the score was 7-6 6-0. The other Jelena in action, Kostanic, has over 60 points to defend this week, putting her #32 ranking in some danger, but she defended half those points with a 6-2 6-1 win over Anca Barna.

The last singles match saw Maria Sanchez Lorenzo move to within perhaps one win of the Top 40 as she edged Saori Obata 4-6 7-5 7-5.

Nathalie Dechy had all of about twelve hours to enjoy being a Top 30 player, and she was doubtless sleeping for a lot of it. Dechy officially became #28 on Monday morning, and by early afternoon she was out; #12 seed Vera Zvonareva beat her 6-4 7-6. That doesn't automatically cost the Frenchwoman her Top 30 spot; she'll still move ahead of Jelena Dokic, for instance. But Alicia Molik Overtook her within minutes; the Australian beat countrywoman Nicole Pratt 6-3 6-4, and is moving up toward the Top 25.

Kristina Brandi still needs another win to assure her Top 50 ranking, having won the big Louisville Challenger at this time last year, but she's off to a good start; she beat Akiko Morigami 6-3 1-6 7-5.

Early afternoon seemed to find the low seeds taking a siesta. Two fell within a few minutes of each other: Ashley Harkleroad beat #13 Patty Schnyder 6-4 3-6 7-5, while Elena Bovina bounced #15 Francesca Schiavone 6-3 3-6 6-4. Bovina may be just one win away from the Top 20.

Fabiola Zuluaga wasn't seeded, but she came in at #24 and she too was upset; qualifier Marion Bartoli took her out 6-3 6-4. Bartoli came in with 56 points to defend, but between qualifying and this win, she's more than defended them; she's close to a return to the Top 60.

Lilia Osterloh's sudden recovery shows no signs of slowing down. She posted what is guaranteed to be the biggest upset of the tournament (unless she upsets someone even higher ranked) as she took out Maria Vento-Kabchi 7-6 6-2. That kills any possibility of Vento-Kabchi returning to the Top 30; Osterloh has increased her point total by a third already this week (and by more than half over the last two); another win will put her back in the Top 150.

Daniela Hantuchova started her big recovery some weeks ago, but at least it's still continuing; she topped qualifier Marissa Irvin 7-6 6-3 -- and the improvement extends to doubles as well, where Hantuchova was even more pathetic this spring than she was in singles. She and Marion Bartoli beat Iveta Benesova and Claudine Schaul 6-3 6-1. Barbara Schett is also enjoying something of a resurgence; she justified her wildcard with a 7-5 6-7 6-2 win over qualifier Jill Craybas, and she and Petra Mandula topped Adriana and Anca Barna 6-1 6-1 in doubles.

With Schiavone and Farina Elia out, this week looks like a real chance for Karolina Sprem to move up the rankings -- especially as she has almost nothing to defend this summer; last year, she was a creature of clay. Sprem took another step with a 6-3 6-2 win over Marta Marrero. That moves her past Farina Elia to potentially #19. Now she just has to deal with Lindsay Davenport....

Eleni Daniilidou got off to a slow start against Lisa Raymond -- not too surprising, given her slump and her dislike of modern surfaces. But Raymond broke down in the middle of the first set, and there wasn't much else to talk about. Daniilidou advanced 7-5 6-0 -- possibly enough to move her back into the Top 35. Raymond, though, falls to no better than #39, and she might end up below #40.

The last singles match of the day completed the sweep of low seeds: #13 through #16 are all out. Chanda Rubin took out #14 Anna Smashnova-Pistlesi 6-0 6-3. That all but guarantees that Rubin will stay Top 25, but Smashnova-Pistolesi will fall from #17 to no better than #18.

Shinobu Asagoe is a fairly good doubles player. Ai Sugiyama is about as close to great as one gets in this degenerate age. But, together, they are distinctly less than the sum of their parts. In a possible Olympic preview, Japan's top Olympic team of Asagoe and Sugiyama lost to another Olympic pairing, Mauresmo and Pierce, 6-3 6-3. Another Olympic Odd Couple, Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina, also advanced, beating the non-Olympic team of Bovina and Dechy 2-6 6-3 6-3.

Canadian Open: Fool Me Once
We have to start this out with an explanation: We've just learned that the Canadian Open, while it will be a required event next week, is not a required event this week. That is, the ATP never has more than 13 required events on the records at any given time. Since the Canadian Open would be a fourteenth required event, they are treating it as optional this week. Next week, it will become required, with Cincinnati being optional for a week. Then, after Cincinnati 2003 comes off, both Toronto and Cincinnati 2004 will become required events.

Got that? Unfortunately, we haven't; we're still trying to wrestle all this into our poor innocent spreadsheet. It will be at least another day before we can start giving entry rankings in proper detail.

We'll try to make up for it with this overview of what happened in qualifying.

Whatever damage qualifiers may go on to do at this event, they had a fairly formful tournament amongst themselves. Only one player unseeded in the qualifying -- Michel Kratochvil -- got through to the main draw, and three of the top four seeds.

One former Grand Slam champion did not make it, however -- Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion, was edged by Jan Hernych 6-4,6-7,7-6 The Swedish Johansson, looking incongruously unkempt with overgrown hair curling out of the back of his baseball cap, began the match just as untidily, going down 2-0 in a flurry of errors before reigning in his aggression temporarily to win the next three games. Hernych, with dogged and occasionally imaginative counter-punching, returned the favor and eventually won the first set 6-4.

Three consecutive breaks began the second set, with Johansson double-faulting to give up the first game. As the games went by, however, he began to find the range on his forehand and looked like being on his way to levelling the match when he led 5-3 in the tiebreak. But then Johansson missed an easy forehand volley, and was soon a point away from a straight-sets defeat. It took nerveless play in a thrilling tiebreak from the Swede before he finally secured the set with a risky backhand down the line, an ace, and an extra split-second afforded by his opponent's net cord.

Both players picked up their serving significantly in the third set, Johansson in particular taking better care of his second serve. The inevitable result was that the match once again went to the brink. Once again, Johansson had his chances in the tiebreak, and this time was made to pay for not taking them. Preparing to serve at 1-2 after getting back a minibreak, Hernych demonstrated his ability to concentrate, gathering himself when music suddenly blared out from the loudspeakers -- and coming up with an ace to boot. When Johansson missed another easy volley to relinquish the lead for the first time in the tiebreak, Hernych pounced, hitting two aces and knocking off a forehand volley to take the match after 2 hours and 36 minutes. In the mold of Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek, the 25-year-old Hernych, who won 121 points to his opponent's 120, may be yet another Czech to enjoy a career surge in his mid-to-late twenties. He plays Irakli Labadze in the first round of the main draw, with the winner to face Gaston Gaudio.

If former glory did not lead to wins on Sunday, then recent results were no guarantee of success either -- Israeli Noam Okun, who qualified for Indianapolis and reached the quarterfinal for what he called "the best week of my career," got though against Jeff Salzenstein on the first day of play but fell 6-4 6-3 to Korean Hyung-Taik Lee on Sunday. The two exchanged breaks to begin the match, and while Okun was more successful in challenging Lee's serve for the rest of the first set, he failed to take advantage of a break point during a long seventh game and at finally dropped serve himself three games later. A newly strung racquet, delivered on the court by a sprinting ballboy during the changeover, apparently did him little good when he went out to serve at 5-4, for he began by overhitting a forehand and ended with a double fault that gave Lee a one-set lead.

Energized, Lee raced to a 4-2 lead in the second. The end seemed near, until Okun produced a backhand pass, a yell and a break in the next game to get back on serve. But the reprieve proved a brief one, for Lee broke back with a flourish by winning a rat-a-tat exchange at net that produced the best point of the match. The 28-year-old Korean then held easily to win the battle of the one-handed backhands and earned himself a match against Tommy Robredo in the main draw.

Several of those qualifiers were able to carry that success over into the main draw, starting with Hernych himself; he took out Irakli Labadze 6-1 6-4. Alex Bogomolov also had good success, beating Ivo Karlovic 6-4 7-6. Michel Kratochvil, however, lost to Max Mirnyi in two tiebreaks. But let's tell this in order... The official opening ceremonies for the ATP Masters Series - Canada took place at 6:00 p.m. on Monday evening, amidst speeches and singing and the unfurling of flags, but much had already happened by that stage of the day.

The first seeded casualty arrived dramatically and abruptly not long after 1:00, when Juan Carlos Ferrero retired down 3-2 in the first set to Fabrice Santoro. Ferrero, who this year has had to deal with back problems, chickenpox, and then wrist and rib injuries in succession, Monday returned to the beginning of his list of woes when he succumbed to back spasms. After rescuing his serve at 1-2 with a dazzling array of forehands -- a flicked half-volley winner, a crushed volley, a return winner -- he called for the trainer and received lengthy treatment before deciding not to go on less than two games later. "I hit a return, and I start to feel it... in the same game, there was more and more pain, until finally I was serving and felt I still couldn't play."

"I felt it in the first round against [Filippo] Volandri in the Australian Open but I could still finish the match and the next day play good tennis. So this time it's more painful."

Playing his first hardcourt event since he came down with chickenpox just before Indian Wells in March, Ferrero disclosed the extent of his struggles after the illness. "I have to start from zero after chickenpox. Chickenpox makes me almost dead... Twenty-four, the doctor said it's very dangerous and all the defence is going down."

That kills any hopes Ferrero had of moving above #7 this week; indeed, he might fall to #8 if everything breaks wrong for him. And he's running out of time to pick up points before the U. S. Open; he's a mere #21 in the Race, and we'd guess he'll lose at least half a dozen more spots this week.

Xavier Malisse displayed his usual mixture of gasp- and grimace-inducing shots while going down 6-3 7-5 6-3 to Juan Ignacio Chela. Nearly half the second set consisted of breaks. While Chela drew first blood, Malisse settled down after a warning from the umpire and won the set 7-5 to even the match. He began the third in similar fashion, breaking through Chela's defence with all-or-nothing forehands to go up 3-1. Now firmly in command of the contest, Malisse looked dominant, focused, superior.

He never won another game...The unfathomable X-man double-faulted twice in his next service game to lose his lead and never held another game point in the match.

The change of fortunes in Joachim Johansson's 1-6 7-6 6-1 victory over Michael Llodra was no less sudden but far more explicable. Llodra began aggressively, taking advantage of his doubles prowess and Johansson's slight sluggishness to run away with the first set. While volleying skills are a frequently emphasized element of doubles play, one is apt to forget that there is also plenty of practice to be had in making passing shots and blocking serves back at awkward angles. Llodra displayed plenty of both, keeping Johansson pinned further back than he liked and opening the second set with a 40-15 lead on Johansson's serve.

Crucially, however, Johansson hung in with a couple of aces and stemmed the tide -- neither player had any further trouble on serve. When the inevitable tiebreak arrived, Johansson, who looked pensive on changeovers when contrasted with Llodra matter-of-fact fiddling with his racquet, managed to translate that serenity into his play by hitting a flurry of winners from all corners. That form would take him to the end of the match, which, not coincidentally, arrived soon after. By the middle of the third set, Johansson's 6'6" serves were raining down so fast and at such sharp angles that Llodra motioned his wife to move away from her courtside corner spot, telling her that it was "dangerous."

Johansson later pointed to his more consistent serving performances as a key not only in this match but in his improved results on tour, including his first title win at Memphis earlier in the year. "My level has been much higher on serve," he said, explaining his rise from the Challengers to the tour. "Before, I would serve well and if I had one bad service game, I would maybe lose the match. Now I don't usually do that."

"I've also been returning much better," he added.

Rounding out the day session was the battle of Swedish generations. Robin Soderling may be too old to be called a Thomas Enqvist clone, but the two were eerily well-matched in the pace and placement of their aggressive forehands and double-fisted backhands. Soderling, who ultimately had an easy 7-6 6-3 win, showed some fire by bitterly protesting an overrule on Enqvist's first serve at 30-30 in the fourth game of the second set, but the call did him no harm as he went on to take the next two points and the only break of the match. With both players hitting all-out on every stroke, disputed calls and overrules were common. Appropriately, the match ended on a blistering baseline rally that ended when a Soderling forehand barely clipped both lines in the corner of the court before bouncing past Enqvist.

In the evening, Andre Agassi was scheduled to take on Tommy Haas in perhaps the best matchup of the first round, to be followed by Gustavo Kuerten and Robby Ginepri. Despite a brief interruption caused by rain, Paradorn Srichaphan was the first to get off court in the evening, winning 7-5 6-2 against Andrei Pavel. The Agassi match was much more complicated; Haas, who of course had beaten Agassi two weeks earlier, started strong and broke early. But Agassi, despite a rather cranky reaction to some questionable line calls worked his way into the match and finally won 4-6 6-4 6-4.

Canada's favorites tended to suffer the fate of wildcards everywhere: They got spanked. The very first player to lose was Simon Larose, who fell to David Ferrer 7-5 6-2. Daniel Nestor managed the same number of games a little later in the day: He went down to Lucky Loser Cyril Saulnier 6-3 6-4.

Russia's new star, Igor Andreev, is still climbing, too, as he beat Sargis Sargsian 7-5 6-7 6-2.

The evening match on grandstand was routine: Tommy Robredo beat qualifier Hyung-Taik Lee 7-6 6-1. The stadium match was a good deal more complicated Gustavo Kuerten breezed through the first set, but the second -- even though he started putting up some gaudy service numbers -- saw Ginepri start to establish his own serve. The first nine games of the second went to serve, then Kuerten had an ad -- match point -- on Ginepri's serve. The American saved it, but Kuerten converted on his second to win 6-1 6-4.

Women's Match of the Day

San Diego - First Round
Ashley Harkleroad (WC) def. Patty Schnyder (13) 6-4 3-6 7-5

Evidently Ashley Harkleroad decided she was too young to die.

Last year around this time, people genuinely thought Harkleroad was going places. In the previous three months, she'd had four Top 20 wins, and two semifinals (Charleston and Strasbourg). She had briefly hit the Top 40. And, of course, she'd had lots and lots of people watching her.

She didn't have much success during the summer, but you could explain that as being the fast courts; she's mostly a retriever. She seemed to have rescued things at Auckland, where she made the final. Then she might almost have dropped dead. In her next nine WTA events, she won two matches, and fell back out of the Top 100. The week after Wimbledon, she was reduced to playing a Challenger -- and lost second round there.

But suddenly things are looking up. She won a match at Los Angeles. Now she has a win at San Diego -- her first win at a Tier I since Charleston 2003. Admittedly she was lucky to face Patty Schnyder -- who now has a losing record on hardcourt this year. But the way she was playing this spring, it would hardly have mattered. At least she's looking alive again. Harkleroad, #109 coming in (up from #115 the week before) should move up about a dozen places.

Schnyder came in at #16, with 70 points to defend (from Sopot, not San Diego), but with Francesca Schiavone losing at the same time she did and with Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi having lots of points to defend (the Israeli was in fact the one who beat Schnyder at Sopot), it appears that her ranking will be safe. If she is ever to get out of this #15-#20 range, though, she really needs to win some of these hardcourt matches....

Men's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - First Round
Paradorn Srichaphan (14) def. Andrei Pavel 7-5 6-2

Someone must have told Paradorn Srichaphan that this isn't exactly a required event. It changed everything.

This was one of those matches where one player didn't have any clear and overwhelming advantage, but somehow Srichaphan kept coming out ahead where it counted. Pavel had a higher first serve percentage (76%), but Srichaphan won more often on both first and second serves, and also returned a little bit better. That translated into four breaks (to one for Pavel) and a fairly easy win. Surprisingly easy, considering that Srichaphan was among the lowest seeds (and actually would have been seeded lower had this week's rankings been used), while Pavel was the top unseeded player.

The top unseeded player, but he won't be climbing. A disappointing result at the tournament where he scored his best-ever success.

For the moment, of course, it doesn't matter. Pavel has nothing to defend for the next two months; his first result of significance is the Metz quarterfinal at the end of September. He still has room to climb, with two more required events between then and now (and, for that matter, a first round loss at Madrid, so that too represents opportunity). The Romanian has been playing the best tennis of his career over the past year. And yet, somehow, he seems to be wearing down just a little (he's "only" #19 in the Race, compared to his #17 ranking). This might be another symptom.

For Srichaphan, who has zillions of good optional results, this of course makes no difference; where he ends up will depend on how others do this week. But he does have third round points from last year's Canadian Open coming off next week, and though he lost first round at Cincinnati, he did win Long Island and make the U. S. Open fourth round. This won't affect his ranking for now. But it's good news for later.

This Week's Movers -- Women
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Anabel Medina Garrigues -- Moved 11 places, from #59 to #48.
Her second career title moves Medina Garrigues to a several-year high.

Runner-Up: Flavia Pennetta -- Moved 10 places, from #74 to #64
Pennetta lost the Palermo final to Medina Garrigues
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Venus Williams -- Moved 3 places, 23%, from #13 to #10
Venus may be out for a while, but making the Los Angeles semifinal was enough to put her back in the Top Ten.

Runner-Up: Lindsay Davenport -- Moved 1 place, 20%, from #5 to #4
Her second straight title puts Davenport within striking distance of the #2 ranking.
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Melinda Czink -- Dropped 12 places, from #84 to #96
Czink, who won four Challengers last year, continues to pay the price of going from a strong Challenger player to a weak Tour player.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Anastasia Myskina, ranking increased 1 place, 25%, from #4 to #5
Myskina has sat out the last two weeks while Davenport has won everything; this week it cost her.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"

These are subjective picks!

Somehow, when ex-#1 players (Venus and Davenport) move up a spot or two, it doesn't impress much. Davenport probably deserves the award for singles players -- but we're going to give it to Virginia Ruano Pascual, who took the #1 doubles spot (ahead of regular partner Paola Suarez) after she and Conchita Martinez reached the Los Angeles final.

This Week's Movers -- Men
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: TIE
Guillermo Canas -- Moved 11 places, from #42 to #31.
Kristof Vliegen -- Moved 11 places, from #109 to #98.
Canas won Umag for his second title in a row. Vliegen lost in the Umag quarterfinal (and not to Canas), but he was in a good rankings spot.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Canas -- cut ranking 26%

Runner-Up: Fernando Verdasco -- Moved 9 places, 22%, from #41 to #32
Verdasco reached the Kitzbuhel semifinal to achieve a career high.
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Rafael Nadal -- Dropped 10 places, from #52 to #62
Last year at this time, Nadal made the Umag semifinal. This year, of course, he's still struggling after injury.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Mariano Zabaleta, ranking increased 8 places, 26%, from #31 to #39
Last year, Zabaleta made the Kitzbuhel semifinal. This year, he lost in the quarterfinal, and he was in a spot in the rankings where that hurt a lot.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

Verdasco is at a career high, and perhaps deserves some recognition, but Canas again is the clear winner

bandabou
Jul 28th, 2004, 04:44 PM
San Diego: Too Good to Last
Was it only yesterday that Ashley Harkleroad was beating her first Top 20 player since January? Yes, but it was only today that she was getting bagelled.

On Monday, Harkleroad had run into DecoTurf-hating Patty Schnyder, and barely worked out a win. On Tuesday, she ran into hardcourt-loving Amy Frazier, and Frazier yet once again showed that there is still life in her on California hardcourts. The 31-year-old American, who now has more career comebacks than she has cells producing melanin, advanced 6-2 6-0, and it only one win from clinching her Top 25 ranking (it's nearly sure already, but she theoretically could lose it).

Another American with a good history on the West Coast won't be climbing, though. We just had a feeling about the match between Meghann Shaughnessy and Shinobu Asagoe, and the feeling turned out to be true: Shaughnessy retired after losing the first set 6-2, raising a real possibility that she will fall out of the Top 30.

One of those with a shot to replace her is Conchita Martinez, who had a surprisingly easy 6-1 6-2 win over Emilie Loit. Martinez came in nine ranking spots behind Shaughnessy, but she's now less than 50 points back. Her Olympic doubles partner, Virginia Ruano Pascual, did enough work for both of them -- but without reward; she lost to Barbora Strycova 6-4 5-7 7-5. Martinez herself did better: She and Amy Frazier -- who is anything but a doubles specialist! -- beat Silvia Farina Elia and Francesca Schiavone 3-6 6-1 6-1. Ruano Pascual would later team up with Suarez to blow away Augustus and Russell 6-0 6-3 in the first match of the second round in doubles. (We note that this tournament is very un-American in its commitment to doubles: It could have had a 16-team field, but it did the fairly right thing and allowed a 24-team field.)

The first blow in the contest for #2 came in the second match on the stadium court. Anastasia Myskina was the first of the three contenders to play, and she advanced fairly easily, beating Barbara Schett 6-3 6-4. That still leaves her at #5, though, well behind both Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo.

Also in early afternoon came word that Venus Williams had withdrawn from the tournament due to the wrist injury that forced her to retire at Los Angeles. Her place in the draw was taken by Lucky Loser Tamarine Tanasugarn -- who, however, could not take advantage; she lost to Gisela Dulko 6-3 6-4. The win appears certain to put Dulko into the Top 50.

Venus's withdrawal of course increased the chances that someone else would take her Top Ten spot. The first of her potential replacements to go into action was #12 seed Vera Zvonareva, who looked like someone in a hurry to rise as she beat Maria Sanchez Lorenzo 6-0 6-3. But #10 Nadia Petrova, who has the biggest serve and the most messed-up head this side of Serena Williams, managed to work her way into all kinds of trouble against Elena Likhovtseva, eventually losing 6-4 1-6 6-4.

It looked for a while as if Serena Williams would follow her big sister out of the tournament; she was getting all she could handle from Jelena Jankovic. But Serena eventually steadied down enough to earn a 6-7 6-3 6-2 win, putting her (at least temporarily) at #3 in the contest for the final Top Ten spot.

The evening's singles matches both went very quickly. #6 seed Maria Sharapova won her first match since Wimbledon, ending Lilia Osterloh's run 6-3 6-3; #5 seed Elena Dementieva closed out the day's action with a 6-1 6-1 win over Kristina Brandi, a result which drops Brandi out of the Top 50.

In other doubles matches, the pickup team of Eleni Daniilidou and Liezel Huber, seeded #8, beat the French Olympic pair of Mauresmo and Pierce 7-6(7-5) 6-7(2-7) 6-1. Marion Bartoli and Daniela Hantuchova gave Wimbledon winners Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs a surprising struggle, but the #2 seeds finally advanced 6-4 7-6. And #6 seeds Emilie Loit and Nicole Pratt, back together after a hiatus, lost 7-6 6-1 to Petra Mandula and Barbara Schett.

Canadian Open: Hidden Meaning
Ever get the feeling that you're being led into something? Roger Federer wasn't scheduled to play Monday, but he was scheduled for a press conference. Andy Roddick flew into town on Sunday night after winning the title in Indianapolis earlier in the day, and barely had time to catch his breath before he, too, was whisked off to the media room after arriving on site yesterday afternoon.

Once Roddick was seated in front of the assembled company, sharp eyes barely visible under a green and white baseball cap, a few assorted queries followed. Would he be able to repeat last summer's hardcourt success? "It would be crazy to expect that but, you know, I'll try my best." The profound significance of the hat? "It's a Celtics hat. I don't really like the Celtics but I like the hat. There's not much significance." He grinned. "It's pretty shallow." Did he have a plan B in case he couldn't carry out all of his gruelling summer schedule? "No, just lots of ice."

Then an ATP official posed a question. "Andy, Roger is on top right now. You want to get back there. Can you talk a little bit about the rivalry between you two guys and how it's developed over the last year or two?"

Hmm.

Well, the intent was obvious, and to a certain extent, it worked. Two newspaper articles on Federer-Roddick appeared the next day, and six of the subsequent questions during the press conference. Things weren't quite as neat as that, however. Some of the questioning was skeptical about the extent and intensity of the rivalry, as was Roddick himself. "I got one, whoo," he deadpanned, referring to their 6-1 head-to-head.

"I think the media wants it... it's no secret that in the history of tennis, it's been most popular when there have been rivalries that people look forward to, but I can't focus on that. Roger and I aren't the only two players in the world."

Later, when Federer was in the chair, this question popped up. "People like to talk about the rivalry you have with Andy your personalities and your playing styles are so entertainingly different but to a certain extent is that a distraction for you? Is it something you prefer not to think about?"

An indication that the ball was not rolling in quite the intended direction, perhaps, though Federer proved amenable to the concept while remaining firm in his views. "...It's been a long time since number one and number two have played in a Grand Slam final. So I think it's correct that we talk about it... But I don't think my focus is to actually just beat Andy... it's on my own career."

Even those who did take the hint and wrote the Federer-Roddick angle included some or all of the quotes above.

So the setup, though perfectly delivered, fell victim to that old law -- the news-generating machine can control what gets talked about, but not how.

At least the discussions filled some time on a Tuesday drenched by about nine hours of rain during what were supposed to be playing hours. As the day progressed, the schedule got shorter and shorter; by the time things dried up, it was too dark to play anywhere but on the Stadium. They managed to start Roger Federer's match with Hicham Arazi. But then the rains came again; the match was stopped with Federer up 6-3, and they never came back.

We did lose one player by other means: Taylor Dent withdrew with an injury, replaced by Lucky Loser Thomas Johansson. But, of course, Johansson didn't play.

Women's Match of the Day

San Diego - First Round
Elena Likhovtseva def. Nadia Petrova (10) 6-4 1-6 6-4

Nadia Petrova is sort of a Russian version of Serena Williams. She has probably the best serve on the Tour other than Serena. Having been raised partly in Egypt, she is relatively remote from the other Russian players, just as Serena and Venus are rather remote from the other Americans. And -- like Serena these days -- her head is a mess.

How else do you explain a loss like this to Elena Likhovtseva? And it was, if anything, less close than the score; Petrova played well only when behind. In the last set, for instance, she went down two breaks, 5-2 (hard to believe as it is with her serve), and didn't come to life until Likhovtseva served for the match. Petrova broke, then held -- but then Likhovtseva held, and it was over.

And with it, once again, Petrova's chances for a Top Ten spot. Indeed, she will be falling yet again. She came in at #12, but with 148 points to defend; the effect of that is to drop her all the way to #15. And she isn't even Top 20 in the Race; she'll probably be below #25 in that department after San Diego. (She had a very good indoor season last fall, which is propping up her ranking.) If she is to rescue this year, she really needs to get things together.

Getting things together is just what Likhovtseva has done. She too had big points to defend this week -- 141 of them, which were even bigger for her since she's ranked a mere #35. This win still doesn't clinch her Top 40 ranking. But she's probably only one win away.

We note that, with Petrova out, only one of the seven seeds below #9 is still in action. Five (Petrova, Schnyder, Smashnova-Pistolesi, Schiavone, Farina Elia) have lost, Venus has withdrawn; only #12 Vera Zvonareva is left.


A Moving Display
They say you can tell when a person gets old by when he spends more time thinking about the past than the future. By that standard, tennis journalists are born old; it's hard to talk much about the future, after all, when you never know who will play even the next day, given the current rash of injuries!

But we're going to make ourselves seem that much older and take a look back at another sort of history. Each week, of course, we list our Movers of the Week. The interesting question is, were they "really" moving or were they just flashes in the pan?

We thought we'd look at the two dozen or so guys we anointed Movers in the first half of 2004, and see what they've been up to. (We won't look at the several movers already chosen in the second half because there hasn't been time for us to see whether they followed up.)

For starters, here are the Men's Movers for the first half of 2004, with the result that won them the award:

1/13/2003 -- Nicolas Escude (won Doha)
1/22/2004 -- Lleyton Hewitt (won Sydney)
2/3/2004 -- Marat Safin (Australian Open finalist) and Roger Federer (winner)
2/10/2004 -- [Karol Beck (won the Wroclaw Challenger; no ATP events played this week)]
2/18/2003 -- Anthony Dupuis (won Milan)
2/24/2004 -- Joachim Johansson (won Memphis)
3/2/2004 -- Dominik Hrbaty (won Marseille)
3/9/2004 -- Fernando Verdasco (Acapulco finalist) and Feliciano Lopez (Dubai finalist)
3/25/2004 -- Irakli Labadze (Indian Wells semifinalist)
4/6/2004 -- Vincent Spadea (Miami semifinalist)
4/13/2004 -- [Ivo Karlovic (won the Calabasas Challenger; no ATP events played this week)]
4/20/2004 -- Fernando Verdasco (won Estoril)
4/27/2004 -- Rainer Schuettler (Monte Carlo finalist)
5/4/2004 -- Kristof Vliegen (Barcelona semifinalist)
5/11/2004 -- Mariano Zabaleta (Rome semifinalist)
5/18/2004 -- Ivan Ljubicic (Hamburg semifinalist)
5/27/2004 -- Filippo Volandri (St. Poelten winner)
6/8/2004 -- Gaston Gaudio (Roland Garros winner)
6/15/2004 -- Mardy Fish (Halle finalist)
6/24/2004 -- Michael Llodra ('s-Hertogenbosch winner)

What will be immediately apparent is that some of these players are moving a lot more than others. Chances are you haven't been noticing Anthony Dupuis's name in too many headlines lately, and Rainer Schuettler has fallen overall this year. On the other hand, it's hard to deny that Gasto Gaudio has been going places!

If we omit the two guys (Beck and Karlovic) who earned their moved during Davis Cup weeks, we have 20 winners and 19 players (Verdasco won twice): Dupuis, Escude, Federer, Fish, Gaudio, Hewitt, Hrbaty, Johansson, J., Labadze, Ljubicic, Llodra, Lopez, F, Safin, Schuettler, Spadea, Verdasco, Vliegen, Volandri, Zabaleta.

So how have these guys done overall? That is, how much progress have they made this year? We can measure that easily enough. The table below lists each of our 19 players, his ranking on January 1, his ranking this week, and the percent change. Note that a negative percentage is good (the guy has cut his ranking); a positive percentage is bad (his ranking has increased).


Name.....................Jan1....Now...% change
Dupuis, Anthony............78.....84......8%
Escude, Nicolas...........114.....67....-41%
Federer, Roger..............2......1....-50%
Fish, Mardy................20.....18....-10%
Gaudio, Gaston.............34......9....-74%
Hewitt, Lleyton............17.....10....-41%
Hrbaty, Dominik............61.....20....-67%
Johansson, Joachim.........95.....33....-65%
Labadze, Irakli............72.....43....-40%
Ljubicic, Ivan.............42.....26....-38%
Llodra, Michael...........173.....56....-68%
Lopez, Feliciano...........28.....30......7%
Safin, Marat...............77.....14....-82%
Schuettler, Rainer..........6......8.....33%
Spadea,Vincent.............29.....21....-28%
Verdasco,Fernando.........109.....32....-71%
Vliegen,Kristof...........116.....98....-16%
Volandri,Filippo...........47.....65.....38%
Zabaleta, Mariano..........27.....39.....44%

If we sort this by degree of movement, from best to worst, we get:


Name.....................Jan1....Now...% change
Safin, Marat...............77.....14....-82%
Gaudio, Gaston.............34......9....-74%
Verdasco,Fernando.........109.....32....-71%
Llodra, Michael...........173.....56....-68%
Hrbaty, Dominik............61.....20....-67%
Johansson, Joachim.........95.....33....-65%
Federer, Roger..............2......1....-50%
Escude, Nicolas...........114.....67....-41%
Hewitt, Lleyton............17.....10....-41%
Labadze, Irakli............72.....43....-40%
Ljubicic, Ivan.............42.....26....-38%
Spadea,Vincent.............29.....21....-28%
Vliegen,Kristof...........116.....98....-16%
Fish, Mardy................20.....18....-10%
Lopez, Feliciano...........28.....30......7%
Dupuis, Anthony............78.....84......8%
Schuettler, Rainer..........6......8.....33%
Volandri,Filippo...........47.....65.....38%
Zabaleta, Mariano..........27.....39.....44%

So Safin has been our movingest mover, followed by Gaudio and Verdasco, while fully five of our nineteen players have lost ground, three of them (Schuettler, Volandri, Zabaleta) significantly.

To put all this in context, our rankings spreadsheet has 122 players who were Top 100 at the start of the year or close enough that we were already tracking their rankings. Of those 121, Safin's move is second only to Guillermo Canas's 89% (you could argue that Tommy Haas and Thomas Johansson have had better moves, but they were unranked at the start of the year, so it's not possible to calculate a percentage move); the #3 player is Andrei Pavel, at 77%, Gaudio is fourth, Verdasco fifth, Llodra sixth, Hrbaty seventh, and Tim Henman, Joachim Johansson, and Mario Ancic round out the Top Ten. So of the ten best movers, six have been among our Movers of the Week (and Ancic and Canas have been Movers in the weeks since our cutoff at the end of June).

On the other hand, if you thing Zabaleta's 44% fall is bad, compare that to Mark Philippoussis's 422% or Felix Mantilla's 412%. Interestingly, only three other players who were Top 100 at the end of last year have seen their rankings more than triple: Fernando Vicente, Younes El Aynaoui (hurt almost all year), and Yevgeny Kafelnikov (retired). Twelve players (Nieminen, Roddick, Kucera, Calleri, O. Rochus, Verkerk, Ferrero, N. Lapentti, Ferreira, Agassi, Vahaly) have seen their rankings at least double. Fifteen more have seen their rankings increase by at least half. Maybe there's hope even for Schuettler at this rate

bandabou
Jul 30th, 2004, 02:32 PM
San Diego: Delayed Gratification
Women's tennis being what it is these days, the third round at San Diego had a lot of Russians in it. Seven players out of sixteen, in fact, were Russian.

With such a glut, it's perhaps no surprise that they ran them through very quickly. The day's first two matches both involved two Russian countrywomen. Though there wasn't much to the first match. Elena Likhovtseva was probably the most important Russian player between the era of Olga Morozova and the time when Anna Kournikova first heralded the current flood, but that's not saying all that much. One of the youngsters, Elena Dementieva, beat her 6-2 7-6, meaning that Likhovtseva will end up at near the bottom of the Top 40.

Much more surprising was the second match, between #12 seed Vera Zvonareva and #7 Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova has had very good results at San Diego in the past, but she really seems to have been in a funk since winning Eastbourne; at least one person who has seen her thought she looked burned out. Zvonareva took her out 6-2 6-3. The loss raises a real possibility that Kuznetsova will lose her #9 ranking, and keeps alive Zvonareva's faint hopes of making the Top Ten.

With the second match on stadium court we began to get an admixture of non-Russians. It didn't prevent a Russian success. #3 seed Anastasia Myskina kept herself in the contest for the #2 ranking by beating Chanda Rubin 6-1 6-2 -- meaning that Rubin won't be hitting the Top 20 just yet.

That race for #2 remains a three-way contest. Lindsay Davenport dominated Conchita Martinez 6-1 6-2

That early rush of Russians left two for later: Maria Sharapova and Elena Bovina. Bovina was to face Serena Williams, which meant that she could be left for last. So Sharapova played the final singles match of the day session, pounding Gisela Dulko 6-0 6-1. Dulko ends up at #43; Sharapova has clinched the #8 ranking and could still move up to #7 if she makes the final. And she has 14 straight WTA wins.

Alicia Molik on Wednesday solved her problem with beating top players when she beat Amelie Mauresmo. Now maybe she needs to work on winning the match after the big match. She lost to Amy Frazier -- who admittedly is about as tough as they come on West Coast hardcourts -- 3-6 6-3 6-4. That means Molik will not hit the Top 25 this week; she'll return to the career-best #26 ranking she reached six weeks ago. Frazier is up to #22, and if she can somehow beat Dementieva in the quarterfinal, she will return to the Top 20; if she loses, then Bovina will get the final Top 20 spot.

The contest for the #10 ranking is still far from settled, but we know who won't be holding the ranking next week: current #10 Venus Williams. Ai Sugiyama assured that when she beat Marion Bartoli 6-3 6-2. That meant that either Sugiyama, or Zvonareva, or Serena Williams would be #10, with Venus no better than #12. And you would have to give Serena the edge in the race; in the evening match, she beat Bovina 6-4 6-2, and now leads both Sugiyama and Venus -- and, problems or no, she faces Zvonareva next, while Sugiyama has to face Davenport.

Those of you who follow Russian doubles will no doubt think us dense. We finally realized today why Vera Zvonareva is playing this week with Elena Likhovtseva rather than Anastasia Myskina. Some of it is that Svetlana Kuznetsova isn't playing, leaving Likhovtseva available -- but in addition, Zvonareva's usual partner Anastasia Myskina is supposed to play the Olympics with Elena Dementieva, and they are playing together to practice for the Olympics. And, as luck had it, Dementieva/Myskina met Likhovtseva/Zvonareva in the quarterfinal. With the sort of results you'd expect from such a case of musical doubles partners. But, in what is perhaps bad news for the Olympic pairings, Likhovtseva and Zvonareva finally came out on top 7-5 4-6 6-3. Wimbledon champions Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs closed out the day with a 7-5 6-0 win over Petra Mandula and Barbara Schett.

Canadian Open: A Matter of Survival
The story of the day was upsets and disaster. We'll let our on-scene writer tell it:

A packed schedule yielded matches of every conceivable variety today, with all second- and third-round matches taking place to clear the backlog created by a rain-filled Tuesday. Seven seeds and six former Grand Slam champions were in action as Thursday began -- by the end of play, only the top two remained. The big names tumbled throughout the day, with one major upset coming early when Jurgen Melzer rolled over Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-3 in a second-round encounter.

Two consecutive love breaks in the second and third games were followed by yet another break from Melzer, who held on that advantage till the end of the set. "He mixed his serve up and when I did sort of get a hold of his serve, if I hit it anywhere short, he was really aggressive on his first ball," said Agassi afterwards. "He returned well, he moved well, he did a lot of things well."

"We didn't have many rallies more than four shots."

One rally that did last much longer than four shots came on Melzer's first break point of the second set, when his perfectly-angled forehand passing shot scuppered Agassi's attempt to cut short the long baseline exchange. Agassi saved two match points when serving at 3-5 to get back to deuce, but could not rescue a third, sending an approach shot wide two points later.

An ecstatic Melzer said courtside, "It's the day of my life and I played the match of my life. I think I can't play any better, so I'm very happy."

Asked about the win in the context of his career, the 23-year-old Austrian placed it at the very top. "I think it's the best. There is nothing above that, if you beat Agassi. I think it was probably the last chance, one of the last chances to play him." He carried that form into his evening match, winning 6-3 6-3 over Fernando Gonzalez [who earlier had beaten Vincent Spadea 7-5 6-4].

Roger Federer, meanwhile, continued to sail through smoothly. The first player to get through his second round match, 7-5 6-1 against Robin Soderling, he was also the first into the third round after beating Max Mirnyi 7-6 7-6.

Federer's winning streak reached 20 with his pair of wins today. While probability suggests that an interruption is thus somewhere around the corner, his self-assessment after the day's work was done sounded ominous for the rest of the field. "I was just now in the shower. Again. If somebody would have told me after the French I'm not going to lose a match until now, I would have told them this is almost impossible. But once you get going, it seems like you never stop."

"I was happy I played Max in the second match because I knew there was not going to be any rallies... [the tiebreaks] could have gone either way but I think again, like in the first match, I won the big points."

It was deja vu for Mirnyi, who defeated Paradorn Srichaphan and went out to Federer in the next round for the second year in a row at this event. He took almost two hours to win 3-6 6-1 6-4 against Srichaphan in the day's first match on the Grandstand.

In fact, the Grandstand was the place to be on this catch-up Thursday, which also saw perhaps the best match of the tournament so far. Gustavo Kuerten defeated Tim Henman 7-5 6-4 before a packed crowd filled with chanting Guga fans and others enjoying the close contest between the two players equally stylish in their own ways. Kuerten, who finished both sets with aces, combined some big serving with traditionally melodious groundstrokes. Despite a string of unsuccessful dropshot attempts, he broke Henman to love at 5-5 in the first and again at 2-2 with a pair of well-struck passing shots and a wild forehand from his opponent.

Henman, who bizarrely went a round better than Kuerten at this year's Roland Garros, held from 0-40 down in the first game of the second set but was unable to convert any of the six break points he held during the match -- at least partly because Kuerten got his first serve in on all but one of them. Kuerten could not come up with a second victory, letting a match point slip in losing to qualifier Jan Hernych [who had beaten fellow qualifier Todd Reid 6-3 6-3] 5-7 7-6 6-4.

Two more former Grand Slam champions, Lleyton Hewitt [a 6-2 6-1 winner over Jiri Novak in the second round] and Carlos Moya [who beat Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-4 6-3], also played their third-round matches on the Grandstand, with similar results.

Moya battled with Nicholas Kiefer [who had beaten David Ferrer 6-3 6-1] for two hours and 26 minutes in a 6-4 2-6 6-4 loss that might have become the new frontrunner for the match of the tournament. Moya provided some light-hearted entertainment for the crowd in the third set by hitting with a ballboy while Kiefer took an injury timeout to get his foot retaped. Moya shook hands with his impromptu opponent at the end of the brief hitting session, but promptly became embroiled in a battle on serve when the match resumed. Saving that game, he also saved three matchpoints at 4-5 before succumbing to a fourth in an incredible last game that left the victorious Kiefer on his knees with delight and disbelief. Hewitt also fell in three sets, losing 2-6 6-3 6-4 to Fabrice Santoro.

Andy Roddick, who won a big-serving encounter against Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6 with a first-serve percentage of 78%, was one of only five seeds to reach the third. He expressed no qualms about doing double duty today after winning his first match yesterday. "What's better than one baseball game? Two baseball games," he quoted. "So let's do it."

His eagerness was justified/unjustified. Roddick's second match of the day was against Juan Ignacio Chela, which he won 6-1 6-4.

That much our staffer managed to see. With so many matches on so many courts, of course, there were others she couldn't get to, including four second round matches. Luis Horna, who was working his way toward the Top 30 around Roland Garros before his ranking started to fall, looks to be on the rise again; he took out the last Canadian, Frederic Niemeyer, 6-7 7-5 6-3. (Well, make that the last Canadian singles player; Daniel Nestor is still in the doubles. He and Mark Knowles beat Pala and Rikl 6-3 6-2. Also through are the temporarily-reunited team of Bhupathi and Paes, who beat Etlis and Rodriguez 6-3 6-2. But #5 Arthurs/Hanley, #6 Black/Ullyett, and #7 Damm/Suk were all upset).

Lucky Losers are doing surprisingly well here. Two made the third round in the wide-open quarter once occupied by Guillermo Coria and David Nalbandian. Cyril Saulnier edged Mikhail Youzhny in a third set tiebreak; former winner Thomas Johansson took out Igor Andreev 7-6 6-1. That raised the possibility of a quarterfinal matchup with unrelated namesake Joachim Johansson, who barely made it past Gregory Carraz 7-6 6-7 7-6. Thomas did his part with a 3-6 7-5 6-1 win over Luis Horna. And, finally, just to add one more to the saga of incredibly long matches, Joachim did give us an all-Johansson quarterfinal, beating Saulnier 7-6 4-6 7-6 despite never once breaking serve and actually losing more points than he won. Both guys served 21 aces, meaning that over a fifth of the points in the match were aces!

In ranking notes, we observe that Hernych's big day should put him in the Top 100 for the first time.

Women's Match of the Day

San Diego - Third Round
Lindsay Davenport (4) def. Conchita Martinez 6-1 6-2

It's hard to believe that Conchita Martinez had won her only meeting with Lindsay Davenport in the last three and a half years.

It's true. Martinez beat Davenport at Roland Garros last year, and the last time they met before that was all the way back at Philadelphia 2000. Where Davenport won. Davenport obviously had to wait a long time for her revenge, but when the chance came, it came fast. And with it, Davenport now has 11 straight wins, and is three-fourths to the feat she accomplished in 1998 of winning all three West Coast hardcourt events. Which, of course, was what started her on her way to #1 in that year....

At the rate things are going, it might start her on her way to #1 this year, too. If Justine Henin-Hardenne can't start playing soon, then one of the current semi-big three (Davenport, Mauresmo, Myskina) should take over the #1 ranking at or soon after the U. S. Open. As it is, we know that one of them will take the #2 spot this week.

And it's looking more and more like Davenport. We sketched this yesterday. Amelie Mauresmo was already ahead of soon to be ex-#2 Kim Clijsters. With this win, Davenport also passes Clijsters, who will therefore fall from #2 to no better than #4, and Myskina can pass Clijsters by reaching the final, and Mauresmo by winning. Davenport will pass Mauresmo if she reaches the final. So here are the possibilities: If Davenport wins the final, she is #2, Mauresmo probably #3, Clijsters or Myskina #4. If Myskina wins the final over Davenport, the Russian is #2, Davenport #3, Mauresmo #4, Clijsters #5. If Myskina wins the final over anyone else, Myskina is #2, Mauresmo #3, and Clijsters and Davenport #4 and #5, with the order depending on whether Davenport wins her quarterfinal. And, finally, if Davenport doesn't make the final and Myskina doesn't win, then Mauresmo is #2.

Now repeat that back. Or wait till Monday, when we'll tell you again, only with all the conditionals mercifully eliminated.

Conchita Martinez came in at #39. So crowded together were the players from #26 to #40 that just getting to the third round will move her up all the way to #32.

Men's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - Second Round
Gustavo Kuerten def. Tim Henman (5) 7-5 6-4

Call this the all-mixed-up leading the all-mixed-up. Gustavo Kuerten is a natural clay player, but despite winning Costa do Sauipe this spring, most of his recent success has been on hardcourts. And Tim Henman this year has had his best result on -- clay.

And so we see the role reversal turn complete. The former clay specialist beat the hardcourt specialist (of Henman's 11 career titles, five have been on outdoor hardcourt and four more on indoor heardcourt). Kuerten out-served Henman, and out-returned him; it was a long, tough contest, but Kuerten generally dominated.

And that means that the Top Five after the Canadian Open is set -- sort of. We know that Roger Federer is #1, Andy Roddick #2, Guillermo Coria #3, and Carlos Moya #4 despite his later third round loss. Henman, who was defending Washington this week, falls from #5 to #6 (with a theoretical possibility, as of when he lost, that Lleyton Hewitt could still pass him by winning Toronto). Of course, that's a temporary situation; Nalbandian has the Canadian Open final to defend next week; it's nearly certain that Henman will go into the Olympics ranked #5. It's enough to drive you crosseyed.

For Kuerten, the match is just another step in his seemingly-endless comeback, in which he has looked good some weeks and dreadful others; we hate to speculate on whether he'll actually back it up. He's very close, under the current strange ranking situation, to a return to the Top 20. But this win alone couldn't clinch it. Of course, this was his first match of the day....



Some Coincidence
The first law of coincidences is, "Coincidences happen." The second law of coincidences is, "When they do happen, someone will think they means more than they do."

For example, someone noted that Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt have been in the same half of the draw at almost every event they've played this year. (Eight of nine.) Coincidence?

Probably. Assume any two particular players had played eight of the same events this year. What are the odds that they will be in the same half, say, six out of eight times? The answer is, not especially high. It's more or less a straight binomial, though seedings make that a little more complicated.

Let's give a concrete example, to demonstrate the strength of coincidence. Suppose, theoretically, that the same 64 guys play six consecutive 64-draw tournaments. If you take a particular player, the binomial distribution says that, on average, one other player out of the 64 will be on the same side in all six events. Six guys will be on the same side in five of the six events. Fully fifteen guys will be on the same side in four of the six events. Only twenty -- less than a third -- will be on the same side exactly half the time. Fifteen will be on the same side only twice in six events, six will be on the same side only once, and one pair will never be on the same side.

To put it another way, for any random pair of guys, there are about 37 chances in 256 (a bit over 14%) that they will be on the same half of the draw in six out of eight tournaments they enter! Even if you demand eight out of nine, there is still almost a 2% chance. That's not very high -- but the odds that some pair of players will be in the same half time after time will be quite high. This year, Federer and Hewitt just happen to have hit close to the jackpot.

That's theory. What about reality? Let's take a look. We will take only Federer, and look at every player who has been in his quarter (not half) of the draw, at every event he has played through the Canadian Open.

So far this year, Federer has played the Australian Open, Rotterdam, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Hamburg, Roland Garros, Halle, Wimbledon, Gstaad, and now Toronto. That's a total of 212 slots in his quarter at his various events. It turns out that there were 113 distinct players to fill those slots; the following list tabulates the players, they number of times they were in the same quarter, and the events involved (you don't have to read this if you don't want to; just skip ahead to the next paragraph, where the actual fun starts).

Almagro: 1 (Roland Garros)
Arazi: 3 (Canadian Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Ascione: 2 (Australian Open, Roland Garros)
Beck: 1 (Canadian Open)
Behrend: 1 (Gstaad)
Bjorkman: 5 (Australian Open, Canadian Open, Dubai, Rome, Rotterdam)
Blake: 1 (Rome)
Bloomfield: 1 (Wimbledon)
Bogdanovic: 1 (Wimbledon)
Bogomolov: 2 (Australian Open, Miami)
Cakl: 1 (Rotterdam)
Calleri: 2 (Australian Open, Roland Garros)
Canas: 3 (Australian Open, Hamburg, Indian Wells)
Chela: 1 (Indian Wells)
Clement: 2 (Halle, Rotterdam)
Corretja: 2 (Rome, Wimbledon)
Costa: 2 (Indian Wells, Rome)
Davydenko: 1 (Miami)
de Chaunac: 1 (Australian Open)
Delgado, J: 1 (Wimbledon)
Dupuis: 1 (Indian Wells)
Elseneer: 2 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Enqvist: 2 (Canadian Open, Indian Wells)
Escude: 1 (Miami)
Falla: 2 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Ferreira: 1 (Australian Open)
Ferrer: 2 (Miami, Rome)
Ferrero: 1 (Canadian Open)
Fish: 1 (Indian Wells)
Gasquet: 2 (Australian Open, Roland Garros)
Gaudio: 1 (Hamburg)
Ginepri: 1 (Hamburg)
Gonzalez: 3 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Miami)
Grosjean: 2 (Roland Garros, Rome)
Haas: 1 (Indian Wells)
Hanescu: 2 (Australian Open, Indian Wells)
Henman: 4 (Australian Open, Dubai, Miami, Rotterdam)
Hernandez: 1 (Gstaad)
Heuberger: 2 (Gstaad, Miami)
Hewitt: 5 (Indian Wells, Australian Open, Canadian Open, Miami, Wimbledon)
Horna: 1 (Rome)
Ivanisevic: 2 (Miami, Wimbledon)
Johansson, J: 1 (Hamburg)
Johansson, T: 4 (Halle, Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Karlovic: 5 (Gstaad, Indian Wells, Miami, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Kiefer: 2 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Kim, K: 1 (Roland Garros)
Knowle: 2 (Hamburg, Wimbledon)
Koubek: 3 (Miami, Roland Garros, Rome)
Kratochvil: 1 (Canadian Open)
Kucera: 3 (Australian Open, Miami, Roland Garros)
Kuerten: 1 (Roland Garros)
Kutsenko: 1 (Australian Open)
Labadze: 1 (Wimbledon)
Lapentti, N: 2 (Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Lee, H-T: 1 (Roland Garros)
Lisnard: 1 (Australian Open)
Ljubicic: 2 (Canadian Open, Roland Garros)
Llodra: 1 (Wimbledon)
Lopez, F: 4 (Hamburg, Roland Garros, Rome, Wimbledon)
Lopez, M: 1 (Wimbledon)
Malisse: 1 (Australian Open)
Mamiit: 1 (Australian Open)
Mantilla: 2 (Australian Open, Roland Garros)
Martin, A: 4 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Martin, T: 3 (Indian Wells, Miami, Rome)
Massu: 1 (Miami)
Mayer: 2 (Australian Open, Halle)
Mello: 1 (Australian Open)
Melzer: 3 (Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Mirnyi: 2 (Canadian Open, Rome)
Moodie: 1 (Australian Open)
Morrison: 1 (Australian Open)
Moya: 2 (Hamburg, Wimbledon)
Nadal: 3 (Australian Open, Canadian Open, Miami)
Nalbandian: 2 (Australian Open, Roland Garros)
Niemeyer: 1 (Indian Wells)
Nieminen: 1 (Miami)
Novak: 4 (Canadian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Rome)
Parmar: 1 (Wimbledon)
Patience: 2 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Pavel: 7 (Canadian Open, Dubai, Gstaad, Halle, Indian Wells, Miami, Rotterdam)
Philippoussis: 1 (Hamburg)
Pless: 1 (Roland Garros)
Popp: 1 (Halle)
Ramirez Hidalgo: 1 (Roland Garros)
Reid: 1 (Australian Open)
Robredo: 2 (Dubai, Rotterdam)
Rochus,C: 1 (Australian Open)
Rosset: 1 (Gstaad)
Safin: 3 (Dubai, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Salzenstein: 1 (Roland Garros)
Sanchez: 3 (Australian Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Sanguinetti: 2 (Australian Open, Rome)
Santoro: 2 (Canadian Open, Wimbledon)
Sargsian: 2 (Australian Open, Wimbledon)
Saulnier: 1 (Wimbledon)
Soderling: 3 (Canadian Open, Miami, Roland Garros)
Srichaphan: 3 (Canadian Open, Indian Wells, Wimbledon)
Starace: 1 (Roland Garros)
Stepanek: 3 (Australian Open, Gstaad, Wimbledon)
Tabara: 1 (Australian Open)
Tursunov: 4 (Indian Wells, Miami, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Ulihrach: 2 (Dubai, Indian Wells)
van Scheppingen: 1 (Australian Open)
Verdasco: 1 (Hamburg)
Verkerk: 1 (Rome)
Vliegen: 2 (Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Volandri: 4 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Waske: 1 (Halle)
Weiner: 1 (Indian Wells)
Youzhny: 4 (Halle, Rome, Rotterdam, Wimbledon)
Zib: 1 (Dubai)

Again, what we really care about is who was in Federer's quarter but how often they were there. It turns out that it was not Hewitt, but Andrei Pavel, who was most regularly Federered -- seven times they have been in the same quarter.

If we look at the guys who have been most often in Federer's quarter, Hewitt is tied with two others for second place, with five Federerizations. The following list shows the players who have been Federered three or more times, in descending order of how often they got stuck:

Pavel: 7 (Canadian Open, Dubai, Gstaad, Halle, Indian Wells, Miami, Rotterdam)
Bjorkman: 5 (Australian Open, Canadian Open, Dubai, Rome, Rotterdam)
Hewitt: 5 (Indian Wells, Australian Open, Canadian Open, Miami, Wimbledon)
Karlovic: 5 (Gstaad, Indian Wells, Miami, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Henman: 4 (Australian Open, Dubai, Miami, Rotterdam)
Johansson, T: 4 (Halle, Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Lopez, F: 4 (Hamburg, Roland Garros, Rome, Wimbledon)
Martin, A: 4 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Novak: 4 (Canadian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Rome)
Tursunov: 4 (Indian Wells, Miami, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Volandri: 4 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Youzhny: 4 (Halle, Rome, Rotterdam, Wimbledon)
Arazi: 3 (Canadian Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Canas: 3 (Australian Open, Hamburg, Indian Wells)
Gonzalez: 3 (Hamburg, Indian Wells, Miami)
Koubek: 3 (Miami, Roland Garros, Rome)
Kucera: 3 (Australian Open, Miami, Roland Garros)
Martin, T: 3 (Indian Wells, Miami, Rome)
Melzer: 3 (Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon)
Nadal: 3 (Australian Open, Canadian Open, Miami)
Safin: 3 (Dubai, Roland Garros, Wimbledon)
Sanchez: 3 (Australian Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)
Soderling: 3 (Canadian Open, Miami, Roland Garros)
Srichaphan: 3 (Canadian Open, Indian Wells, Wimbledon)
Stepanek: 3 (Australian Open, Gstaad, Wimbledon)

We might incidentally note that the distribution of Federerization is as follows:

Players in Federer's quarter 7 times: 1
Players in Federer's quarter 6 times: 0
Players in Federer's quarter 5 times: 3
Players in Federer's quarter 4 times: 8
Players in Federer's quarter 3 times: 13
Players in Federer's quarter 2 times: 31
Players in Federer's quarter once: 57

Which is a nice smooth curve, just what you would expect if players were going into Federer's quarter at random. Conspiracy against Hewitt? All we can say is, Refer to the first law of coincidences.

bandabou
Aug 4th, 2004, 11:33 AM
Canadian Open/Montreal: The Last Shall Be First
Mary Pierce was the last seed into the Montreal draw. Literally. She only earned a seed when Serena Williams withdrew.

It didn't prevent her from being the first seed into the third round. On a day when rain threatened to mess up first round action, she made haste to get off the court, beating Nicole Pratt 6-1 6-1. That keeps Pierce in the middle of the five-woman contest for two free spots in the Top 25 -- but drops Pratt from #37 to no better than #44.

If Pierce looked overwhelming, #5 seed Jennifer Capriati looked more than usually rusty. Of course, she has been out for several weeks. But the form she showed in her 7-6 7-5 win over Alina Jidkova seems unlikely to get her past Pierce in the Round of Sixteen.

Two other second round matches were played during the day-that-threatened-to-become-evening session: #7 seed Ai Sugiyama kept her Top Ten hopes faintly alive with a 1-6 6-4 6-4 win over Daniela Hantuchova (no umpires calling Hantuchova for slow serving on match point this time, thankfully), while #12 seed Karolina Sprem struggled but beat Sugiyama's current doubles partner Shinobu Asagoe 6-2 4-6 6-1.

The night gave us one more seed through: #2 Amelie Mauresmo took out Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-4 1-6 6-2.

Most of the day was devoted to first round action, though, with several qualifiers continuing recent hot streaks. Starting from Wimbledon, Mashona Washington has four WTA wins -- as many as she'd had in the two years before that. Washington must really like this tournament; she made the main draw in 2001 and last year and again this year; it's one of only two tournaments (Miami being the other) where she's managed to make the main draw three times in the past four years -- and she has more wins here than in Florida. She beat Barbora Strycova 7-6 6-3. And, since her points from last year won't come off for another week, it looks as if she's bound for another career high.

Lilia Osterloh has a long way to go to reach a career high, or even to get back into the Top 100, but she too has come back to life, with three wins in her last three events after not winning a WTA match in two years. The qualifier beat Jill Craybas 0-6 6-3 6-1.

For a while it appeared as if Anne Kremer would also break her slump (she did well on grass, but then lost in Stanford, Los Angeles, and San Diego qualifying). The rain stopped that. She lost to Arantxa Parra Santonja 4-6 7-6 6-4.

Two other qualifiers also lost. Antonia Matic, who came in at #274 and hasn't even managed any noteworthy Challenger results, went quietly before Chanda Rubin, 6-4 6-3. Rossana Neffa-de Los Rios, who hadn't won a WTA match since Estoril 2003, put up a better show but still lost 7-6 4-6 6-2.

When two qualifiers meet, of course, someone has to win. Bethanie Mattek, who had a winless streak on the WTA going back all the way to 2000 but who did win the Schenectady $50K Challenger not too long ago, broke her jinx with a 6-7 6-3 6-4 win over Angelique Widjaja.

Since we're talking of slumps, let's all communally scratch our heads about what has happened to Laura Granville. She has one win since Indian Wells (she even lost to Kremer on hardcourts, which, these days, is a trick). She came here with a five match losing streak. And Nathalie Dechy -- another of those players competing for a Top 25 spot -- made it six by the score of 6-3 6-2.

Gisela Dulko and Jelena Jankovic don't have to worry about such a slide, at least not right now. One of them is almost certain to make the Top 40 this week. Right now, Jankovic is in the lead, sitting right at #40, following her 7-6 6-4 win over Saori Obata (who will be falling out of the Top 50). But Dulko is a mere three and a half points back after her 6-3 7-5 win over Lucky Loser Lindsay Lee-Waters (replacing Milagros Sequera). Whichever one lasts longer will get the #40 spot.

Elena Bovina has been amazingly consistent over the past year: She has only two opening round losses. If she could play more, she might well become the seventh Russian (along with Myskina, Dementieva, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Zvonareva, and Petrova) in the Top 15. But she has had trouble staying healthy. Not this week, though; she beat Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-1 6-3; that will probably drop Ruano Pascual below #60.

Maria Vento-Kabchi had a chance to clinch a Top 30 spot by beating Elena Likhovtseva. It looked like she would do it, too, for a set. Then Likhovtseva took charge and won a strange 0-6 6-3 6-2 match. Vento-Kabchi will still end up at #30 unless Tatiana Golovin or Likhovtseva herself deprives her of her place.

#10 seed Vera Zvonareva is once again within breathing distance of the Top Ten. If she can beat Maria Sharapova in the third round, it should be hers. She took the first step with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Akiko Morigami.

In the day's other first round match, Kristina Brandi beat Rita Grande 3-6 6-3 6-0.

Lina Krasnoroutskaya can't seem to win for anything. She and Els Callens were the #6 seeds in doubles, and they were up a set -- and then they had to retire to Alves and Senoglu in what will almost certainly be the biggest upset of the tournament.

Stockholm: Business as Usual
You can truly see the effects of the WTA player rules at this tournament. The WTA makes a "best effort" to bring in three silver (or gold) exempts to a Tier IV tournament. The three are Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, Silvia Farina Elia, and Alicia Molik. Everyone else is below #50.

Which translates into a lot of upsets among the five seeds not among the Elite Three. We lost two on Monday. Tuesday, it was the turn of #4 Iveta Benesova, who lost 7-5 6-3 to Tatiana Perebiynis. Balancing it out was #6 seed Denisa Chladkova's 7-5 4-6 6-3 win over Roberta Vinci. Chladkova became the only one of the five bottom seeds to beat a healthy opponent.

As we tentatively reported yesterday, Anna-Lena Groenefeld did win the Modena Challenger in Italy last week, beating Selima Sfar in straight sets. But Modena was as weak for a Challenger as Stockholm for a WTA event, and in any case she was tired and that was clay. Maria Elena Camerin (ironically, an Italian) beat the young German 6-2 6-3.

Martina Muller's return to WTA action after more than a year brought her no joy; the Lucky Loser fell 4-6 6-0 6-3 (at least she did win in doubles; she and Nadeja Ostrovskaya topped the Swedish team of Arvidsson and Svensson 2-6 6-1 6-2). Elena Tatarkova was no luckier, losing to Silvija Talaja 2-6 6-2 6-4. But Patricia Wartusch, like Tatarkova a qualifier, managed a 5-7 6-4 6-2 win over Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, and qualifier Julia Schruff edged Emmanuelle Gagliardi 6-4 6-7 6-1.

Asa Svensson hardly needed to bother to resume her match with Mara Santangelo. One game, and Santangelo was through 6-1 6-4.

The only other match involving an unseeded player saw Barbara Schett beat Lubomira Kurhajcova 6-3 7-6.

Which brings us to the three high seeds, who generally were held to the end. #2 Silvia Farina Elia led off, and barely spoiled Anna Chakvetadze's WTA debut 7-6 3-6 6-3. The young Russian still looks fairly promising; she was ranked #222 going into the French Open, and came here up to #179 (in 14 events); getting through qualifying should lift her to around #175. For Farina Elia, the win breaks a three-match losing streak.

#3 seed Alicia Molik also took on a player who was in her first WTA match; the Australian finished the day's singles action up by knocking off another Swedish wildcard, Hanna Nooni, 7-5 6-3.

The #1 seed, Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, plays her first match on Wednesday.

Cincinnati: Formal Event
All right, let's start with the Obligatory Rankings Explanation. The ATP has changed the way it handles required events. (Our sources tell us that the ATP keeps blowing off rankings people. Our mathematician, asked about this, said he didn't blame them one bit; the amazing part is that they can hire anyone.... The last time we had a situation like the current one, in 2001, they had a very different staff, and apparently each rankings boss makes up his own rules for handling the situation when there are ten required events.) So here is the situation as we understand it: Right now, there are ten Masters events on the books, and the top players have only four optional events. So if we're really, really lucky, we may have this week's Entry rankings right -- assuming no other ATP staffers quit before the end of the week.

Not that it matters to Younes El Aynaoui, whose ranking is down to the point where he can play anything he wants and it will count. It's official; he's finally back. Sort of. At least, he played. But the rust was falling off in bunches. Tim Henman beat him 6-1 6-0. El Aynaoui won 25 points to Henman's 56. We'd have liked to make it the Match of the Day -- but we just aren't that cruel.

Besides, there was a bigger shock coming as Dominik Hrbaty ended Roger Federer's 23-match winning streak 1-6 7-6 6-4.

In the oddball footnotes, we note that it was Vincent Spadea who ended the last really long ATP winning streak: He was the one who beat Pete Sampras five years ago. But, this time, he couldn't even finish his match. Having lost a chance to take the second set to a tiebreak, he quit with heat exhaustion trailing Hicham Arazi 7-6 5-7 5-3.

That was a token of a day in which trends reversed. If Federer lost, Juan Carlos Ferrero finally won. The #7 seed disposed of Arnaud Clement 6-4 6-4, and even managed ten aces along the way. That means that Andre Agassi can't pass the Spaniard at all in the rankings, and Lleyton Hewitt needs a title, and Gaston Gaudio needs a final. It's not much -- but it looks as if he'll be safely seeded in the Top Eight at the U. S. Open.

For the second straight week, Thomas Johansson was around after Joachim Johansson lost. Thomas will ratchet up his ranking a little more after beating Lucky Loser Gregory Carraz in two tiebreaks, but Nicolas Kiefer took out Joachim 6-3 7-6. It really does look as if Kiefer will be Germany's #1 by the end of the year.

Roger Federer was the big casualty of the early going, but he wasn't the only one; #13 seed Nicolas Massu fell 6-3 3-6 6-3 to Mikhail Youzhny. Also advancing during the day session were Tommy Robredo, a 7-6 6-4 winner over Taylor Dent; Mariano Zabaleta, who took out Michael Llodra 6-4 7-6; Jonas Bjorkman, who beat Irakli Labadze 2-6 6-2 6-1; and Luis Horna, who edged Fernando Verdasco in two tiebreaks.

Feliciano Lopez made the quarterfinal at the Canadian Open last year, so he needed a good result here to assure his U. S. Open seed. He was supposed to play Guillermo Coria, but life got a lot easier for him after Coria withdrew. Lopez's Open seed isn't guaranteed yet, but his 6-4 6-4 win over Lucky Loser Todd Reid is a good start.

Jeff Morrison was nowhere before Wimbledon. Since then, he's arguably been the best American other than Andy Roddick. His ranking is still so low that he needed a wildcard to get in, but he justified it with a 7-6 6-2 win over Jurgen Melzer. That meant he was the only American to advance in the day session; Robby Ginepri lost to Fabrice Santoro 6-3 7-6.

For a time that evening, it looked as if Andy Roddick might end up on the sidelines, too; Max Mirnyi was giving Roddick every bit of serving he could stand. Roddick said afterward that Mirnyi was the better player in the first two sets. The Beast ended up with 20 aces -- but Roddick had 22, and finally managed a break (two of them, in fact) in the third set, and advanced 6-7 7-6 6-3. That will probably drop Mirnyi out of the Top 40 next week, and he'll fall still lower the week after that when Cincinnati 2003 comes off.

#12 seed Sebastian Grosjean might also lose some ranking ground, although it's not yet certain (Massu's loss definitely helped in that regard); the Frenchman lost to Robin Soderling 3-6 6-3 6-4.

The final doubles match ran so late that the ATP staffers said nuts to it and told us to get it off the web site. Which we will do. Tomorrow.

Women's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - First Round
Amelie Mauresmo (2) def. Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-4 1-6 6-2

If that score looks close -- it was even closer than it looked. Mauresmo was in all sorts of trouble in the first set, and we thought we'd check what else was happening -- and we turned around and Mauresmo had gotten out of trouble and even taken the set. Then she did another fade in the second before finally coming to life.

Tough or not, the win means Lindsay Davenport is no longer #2. Davenport had points to defend this week, and Mauresmo none, and this puts the Frenchwoman almost 40 points ahead of the American.

That doesn't mean Mauresmo will be #2; Anastasia Myskina also has a shot at that ranking. Indeed, the Russian doesn't need much to pass Davenport, so the American is likely to end up at #4. We won't know who gets the #2 spot until either Mauresmo or Myskina loses (ties go to Mauresmo, but if they both make the quarterfinal, the one who lasts longer gets the top spot). But it's not often you see a player hold a ranking for only two days....

Despite losing, Tanasugarn seems finally to be playing decent tennis again after a very bad year that's seen her ranking roughly double. She had managed to make it back to #50 this week. This win should gain her two or three more spots.

Men's Match of the Day

Cincinnati - First Round
Dominik Hrbaty def. Roger Federer (1) 1-6 7-6(9-7) 6-4

Roger Federer came into this event with a 23-match winning streak. The last streak that long or longer was scored by Pete Sampras in 1999. But Sampras, in building his 24-match string, didn't have to play back-to-back Masters events. It may well have made a difference. This match bore a certain resemblance to Federer's contest with Andy Roddick two days ago. In the second set, Hrbaty had a couple of set points on Federer's serve -- but the Swiss saved them. They went to a tiebreak, and Hrbaty three times was up a minibreak -- including once at 6-5, meaning that he had a point on serve for the set. Then again at 8-7. That one he finally converted. And Federer, who had blown a half dozen break points in the second, just couldn't keep things together in the third.

Ironically, the ATP announced on Tuesday that Roger Federer had qualifier for the Masters Cup (far, far too late; they should have announced it after Wimbledon. In fact, given the Grand Slam wildcard, he probably was qualified after Hamburg). That came over the wire within minutes of this result. Obviously this doesn't affect his Masters Cup chances. But it does mean, for the first time in months, that Andy Roddick will have the chance to gain some real ground on Federer in the Race. Just doing as well as Federer wasn't going to cut it -- but, in this case, Roddick can do more than that.

He might even gain ground in the rankings. A little. If he can reach at least the final. Roddick is defending champion's points (from the Canadian Open) this week, but Federer had semifinalist points. So if Roddick can pick up a big result, he'll narrow the gap a hair. For the moment. Until Cincinnati comes off next week.

In a way, this may be good news for Federer. (He even said so himself, more or less.) Although he hasn't guaranteed himself the #1 ranking at year-end, it's almost certain he'll have it. And Federer really wants to do well at the Olympics. This way, he gets an extra five days to travel home and get over his jet lag. Plus some rest he could surely use.

There isn't much to say about Hrbaty's result. He's had problems at required events (to put it mildly), so this is good news -- but it's still only second round points.

Punch Line
It sounds like something a cheap comic would use in a stage routine. Comic: "The injury problem on the WTA is so bad...." Audience: "How bad is it?"

It's bad enough that Lucky Losers are taking over the world. It came to us as we were entering the success numbers for the seeds at San Diego. San Diego was the seventh Tier I of the year. And, because of the withdrawal of Venus Williams, it had only 15 seeds rather than the usual 16.

And San Diego was the fourth Tier I this year to be short a seed.

Now recall that the absence of a seed is always the result of special circumstances. Given any reasonable amount of notice, WTA rules require that tournaments promote seeds -- as they did at Montreal this week when Serena Williams withdrew. You only get fewer than the proper number of seeds if there is a last-minute withdrawal, on or after the day action is starting. Players with long-term injuries won't be seeded at all, meaning that the tournaments will have the proper number of seeds. Again, if a seed withdraws from any match except her first, that doesn't leave us with a missing seed; it's just a seed out of the draw. At most, there is a four-day opening for the seed to withdraw, and usually it's less. The fact that so many events don't have seeds indicates a rash of last-minute injuries.

How much of a rash? Let's see.

Entering the Canadian Open, we had played three Slams. The Australian Open and Wimbledon had full fields (though we did see Amelie Mauresmo, e.g., withdraw from the former). But Roland Garros had only 31 seeds after Chanda Rubin withdrew.

We had played seven Tier I events. Indian Wells, Berlin, and Rome had had full fields. But the Pan Pacific had only seven seeds after Nadia Petrova pulled out (and Venus Williams and Chanda Rubin would withdraw after playing matches, meaning only five seeds played to the end!). Miami had only 31 seeds after Anastasia Myskina pulled out. Charleston had 15 after Justine Henin-Hardenne bailed. And San Diego ended up with 15 after Venus Williams pulled out (and, again, Serena Williams bailed after playing).

It wasn't quite as bad at the Tier II events, of which we've played ten so far. But Sydney had only seven seeds after Kim Clijsters pulled out (and Lindsay Davenport would later withdraw). And Antwerp, which should have had eight seeds, had only six after both Justine Henin-Hardenne and Elena Dementieva pulled out.

Making it more interesting is that this isn't just a case of Venus and Serena Williams -- who can reliably be counted upon to disappoint three or four events a year -- withdrawing. In this case, they're relatively innocent. Observe the list:

Kim Clijsters (Sydney)
Justine Henin-Hardenne (Antwerp, Charleston)
Elena Dementieva (Antwerp)
Anastasia Myskina (Miami)
Nadia Petrova (Pan Pacific)
Chanda Rubin (Wimbledon)
Venus Williams (San Diego)

That's eight withdrawals, by seven different players; only Henin-Hardenne has done it twice.

But that's still only eight withdrawals. Is that so bad?

Bluntly, yes. At the four Slams and the Los Angeles championships last year, all 132 seeds played. At the nine Tier I events last year, we missed only one seed (Monica Seles pulled out of Miami). At the Tier II level, we had four withdrawals in the whole year (Serena Williams from Scottsdale, Conchita Martinez from Amelia Island, Serena Williams from San Diego, Chanda Rubin from Los Angeles). That's five missing seeds from high-tier events in the whole year of 2003 compared to eight already in 2004. If we actually compare week-by-week, there had been only three going into the current week last year. So the rate of withdrawals has more than doubled in 2004.

Last we heard, the WTA was still claiming the injury problem wasn't getting any worse.

We should note that the problem is found almost entirely at the upper levels. At the eight Tier III events this year, we've lost two seeds; we've had full fields at all three Tier IV events and all five Tier V events prior to this week, and it looks like everyone will play Stockholm also. And, overall, the number of Lucky Losers this year isn't excessive; we've had 39 so far this year (in 36 events), compared to 62 last year (though the number often increases as the year goes on; Pattaya City, the last event of 2003, had five Lucky Losers). The relatively small number of bailouts at lower-tier events is not really surprising; Gold Exempt players suffer no penalties for withdrawing, except for loss of bonus pool money and perhaps fines for late withdrawals (and we note that almost all of our withdrawing players are Gold Exempt). Lesser players do suffer, and a fine that Serena Williams would laugh off is much more serious for a player ranked, say, #80. Since Tier III events get relatively few gold and silver exempt players, and Tier IV and V events generally get no gold and few silver exempts, the players there will not risk a late withdrawal; they withdraw early or they play and lose. But, of course, it's a much bigger blow to the average tournament if Kim Clijsters or Serena Williams withdraws than if Melinda Czink were to do so....

azza
Aug 4th, 2004, 11:40 AM
Vamos Alicia

bandabou
Aug 5th, 2004, 08:56 PM
Canadian Open/Montreal: So Far And No Farther
On Tuesday, the qualifiers amazed everyone. On Wednesday, they showed why they are qualifiers.

Let's be fair. Both Mashona Washington and Lilia Osterloh put up fairly spirited fights. It's just that they didn't win. Washington took on #15 seed Chanda Rubin, and lost 6-4 6-3. That will leave her just below #75 -- still a career high.

Osterloh gave Elena Bovina a terrific tussle in the first set before finally losing a 16 point tiebreak, after which she went down 7-6 6-4. She will still rise to about #135 -- her highest ranking since last October.

Gisela Dulko will be reaching a highest-ever ranking, no footnotes needed. She produced the tournament's first upset (finally, a seed lost!) as she took out #4 Elena Dementieva 6-1 6-4. Dementieva's #6 ranking is safe even so (though she could be threatened at the Olympics); Dulko is now absolutely guaranteed a Top 40 spot.

Jelena Jankovic won't be passing #40, though; she lost to #9 seed Paola Suarez 6-3 6-2, and will probably end up at #41.

Nor will Nathalie Dechy be making the Top 25 just yet. She fell to #11 seed Francesca Schiavone 7-6 6-4, and will fall from #27 to no better than #28. That helps Magdalena Maleeva's chances of staying at #25; she edged Martina Sucha 6-3 6-7 6-4 in the first three set match of the day.

Somebody really needs to figure out what is wrong with Nadia Petrova. The Tour's #2 big server hit only two aces against countrywoman Elena Likhovtseva (who answered with four), and lost 6-4 6-7 7-5, meaning that she'll stay stuck at #15. She's lost to Likhovtseva twice in two weeks, both times in her opening match. Likhovtseva moved from #39 to at least #36, and probably #35; one more win (against Schiavone) and she will probably earn a U. S. Open seed. Though she is still puts her behind Tathiana Golovin, who beat #16 seed Fabiola Zuluaga 4-6 6-4 6-2 and will move to a career high of #33 or #34.

The contest for the final spot in the Top Ten remains hot, too, with Serena Williams currently in possession but Vera Zvonareva only one win away from passing her and with Paola Suarez and Ai Sugiyama also in the hunt (Suarez and Zvonareva are nearly tied). Zvonareva beat qualifier Bethanie Mattek 6-2 7-6 to set up a meeting with countrywoman Maria Sharapova, who beat Kristina Brandi 6-1 6-4. If Zvonareva wins that, she will certainly be Top Ten and will probably be #9; the win would move her ahead of Svetlana Kuznetsova as well as Serena.

Singles action closed with #1 seed Anastasia Myskina beating Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-0 6-4.

It took three tournaments for Ai Sugiyama and Shinobu Asagoe to win a match, but with the Olympics breathing down their necks, they finally pulled it off, beating Brandi and Neffa-de los Rios 7-6 6-4. Sugiyama's usual partner Liezel Huber, meanwhile, found success with Tamarine Tanasugarn; the pair, seeded #4, became the first team to reach the quarterfinal with a 6-4 6-4 win over Dekmeijere and Matic.

Two other Olympic-bound teams also advanced: Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce beat Mattek and Perry 6-2 6-3, while Argentine #7 seeds Dulko and Tarabini beat Jidkova and Morigami 2-6 6-4 6-3. (Interesting to see Akiko Morigami not playing with Saori Obata, with whom she is supposed to play the Olympics.) A team that could have been Olympic but isn't, Elena Likhovtseva and Vera Zvonareva, also won; the #2 seeds topped Jill Craybas and Marlene Weingartner 6-1 6-2.

Stockholm: Four out of Five Ain't Bad
Yesterday, we talked about how the players at Stockholm fell into two basic groups: The top three seeds, and the rest. "The rest" included five seeds. Three lost in the first round. On Wednesday, we made it four out of five who failed to make the seeded round: Maria Elena Camerin took out #8 seed Katarina Srebotnik 5-7 6-3 6-3.

#6 seed Denisa Chladkova is the exception that probably says very little about the rule. She became the only low seed in the quarterfinal following her 6-4 6-0 victory over Mara Santangelo.

The top three, of course, did better. Silvia Farina Elia, who struggled in her first round, got her game together for the second, beating Julia Schruff 6-2 6-3, though she has a ways to go yet if she wants to return to the Top 20. And Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, the top seed who was also the last seed to play a first round match, beat Melinda Czink 6-2 6-1. The other remaining first round match finally saw a Swede win: Sofia Arvidsson topped Cara Black (who, despite winning the Wimbledon doubles, has only one main draw win in her last dozen singles events, and who hasn't won a match on anything slower than carpet since the Australian Open) 6-2 6-3.

Like Black, Sandrine Testud is having much better luck in doubles than in singles. She lost in the singles qualifying here to a player who wasn't even Top 200, but she and Roberta Vinci, the #3 seeds, made the doubles quarterfinal 6-3 6-3 over Marosi (the very player who beat her in qualifying) and Tavares. Top seeds Alicia Molik and Barbara Schett also made the quarterfinal, beating the French team of Beltrame and Cohen-Aloro 6-4 6-4.

Cincinnati: Like They Need an Excuse
What is the real difference between Europeans and Americans? Hint: It's not that Europeans care more about the environment, or tend to be more opposed to war, or are more communitarian and less religious. No, the real difference is, Europeans play their tennis earlier in the day.

And Cincinnati, which already had had one match last past midnight on Tuesday night, on Wednesday was forced to delay action for some four hours due to rain.

And it seemed as if the players wanted to delay things even longer; most of the first-on matches lasted quite a while. Case in point: Carlos Moya's opener against Ivan Ljubicic. They've had a curious history: Ljubicic won their first three meetings, Moya the two since then. He evened their head-to-head 6-4 4-6 6-4. He also widened the gap between himself and Tim Henman, though that didn't matter much; Henman needed a final to pass him either way.

Some guys really know how to take advantage of luck. Wayne Arthurs is an excellent example. This is the second time this year he's been a Lucky Loser at a Masters. The first was at Monte Carlo, where he made the third round. And now he's done it again. He beat Mariano Zabaleta 6-2 7-6.

Dominik Hrbaty isn't nearly so good at taking advantage. Having had the incredible fortune of facing Roger Federer on an off day, he couldn't follow it up; he lost to Jonas Bjorkman 6-7 6-3 6-3. Next up for Bjorkman is Fabrice Santoro, who beat Mikhail Youzhny 7-5 6-3; if the Swede can win that contest (and Santoro, although he's been doing better this year than last, is still far below his form), he will probably earn a U. S. Open seed.

Nicolas Kiefer has to be wondering why he can't get any of those draws. His life, these days, seems to consist mostly of running into Andy Roddick. He did it again, with the same old result: Roddick advanced 6-4 6-4.

The contest for the #8 ranking is getting very interesting. The contest for the #8 seed at the U. S. Open is getting even more interesting. With Rainer Schuettler falling fast, the ranking is likely to go to either Gaston Gaudio or Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt beat Gustavo Kuerten 6-3 6-4 (meaning that Kuerten will not make the Top 20 just yet), but Gaudio lost 4-6 7-6 6-4 to Greg Rusedski. That leaves Gaudio a mere five points ahead of Hewitt. But Gaudio has 75 points from Cincinnati last year, and Hewitt only five. But Gaudio is going to the Olympics. We've no idea who will come out on top in that contest.

Every tournament he plays helps Tommy Haas, but this one looks like it will help more than most. He beat Sargis Sargsian 6-3 6-3, and should gain about ten more spots above his current #67.

We're used to seeing lots of Spaniards and lots of Argentines these days, but this time, we had lots of Swedes, also. In addition to Bjorkman, Robin Soderling made the third round with a 6-2 6-3 victory over Luis Horna.

Of course, we had our Spaniards, too. Though it wasn't the greatest day for them. Ivo Karlovic took out Feliciano Lopez 7-6 6-4. And Juan Carlos Ferrero is also out; he seemed to be getting things together against countryman and occasional doubles partner Tommy Robredo, but there was another spell of rain, and it cost him. Robredo advanced 7-6 4-6 6-4, leaving Ferrero still outside the Race Top 20, and ranked no better than #6. Robredo, with the win, clinches his Top 30 ranking.

For once, Marat Safin's timing was excellent; he managed to get off the court just before the rains returned, beating wildcard Jeff Morrison 6-4 6-4. For the moment, Safin is still #14, but he's one win away from moving up to #13, and two wins would make him 12. And, because he isn't defending points, he would likely keep whatever ranking he earns until the U. S. Open.

The four evening matches were attended by constant showers, with the crews chasing around drying the courts. It didn't help that most of the matches ran long. The first to finish was #15 seed Paradorn Srichaphan, who beat Sjeng Schalken 6-3 6-4.

Juan Ignacio Chela was next through. He outlasted Fernando Gonzalez 2-6 6-3 6-2 to keep himself even with Srichaphan in the race for #15.

The rain may well have saved Andre Agassi, though. He had blown out Thomas Johansson in the first set, but Johansson was controlling the second when the rain came -- at set point! It was too late to save that set, but Agassi came back strong in the third, taking the match 6-1 3-6 6-1. The back-to-back wins mean Agassi will actually ride in the Race -- from #18 to probably #16. That hasn't happened often lately.

The day's final match, Tim Henman against Hicham Arazi, once again lasted long after midnight, with no real clue who was going to win so we could think of something clever to say about it. By the end of the third set, neither guy seemed to be able to get a first serve in. That cost Arazi at 5-5; he was broken at love. As the clock ticked past 1:00 a.m., Henman served out a 4-6 6-3 7-5 victory.

Women's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - Second Round
Anastasia Myskina (1) def. Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-0 6-4

Anastasia Myskina has to find a way to cure these little second set lapses. If she hadn't squandered her chances in the Los Angeles semifinal to Vera Zvonareva, she might have gone into the final in shape to play -- in which case she just might be #2 right now, rather than Lindsay Davenport, and the whole shape of the U. S. Open might be different.

This time, fortunately, she didn't face quite such a strong opponent; although Parra Santonja broke once in the second set, Myskina was able to earn the final break and win the match in just over an hour.

And that means we still have a contest for #2. This win by itself doesn't move Myskina above her current #4; she's still 42 points behind Lindsay Davenport and 80 behind Amelie Mauresmo. Still, that means she needs only one more win to pass Davenport and get back to #3. #2 is a little harder, since Mauresmo is still in the draw. But if Myskina can outlast the Frenchwoman, she should get the #2 spot. And somebody has to win the U. S. Open this year, and there are no really strong candidates, and whoever does well here will clearly strengthen her credentials. That might be big in a close match.

Parra Santonja, #58 entering the tournament, came in with 32.75 points to defend, and doesn't quite defend them all. She will stay in place or just possibly lose a spot.

Men's Match of the Day

Cincinnati - Second Round
Ivo Karlovic (Q) def. Feliciano Lopez 7-6(9-7) 6-4

On the one hand, it was about what you would expect: A serving contest. Ivo Karlovic produced 19 aces, Feliciano Lopez 12. And yet, surprisingly, Karlovic managed two breaks (and Lopez, of course, managed one). Nor was it really as close as it looks; Karlovic won 81 points to Lopez's 69.

In any case, the bottom line is, Karlovic won. Won by picking on second serves, mostly; Lopez won only 42% when he didn't get one of his big bombs in.

And that's big, because Lopez reached the quarterfinal at the Canadian Open last year. And he came in at #29. The loss of those points means that he will drop to no better than #32 -- and Jonas Bjorkman is only one win from passing him, and there are other within reach. It's not certain yet, of course, but this loss very likely cost Lopez his U. S. Open seed.

For Karlovic, this has "career high" written all over it. He came in at #58, two spots below his career best. With the rankings situation this week being as crazy as it is, we won't swear that puts him in the Top 50 -- but our rough cut is that it will.

Pretty good for a guy who, until a few months ago, couldn't win a set except in a tiebreak....

August 4: Canadian Open - First Round
Ramon Delgado (Q) def. Ivan Ljubicic 7-6(7-0) 7-6(7-3)
We don't always pick Matches of the Day with an eye for the future. The big result of this day last year, for instance, was that defending Canadian Open champion Carlos Moya lost in three sets to Arnaud Clement, costing him the #4 ranking. But we preferred a match with a nice human interest angle, so we chose this as the match of the Day, saying, "And out of a clear blue sky comes -- this. Ramon Delgado used to be a fairly good player -- but the key word is fairly good. We're talking about a guy who, at his peak, was struggling to get into the Top 50 -- and fell short. He's never won a title; he has one career final. And he's very much a clay guy; that one final was at Bogota, and his only Slam fourth round is at Roland Garros (1998). And on top of all that, he's been a wreck this year. His last ATP event in 2002 was Salvador, where he made the semifinal. [This year,] he had three ATP events, and lost in the first round at each one, putting him at #213 in the ATP Race. He looked like a guy who was two or three events away from turning it around, and didn't look even close to ready to face a guy of Ljubicic's caliber. Shows what we know.... He came in #168. He'll probably end up slightly above #150. As for Ljubicic, he made the second round of Cincinnati last year. He came in ranked #42, and will probably fall about three spots." But Delgado was not able to follow up at all; he's been even more invisible this year than last.

August 5: Canadian Open - First Round
Feliciano Lopez def. Guillermo Coria (7) 6-3, retired
At the time, we said, "It was the hamstring that did him in. Not even Guillermo Coria could run forever. Coria of course arrived here having won three straight tournaments and fifteen straight matches. But that meant he had to cross six time zones and play in Montreal only two days after the Sopot final. And Sopot was clay; this was hardcourt. Is this really a surprise? ... There is perhaps some slight irony in the fact that Lopez is one of the players Coria beat on his way to the Kitzbuhel final. And Lopez also stayed in Europe until the last moment; he played the Leon Challenger last week -- but lost in the second round to qualifier Alejandro Falla. He retired from that match, in fact. Coria may well pay for his decision to stay in Europe. Yes, he won three titles, but they were all optional. The Canadian Open is required, and this was a chance to actually improve his ranking (as opposed to his Race standing). Instead, he actually loses points; last year, he qualified for Cincinnati and made the second round. He may well move up in the rankings (in fact, it's functionally guaranteed now that Carlos Moya is out). But he can only fall in the Race -- and our guess is that he will. Lopez came in ranked #37, and #30 in the Race. He loses an optional event, but still gains some points. He needs about 50 more points to earn a U. S. Open seed. The way he's been playing lately, it seems like a strong possibility." Ironically, this year, Coria didn't play any of the European clay events, and still went to Canada and lost first round. By retirement. And he withdrew from Cincinnati. Too much success, perhaps?

August 6: Canadian Open - Second Round
Max Mirnyi def. Lleyton Hewitt (5) 7-5 6-7(4-7) 7-5
At the time, we said, "In a way, Lleyton Hewitt owes Max Mirnyi. After all, it was Mirnyi who helped Hewitt to his first Slam title [in doubles] at the U. S. Open -- Mirnyi was and is the more experienced, and probably better, doubles player. But the experience can only have helped Hewitt when it came to winning singles Slams. That's not the sort of debt that gets paid very often in tennis, though. And of all the surfaces where Hewitt should handle Mirnyi easily, this is it..... on hardcourts, Hewitt should pass Mirnyi to death. Key word is 'should.' Hewitt... managed only one break, and... Mirnyi had two as they reached 5-5 in the third. Then, with Hewitt serving, Mirnyi went up 0-30, then 15-40, and Mirnyi broke. It's hard even to comprehend what this says for Hewitt's prospects this year. With only two more required hardcourt events this year, he remains a rather weak #12 in the ATP Race, meaning that his chances for the Masters Cup are getting quite thin. He remains a rather weak #5 in the rankings, and Andy Roddick could still bump him. And you have to wonder if losses like this might not dent even the Hewitt self-confidence. For Mirnyi, this just about guarantees a U. S. Open seed. He came in #32. He'll end up somewhere between #27 and #29, and we'd guess higher rather than lower. Plus he picks up one of his best-ever wins. Even after two and a half hours on court, he probably feels pretty good." Indeed, the points he earned here have been propping Mirnyi up for months. He's going to be sinking fast. Hewitt of course ended up ranked even worse than his results to this point would have implied -- but he has nothing but opportunity for the rest of the year, and he's already back in the Top Ten.

August 7: Canadian Open - Third Round
Karol Kucera def. Juan Carlos Ferrero (2) 6-3 7-5
At the time, we said, "If Juan Carlos Ferrero really wants to be #1, he's going to have to do better than this.... Don't take that wrong. Unlike, say, Guillermo Coria, Ferrero is a player who can win on all surfaces; he's won a couple of hardcourt titles (though at optional events), and is currently defending champion at Hong Kong. He even has decent indoor results -- 2000 Paris semifinal, 2001 Masters Cup semifinal, 2002 Madrid quarterfinal, Basel semifinal, and Masters Cup final. He's not a one-trick pony. But he isn't reliable on hardcourts the way he is on clay. This match illustrates that point. We have four quarterfinalists at Montreal who are unseeded. But three of the other four (David Nalbandian, Feliciano Lopez, and Max Mirnyi) are Top 40 players. This was clearly the day's ugliest loss. And the biggest. Ferrero came in with a chance at the #1 ranking. Not any more. In fact, instead of moving up, he'll be falling from #2 to #3, letting Roger Federer take the #2 spot. (Or maybe even #1.) Ferrero had semifinalist points to defend -- in terms of points, very nearly the biggest hardcourt result of his career. That, plus the fact that Federer lasted longer, will cause Ferrero to fall. He also gives up the #1 Race ranking; that belongs to Federer again. And, given where we are in the schedule, it doesn't seem likely that Federer will give it back. (At least not to Ferrero.....) Kucera didn't even play the summer Masters in 2002, but he had a lousy year last year and still hasn't rebuilt his optional events, so the loss of a few optional points won't cost him. He came in #41. This will move him to about #35. One more win, or a decent result at Cincinnati, and he should get a U. S. Open seed." Obviously Ferrero did manage to turn around his hardcourt season, and he did go on to become #1. There wasn't much predictive value here -- though it indeed reinforced Ferrero's hardcourt "unreliability." And now he's out of the summer Masters again.

August 10: Canadian Open - Final
Andy Roddick (6) def. David Nalbandian 6-1 6-3
At the time, we said, "Let's hope David Nalbandian deals with embarrassment well. Because he seems to keep running into it whenever he finds himself on a really big stage. You'll remember what Lleyton Hewitt did to him at Wimbledon last year. This year, despite playing on a much slower court, it happened again. And that means that Andy Roddick finally has his Big One. Roddick of course has been prolific with titles in his career; he came in with three already in 2003. But they have been, quite consistently, small. Until this week, he'd never won a required event. Until two months ago, he'd never won anything with more than a 32-draw. But, lately, he's been making progress. First there was Queen's. Then Indianapolis. Now this. We won't say with certainty that it's Brad Gilbert influence; they haven't been together very long. But it has that feeling to it. This match by itself had surprisingly little effect on the rankings. By reaching the final, Roddick had moved up to #4 in the rankings; winning didn't budge him. Nor can he move up next week. Still, that's quite good for a guy who was #7 coming in. Roddick came in #5 in the Race, and, astonishingly, there he stays. But he's now a very strong #5, less than 100 points behind #1. It looks like he's just guaranteed his spot in the Masters Cup. And given that he's only seven Race points behind Guillermo Coria, and that Coria is almost purely a clay player, we'd say the odds are quite good that Roddick will hit #4 by year-end -- and maybe higher. Even though he lost, Nalbandian takes a big leap of his own. He came in #24 in the Race; he's now #10. More important, he came in #21 in the rankings, and is now #14. He looks nearly certain to be seeded in the Top Sixteen at the U. S. Open." Both guys would go on to much higher rankings, of course -- this was the first big step toward #1 for Roddick. And who knows where Nalbandian would be if he weren't hurt all the time. But he is hurt all the time, and he's going to be falling next week, and probably at the U. S. Open also.

Five Years Ago: Thomas Johansson, who to this point in his career had only two titles, both small, made his first big breakthrough by winning Montreal. From a player struggling to make the Top 40, it turned him into a Top 20 player almost overnight.

Ten Years Ago: Back then, there was a week of lesser events between the Canadian Open and Cincinnati: Goran Ivanisevic won Kitzbuhel, Sergi Bruguera Prague, Boris Becker Los Angeles. It was to be the last title of Bruguera's career. More surprisingly, it was the last clay title of Ivanisevic's.

bandabou
Aug 6th, 2004, 02:29 PM
Canadian Open/Montreal: The Next Stage
It seems pretty clear that Karolina Sprem has crossed the hardcourt hurdle.

Last year, Sprem had a very nice clay season (Strasbourg final, Vienna final, Helsinki semifinal) -- and vanished on hardcourts and indoors (lost in the first round of New Haven qualifying, first round at the U. S. Open, first round of qualifying at Filderstadt and Zurich, and first round at Linz; in a year when she was probably Top Ten on clay, she didn't win a WTA-level match on a modern surface).

The picture is completely different this year. Oh, she's still better on clay (7-5 record, three Top 25 wins) and especially grass (5-2 record, three Top 25 wins; it's worth remembering that a lot of women don't care about speed but about bounce). But since losing her opener at Indian Wells this year, she has a quarterfinal at Miami with a win over Kuznetsova, and she made the second round at San Diego before losing to eventual champion Davenport. And now she's in the quarterfinal at Montreal. Relatively easily. She took out Ai Sugiyama 6-3 6-4. That means that Sugiyama will fall from #11 to #14, but Sprem ought to reach #18.

Also falling just short of the Top Ten will be #9 seed Paola Suarez. Magdalena Maleeva beat her 6-4 6-3, leaving Suarez probably at her current #13. Maleeva has Top 20 chances, but it's far from settled.

Amelie Mauresmo has to find a way to keep her concentration during second sets. Just as in her first round, she had a bad lapse. Though Elena Bovina had a lot to do with that; she was blazing away. It wasn't until 2-2 in the third that Mauresmo finally got her variety working and advanced 6-2 3-6 6-2, keeping the pressure squarely on Anastasia Myskina in the race for #2.

The Battle of the Rising Stars between Tatiana Golovin and Gisela Dulko proved suitably close: Golovin advanced 6-7 6-3 6-4. Both end up at career highs even so -- Dulko #37, Golovin closing in on the Top 30. Indeed, she would have been Top 30 had not Elena Likhovtseva upset #11 seed Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-3. That means Likhovtseva is currently #29, and assured a Top 30 ranking. Golovin needs one more win to make the Too 30, but the Frenchwoman is all but guaranteed a U. S. Open seed.

Countrywoman Mary Pierce should also get an Open seed, but she doesn't seem as intent on doing anything with it. She suffered a surprisingly easy 6-2 6-4 loss to Jennifer Capriati, ending her hopes of hitting the Top 25 at this time.

Lindsay Davenport, meanwhile, is right back where she was a week ago: At #4. This time, Anastasia Myskina had no little lapse in the second set; she kept her concentration and stomped Chanda Rubin 6-4 6-0. That takes Rubin out of the race for a Top 20 spot -- and it means that Myskina will be no worse than #3 in the world next week, and still gunning for Mauresmo and the #2 spot.

Singles action closed with Vera Zvonareva finally reaching the Top Ten; she beat Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-4 6-4.

In doubles, #5 seeds Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama continue to struggle; they needed three sets to beat Teryn Ashley and Laura Granville. Top seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez had no such problems, beating Nana Miyagi and Lilia Osterloh 6-2 6-2. The French team of Mauresmo and Pierce produced a medium-sized surprise, though, taking out #3 seeds Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja 6-4 6-4.

Stockholm: Clothes Horse
Is there some sort of rule that says that players who get into Olympic clothing disputes won't be able to play anyway?

We all know about Kim Clijsters. Now add Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi to the list. The Israeli, one of the workhorses of the Tour over the past three years (72 events in 2002, 2003, and so far in 2004, with 175 matches played) is out of Stockholm with hamstring tendonitis; she retired trailing Sandra Kleinova 6-0. And, since she was defending Helsinki champion, there is a real possibility that that will cost her her Top 20 ranking. Certainly she will be no higher than #20. No word yet on whether she'll be ready to play next week.

The other high seed in action looked much healthier, even though she's suffered far more injuries lately. #3 seed Alicia Molik took out Silvija Talaja 6-3 6-1 to keep her hopes for a Top 25 ranking alive.

In a late match, Henrieta Nagyova eliminated the last Swedish hope, Sofia Arvidsson, 6-2 7-5. Ironically, we have three seeds left in the bottom half, but none in the top.

Patricia Wartusch had scored her first WTA win since Tashkent last year in the first round, but in the second, she reverted to 2004 form; she lost to Tatiana Perebiynis 6-0 6-4. Also back in her usual 2004 (bad) form is Barbara Schett, who lost 3-6 6-3 7-5 to Severine Beltrame. It's the first WTA quarterfinal for Beltrame.

Schett did at least win in doubles; she and Molik, the #1 seeds, beat Benesova and Wartusch 6-4 6-2.

Smashnova-Pistolesi wasn't the only one with mobility problems. Roberta Vinci is younger, but she withdrew from the doubles (where she and Sandrine Testud were the #3 seeds) with plantar fasciitis. That made it a pretty rotten day for doubles seeds; in a frankly amazing result, the Italian team of Maria Elena Camerin and Flavia Pennetta beat Navratilova and Elena Tatarkova, the #2 seeds, 6-3 7-5. We're told Navratilova's racquets and equipment didn't arrive for the match. That's about the only explanation that makes sense....

Cincinnati: Save the Cliches
You've probably heard the story. An ancient king, hoping to instruct his son, called in the wise men of the kingdom, and asked them to sum up all the world's knowledge in one book. (Of course, back then, chances are the king's son couldn't read. But let's not spoil the story.) It took the scribes a year, but they came back with a large papyrus scroll, in very fine demotic print. The king couldn't read it, either, though, so he sent them back to summarize all the world's wisdom in one sentence. After three years, they came back with the sentence, "This too shall pass away." The king, being a good deal less smart than he thought, sent them back one more time to summarize the world's wisdom in one word.

Accounts differ at this point. One says that it took them ten years. Another says that they huddled on the spot, turned around, and gave the king their answer.

There is no question about the word, though. The one word that summed up all the world's wisdom is, "Maybe."

But that's how the world in general works. If we were to sum up all tennis in one sentence, a good candidate would be, "So near and yet so far."

So it was for Wayne Arthurs. He wasn't even supposed to be in the third round; he made the main draw as a Lucky Loser. But there he was, in the third set against Carlos Moya. And he went up a break. Moya looked out of it. But, somehow, he broke the Arthurs serve at 4-3. From there, they went to a tiebreak, and Moya earned the minibreak early, and he finally made the quarterfinal 7-6 4-6 7-6.

Nor was that the day's only three-sets-and-split-the-tiebreaks match. Marat Safin is almost certain to move up to #13 in the world after his 7-6 6-7 6-4 win over qualifier Ivo Karlovic (who won't quite make the Top 50 after all, it appears. Soon, though).

Safin seems to be rejuvenating his game here, but that's nothing to the improvement shown by Fabrice Santoro, who was in Full Magic Mode against Jonas Bjorkman. Santoro had earned only 42 Race points in the six Masters series to this point; he picked up 25 here, putting him back in the Race Top 50, 6-0 6-3.

Andy Roddick had hardly more to do; he ran his winning streak here to eight with a 6-2 6-3 victory over Paradorn Srichaphan, leaving Srichaphan no better than #15. Matching him in terms of games lost was Lleyton Hewitt, who took out a tired Tim Henman 6-1 6-4.

You have to give Tommy Robredo credit for versatility; one day after beating countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero, he handled a completely different challenger in Greg Rusedski. The Spaniard made the quarterfinal in two tiebreaks, incidentally returning to the Top 25 in the process.

Andre Agassi, meanwhile, is back in the Top Ten; his 6-3 6-3 win over Juan Ignacio Chela put him there, with Rainer Schuettler down to #11. Soon after that, Tommy Haas finished off the day's singles action with a tough 6-3 5-7 6-4 win over Robin Soderling.

As a warm-up for the U. S. Open, this event is working out pretty well: Every past champion who is still active is still in the draw: Roddick (2003 champion), Hewitt (2001), Safin (2000), Agassi (1999, 1994). Though we'll lose at least one on Friday as Hewitt faces Safin.

In doubles, the Bryan Twins still can't win at the required events. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram took them out 6-4 5-7 7-5. It doesn't appear it will cost them the #1 Race spot this week, but it's getting close. The reunited pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, though, are still winning, edging Cermak and Friedl 6-7 7-6 7-5. Also needing three sets to advance were Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, who beat Hrbaty and Pavel 4-6 6-2 6-3. #4 Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro made it through in straight sets over Schuettler and Youzhny, making Santoro the first player to make the quarterfinal in both singles and doubles. Tommy Robredo also had that chance, but he and Feliciano Lopez fell 7-5 6-3 to top seeds Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge. And Wayne Arthurs ended up losing in third set tiebreaks twice; he and Paul Hanley fell 6-7 7-6 7-6 to Palmer and Vizner. In addition, #7 Damm and Suk lost in three sets to the Chilean team of Gonzalez and Massu. Action closed with the pickup team of Max Mirnyi and Sargis Sargsian beating #5 seeds Black and Ullyett 7-6 6-3.

Women's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - Third Round
Vera Zvonareva (10) def. Maria Sharapova (6) 4-6 6-4 6-4

Finally it happens.

We said before this tournament that Vera Zvonareva had, mathematically, the best chance to reach the Top Ten of any of the candidates here. The problem with that analysis, of course, was that she is Vera Zvonareva, who spent all spring trying and failing to hit the Top Ten. It just seemed as if she wasn't mentally ready to win that one match she needed. We seem to recall at least five times when she was only a single victory away, and she lost all those matches.

But, this time, she had some help. Maria Sharapova is a pretty hit-or-miss player anyway, which doubtless helps explain why she's had her best success on grass: The points are shorter, and if she gets one of her huge shots in the court, it's likely to be a winner. Hardcourts, where returners have more of a shot at her, are a distinctly tougher proposition.

And Sharapova wasn't really pounding her serve the way she needs to, either, producing only five aces and six double faults. Zvonareva, by contrast, had six aces, and she assuredly is not known for her serve.

In any case, Zvonareva eventually overcame her nerves, and in so doing, finally overcame her Top Ten jinx. The win moves her up all the way to #9, ahead of Svetlana Kuznetsova; Serena Williams falls back out of the Top Ten.

And, since Sharapova will stay at #8, that means we now have five Russians in the Top Ten: Myskina (at least #3), Dementieva (#6), Sharapova (#8), Zvonareva (#9, and with no chance to move up), and Kuznetsova (#10). And Myskina could hit #2 this week, and will have a shot at #1 in the next six weeks. And Nadia Petrova is Top 15, and Elena Bovina looks like she might get there by year-end. Who would have thought it, even a year ago?

Men's Match of the Day

Cincinnati - Second Round
Lleyton Hewitt (10) def. Tim Henman (5) 6-1 6-4

If you believe this was an upset, we have a nice bridge to sell you....

Tim Henman and Lleyton Hewitt had met seven times before this, and Hewitt has won all of them. Henman had won exactly two sets. And besides, Henman had had an exhausting match much less than a day before, whereas Hewitt was reasonably strong. It all added up to a blowout.

But a very significant blowout, because it settles a lot of things.

As in, in all likelihood, the seedings at the U. S. Open.

Oh, it's not absolutely certain yet. The Olympics are still coming up, and eight of the top nine will be involved. And the Olympics are big. But they're also Optional; a good result there will cost a player another result, if a lesser one. So it's fairly likely that the rankings after this week will be functionally the same as those used to seed the U. S. Open.

And that means that Carlos Moya, not Tim Henman, will be the #4 seed. As a matter of fact, he has an outside chance at the #3 seed if he does well enough here and in Athens. Roger Federer will be #1, Andy Roddick #2, Guillermo Coria and Moya #3-#4, and Henman, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Nalbandian, and someone will be #5-#8.

And the someone will probably be Hewitt. As of now, he's #8, and Gaston Gaudio #9, though the Australian still has to worry a little about Andre Agassi. Gaudio, of course, could still overtake him at the Olympics -- but, with 75 points coming off at Cincinnati, it doesn't look all that likely. Nor is Agassi playing in Athens. And Hewitt is looking like a hardcourt threat again. This win, routine as it was, just might open some pretty big doors.

No Explanations Needed
Anna Kournikova is playing World Team Tennis. Monica Seles is playing some sort of crazy exhibition on a barge.

Why? Why not come back and play Tour events if they're ready to play tennis?

The answer is simple: The WTA's injury rules. Under these rules, if a player has been out for a full six months, she gets eight events worth of injury rankings -- i.e. she gets admission to eight events based on the ranking she had at her last event before getting hurt. She does not get seeding, unless the WTA makes a special exception (which the rules admit only for Gold Exempt players, and even then, the rules seem only to be applied for Americans who are multiple Slam winners). A player who comes back before she is ready is out of luck. Completely. Not only does she reset the injury clock, but she also blows one of her eight events. That happened to Maja Matevzic this year, and arguably to Chanda Rubin; it's likely to happen to Kim Clijsters.

So players who can will attempt a comeback in exhibitions (which World Team Tennis is, as far as the WTA is concerned). That's fine for Seles and for Kournikova, who are exhibition-worthy. But what about Matevzic? She won't be playing any exhibitions -- and, with no income for most of the year and a likelihood of a bunch of first round losses when she does come back, how can she even pay a coach or a hitting partner to get her back into condition?

And it gets worse. Even if Seles had come back "cold," she's a multiple Slam winner, and can take unlimited wildcards. Kournikova can't, this year, but if she does come back, she will surely be awarded Gold Exempt status, which gives her unlimited wildcards also. Matevzic? She gets three WTA main draw wildcards, if there is someone willing to wildcard her. (The author would; she's fun to watch. But the author is certifiably nuts.) And, of course, if she gets the wildcard, then some other player, who may be equally deserving, doesn't.

This is especially bad given the current ranking system, which rewards overplaying. Again, an injured player gets only eight events of ranking protection. Odds are, after she's used up those eight events, she has only those events on her record. It's almost impossible for her to have more than a dozen. The ranking system is based on a minimum of 17 events. In all likelihood, when the player's injury ranking expires, her ranking will be at least three times as high as it was when she was first hurt. (Example: Venus Williams. She was still getting special rankings until last week, but that's because the WTA doesn't consider the Slams against her eight events. Going into Stanford, when her ranking protection would have come off were she not Venus Williams, she was #15 -- five times her pre-injury ranking.) That's relatively OK for Venus, who still gets direct entry into everything. But consider a player who was, say, #50 when she was hurt. That would get her into every Tier III and a lot of Tier II events. Post-injury, she's #150, and can't get into any Tour events and ends up unseeded even at the better grades of Challengers. A recent example of that is Anne Kremer -- who was Top 30 when she got hurt!

The author has in the past proposed of all sorts of possible fixes to this: Going back to divisor rankings (which are more accurate and would reduce the incentive for players to play themselves into injury), with injured players exempt from the minimum divisor requirements (under this system, e.g., Venus would still be #8 and Serena would be #3). Increasing the number of events played under an injury ranking. Allowing players to play "test" events until they know they're ready; if they come back too soon, and have to rest more, it doesn't start up their post-injury clock. All of these would help; none of them (except the first, which involves the WTA admitting it was wrong, and what are the odds of that?) will help much.

Maybe it's time for something better. In baseball, e.g., a player who is healthy but needs work to get back into playing shape can be sent to a minor league for rehabilitation.

So why not a tennis rehabilitation league? Players could go down and play other injured players, to test themselves and get back into shape.

This has other advantages, depending on how it's implemented. Let's outline a scenario and show what we mean.

Our proposal would be for events actually administered by the WTA, but with Challenger-level prize money and limited points. What's more, they would be round robin events, with players perhaps playing singles sets rather than full matches to start with.

So, for example, you start with a 16-player field. (We don't know if 16 players would want to play, but there are usually far more than that available, given the injury problems these days. Obviously, since it's a round robin, we could accommodate almost any even number.) The 16 players are placed in groups of four. Each player plays one set against each of the other three players in the group. The winning player from each group advances to a semifinal, where they could play a standard best-of-three match, and again in the final.

Prize money could be on a Challenger scale, say $25,000 or $50,000. Let's assume $25K. We have 16 players, and there will be between 30 and 33 sets played. Give out, say, $750 to each qualified player who shows up (total of $12,000). That lets you award $400 for each set won -- i.e. in practice $400 for each round robin match, an extra $800 for reaching the final, and another $800 for winning. Great pay? No, but a lot better than trying to rebuild while playing Futures events.

And note what you have here: An event featuring WTA-level players but requiring only $25,000 in prize money. One of the biggest problems in tennis, these days, is lack of exposure: Lots of cities have no events at all, or if they have anything, it's a Challenger with players no one has heard of. It's hard to promote that. It's a lot easier if you have real WTA names playing the events.

The points for these events will of course have to be limited. We'd suggest that the winner of each set gets half the quality points she would get for beating her opponent in an actual WTA match, and few if any round points. It's still better points than an exhibition. (Assuming you win a set or two, anyway, and if you don't, well, it's no worse.)

There would certainly have to be restrictions on how long you can play rehab events. If you win two in the course of a month, say, you're surely ready to return to the main Tour. But the restrictions could be based on results rather than time: If you're Chanda Rubin, and you came back too soon and lost all your matches, it doesn't reset your rehabilitation clock. As soon as you start winning, though, you have to go back on the main tour and start counting through your eight injury events.

It's good for the players, too, since the round robin format guarantees them a certain number of matches. (Possibly they could, by mutual agreement, play pro sets in the Round Robin to get more practice in.)

The author can't think of any disadvantages. Of course, the author suffers from the prejudice of having thought the thing up....

bandabou
Aug 9th, 2004, 12:38 PM
Canadian Open/Montreal: Minimum Yearly Adult Requirement

Approximately once a year, Elena Likhovtseva is a Top Ten player.

We don't mean her ranking, which has never gone that high. We mean she plays like one. At Leipzig 2000, she made the final with wins over Raymond and Dementieva and Tauziat. At Charleston 2001, she lasted only to the quarterfinal, but not before beating Sanchez-Vicario and Suarez -- on clay! At Wimbledon 2002, she made the quarterfinal with wins over Clijsters and Maleeva. Last year, her Big Event was San Diego, where she made the quarterfinal with wins over Capriati and Maleeva.

The Canadian Open was already looking like her Big Event of 2004 even before she played Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinal. To get there, after all, she had beaten Maria Vento-Kabchi, Nadia Petrova, and Francesca Schiavone.

And Jennifer Capriati is surprisingly vulnerable to the inside-out never-hit-crosscourt Likhovtseva game anyway, having lost to her in their last two hardcourt meeting (San Diego 2000 and 2003) though winning two intervening encounters on clay (Charleston 2001, Berlin 2003).

You know where this is leading. In a result that, as best we can tell, no one including Likhovtseva herself even hinted at, the Russian beat Capriati 6-2 7-5, in a match marked by arguments over calls and a lot of crankiness. There wasn't much question about who played better, though. In the process, Likhovtseva moved up to at least #28 in the world -- her best ranking since November 2001.

We won't see Tathiana Golovin in the Top 30 just yet, though. Vera Zvonareva, having finally crossed the hump and moved above #11, cemented her Top 10 ranking by beating the your Frenchwoman 6-3 6-1.

That left the two contenders for #2, Amelie Mauresmo and Anastasia Myskina. You might almost call them AM Not and AM So, because one would be #2 when this was over and the other wouldn't. Mauresmo was the first of them to come through; she beat Karolina Sprem 3-6 6-2 6-4, winning less by power than by keeping the ball away from Sprem's hitting zone. Sprem still moves from #19 to #18, and has a few more months before she has to defend anything noticeable. Myskina followed the Frenchwoman through in the evening match, beating Magdalena Maleeva 7-5 6-1. Which meant that every match from then on had the #2 ranking on the line: First to lose was #3, with the survivor #2, ties going to Mauresmo.

It also meant that, for the second straight week, three of four quarterfinalists were Russian. Only, this week, it was Mauresmo, not Myskina, who had to deal with Vera Zvonareva.

On the whole, we'd have to say that hardcourts help Zvonareva more than Mauresmo. But the Frenchwoman, unlike Myskina, is not best friends with Zvonareva. Despite falling behind a break in the first set, and going down a minibreak in the first set tiebreak, plus a few brief rain problems, she made the final 7-6 6-2.

Which meant that Myskina, who this week just as last got stuck with the late semifinal, had to play countrywoman Likhovtseva with the #2 ranking (indeed, in a sense, the #1 ranking; see this week's Sopot preview) on the line. For most of the first two sets, it really didn't look as if she was up to the job; in a slightly tired-looking performance (hard to blame her, given what she had been through lately), she broke twice in the first set, but was broken three times; in the second; they held serve to 3-3, but then Likhovtseva broke, and held, and after Myskina held, Likhovtseva served for the match. Only to have Myskina break, and break again to take the set. But the third was back to the break-break business, and again Likhovtseva had the better of it, dashing Myskina's hopes 6-3 5-7 6-4.

Myskina has only four losses this year to players ranked below #20, and only three to players ranked below #30. The worst two are both to Likhovtseva: At Rome (where Likhovtseva was #50) and here, where Likhovtseva was #39. (The other? To then-#36 Frazier at Wimbledon.)

Sunday's singles final ran into the big story of the last two months: Rain. That lasted a good bit longer than the match, won by Mauresmo 6-1 6-0.

The doubles proved even less predictable than the singles. Friday's shock came as #5 seeds Asagoe and Sugiyama, who had been having a terrible time together until this week, eliminated #2 Likhovtseva and Zvonareva 6-2 6-1. (Maybe the Russians were too excited after their singles wins?). Saturday was equally strange: Asagoe and Sugiyama beat surprise semifinalists Mauresmo and Pierce 6-2 7-5, but the real news came as Liezel Huber (Sugiyama's regular partner) and Tamarine Tanasugarn took out top seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez 6-3 2-6 6-4. That meant, of course, that Huber and Sugiyama would face each other in the final.

The final was as surprising as what had gone before. Asagoe and Sugiyama, losers of two straight coming into this event, will go to Athens with a five match winning streak; they beat Huber and Sugiyama 6-0 6-3. It appears Sugiyama will stay at #10, but Asagoe, who was down to #63, will easily hit the Top 40. Our rough cut says that they moved themselves up to the #5 seeded position at the Olympics as a result of this win. It's fascinating to note that this is Asagoe's second title of the year (she also won Hobart with Okamoto), but the first for Sugiyama, despite the latter's much higher ranking.

Stockholm: Moral Certainty
It was the Friday everyone expected. Boringly so, in fact. Four matches, four straight set wins, no surprises. #3 seed Alicia Molik and #2 Silvia Farina Elia did indeed set up their clash; Molik beat #6 seed Denisa Chladkova 6-3 6-2, while Farina Elia took out Severine Beltrame 7-5 6-3. In the top half, Tatiana Perebiynis managed a mild surprise by beating Maria Elena Camerin 7-5 6-4, but Henrieta Nagyova continued her recent trend toward collapse as she lost to Sandra Kleinova 6-3 6-3. (To be fair, Nagyova may have been ill; she would later withdraw from Sopot.)

That set up the Big Semifinal we'd anticipated from the start: Farina Elia versus Molik, with the winner sure to be the favorite in the final now that Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi was out. A win would make Farina Elia, who would then seek her fourth career title, a Top 20 player (bumping Smashnova-Pistolesi, in fact). By contrast, the 26-year-old Kleinova and 21-year-old Perebiynis were both in their first WTA semifinals, so naturally we would have a first-time finalist in the top half. It turned out to be Perebiynis, who advanced 7-5 6-3. She would face Molik, who ended Farina Elia's Top 20 hopes by the same score.

There isn't much to say about the final except that it happened. Molik picked up her second WTA singles title 6-1 6-1. That also meant, finally, a Top 25 spot, either #24 or #25; depending on the results from Montreal. (Since Mauresmo won, it turned out to be #24.)

At least she had something to occupy her time, as she had to go out and play the doubles final with Barbara Schett. She won that, too; Molik and Schett, the #1 seeds, beat Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-3 6-3. It's Molik's second doubles title, and the first time she's won singles and doubles at the same event. Schett wins her tenth career title, and her third this year -- mostly small, but with three different partners so far in 2004: Paris with Schnyder, Budapest with Mandula, and now this.

Perebiynis's reward for her first final will be a ranking around #75, close to the career high she had at the start of the year. Groenefeld also has reason to celebrate; it's the first time she's made a WTA final in singles or doubles.

Cincinnati: Secret Plan

Could Andre Agassi be planning to try for a Pete Sampras? Nothing... nothing... wham... retire?

Whether he's trying to go out with a blaze of glory or not, at Cincinnati he's suddenly looking like a top player again. Maybe it's because his hip is just a little bit better; with a game that depends so much on being exactly on top of the ball, being able to move freely can make a big difference. In any case, he was able to put big pressure on Carlos Moya. They traded breaks in the first set, then went into a tiebreak so intense that they eventually forgot to change ends. Agassi finally won it after 26 points, then added another break in the third to advance 7-6 6-3.

That was clearly the highlight of Friday; the other matches were routine. Andy Roddick went down a break early against Tommy Haas, but then took charge, advancing 6-3 6-3. Tommy Robredo's return was much too good for Fabrice Santoro; the Spaniard put himself back in the Top 20 6-2 6-3. And Lleyton Hewitt won the battle of past U. S. Open champions 6-4 6-4 over Marat Safin.

Moya's loss cost him the chance to take over the #3 spot in the Race, but he is a firm #4 in the rankings, and with word that Guillermo Coria out of the Olympics and the U. S. Open, odds are strong that he will be #3 soon.

Saturday produced much the same story: An easy win for Hewitt, a dramatic one for Agassi. Hewitt took apart Robredo's serve 6-3 6-2. But nobody, not even Andre Agassi, is likely to take apart Andy Roddick's serve. Still, he earned a key break at the end of the first set, and though he lost the second, he just kept adding new things to the mix, including quite a few net attacks in the final set. And so Agassi was still out there for the third set tiebreak, and after a long, long battle, he came through 7-5 6-7 7-6.

Of course, he'd had to play a late match, and a long match, and he's 34. If you'd asked us, we would surely have told you, "He has to win in two if he's to win at all." He didn't have to. He took home his first title of the year 6-3 3-6 6-2.

Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor were certainly made to work for their third career title in Cincinnati. Having beaten Max Mirnyi and Sargis Sargsian in a third set tiebreak late the night before, they had to come out twelve hours later to play for the championship. Nestor himself admitted, "It was a really quick turnaround. I don't think we've ever had to turn around quite so fast -- finishing so late, starting early. So our attitude this morning was, 'Nothing we can do about it. Let's try to use it to our advantage.'" They did; they Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge 6-2 3-6 6-3 to take home the prize.

Women's Match of the Day

Canadian Open - Final
Amelie Mauresmo (2) def. Elena Likhovtseva 6-1 6-0

Is there something about the Canadian Open and mid-level Russians? Last year, it was Lina Krasnoroutskaya, then #38, unseeded, who came in and made the final with wins over Kim Clijsters and Eleni Daniilidou and Paola Suarez. This year, it's Elena Likhovtseva, #39 coming in, unseeded, who had an even more impressive run. In her five matches going into the final, she had beaten four Top 20 players: Petrova, Schiavone, Capriati, and Mysina, and her fifth opponent was #31; Krasnoroutskaya last year had beaten only one Top 20 player. To put that in further perspective, Likhovtseva had had only three Top 20 wins all year to this point, and only one of them a Top Ten win (over none other than Myskina at Rome). Her last final had been over a year before (Doha 2003, where she lost to, yes, Myskina), and that was a Tier III. Her last Tier II final came all the way back at Leipzig 2000. She had never made a Tier I final.

Any wonder that she zoomed from #39 to no worse than #27 going into this final?

Amelie Mauresmo had zoomed only one place, but she had cut her ranking by about the same ratio: an even one-third. Since she had won her semifinal, and Anastasia Myskina had lost to Likhovtseva, the Frenchwoman was guaranteed to reach a career high of #2 -- with the chance to reach #1 at the Olympics or the U. S. Open. Especially if she won Montreal.

Of course, to win the final, you have to be able to play the final. The weather wasn't very cooperative. But Mauresmo did everything in her power to make up for the delay. After splitting the first two games, Mauresmo never lost another. There isn't much to say about it; she simply dominated Likhovtseva.

It's her third title of the year, all of them Tier I events, and the first away from clay. She is now a strong #2 in the WTA Race as well as in the rankings; she's 500 points behind Lindsay Davenport in the Race, but almost 200 points ahead of Myskina.

And she may not be done climbing. She now has over 4400 points. Justine Henin-Hardenne's Canadian Open points come off next week. Once that happens, Mauresmo will be less than 200 points behind the Belgian going into the Olympics. Given how rusty the Belgian is likely to be, we could have a new #1 before the end of the month.

Men's Match of the Day

Cincinnati - Final
Andre Agassi (11) def. Lleyton Hewitt (10) 6-3 3-6 6-2

Just to get here was big for both players. For Andre Agassi, he at last showed that there was something left -- and earned a Top Eight seed at the U. S. Open. Lleyton Hewitt probably didn't have as much to prove, but he did gain the same tangible benefit: He was assured at least the #8 ranking, and so a high Open seed.

Even for a three-setter, it was quite a grind. The points were long, and there were a lot of them. Four times in the first set, Hewitt had break point. He didn't convert any. Agassi managed to find one.

In the second, you got the feeling the wear and tear was getting to Agassi. This time, it was Hewitt who broke through. Not so. The American roared back in the third, earning one break early, and then breaking in the long final game when Hewitt double faulted.

And with that, Agassi is back all the way to #7 in the world. His sojourn outside the Top Ten proved very short. Perhaps more important, he's back up to #9 in the Race, though it's a rather distant #9.

He also has a significant monkey off his back. Agassi hadn't won a title since Houston in the spring of 2003. It had been a little longer still since his last big title, at Miami a few weeks before that. He hadn't won a summer hardcourt Masters since winning Cincinnati back to back in 1994-1995. Quite a turnaround.

The overall statistics: Agassi now has 59 titles, and 17 Masters titles -- the former first among active players (Hewitt is a distant second with 21), the latter the all-time record. He has won at least one Slam or Masters in 11 of the last 15 years (every year since 1990, inclusive, except for 1991, 1993, 1997, and 1998); obviously that means he's won at least one for six years straight. A Internet source (but a usually reliable one) notes that Agassi, at 34 years and three months, is the oldest ATP winner since a 37-year-old Jimmy Connors won Tel Aviv in 1989. Hard to argue with numbers like that!

Hewitt obviously lost, but he continues to re-establish himself as a top player. He's #8 in the rankings, and #5 in the Race; it's worth noting that he is the top healthy player to be skipping the Olympics. So he will go into the U. S. Open fully rested and ready. (As will Agassi, of course.) It looks as if the Lost Year is well and truly over.

bandabou
Aug 11th, 2004, 06:28 PM
If It Ain't Fixed, Don't Break It!
Re-compiler's note: Every week, as we go through the old Matches of the Day, we also look through the old features, seeing if there are any which should be brought up to date or re-examined in light of more recent developments. This one, a two-parter from August 6 and 8 of last year, is particularly interesting because it's so parallel to this year's situation: Last year at this time, Serena Williams, who was injured, was about to lose the #1 ranking to Kim Clijsters, who was less effective overall, and who had no Slams, but who was still playing. This year, we have a strong possibility of a repeat: That Justine Henin-Hardenne, who has been unable to play, will lose the #1 ranking to someone -- very possibly Lindsay Davenport, who would take the top spot without currently holding a Slam, or Amelie Mauresmo, who might take the top spot without ever having won a Slam. In light of that possibility, we thought we would re-run this column, without modification though with a few updates, to show how the situation now resembles the situation then. We could almost have updated it with a global change: "Henin-Hardenne" for "Serena Williams" and "Davenport" or "Mauresmo" for "Clijsters." We're even hearing the same shrill screams this year as last about the possibility of Mauresmo, say, becoming #1....

It is worth noting that the problem this year, just as last, is with the ranking system, which rewards being able to play a lot. Were divisor rankings still being used, Justine Henin-Hardenne's top spot would not be in danger at this time, and indeed, she would almost likely keep the top spot even were she to lose first round at the U. S. Open. To demonstrate this point, let us exhibit the current rankings under the old WTA divisor:


1 Henin-Hardenne......351.1
2 Davenport...........269.6
3 Clijsters...........258.7
4 Mauresmo............233.3
5 Myskina.............209.4
6 Capriati............192.1
7 S.Williams..........142.5
8 Sharapova...........142.2
9 V.Williams..........139.4
10 Dementieva..........138.4
11 Suarez..............107.8
12 Kuznetsova...........95.6
13 Zvonareva............91.4
14 Sugiyama.............81.4
15 Petrova..............77.2
16 Rubin................75.6
17 Schnyder.............71.0
18 Bovina...............67.9
19 Golovin..............65.1
20 Schiavone............64.4

Here, then, is last year's summary of why this situation arose. We've added a few interjections in [brackets] to the first part to show how the situation applies today, but every other word is as it was in August of 2003.

Beginning of Part I

In the past weeks, it has become clear that Kim Clijsters will soon become the women's #1. She will probably do this without ever having won a Slam. What's more, she will do it when another player, Serena Williams, will be holding at least two and probably three Slam titles (depending on when Clijsters takes the #1 ranking). It nearly happened already; Clijsters was one match away from clinching the top ranking at San Diego.

This is, predictably, causing screams of agony from some quarters. People who never cared about the ranking system before are suddenly alert to what they perceive, not always accurately, as its problems.

The irony is, the most recent of the myriad changes the WTA made to the ranking system was designed to prevent this exact possibility. (Well, it had other purposes too, but that was a key aspect.) There were several changes made in the system, but the biggest was to crank the point values awarded for the Slams from their already-stratospheric level to somewhere around low earth orbit.

And it failed.

And it failed predictably.

It's not hard to see why. That's what we'll try to examine in this column.

Let's start with a disclaimer. The author works for Daily Tennis because I know and understand the rankings. It happens that I started following tennis around 1996. It was at the end of 1996 that the WTA made what I consider Great Rankings Mistake: They went from divisor rankings to additive rankings. This had as its purpose an attempt to make the top players play more. (In which it succeeded -- at least temporarily, until they all found themselves injured.) The effect of additive rankings is to cause players who played more events to be ranked higher than more successful players who didn't play as much. This was so patently obvious that the author began, starting with the Australian Open 1997 (the first Slam after the shift to additive rankings), to calculate what the rankings would be had the old divisor still been in place. The author still has that first carefully color-coded printout, now rather tattered, showing that, although Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was ranked #3 following that Australian Open, she would have been #5 under the divisor. Conchita Martinez, the WTA's #4, would have been #6. Monica Seles, then down to #6, was #3 under the divisor. Etc. Talking about the rankings eventually caused me to get this job -- and to watch with dismay as the WTA made change after change in the rankings without fixing the fundamental problems. Nonetheless, I have studied ranking systems, which means that I probably understand them better, at a deep level, than the WTA.

Buried in my archive of possible future articles, the author has a full-blown explanation of how the rankings work (both men's and women's), and someday may inflict that upon you. But a very brief summary of the women's system will suffice for now: The women's rankings are based on points. Points are awarded in two parts: Round points, based on how far you go in tournaments, and quality points, based on the ranking of the players you beat. Events with more prize money carry more round points (meaning that winning a Slam is worth a lot more than winning a Tier I, which is worth a lot more than a Tier III, etc.), but if you beat #1, you get big quality points even if you beat her at the Podunk $10K Futures. This isn't really an "ideal" way of awarding points (chess uses the ELO rankings; the author likes zero-sum rankings with a fixed set of points which players take from each other; these both are designed to assign points very accurately based on results). Still, the WTA double-points-table system isn't too bad; it's easy to calculate without being too inaccurate in itself.

But once we have the points for a particular event, those results from individual tournaments have to be turned into an overall ranking. It's easy to say who was the best player at a particular tournament: The winner was. But somehow, you have to decide who was best over many tournaments. This is where the complications come in. Under the old pre-1997 divisor ranking system, a player's points from all her tournaments were totalled then divided by the number of events she played (hence the term "divisor") -- if two players each earned 2400 points, but one earned 2400 points in 24 events and the other earned them in 16 events, the player who earned the same points in fewer events was ranked higher. This reflected the fact that when she played, she played better.

The 1997 ranking system changed that. Originally, it just added up all your points. A player who lost first round at 20 events earned one point at each event, and so actually earned more round points for those 20 losses than a player earned for a win at a Tier III event. You couldn't actually lose your way to the top -- but any event, even a first round loss, helped your ranking.

The WTA didn't need long to find that this was a problem; soon, instead of all points counting, they counted only a player's best 18 events, which has since been lowered to best 17 (best 11 in doubles). As a matter of fact, had they stayed with the 1997 ranking system, Clijsters would have gained the #1 ranking well before this. Even the Best 18 ranking system would have made her #1 last week. But the shift to Best 17, while it slightly limits the effects of playing a lot, does nothing to address the ultimate problem, which is that losses don't count. The problem remains under Best 17. Consider this scenario: One player plays 16 events, and reaches the second round at all of them. Another player plays the same 16 events, and reaches the second round also. She plays eight other events in which she loses first round. Who is better, the first player, who has a record of 16-16 and no first round losses, or the second, who has a record of 16-24 and eight first round losses? Surely the first -- but the second will probably be ranked higher. Because none of those first round losses count against her; in fact, they give her a single point used to split the tie between the two.

That situation may not sound like the Serena/Clijsters situation [or the current Henin-Hardenne/Mauresmo/Myskina/Davenport situation], but in fact it's exactly the same. Serena, when she plays, is more effective. But Clijsters has twice as many events. (As of next week's rankings, 22 for Clijsters to 11 for Serena. [Similarly, this week, Henin-Hardenne has 13 events, to 20 for Myskina and 19 for Mauresmo.]) As long as the Belgian's early losses aren't held against her, and Serena has goose eggs in six of her seventeen slots -- well, Clijsters has way, way more wins than Serena. She also has more losses, but again, losses don't count. So Clijsters is on the verge of becoming #1.

The problem has been there since 1997. It's no worse now than when it made Lindsay Davenport #1 at the end of 1998 when Martina Hingis had a better winning percentage but Davenport had more events -- or when, in the spring of 2000, it was Davenport's turn to briefly be more effective. It's also no worse than last year [i.e. 2002], when Serena was #1 by such a wide margin that the ranking system couldn't mess her up despite her limited schedule. The ranking system last year accurately pegged Serena as the best player in the world. Was it equally good at determining who "should" have been #50? This does not automatically follow; last year's year-end #50 was Magui Serna, who played 28 events and had 12 first round losses and three losses in qualifying and would have been #62 under the divisor.

We've heard people propose various ranking systems to assure that the top player always has Slam titles -- everything from saying that the Slam winners are automatically #1-#4 to proposing to inflate the Slams to some ridiculous value so as to achieve the same effect. Neither is any good, mathematically; if you automatically rank the Slam winners at the top of the list, then the ranking system is chaotic -- a player cannot with certainty know what she must do to attain a particular ranking. In addition, it must be possible (I didn't say easy, I said possible) to become #1 without a Slam. If it isn't possible, then you render the rest of the Tour essentially just a bunch of practice tournaments, and players will tank at will and soon you don't have any audience -- which means you don't have a Tour.

But it's one thing to be possible and another to be easy. Martina Hingis, based on her tournament winning percentage, probably did deserve to be #1 without a Slam at the end of 2000. Clijsters, by that standard, doesn't deserve to be #1; Best 17 has made it too easy for an undeserving player to reach the top. But the cure must be a rational and continuous ranking system, such as the old divisor -- under which Serena was #1 and will remain #1 for the foreseeable future.

The author does not actually advocate a return to the divisor as such. Of ranking systems I know, Elo (the one used for chess) seems to be the most accurate -- but it's very complicated. My own proposal, balancing Tour needs and the requirement for simplicity, is the modified divisor (total points, if the number of events is less than 17, divide by 17 anyway; if you play more than 17 events, you can knock off a third of an event for each event over 17); this still encourages players to play more but makes losses count. And it's as easy to calculate as the divisor, and easier than the current rankings. (Yes, easier, because under the current rankings, you have to track seventeenth and eighteenth tournament scores.) Other systems are of course possible. (The author has, in fact, investigated over two dozen different ranking systems, each based on a slightly different definition of what it means to be the "best player.")

Should the ranking system be changed to prevent the current "Clijsters problem"? Possibly. But keep this in mind: If you thought the ranking system was actually right last year, then it's right this year. If it's wrong this year, it was wrong last year, too. If a change is made, it should not be yet another quick fix. To date, those have done more harm than good. Literally. By making the players play too much. Just ask Martina Hingis's ankle, or Lindsay Davenport's foot -- or, for that matter, Serena's knee, which is responsible for her losing the top spot. [And, now, we could also add the wrist of Kim Clijsters to the list.]

The analogy to the roofing on the Arkansas fiddle player's house is apt: The hole is always there, but when it ain't raining, the roof don't leak. Last year [2002], when Serena Williams was absolutely dominant, no one worried about the defects in the ranking system. [Similarly early this year, when Henin-Hardenne was on top of everything.] Now, it's raining. The temptation for a quick fix is obviously strong. But a better fix can be found by waiting until the storm is over, and then looking for the right fix. Preferably (in the author's opinion) one that counts losses. It's important to remember a key point: The ranking system is zero-sum -- i.e. when one player moves up, another moves down. There is only one #1 player, and only one #2, and one #3. Having a bad ranking system doesn't create more #1 players, or more Top 100 players for that matter. It just creates "wrong" #1 players, meaning that a good ranking system is to be preferred to the bad. Most players will always "play to" the ranking system, of course (which is what Serena refuses to do, and now it's costing her). But if the ranking system is set up properly, that won't really produce too many problems.

End of Part I/Beginning of Part II.

Earlier this week, we looked at the current ranking system dilemma and how it will cause Kim Clijsters to become #1 at a time when Serena Williams is the dominant player on the Tour -- or was, until she hurt herself.

The first part of this column discussed why there might be differences between ranking systems. Take that as given. As a follow-up, it may be worthwhile to demonstrate just how big a difference the ranking system makes.

It's probably more of a difference than you think. It's affected the #1 ranking quite often. Just looking at the year-end rankings, Lindsay Davenport ended 1998 as the #1 player in the world, but Martina Hingis had the better divisor ranking. In 2000, Hingis was #1 in both WTA rankings and the divisor, but counting raw points per tournament, she trailed Venus Williams. In 2001, it's even more wild: Lindsay Davenport was #1 under the WTA rankings, but Venus Williams was #1 under the divisor and Jennifer Capriati would have been #1 if they had used Best 16 rankings.

The situation at the end of 2001 was so chaotic, in fact, that the author studied 21 different rankings statistics for that year-end and found the following: Davenport was #1 under 12 systems, #2 under five systems, #3 under two systems, and below #3 in two systems; Venus Williams was #1 under six systems, #2 under three systems, #3 under six systems, and lower under six systems. Capriati was #1 under three systems, #2 under seven systems, #3 under eight systems, and below #3 under three systems. And, of course, that meant some players who weren't Top Three in the WTA rankings also scored higher under some rankings: Martina Hingis was #2 under three systems and #3 under two more; Serena Williams was #2 under three systems and #3 under one additional system; in addition, Justine Henin and Monica Seles were #3 under one system each.

And yet, the ranking system is actually pretty good at determining who should be #1, because there generally is an obvious #1 player. And if there isn't an obvious #1, then people are usually satisfied if the top contenders are close together in the rankings. Besides, when there is a problem with the #1 ranking, it's generally been quick fixed away. For instance, when Martina Hingis won the Grand Slam in doubles in 1998, but was ranked #2 behind Natasha Zvereva (obviously an even more extreme situation than the current Serena/Clijsters mess), the WTA changed the doubles rules so as to prevent a future recurrence. (Which seems pretty pointless, from here -- the author suspects that we'll see a singles Slam before we see another doubles Slam; the doubles fields are just getting too weak.) When Lindsay Davenport ended 2001 as the #1 player even though Jennifer Capriati and Venus Williams each held two Slams (and Davenport didn't even hold the year-end Championships, which Kim Clijsters does currently hold), the WTA cranked up the Slam points to prevent it from happening again. That would indeed have prevented the 2001 situation; Capriati would have been #1 had the 2003 ranking table been in place. But even that fix couldn't handle the current Serena Situation.

Still, we repeat, that's the good news: The system is good at getting the #1 right. Further down, it's potentially worse. This follows naturally: If the #1 ranking is wrong, then at least one other ranking is also wrong. (E.g. if the official #1 "ought" to be #2, then someone else "ought" to be #1.) That second person probably displaces the third person out of her rightful spot, and a fourth out of hers, and so on. It is almost inevitable that errors increase the further you move down the rankings; there is usually a domino effect.

How bad is it? We can at least look. Here's what we'll do: We'll take the Top 30 at selected intervals (year-end 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, plus rankings after the 1997 Australian Open), and list each player's WTA rank, and divisor ranking, and the difference.

The point is not really to demonstrate which ranking system is better. Both, in fact, have defects when applied to the current players. The WTA system ignores losses. But it is the ranking system in force, and players adjust their schedules to it. To rank them under the divisor is like giving students an exam in English and then marking them down if they don't follow the rules of German punctuation. The idea is just to show how different the two systems can be -- and how much more extreme they are for mid-ranked than high-ranked players.

As a side benefit, we get some nostalgia. For example, if we look at just the Top Ten under that first ranking list (after the 1997 Australian Open), we see that six of the then-Top Ten (Graf, Hingis, Sanchez-Vicario, Novotna, Huber, Spirlea) are retired, and three others (Martinez, Seles, Majoli) are out of the Top Ten; only Lindsay Davenport was Top Ten then and now. Indeed, of the Top 30 at that time, 17 have retired, and at least one other has been injured so long she probably should be. And that's just six and a half years ago! [Note from a year later: We now can add Majoli to the "retired" list, and Davenport is still the only one who is Top Ten then and now.]

If you don't want to read all the numbers, fine; we didn't study them in detail ourselves. There are conclusions at the end of each year, though.

Here, for starters, are the values from the [early] 1997, after the Australian Open. The columns are as follows: "WTA" is the player's WTA ranking.
"Name" is, of course, the player's name. "Divisor" is the player's divisor ranking. "DIFF" is the difference between the two: The WTA ranking minus the divisor ranking. In other words, how much they disagree by. "%Err" is the percentage difference -- the ratio of the rankings.


WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Graf...............1.....0.....0%
2..Hingis.............2.....0.....0%
3..Sanchez-Vicario....5....-2....67%
4..Martinez...........6....-2....50%
5..Novotna............4.....1...-20%
6..Seles..............3.....3...-50%
7..Majoli.............8....-1....14%
8..Huber..............9....-1....13%
9..Davenport..........7.....2...-22%
10..Spirlea...........12....-2....20%
11..Habsudova.........15....-4....36%
12..Coetzer...........14....-2....17%
13..FernandezMJ.......11.....2...-15%
14..Pierce............10.....4...-29%
15..Weisner...........18....-3....20%
16..Schultz-McCarthy..17....-1.....6%
17..Paulus............13.....4...-24%
18..Appelmans.........16.....2...-11%
19..Po................23....-4....21%
20..Likhovtseva.......25....-5....25%
21..Maleeva...........20.....1....-5%!
22..Dragomir..........28....-6....27%
23..Tauziat...........31....-8....35%
24..Raymond...........32....-8....33%
25..Capriati..........19.....6...-24%
26..Basuki............26.....0.....0%
27..McGrath...........21.....6...-22%
28..Halard-Decugis....22.....6...-21%
29..Sugiyama..........30....-1.....3%
30..Frazier...........27.....3...-10%

Note that, on this list, our first disagreement is at #3. The average error (sum of the absolute values of the differences, divided by the number of players) is 21%; the root mean square error is 26%. (If you don't know what a root mean square error is, don't worry about it; suffice it to say that it's considered a better measure for this sort of thing than the simple average.) To put this in perspective, since the RMS error is 26%, and you are (say) a solid #20 under the divisor, you can't even predict what your WTA ranking will be; it's as likely as not that it will be less than #16 or greater than #25!

At the end of 1997, our numbers looked like this:


WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Hingis.............1.....0.....0%
2..Novotna............2.....0.....0%
3..Davenport..........5....-2....67%
4..Coetzer............6....-2....50%
5..Seles..............4.....1...-20%
6..Majoli.............8....-2....33%
7..Pierce.............3.....4...-57%
8..Spirlea............9....-1....13%
9..Sanchez-Vicario...11....-2....22%
10..FernandezMJ........7.....3...-30%
11..Tauziat...........12....-1.....9%
12..Martinez..........10.....2...-17%
13..Testud............14....-1.....8%
14..Huber.............15....-1.....7%
15..Schultz-McCarthy..21....-6....40%
16..Appelmans.........22....-6....38%
17..Raymons...........17.....0.....0%
18..Van Roost.........16.....2...-11%
19..Dragomir..........26....-7....37%
20..Sugiyama..........27....-7....35%
21..Basuki............23....-2....10%
22..WilliamsV.........13.....9...-41%
23..Po................24....-1.....4%
24..Paulus............19.....5...-21%
25..Zvereva...........25.....0.....0%
26..Schnyder..........32....-6....23%
27..Kruger............30....-3....11%
28..Graf..............18....10...-36%
29..Habsudova.........33....-4....14%
30..Rubin.............31....-1.....3%

Because we again had a dominant #1 in Hingis, the top two are in agreement. But we still have big differences .further down (note the ten point gap between Graf's #28 WTA ranking and her #18 under the divisor. This is one place where the divisor is much better than Best-however-many: It doesn't penalize you as much for being hurt. It also is more fair to young players who must restrict their schedules due to the age rules.) The error is just a hair higher than at the start of the year: 22% average error, and 28% root mean square.

That brings us to year-end 1998, the first time under additive rankings when we did not have a dominant #1. The disagreements suddenly loom much larger, as we have disagreements about every player in the Top Ten, including #1 and #2:

WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Davenport..........2....-1...100%
2..Hingis.............1.....1...-50%
3..Novotna............5....-2....67%
4..Sanchez-Vicario....6....-2....50%
5..WilliamsV..........3.....2...-40%
6..Seles..............4.....2...-33%
7..Pierce.............8....-1....14%
8..Martinez...........9....-1....13%
9..Graf...............7.....2...-22%
10..Tauziat...........12....-2....20%
11..Schnyder..........11.....0.....0%
12..Van Roost.........14....-2....17%
13..Kournikova........10.....3...-23%
14..Testud............16....-2....14%
15..Spirlea...........19....-4....27%
16..Zvereva...........15.....1....-6%
17..Coetzer...........17.....0.....0%
18..Sugiyama..........20....-2....11%
19..Farina............22....-3....16%
20..WilliamsS.........13.....7...-35%
21..Huber.............18.....3...-14%
22..Halard-Decugis....25....-3....14%
23..Schett............26....-3....13%
24..Serna.............27....-3....13%
25..Majoli............21.....4...-16%
26..Likhovtseva.......30....-4....15%
27..Raymond...........23.....4...-15%
28..Nagyova...........24.....4...-14%
29..Mauresmo..........29.....0.....0%
30..Kruger............31....-1.....3%

The average error in this year is still only 23%. But the RMS error in this first Year of Chaos is a frightening 31%.

1999 was somewhat more orderly, with four different Slam winners but Hingis clearly the best player in the lesser events. Here are the 1999 year-end numbers:


WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Hingis.............1.....0.....0%
2..Davenport..........2.....0.....0%
3..WilliamsV..........3.....0.....0%
4..WilliamsS..........4.....0.....0%
5..Pierce.............6....-1....20%
6..Seles..............5.....1...-17%
7..Tauziat............9....-2....29%
8..Schett.............8.....0.....0%
9..Halard-Decugis....11....-2....22%
10..Mauresmo...........7.....3...-30%
11..Coetzer...........13....-2....18%
12..Kournikova........10.....2...-17%
13..Testud............16....-3....23%
14..Van Roost.........17....-3....21%
15..Martinez..........15.....0.....0%
16..Huber.............19....-3....19%
17..Sanchez-Vicario...12.....5...-29%
18..Likhovtseva.......24....-6....33%
19..Frazier...........18.....1....-5%
20..Dragomir..........21....-1.....5%
21..Schnyder..........23....-2....10%
22..Rubin.............20.....2....-9%
23..Capriati..........14.....9...-39%
24..Sugiyama..........25....-1.....4%
25..Dechy.............30....-5....20%
26..Farina............32....-6....23%
27..Zvereva...........26.....1....-4%
28..Raymond...........31....-3....11%
29..Talaja............37....-8....28%
30..Appelmans.........34....-4....13%

This year saw astonishingly good agreement between the two systems; the top four are all the same, and every player in the WTA Top 30 was within 40% of her correct ranking. That lowered the average error to 15% and the RMS to 19%.

2000 was tougher, since Venus Williams had the best per-tournament results of any player but achieved that by playing an extremely unbalanced schedule. Nonetheless, we had good agreement between the two systems, with the top four again the same in each. Those interested more in history than in rankings will observe that several new names (Clijsters, Dementieva, Dokic) start to climb the rankings on this list.


WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Hingis.............1.....0.....0%
2..Davenport..........2.....0.....0%
3..WilliamsV..........3.....0.....0%
4..Seles..............4.....0.....0%
5..Martinez...........7....-2....40%
6..WilliamsS..........5.....1...-17%
7..Pierce.............6.....1...-14%
8..Kournikova........10....-2....25%
9..Sanchez-Vicario....8.....1...-11%
10..Tauziat...........16....-6....60%
11..Coetzer...........11.....0.....0%
12..Dementieva........14....-2....17%
13..Rubin.............15....-2....15%
14..Capriati..........12.....2...-14%
15..Halard-Decugis....19....-4....27%
16..Mauresmo...........9.....7...-44%
17..Testud............18....-1.....6%
18..Clijsters.........13.....5...-28%
19..Huber.............17.....2...-11%
20..Frazier...........20.....0.....0%
21..Likhovtseva.......26....-5....24%
22..Maleeva....! .......31....-9....41%
23..Schett............25....-2.....9%
24..Van Roost.........21.....3...-12%
25..Schnyder..........29....-4....16%
26..Dokic.............22.....4...-15%
27..Dechy.............23.....4...-15%
28..Brandi............38...-10....36%
29..Tanasugarn........28.....1....-3%
30..Talaja............42...-12....40%

The above numbers produce a relatively mild 18% average error and a 24% RMS divergence.

Which brings us to 2001 and the greatest rankings controversy prior to the current one: Lindsay Davenport's year-end #1 without any big titles at all (Hingis in 2000 at least won Miami and the year-end championships, and had more overall titles than Davenport). [Note that Davenport may well achieve this again in 2004: She leads the WTA Race, though she has no Slams; her best title is San Diego.] Does that show up in our statistics? You bet: The WTA's #3, Venus Williams, is the divisor #1:


WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..Davenport..........2....-1...100%
2..Capriati...........3....-1....50%
3..WilliamsV..........1.....2...-67%
4..Hingis.............4.....0.....0%
5..Clijsters..........8....-3....60%
6..WilliamsS..........5.....1...-17%
7..Henin..............9....-2....29%
8..Dokic.............10....-2....25%
9..Mauresmo...........6.....3...-33%
10..Seles..............7.....3...-30%
11..Testud............11.....0.....0%
12..Shaughnessy.......13....-1.....8%
13..Tauziat...........12.....1....-8%
14..Farina Elia.......17....-3....21%
15..Dementieva........15.....0.....0%
16..Maleeva...........19....-3....19%
17..Sanchez-Vicario...18....-1.....6%
18..Huber.............14.....4...-22%
19..Coetzer...........16.....3...-16%
20..Tulyaganova.......26....-6....30%
21..Schett............25....-4....19%
22..Raymond...........22.....0.....0%
23..Montolio..........27....-4....17%
24..Grande............35...-11....46%
25..Nagyova...........28....-3....12%
26..Serna.............34....-8....31%
27..Suarez............21.....6...-22%
28..Bedanova..........24.....4...-14%
29..Tanasugarn........30....-1.....3%
30..Sugiyama..........33....-3....10%

2001 gives us our worst divergence yet: 24% error and 32% RMS.

Year-end 2002 again brought a clear order at the top:

WTA.Name.........Divisor..DIFF...%Err
1..WilliamsS..........1.....0.....0%
2..WilliamsV..........2.....0.....0%
3..Capriati...........3.....0.....0%
4..Clijsters..........7....-3....75%
5..Henin..............8....-3....60%
6..Mauresmo...........6.....0.....0%
7..Seles..............4.....3...-43%
8..Hantuchova........11....-3....38%
9..Dokic.............12....-3....33%
10..Hingis.............5.....5...-50%
11..Myskina...........13....-2....18%
12..Davenport..........9.....3...-25%
13..Rubin.............10.....3...-23%
14..Maleeva...........14.....0.....0%
15..Schnyder..........15.....0.....0%
16..Smashnova.........20....-4....25%
17..Farina Elia.......17.....0.....0%
18..Stevenson.........19....-1.....6%
19..Dementieva........18.....1....-5%
20..Dechy.............22....-2....10%
21..Coetzer...........21.....0.....0%
22..Daniilidou........27....-5....23%
23..Panova............35...-12....52%
24..Sugiyama..........28....-4....17%
25..Kremer............30....-5....20%
26..Bovina............24.....2....-8%
27..Suarez............26.....1....-4%
28..Tanasugarn........38...-10....36%
29..Raymond...........25.....4...-14%
30..Shaughnessy.......42...-12....40%

This relatively orderly year gave us good error numbers: 21% average and 29% RMS.

Still, this gives us much to think about. Even under the most ideal circumstances, we saw a difference of more than an eighth in players' rankings under these two systems -- and that even though both are respectable enough to have been used by the WTA as the official ranking system. And the typical error is closer to one part in five. Ranking systems matter, and even when they don't cause complaints, they still produce big differences. And note that the system used in 2002 and 2003 is identical -- not even cosmetic changes. In 2002, it was widely accepted; in 2003, it's drawing complaints.

Just as a last word, let's look at the Top 20 as they are this week -- under the divisor. In this case, "Rank" is the player's divisor rank, "Name" is the player's name, "DIV SCORE" is her points under the divisor, "WTA" her WTA ranking, and "DIFF" and "%Err" are absolute and percentage differences, as above.

RANK..NAME.......DIV.SCORE....WTA...DIFF...%Err
1...S.Williams........433......1......0.....0%
2...Clijsters.........286......2......0.....0%
3...Henin-Hardenne....255......3......0.....0%
4...V.Williams........253......5......1....25%
5...Mauresmo..........209......6......1....20%
6...Davenport.........187......4.....-2...-33%
7...Capriati..........133......7......0.....0%
8...Rubin.............125......8......0.....0%
9...Hantuchova.........90......9......0.....0%
10...Seles..............82.....28.....18...180%
11...Myskina............77.....10.....-1....-9%
12...Martinez...........75.....13......1.....8%
13...Petrova............74.....23.....10....77%
14...Kuznetsova.........74.....26.....12....86%
15...Maleeva............72.....11.....-4...-27%
16...Coetzer............71.....14.....-2...-12%
17...Zvonareva..........70.! ....18......1.....6%
18...Sugiyama...........70.....12.....-6...-33%
19...Bovina.............62.....21......2....11%
20...Schnyder...........62.....17.....-3...-15%

This is actually the best agreement between the two systems we've seen in some months; until last week, Venus remained #2 under the divisor. We'll note that Serena remains an overwhelming #1 -- and probably will stay so even after the U. S. Open (which will cost her about 70 divisor points). But we still see some astonishing differences: Three players in the WTA Top 20 (Dokic, Dementieva, Shaughnessy) are not divisor Top 20. Still more significant, note Monica Seles. Because she's injured, she's fallen to #28 in the WTA rankings. But she would still be Top Ten under the divisor. Svetlana Kuznetsova is also ranked much higher under the Divisor than the WTA rankings, and Nadia Petrova isn't far behind. Our most over-ranked players are Lindsay Davenport and Ai Sugiyama.

The above does not tell us which ranking system is best. It merely shows us that the different systems make a difference. The author is firmly convinced that a good ranking system should make losses count (which means that the divisor is worthy of consideration and best 17 isn't). But it's even more important to start by deciding just what the ranking system is intended to measure. If it's intended to measure durability -- well, then Best 17 is just fine.

Two clear conclusions emerge: The ranking system is significant, and any changes should be very carefully examined. Because, up to now, the rule governing the changes seems to have been the Law of Unintended Consequences.

bandabou
Aug 17th, 2004, 02:43 PM
Olympics: It Wouldn't Be A Tennis Event If...
...there weren't last-minute withdrawals. Monday's first victim was Aniko Kapros, who hasn't played since San Diego and who hasn't won since Wimbledon; she pulled out with a thigh injury. That brought in Catalina Castano as a replacement -- and she did what most of these players-selected-for-doubles do: She lost. The Greeks got their first good news of the tennis event as Eleni Daniilidou beat her 6-2 6-1.

#13 seed Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi probably shouldn't have played either. She's been suffering from ankle tendonitis, and lost ugly at Stockholm (where she withdrew after losing a bagel set) and then fell to a player ranked #140 at Sopot. Little wonder that she fell 6-2 6-1 to Tathiana Garbin in the Olympics. It will be a costly loss, though; she will fall from #19 to no better than #24.

With Smashnova out, it was time for the Russian seeds to appear. #9 Nadia Petrova shook off her three match losing streak with a 6-3 6-3 win over Martina Sucha, but #4 Elena Dementieva suffered the worst upset of the tournament so far as she lost to Alicia Molik 4-6 6-0 6-3.

The rest of the day session didn't feature much in the way of big names, nor were there many real surprises given the surface. Nicole Pratt beat big-hitting but slow-moving Myriam Casanova 6-3 7-5; Kristina Brandi took care of Jelena Kostanic 7-5 6-1; Maria Elena Camerin topped Mervana Jugic-Salkic 6-4 6-3, and Akiko Morigami beat Iveta Benesova 6-1 6-4.

The evening session of course involved a higher proportion of big names: Five of eight matches involved seeds, all of whom advanced. For starters, Amelie Mauresmo kept the pressure squarely on Justine Henin-Hardenne in the contest for #1. The #2 seed ran her winning streak to six by taking out Conchita Martinez 6-1 6-4.

Sandrine Testud came in with an eight match losing streak. It's now nine; Silvia Farina Elia beat her 6-2 6-0. In her whole comeback, in fact, Testud has only one WTA win: Over Serna at Dubai. That's looking less and less significant; Serna has hardly been able to play this year. She certainly didn't play very well against Anastasia Myskina. The #3 seed showed no signs of her so-called "rib injury" as she beat Serna 6-0 6-1.

#5 Svetlana Kuznetsova hasn't looked nearly as convincing lately, but she didn't face much in the way of opposition, either. She beat Mariana Diaz-Oliva 6-3 6-3.

Barring withdrawals, we are close to knowing the Top 16 seeds at the U. S. Open. Fifteen spots are set: Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo, Myskina, Davenport, (Clijsters would be in but won't play), Dementieva, Sharapova, Capriati, Zvonareva, Kuznetsova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sugiyama, Suarez, Petrova and Schnyder. But the gap between Schnyder (currently #16 and in line for the #15 seed) and #17 Francesca Schiavone is large, and there are quite a few players stacked up behind it. We count seven, in fact, competing for that #16 seed. And eight players competing for four spots in the Top 20. Magdalena Maleeva is near the bottom of the list, but she's still in the contest following her 6-1 6-4 win over Sopot finalist Klara Koukalova.

Mary Pierce won't get a Top 16 seed at the Open, but she will be seeded, and she took a small step toward the Top 25 with a 6-3 7-5 win over Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Other than Molik's win over Dementieva, only two of the day's matches went three sets, and like the Molik win, one of them involved a bagel. Only this one went against the winner: Maria Sanchez Lorenzo beat Katarina Srebotnik 6-3 0-6 6-4.

Lisa Raymond wasn't supposed to play singles here, but given the opportunity, she took advantage -- and in the process clinched her Top 40 ranking. She closed out the day's singles action with a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over Lubomira Kurhajcova.

In a recent interview, Patrick McEnroe talked about perhaps instituting a team format for the Olympics (an idea he perhaps derived, at several removes, from one of our own readers, who suggested it months earlier). An ITF official responded that the Olympics is an individual competition. Maybe, but we suspect a few of the doubles players would prefer to be playing with different individuals. Poor Petra Mandula, a very good doubles player, was saddled with Kyra Nagy; they lost 6-4 6-0 to #2 seeds Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual. Australia can hope for good results from their #1 doubles team, Molik and Stubbs, but their #2 team, Pratt and Stosur, proved much less than the sum of its parts; they lost 6-0 6-1 to Tathiana Garbin and Roberta Vinci. Similarly, Wynne Prakusya and Angelique Widjaja have had good results with other partners, but rarely together; they lost 6-3 6-2 to Jelena Kostanic and Karolina Sprem. And the Great American Experiment of having Venus Williams play doubles with Chanda Rubin was a flop; Venus's career women's doubles record without Serena is now 0-1 after they lost 7-5 1-6 6-3 to China's Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian. (Someone asked what Rubin's doubles record is like. It's not spectacular, but it's not bad, either; she won the Australian Open with Sanchez-Vicario in 1996, and has ten doubles titles playing mostly part-time, which is the same as what Venus has; in 2001, in fact, she and Els Callens beat the Williams Sisters at the U. S. Open. Li/Sun, though, came in with a four match losing streak going back to Roland Garros.) The other Chinese team also advanced; Yan and Zheng beat Slovenia's Matevzic and Pisnik 6-2 6-1. Action closed with another marathon as Columbians Castano and Zuluaga eliminated Luxembourg's Kremer and Schaul 7-6 2-6 9-7; Luxembourg is now entirely out of the tennis competition

Cincinnati: Role Reversal
It used to be that, if a Serra Zanetti had any success, it was older sister Adriana who had it. Adriana still has the biggest single result of the two, having once made the Australian Open quarterfinal. But over the last couple of years, Antonella has been the more successful of the two. Relatively speaking. If you can count going 16-28 at the WTA level since the start of 2003 "successful." (Adriana has been an even more depressing 8-20 in that time).

But, this week, it will be Adriana who has at least the chance to improve her record. She qualified for Cincinnati with a 6-0 3-6 6-2 win over college star Kelly McCain; Antonella lost to Yuliana Fedak 6-2 7-6.

The other two qualifiers are younger and perhaps stronger prospects: China's Shuai Peng, who picked up her first WTA win at Vancouver last week, beat Stephanie Foretz 2-6 6-3 6-2 to make her third main draw of the year; Severine Beltrame, who made her first quarterfinal at Stockholm two weeks ago, took out Andreea Vanc 6-3 7-5.

The tournament did have two players pull out: Ashley Harkleroad and Milagros Sequera have withdrawn, leaving spots for two Lucky Losers. It appears that Foretz and Antonella Serra Zanetti will earn them. McCain is next in line. Sequera was also to be the top doubles seed with Lisa McShea, so Lucky Losers Sfar and Soukup will join Leanne Baker and Francesca Lubiani, who beat them 3-6 6-4 6-4, in the main draw.

Only four main draw singles matches were on the schedule, two involving seeds. Both seeds advanced: #4 Marion Bartoli had few problems against young Russian Maria Kirilenko, advancing 6-3 6-3. #8 Marlene Weingartner had a lot more trouble with Emmanuelle Gagliardi (thinking about the Olympics, maybe?) but advanced 6-1 6-2. And Rita Grande, who seems finally to be picking up her results a little, beat Virginie Razzano 6-1 6-2.

The evening singles match would have been very surprising a few months ago, but is perhaps to be expected now. Mashona Washington has gone 10-4 in her last three WTA events (how do you earn four losses in three events? As a Lucky Loser in one of them), and is a Top 100 player for the first time. She kept up her recent progress with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Marissa Irvin.

Olympics: No Soft Feelings

You get the feeling that the ATP isn't too happy with the Olympics just now. It's funny; they adopted it as an official event before the WTA did. But the ATP Media Guide doesn't give a points table for the event, and their latest media newsletter doesn't either, and they never list the results (of this or any other ITF event) on their web site.

They're missing some pretty good matches as a result. They're also missing the process as the U. S. Open seeds are determined.

And that process is getting hot. When Tim Henman lost on Sunday, it opened a slight possibility that he would lose the #4 U. S. Open seed to Andre Agassi or Juan Carlos Ferrero or Lleyton Hewitt. On Tuesday, we took a step toward determining the #8 seeding: We know Rainer Schuettler won't get it. He won't be returning to the Top Ten, either. In yet another bad sign, the #7 seed fell 6-7 7-6 6-2 to Igor Andreev. Odds are that Schuettler will stay #11, but it's by no means certain.

And Paradorn Srichaphan won't be earning the #12 seed, either. He cane in at #15, but he was the Long Island champion. And he lost routinely to Joachim Johansson, 6-2 6-3. It's true that Srichaphan has so many optional events that this costs him only 75 points; he may well keep his current #15 spot. But he can't possibly move up. Johansson hasn't quite clinched an Open seed, but he's getting close.

Rounding out the seeds who lost in early action is #13 Andrei Pavel, who has reason to regret the fast court and the wind as he lost a hum-dinger to Ivo Karlovic. It's ironic, given that for much of the year Karlovic was winning matches only by winning tiebreaks, to note that only one of the sets was settled by tiebreak, and Karlovic lost that set! He advanced 6-4 6-7 6-2. And that may well cost Pavel a Top 16 seed at the U. S. Open; he came in at #17, but his lead over Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Kiefer is small. And #15 Robredo was the first seed to advance on this day; he beat one of those players who could only be in the Olympics, Algeria's Lamine Ouahab, 6-3 6-4.

Also advancing was Carlos Moya, but you wonder how much he'll have left for later action. He and Thomas Enqvist fought a seemingly-endless battle, with the #3 seed finally prevailing 7-6 6-7 9-7.

Also going overtime was Argentine backup player Agustin Calleri, who wouldn't even be here if so many players above him hadn't withdrawn, but he still managed to beat Karol Beck 2-6 6-3 8-6.

Argentine ended up having three players withdraw, and David Nalbandian pulled out so late that he was replaced with another player who was already on the grounds. And they were close to the bottom of the barrel by then. Nalbandian's replacement was Frederic Niemeyer, who did surprisingly well against Taylor Dent but finally lost 6-2 3-6 6-4.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the German tennis federation can't seem to keep its tournaments strong. You can add a little more egg to their faces: Having broken their own rules by adding Florian Mayer to their team (while omitting their two eligible female players), they watched him lose to a much weaker opponent, Tomas Berdych, 6-3 7-5.

If Ivan Ljubicic can hit the Top 25 this week, he is assured one of the top 24 seeds at the U. S. Open. He might need only one more win after his 6-3 6-4 win over Sargis Sargsian.

If you had been asked to guess which American would be the fastest to finish his match, would you have guessed Vincent Spadea? We wouldn't have. But he posted the biggest blowout in the event so far, beating Jurgen Melzer 6-0 6-1.

Spadea's win meant that all American singles players made the second round. Their luck in doubles wasn't so good. Their top pair, the Bryan Twins, blew out Marat Safin and Mikhail Youzhny 6-1 6-2. But the serves of Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, as expected, weren't equal to the pure doubles skills of #5 seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes; the Indian pair beat the Americans 7-6 6-3.

Only two seeds were involved in later matches; both involved amazingly long struggles. Top seed Roger Federer seemed to be cruising against Nikolay Davydenko until, suddenly, he wasn't. He dug himself a hole to start the second set, dug out of it, dug in again (getting more and more wound up the whole time) -- and then finally settled down to win 6-3 5-7 6-1. #10 seed Nicolas Massu produced an identical scoreline for two sets against Gustavo Kuerten. He didn't even have an easy third set. But he advanced 6-3 5-7 6-4.

After all his troubles last year, it's amazing to see that Fabrice Santoro is contending for the Top 30 again this year. He was and remains #32, but he gave himself a little more breathing room with a 6-2 6-1 win over Filippo Volandri.

For a country with a killer Davis Cup team, Australia isn't having much fun in singles here. Lleyton Hewitt of course didn't play. And now Mark Philippoussis is out 3-6 6-0 6-1 to Olivier Rochus, who once again gave evidence of his liking for fast courts. (At least in singles.) And speaking of guys who like fast courts despite a game that seems suited for clay, Arnaud Clement took out Nicolas Lapentti 7-6 6-2.

Younes El Aynaoui, in his first match back after his long injury, was simply dreadful. This time, he was at least competitive. But he's out, Dominik Hrbaty beat him 6-3 6-4. And El Aynaoui ended up with a shoulder problem, forcing him to pull out of the doubles.

That was rather the story of the evening, in fact. In singles, in the absence of Lucky Losers, they pulled in players from the doubles when people withdrew. Tough to do in doubles, since you need two players from the same country. So we ended up with two teams advancing when their opponents couldn't play. Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov were the beneficiaries of the Moroccans' withdrawal. The other team to bail out was a much more significant pairing: World #1 Jonas Borkman's pulled stomach muscle forced him to withdraw, allowing Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic to advance.

Bjorkman's non-Olympic partner Todd Woodbridge did much better; he and Wayne Arthurs took out Jiri Novak and Tomas Berdych (another team created by Olympic rules; this might have been quite interesting with Radek Stepanek in Berdych's place) 6-4 6-3. Other seeds to advance included #6 Etlis and Rodriguez, 6-3 6-4 winners over Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo; #7 seeds Damm and Suk, who topped the Greek team 6-1 6-3; and #8 Erlich and Ram, who beat Sweden's other team, Enqvist and Soderling, 7-5 6-3.

Spain's second doubles team ended up with a conflict of interest. Rafael Nadal is here only for doubles. Carlos Moya is interested mostly in singles. Any surprise that they lost 7-6 6-1 to Sa and Saretta? At least it eliminated Nadal's excuse for not playing the U. S. Open....

Washington: Uncommitment List
Is it just us, or is Sjeng Schalken showing signs of burnout? The Dutch don't seem to want to use him in Davis Cup. He skipped the Olympics. And now he's looking dead at Washington.

Schalken, the #3 seed, was the first top player in action, and made his way out the door very quickly indeed. It's listed as an injury. Gilles Muller topped him 6-1 1-0.

The next match went far toward making up for the speed of that one. Schalken's countryman Raemon Sluiter, forced out of the Olympics by the Dutch Federation, picked up at least a few points and some cash by beating Todd Martin in three tiebreaks.

The contest for the #6 ranking is getting to be scorching hot. Lleyton Hewitt's 6-1 6-2 win over Kenneth Carlsen tied him with Andre Agassi; they're ten points behind Juan Carlos Ferrero. And as many as two of them could overtake Tim Henman and earn the #4 U. S. Open seed, though Hewitt needs a title here to do it.

The schedule in Washington is apparently intended to assure that no one is awake for the late night matches. Or maybe they want to promote bad line calls. It doesn't help that the day's fourth match was another three setter: Alejandro Falla edged Justin Gimelstob 3-6 6-4 6-3. That meant that the final matches would not be complete until it was nearly time for the Olympics to start up again. We will have to cover the remaining Washington results tomorrow.

Women's Match of the Day

Olympics - First Round
Alicia Molik def. Elena Dementieva (4) 4-6 6-0 6-3

Evidently being a Top 25 player has gone to Alicia Molik's head. She's finally decided to go out there and pound her opponents.

The wind probably helped, too; Molik can hit -- and serve -- through it. But imagine Dementieva's knuckle balls fluttering in that wind. Sure, they might do funny things before bouncing -- but even more than usual will go into the net, and Molik could sit on the rest.

And so we had our first big upset. Dementieva wasn't actually the first seed to fall; Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi was the earliest casualty. But that wasn't news; this court is fast, which is bad news for Pistolesi to begin with, and she's hurt anyway. The surprise would have been had the Israeli won. Whereas Dementieva was fine as far as anyone knew.

It's still a little early to say what this means. We know that Dementieva will stay at her current #6, though she has a lot to defend in the next five weeks; this could cost her by the end of September. As for Molik, she's already at a career high of #23, and chances are quite good that this will gain her another spot. And, of course, she inherits Dementieva's draw -- which is quite nice indeed, since the first seed she would face is Silvia Farina Elia, who is slumping and who doesn't like hardcourts much. If Molik can win that match and reach the quarterfinal, she might well hit the Top 20.

Wherever she ends up, she has her second Top Ten win in her last three tournaments. And she won the other tournament, where there were no Top Ten players for her to face. She really doesn't seem ready to stop climbing.

Men's Match of the Day

Olympics - First Round
Nicolas Massu (10) def. Gustavo Kuerten 6-3 5-7 6-4

Officially, this isn't an upset. Massu was the seed, and Kuerten wasn't. Still, there are reasons to question that.

For starters, Kuerten was the top unseeded player. Based on this week's rankings, in fact, he should have been seeded; he came in ranked #20, ahead of Fernando Gonzalez (who earned the last seed) at #21. Massu was only a little higher (#14), and most of those points are on clay. Most of Kuerten's titles lately have been on hardcourts. Add it all up, and it's hard to see Massu as the actual favorite.

Favorite or not, he's through. Which is important in a couple of ways. First, this win combined with the losses by Srichaphan and Pavel and Chela means that Massu is guaranteed to be Top 15 when the Olympics are over. Indeed, he's currently only 65 points behind #13 Marat Safin, meaning that he has a genuine shot at the #12 U. S. Open seed.

Arguably, though, the result is bigger for Kuerten. Once again, he fails to win a long match -- something that used to be his specialty. He loses any chance of a Top 16 seed at the U. S. Open. He may even fall out of the Top 20. As of now, he's only 10 points ahead of Fernando Gonzalez, and only 58 ahead of Dominik Hrbaty. Four other active players are within 120 points of him. Given what those six players have in their optional five, none of them as individuals have particularly good odds of overtaking the Brazilian. But his chances of staying ahead of the all look pretty poor.

Once again, Kuerten's story seems to be "One step forward, one step back."

bandabou
Aug 18th, 2004, 10:40 AM
Olympics: Mounting Evidence
If one match didn't prove it, two matches surely must. Justine Henin-Hardenne is clearly back. Whether she's 100% we don't know. But we can say this: She beat Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-2 6-1. A very good sign -- even if it means that Vento-Kabchi once again falls short of the Top 30. Next up for the top seed will be Nicole Pratt, a 1-6 7-6 6-2 winner over Tathiana Garbin.

Anastasia Myskina wasn't nearly as dominant; perhaps she's feeling the effects of three straight weeks on the court. She beat Kristina Brandi -- admittedly a player who is very happy on fast hardcourts -- 6-2 3-6 6-4.

That was a token of a day session in which all seeds in action advanced, though often with difficulty. The easiest result was surely that of #12 seed Karolina Sprem, who topped Angelique Widjaja 6-3 6-1. Also through in straight sets is #8 Ai Sugiyama, who topped Tatiana Perebiynis 7-5 6-4, though Sugiyama's hopes of hitting the Top Ten are looking increasingly faint.

#5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, however, once again had much more trouble than she should have had, finally beating Akiko Morigami 7-6 6-2. #10 Patty Schnyder had an even harder time, barely getting past Daniela Hantuchova 3-6 6-1 6-4. Topping them all in the unexpected difficulties department was Francesca Schiavone. Yoon Jeong Cho was a very good hardcourt player before she hurt herself, but she's been struggling desperately since. The Korean lost, but she actually won more games than Schiavone; the Italian advanced 2-6 7-6 6-4.

It looks as if Maja Matevzic's opening win was a bit of an optical illusion, though. Matevzic, playing only her second match back from injury, was double bagelled by #6 seed Venus Williams.

We have to offer a correction to one of yesterday's scores. The first word we heard was that Katarina Srebotnik had upset Maria Sanchez Lorenzo. The second scoreline we received was the reverse. Usually we expect corrected scorelines to be right, so we followed that. This time the first impulse was the correct one: It was Srebotnik who advanced. Not that it mattered, really, since Srebotnik on Tuesday lost 7-5 6-4 to Alicia Molik. That set up the only Round of Sixteen match that will feature two unseeded players; Molik will take on Lisa Raymond, who upset #14 seed Silvia Farina Elia 6-1 6-2 -- Raymond's first Top 30 win since beating Venus Williams at the Australian Open. There will be a lot on the line in that third round match, too: If Molik wins it, she will almost certainly be Top 20 (possibly replacing Farina Elia), but if Raymond wins, she will likely be seeded at the U. S. Open.

Shortly after that result came through, #16 seed Chanda Rubin kept herself in the race for a Top 20 spot with a tough 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over Cara Black.

The big question for Amelie Mauresmo is usually how her head will hold up. We don't know how aware she is of the fact that the #1 ranking is on the line. We do know that she wants an Olympic medal very much -- even more than a Slam. Given her history, that would lead you to expect a quick swoon. Not so far. She demolished Maria Elena Camerin 6-0 6-1.

We finally get to start scratching players out of the contest for the #10 ranking. The first player eliminated is #7 seed Paola Suarez, who fought another of her long, wearing duels with Fabiola Zuluaga, who along with Vento-Kabchi represents Suarez's primary competition for "Best South American Player." Zuluaga has won more than her share of their matches, too -- including this one, advancing 4-6 7-6 6-1. Zuluaga, #27 coming in, will hit the Top 25 (probably #24), knocking Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi to no better than #25.

Despite losing, Suarez will probably still gain a ranking spot, moving from #15 to #14. That's because another Top Ten candidate, Nadia Petrova, is also out, losing to Mary Pierce 6-2 6-1. Petrova had enough points to defend from New Haven that she will lose a ranking spot.

The other late singles match also cost us a seed, meaning that six were eliminated in the first two rounds: Eleni Daniilidou beat #15 Magdalena Maleeva 2-6 6-4 6-4.

Three first round doubles matches remained on the schedule, all involving seeded teams. The first was surprisingly routine; the Swiss pickup team of Patty Schnyder and Myriam Casanova -- which, frankly, seemed the weakest of all the seeds -- beat the once-strong team of Janette Husarova and Daniela Hantuchova 6-3 6-4. Canadian Open champions Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama had a much harder time with Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina, but finally advanced 5-7 7-5 6-3. For the moment, Sugiyama remains #10 in the world, though a title here could move her as high as #6. Asagoe, #37 coming in, should gain at least two spots. But this probably means that Myskina won't hit the doubles Top 20. Action closed with Australian #4 seeds Alicia Molik and Rennae Stubbs beating the Estonian team of Maret Ani (who is Top 50 in doubles) and Kaia Kanepi (who isn't even Top 300) 6-4 6-1.

As of right now, we calculate the doubles Top 15 as follows (note that there has been, as yet, no action of significance in the contest for #1, and won't be until either Ruano Pascual or Suarez loses).

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4866*
2..(1) SUAREZ .............4844*
3..(3) Black ............. 3287
4..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3181*
5..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3017*
6..(6) STUBBS .............2919*
7..(7) Shaughnessy ....... 2835
8..(8) Petrova ........... 2769
9..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2708*
10.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2704*
11.(11) Huber ............. 2234
12.(12) RAYMOND ........... 2125*
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1718
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1703
15.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1381*

Cincinnati: Less Than Qualified
It was not a good idea to have played qualifying at Cincinnati.

Three of Tuesday's first four singles matches involved players from qualifying; they all lost. So did the doubles qualifiers; Leanne Baker and Francesca Lubiani went down 6-4 6-4 to Elena Tatarkova and Meilen Tu, the #2 seeds who are actually the top pair in the draw after Milagros Sequera pulled out.

In singles, things started with #5 Denisa Chladkova beating qualifier Yuliana Fedak 6-4 6-4 at about the same time as Amy Frazier clinched her Top 25 ranking (and likely #24 seed at the U. S. Open) with a 6-2 7-5 win over Lucky Loser Stephanie Foretz. After a brief break while Camille Pin got sick in the heat and retired trailing Selima Sfar 6-4 (meaning that Pin will again fall just short of the Top 100), Mara Santangelo took out qualifier Severine Beltrame 4-6 6-3 7-5.

The early evening match continued the trend: Lilia Osterloh, who was given a wildcard because she comes from Ohio but who has been justifying it with very good results lately, took another step back toward the Top 100 with a 6-2 6-3 win over qualifier Adriana Serra Zanetti.

The last match of the day finally reversed the trend: qualifier Shuai Peng, who finally won her first WTA match last week, backed it up with a 6-3 6-3 upset of #6 seed Jill Craybas.

Olympics: It's All In Your Head
According to the August 6, 2004 issue of New Scientist, fatigue is all in the mind. Muscles, when exercised, produce a compound called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Once enough builds up in the blood, the brain experiences fatigue. What's more, inject IL-6 directly into a rested person, and the subject starts to feel fatigued -- and performs as if fatigued in tests of physical ability.

No wonder they talk about "brain cramps."

How else do you explain what happened to Juan Carlos Ferrero, for instance? He was up a set and a break on Mardy Fish. It looked as if that would be it. Then -- he started double faulting. Fish got the break back, less by his own efforts than by Ferrero's, and from then on didn't look back, making the Round of Sixteen 4-6 7-6 6-4. With Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi so close on his heels, odds are that Ferrero will fall from #7 to #8 in the world. And a third of his points will come off at the U. S. Open in three weeks. Fish is no more than two wins away from a U. S. Open seed, and one would probably do it.

That was the shock of the day session. By no means was it the Shock of the Day; that came when Tomas Berdych topped Roger Federer 4-6 7-5 7-5. But let's finish the day results first.

We could pretty well sum them up by saying "The big servers won." It was close to universal. The only exception came as #8 seed Sebastien Grosjean beat Wayne Arthurs 7-6 6-3. Other than that, it was bam! bam! goodbye! Max Mirnyi, who last week fell out of the Top 50, seems intent on a return; he took out Jarkko Nieminen 6-3 6-4. Ivo Karlovic once again managed to win without depending entirely on tiebreaks; he took out Arnaud Clement 7-6 4-6 6-4. Taylor Dent again brought home Dominik Hrbaty's problems in big events; the American advanced 7-6 6-3. Feliciano Lopez would later repeat that score as he beat #9 seed Marat Safin. And a battle of big bombers produced a variation on the theme: Ivan Ljubicic took out Joachim Johansson 7-6 6-4.

It was pretty shocking, recording all those results in the draw. We had two whole quarters done (at least the day session results) before we finally came to a seed who was in the third round. That seed was Nicolas Kiefer, who eliminated the last Olympic Special Entry Rules Charity Case, Cyprus's Marcos Baghdatis, 6-2 3-6 6-3. Also making it through (in the bottom quarter, which proved much the most seed-heavy) was #16 seed Fernando Gonzalez, a 7-5 6-2 winner over Hyung-Taik Lee.

The Great Argentine Jinx shows no signs of ending. Having had their top three singles players withdraw, they found themselves with only one player in the second round -- and then he withdrew too. Igor Andreev made the round of sixteen when Agustin Calleri pulled out with a strained left abdominal muscle.

The day's other minor upset came as Mikhail Youzhny topped Jiri Novak 6-4 6-3.

The evening matches went much better for seeds; four out of five advanced (Federer being the only exception). Having survived a marathon in the first round, #3 seed Carlos Moya had a much easier second match against Olivier Rochus, advancing 6-0 7-6. #10 Nicolas Massu, who had a very nasty draw, won his second straight match over a Top 25 player, beating Vincent Spadea 7-6 6-2. Spadea will still get one of the top 24 seeds at the U. S. Open; Massu can claim the #12 seed if he wins two more rounds.

Two is also the magic number for Tommy Robredo: If he can do that, he'll be one of the Top 16 seeds. And he's in Federer's quarter, where he is the only seed still standing. It looked as if Fabrice Santoro had him dead to rights, but the Spaniard came back to win 1-6 6-3 6-4. Santoro still looks safe for a U. S. Open seed.

Then there is Andy Roddick, who had the day's marathon win. He edged Tommy Haas 4-6 6-3 9-7. He now becomes the obvious favorite -- though also the obvious target in the half of the draw where most of the seeds still survive.

The doubles was almost as wild as the singles; three of eight seeded teams fell. Most amazing of all was Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler's 7-6 6-3 win over #2 seeds Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge. Also exiting were #6 Eltis and Rodriguez of Argentina, who lost in straight sets to Gonzalez and Massu of Chile, and #7 Damm and Suk of the Czech Republic, who lost 7-6 6-7 7-5 to the Croatian team of Ancic and Ljubicic. The other big match came as #3 seeds Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro took out Daniel Nestor (the 2000 gold medalist) and Frederic Niemeyer 6-3 6-7 6-3. Advancing more easily were the Bryan Twins; the top seeds took out Mirnyi and Voltchkov of Belarus 6-3 6-3. #4 Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett also advanced in straight sets, beating Brazil's Sa and Saretta 6-3 6-5. #5 Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes added to the misery of Roger Federer's day, beating Federer and Yves Allegro 6-2 7-6. And Israel's #8 seeds Erlich and Ram topped Russians Andreev and Davydenko 6-4 6-1.

Washington: To Finish
We've finally figured out Washington. The secret is, they don't have a day session. The whole thing is designed to run till 11:00 local time or so.

And when the last two matches are both marathons, it can be much, much later. And so it was on Monday: #4 seed Robby Ginepri barely edged Alex Corretja 7-6 4-6 6-3, while #8 Dmitry Tursunov finally got past Olivier Patience 5-7 6-4 6-4.

That means, as we noted yesterday, that there may be less than three hours' gap between the end of play at Washington and the start of play at the Olympics! This week, we will try to check in at 0400 Greenwich and summarize what has happened to that point -- but unless they actually have some quick matches from now on, chances are that we will have to continue to split results from Washington across two days.

Tuesday's action opened with something of a feeling of nostalgia: A lot of the players haven't been around much lately. Kristian Pless -- who was out for all of 2003 after Indian Wells -- showed up with only three ATP matches this year, all losses; he broke his losing streak with a tough 6-3 3-6 7-6 win over wildcard Brian Baker. Harel Levy has been almost as invisible, after reaching the Top 40 a couple of years ago; he qualified here, and edged fellow qualifier Nenad Zimonjic 6-7 7-5 6-3.

The third early match featured an even more veteran veteran: Wayne Ferreira, playing one of the last events of his career, lost yet another three setter, falling to #6 seed Alberto Martin 4-6 6-4 7-6.

After that, we finally got some fairly quick matches. Jan-Michael Gambill set aside his year-long soon at least for a moment as he beat Stefan Koubek 7-5 6-4. Qualifier Michel Kratochvil also broke out of a slump to top Jeff Salzenstein 6-4 7-6. And #7 seed Cyril Saulnier beat countryman Anthony Dupuis 6-3 6-4.

That brought up the Big Event: Andre Agassi, the top seed, against Paul Goldstein. Those looking for excitement in the match were probably disappointed; Agassi advanced 6-4 6-2. Still, that moves Agassi into a tie with Juan Carlos Ferrero for the #6 ranking -- and Agassi is active and Ferrero is out.

Paul-Henri Mathieu, meanwhile, was having perhaps his best match of the year, topping wildcard Daniel Yoo 6-2 6-2.

In a late evening match, Gilles Elseneer edged qualifier Yeu-Tzuoo Wang 2-6 7-6 6-4.

Singles action closed with the day's only upset, as the young Chilean Adrian Garcia topped #5 seed James Blake, who is obviously still struggling to recover his form, 6-1 6-4.

Women's Match of the Day

Olympics - First Round
Eleni Daniilidou def. Magdalena Maleeva (15) 2-6 6-4 6-4

Maybe Eleni Daniilidou's problem is that she's working too hard trying to become a hardcourt player.

Consider the record: From mid-2001, when she came back from surgery, to the end of 2003,
her record on traditional surfaces was 30-22, including 17-7 on grass (her clay numbers were pulled down badly by a bunch of losses early in her recovery; she had a winning record in 2002-2003 on clay). On non-Rebound Ace hardcourt, though, she was only 20-19, with fully seven of those wins coming at two unusually weak events; she had six first round hardcourt losses.

This year, the picture is completely different. She's 2-3 on clay, 0-2 on grass -- and 17-8 on hardcourt! Even taking out Rebound Ace, which is a very different kettle of rubber residue, she's 10-6 on DecoTurf. What's more amazing is that all four of her Top 30 wins have been on hardcourt: Over Suarez at Auckland, which she won (though that's Rebound Ace), over Capriati at Dubai, over Capriati at Miami, and now this. She also beat Lisa Raymond at San Diego. Very strange indeed. Has she started hitting a two-handed backhand without us noticing it?

Whatever the explanation, this is a big win for her. She came in with her ranking all the way down to #35. This will probably put her back in the Top 30; it will certainly get her a U. S. Open seed. And she of course is making herself very popular with the Greek fans.

Maleeva had a shot (along with a half dozen other women) at making the Top 20 here. The loss means she will fall at least two spots short of that. Still, she'll be seeded in the Top 24 at the U. S. Open, and after that comes the indoor season, when she can be expected to earn most of her points.

Men's Match of the Day

Olympics - Second Round
Tomas Berdych def. Roger Federer (1) 4-6 7-5 7-5

This is starting to look like a conspiracy. Is someone paying off Roger Federer to assure that he won't clinch the #1 ranking until at least the indoor season?

It really did seem as if nothing was working for the Swiss. He couldn't get his serve in -- he ended up with ten double faults and only 49% of serves in. But what really hurt was his ground game. DecoTurf is probably the worst surface for Federer's shot mechanics, but who would have dreamed he would win only a third of the points on Berdych's second serve, and win only two of his seven break points? It was, to not exactly coin a phrase, ugly.

Of course, it doesn't mean much in the short term. Federer was and remains #1 in the rankings; he was and remains #1 in the Race. But with Andy Roddick through, if barely, Federer -- for the second event in a row -- has failed to put another nail in Roddick's coffin. Federer's lead in the Race is not quite 300 Race points, but this event is big enough that Roddick could still gain some ground here. All told, Roddick could still pick up about 600 Race points this year (about 60 points at the Olympics, after other points come off; 200 at the U. S. Open, 100 at each of the fall Masters, and 150 at the Masters Cup). And all of those events except Paris are on hardcourt (indoor or out), and even Paris is on carpet -- good Roddick surfaces. Federer may not be trying to make things more interesting. He's succeeding even so.

Berdych, of course, scores the biggest win of his life. But it's still only the Round of Sixteen at an optional event. The 19-year-old (he turns 20 in a month) will gain a few spots, but he needs more to really move up.

Missing Pieces
You've probably noticed one of our staffers slipping in gripes about the Olympics. "Bad for the rankings. Unbalanced field. Ought to be an exhibition."

For the record, he claims it's a scientist's reaction to the lack of a rule: "There needs to be a universal system. If there is one tournament which lets players in based on nation of origin rather than rankings, there should be many. If there is one round robin, there should be many. No one-offs!"

But how severe is the problem? How many players missed because of Olympic rules?

Now that is worth looking at. The following list shows all men currently in the Top 60 who did not make the Olympic main draw. We list their rankings, their names, and their reason for not being in the field.

#3: Coria -- injured
#6: Agassi -- ineligible (hasn't played Davis Cup)
#8: Hewitt -- elected not to play
#9: Nalbandian -- injured
#10: Gaudio -- injured
#25: Schalken -- elected not to play
#30: Canas -- Not one of the top four Argentines
#34: Verdasco -- Not one of the top four Spaniards
#40: Verkerk -- withdrew (in protest?)
#42: Labadze -- injured
#44: Costa -- Not one of the top four Spaniards
#48: Nadal -- Not one of the top four Spaniards. Played in doubles
#51: Ferrer -- Not one of the top four Spaniards
#54: Ginepri -- Not one of the top four American
#55: Llodra -- Not one of the top for Frenchmen at the time. Played in doubles
#57: A. Martin -- Not one of the top four Spaniards

That's a total of sixteen players -- about a quarter of the total. Their reasons are a varied lot: Four (Coria, Nalbandian, Gaudio, Labadze) were injured, with three of the four, oddly, being Argentines. Four (Agassi, Hewitt, Schalken, Verkerk) elected not to play -- Agassi by not making himself eligible, Hewitt and Schalken by playing Davis Cup but deciding against the Olympics, and Verkerk pulling out after Raemon Sluiter was booted off the team. The other eight (Canas, Verdasco, Costa, Nadal, Ferrer, Ginepri, Llodra, Martin) were rendered ineligible by Olympic rules which permit only four players per country. Clearly that last is the overwhelming reason for players to be absent.

Turning to the Top 60 women, we find that even more -- fully a third -- were not in the Olympic draw. The list and the reasons:

#4: Davenport -- elected not to play
#5: Clijsters -- injured (but had said she would not play)
#7: Capriati -- injured (and not eligible, not that anyone paid attention)
#8: Sharapova -- Not one of the top four Russians when entries closed
#9: Zvonareva -- Not one of the top four Russians when entries closed
#11: Serena Williams -- injured (and not eligible, not that anyone paid attention)
#24: Frazier -- Not one of the top four Americans
#25: Bovina -- Not one of the top four Russians
#26: Likhovtseva -- Not one of the top four Russians (is playing doubles)
#30: Golovin -- Not one of the top three Frenchwomen when entries closed (and the French wasted their fourth spot on Testud)
#32: Shaughnessy -- Not one of the top four Americans (and injured)
#34: Dokic -- has been shuffling countries, and besides, she's being moody
#38: Loit -- Not one of the top three Frenchwomen when entries closed (and the French wasted their fourth spot on Testud)
#41: Safina -- Not one of the top four Russians
#45: Pennetta -- ranked too low when entries closed
#52: Barna -- excluded by Olympic federation
#54: Chladkova -- ranked too low when entries closed
#56: Bartoli -- Not one of the top three Frenchwomen when entries closed (and the French wasted their fourth spot on Testud)
#57: Parra Santonja -- Not one of the top four Spaniards when entries closed
#60: Kapros -- injured

To again sum up our reasons, and to slightly amplify while we're at it:

Elected not to play: 1 (Davenport)
Spited by national federation: 1 (Barna)
Head Case: 1 (Dokic)
Injured: 4 (Clijsters, Capriati, Serena Williams, Kapros)
Not one of her country's Top However many: 11 (Sharapova, Zvonareva, Frazier, Bovina, Likhovtseva, Golovin, Shaughnessy, Loit, Safina, Bartoli, Parra Santonja)
Ranked too low when entries closed: 2 (Pennetta, Chladkova)

Thus we find that, on the women's side, over one-sixth of the Top 60 players were omitted because they weren't in their country's Top Four-or-so. Not an overwhelming number, but not trivial, either.

Combining the men's and women's numbers, we find the following for reasons why players did not play:

Not one of the country's However Many: 19
Injured: 8
Elected not to play: 6
Ranked too low when entries closed: 2
Spited by national federation: 1

Thus more than half of the players who didn't play were excluded by the special Olympic rules.

One thing that seems clear is that opinion in tennis is shifting. Quite a few top players skipped Sydney 2000, even though it was really more convenient, schedule-wise, than Athens. This year, only four men and two women flatly decided to sit things out. We see more than that sit out Wimbledon each year; whatever Marat Safin or our math guy think, clearly they Olympics are big to the players. The real problem is the players who can't get in because of the maximum-of-four rule. (And we didn't even look at the doubles, where the rules pinch even more, particularly for the Czechs and the Australians; a country's best doubles teams will not generally consist of its best singles players!) A severe defect? In terms of awarding medals, probably not (though the women's tournament is missing five of the top ten, two of them because of the limitations on team size. That does distort the draw!). In terms of letting the best players into the Olympics -- well, it all depends on what you define as fairness.

bandabou
Aug 19th, 2004, 02:37 PM
Olympics: Repeat As Unneeded
Yesterday's men's news contained a reference to an article in New Scientist about fatigue and how it is perceived by the brain. The primary topic of that particular magazine was brain function and ways it can be influenced, but by a curious coincidence it had another short item about sports -- specifically, injury and how it comes about. Two mathematicians have been modelling the motions used by cricket players in their sport. Most of the essential motions could be accomplished in a variety of basic ways. Each of the basic ways had a certain number of minor variants which could be interchanged at will, and probably will be interchanged by particular players as they play. Some operations had a large number of variants, others only a small number or none at all. The modellers (Rudi Penne and Henri Laurie) labelled the latter "reduced redundancy" operations.

They then examined the actual motions used by a pair of real cricket players. And found that the one who used a reduced redundancy motion was prone to injury; the one who used a method featuring a larger variety of options was not injury-prone.

It could be coincidence. It's only two guys, and it's cricket. But it's interesting. Think of Lindsay Davenport: She herself says that her left wrist is her achilles heel. And what is the shot she uses in the most unvarying way? Her backhand, of course.

Now think of Venus Williams. The big, unvaried strides. The highly predictable second serve. The strong but not very varied groundstrokes. And, of course, the constant injuries.

Hm.

We don't know if all the nagging injuries were hurting Venus. The errors certainly were. As usual when Venus plays, she was forcing the issue -- but, more often than not, the player who suffered was Venus herself. In 20 games, she produced 51 errors, against only 23 winners, and though opponent Mary Pierce's ratio was also pretty horrid (34 errors to 17 winners), it was enough to dump the defending champion 6-4 6-4.

That means that Venus will not be returning to the Top Ten, and won't be overtaking sister Serena; the best she can do is stay at her current #12.

And it's just possible it will be lower still, because Ai Sugiyama is still around. She beat Karolina Sprem 7-6 6-1, and if she can win two more matches (either by reaching the final or by taking the bronze medal), she could be Top Ten.

There is no question in the case of Alicia Molik: She is in the Top 20; she beat Lisa Raymond 6-4 6-4.

Molik could still move up, but she'll have a hard time catching Francesca Schiavone. The Italian has all but assured her #17 ranking -- and hence #16 U. S. Open seed -- following her 6-7 6-1 6-3 win over Fabiola Zuluaga.

The #1 ranking isn't close to being settled yet, though; Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne are still going at it full-bore. Henin-Hardenne had no trouble with Nicole Pratt, advancing 6-1 6-0; Mauresmo was almost as efficient against a much tougher opponent, beating Chanda Rubin 6-3 6-1.

We don't know who will get the #8 U. S. Open seed yet, either, though we know it will be a Russian. Svetlana Kuznetsova took the lead over Vera Zvonareva with a 6-3 6-3 win over Patty Schnyder -- but that was with Kuznetsova having won three rounds at the Olympics and Zvonareva not even having started yet.

The last singles match was the big one for the locals: Anastasia Myskina against Eleni Daniilidou. It proved closer that one might have expected -- Daniilidou, in fact, went up 4-2 in the first set -- but Myskina kept her hopes for the #2 ranking alive 7-5 6-4.

The first two doubles matches did more to taunt us than settle anything, since they involved Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez -- usually partners, but here contending for the #1 ranking. Both advanced, meaning that we're no closer to knowing who will be #1 next week. Suarez and Patricia Tarabini, the #7 seeds, beat Akiko Morigami and Saori Obata 6-4 6-2; Ruano Pascual and Conchita Martinez, the #2 seeds, beat a rather tougher Italian team, Tathiana Garbin and Roberta Vinci, 6-3 6-3.

That set the tone for a day on which seeded teams generally did very well. #4 seeds Alicia Molik and Rennae Stubbs made the quarterfinal with a 6-4 6-2 win over Castano and Zuluaga; #5 Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama were not far behind with a 6-3 7-5 win over Kostanic and Sprem (yes, Sugiyama beat Sprem twice in one day); and #8 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian took out Farina Elia and Schiavone 6-1 7-6. Then things started to break down a little. The other Chinese team, Yan and Zheng, upset #6 seeds Casanova and Schnyder -- the weakest seeded pair, no matter what the rankings say -- 6-3 6-3. Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond didn't even have to play; Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce -- both still around in the singles -- pulled out of the doubles; Mauresmo cited an allergy.

The real shock came later, though, as top seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva, widely regarded as the favorites, once again managed to lose a big event. Sandrine Testud is a wreck in singles, but she's playing reasonably well in doubles; she and Nathalie Dechy beat the top seeds 2-6 7-6 6-3. That raises a real possibility that Rennae Stubbs could take the #5 spot from Likhovtseva -- important, because, in that case, Black/Stubbs and not Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva would be the #2 U. S. Open seeds.

We currently calculate the doubles Top 25 as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4866*
2..(1) SUAREZ .............4844*
3..(3) Black ............. 3287
4..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3181
5..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3017
6..(6) STUBBS .............2919*
7..(7) Shaughnessy ....... 2835
8..(8) Petrova ........... 2769
9..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2708*
10.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2704*
11.(11) Huber ............. 2234
12.(12) RAYMOND ........... 2129*
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1718
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1703*
15.(15) Bartoli ........... 1381
16.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
17.(17) Tanasugarn .........1315
18.(18) PRATT ............. 1230
19.(19) Vento-Kabchi .......1228
20.(22) MYSKINA ........... 1144
21.(20) CASANOVA ...........1141
22.(24) VINCI ............. 1129.5
23.(26) SUN ............... 1087*
24.(25) Loit ...............1082
25.(21) MOLIK ............. 1078*

Cincinnati: Covert Methods
In our coverage of Monday's action at Cincinnati, we noted that Adriana Serra Zanetti had qualified for the event, and sister Antonella had not, and so Adriana would have the chance to finally improve her pitiful singles record of the past few years, while Antonella was out of it.

There is theory. There is practice. The above was theory. In practice, Adriana lost her opener, and Antonella is here as a Lucky Loser. And, yes, she won, 7-6 6-2 over Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Laura Granville also seems to be finding some life again. Having made her first final last week at Vancouver, she beat Sandra Kleinova here 2-6 6-3 6-4. Also carrying over her success from Canada was Alina Jidkova, who beat Lindsay Lee-Waters 6-7 6-4 7-6.

Perhaps more surprising is Flavia Pennetta's result. Having flown in all the way from Sopot, where she won the title on clay, she topped Teryn Ashley 6-7 7-6 7-5.

Those were first round matches. The second round opened with only the second upset of the tournament: Selima Sfar knocked out #8 seed Marlene Weingartner 5-7 6-4 6-3. No such trouble in the second match, though: #3 seed Amy Frazier, one of the four Top 50 players in the field, took out Mashona Washington 6-4 6-3. #4 seed Marion Bartoli closed out the action with a nice easy 6-4 6-0 win over Mara Santangelo.

Olympics: Astra Nova
Maybe Tomas Berdych's win over Roger Federer wasn't all luck.

The problem with assessing players like Berdych is that they can develop so fast. We certainly didn't take him seriously. We can't recall anyone else doing so. But that's based on the Berdych of, say, two months ago. This current model seems to be a different player. He is, after all, only 19. He had only two ATP wins last year. This year didn't start much better -- only two ATP wins through Wimbledon. But he doubled that total in the weeks since, and now he's on the verge of doubling it again; he knocked off #15 seed Tommy Robredo 7-6 4-6 8-6. The loss means that Robredo will end up no better than #18, meaning that (barring further withdrawals) he won't he getting one of the top 16 U. S. Open seeds. But Berdych, #79 coming in (though lower in the Race, mostly because he has earned a lot of points in Challengers), will gain about a dozen places.

Maybe it was just a bad day for higher-ranked players. (Again.) Because Andy Roddick, the clear favorite once Roger Federer lost, is also out; he fell 6-4 6-4 to Fernando Gonzalez.

That leaves #3 Carlos Moya as the top seed still in the draw. Barely in. He had yet another marathon, edging Ivo Karlovic 4-6 7-6 6-4. And there really isn't much below him; the next seed still in the draw is #8 Sebastien Grosjean, who beat Feliciano Lopez 6-7 6-4 6-0.

It does look as if the U. S. Open seeds are set -- not the numbers, but the 32 guys who get them. Mardy Fish finally settled things with his 6-3 4-6 6-1 victory over Max Mirnyi. Roger Federer will be #1 and Andy Roddick #2. With Guillermo Coria out, Carlos Moya will be #3. We don't know with certainty who will be #4, but #4 through #8 will be Tim Henman, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, and David Nalbandian (assuming Nalbandian can play). #9-#12 will be Gaston Gaudio (if he can play), Rainer Schuettler, Grosjean, and either Marat Safin or Nicolas Massu (the latter needing one more win to make it; he played yet another three-setter, in which he edged Igor Andreev 6-3 6-7 6-4). #13-#16 will be Safin or Massu, Paradorn Srichaphan, Andrei Pavel, and either Robredo or Gonzalez -- barring a near-miracle from Taylor Dent, anyway. Dent had one of the day's easiest wins, beating Ivan Ljubicic 6-4 6-4; that puts the American firmly in the Top 25, but he needs at least two more wins to get into the Top 16.

We could still see guys from the #25-#32 group move up into the #17-#24 block, but as of right now, the players in that seeding tier are Robredo or Gonzalez, Nicolas Kiefer (who lost still another three-setter, 6-2 3-6 6-2 to Mikhail Youzhny), Gustavo Kuerten, Dominik Hrbaty, Dent, Ivan Ljubicic, and Vincent Spadea. Earning the #25-#32 seeds (if not higher) are Jiri Novak, Sjeng Schalken, Mario Ancic, Joachim Johansson, Guillermo Canas, Feliciano Lopez, Fish, and almost certainly Fabrice Santoro. Jonas Bjorkman is the #1 alternate.

The doubles is turning even more wild than the singles; they played the quarterfinal, and only one seeded team made it to the semifinal. That's the Indian team of Bhupathi and Paes, seeded #5, who upset #4 seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett 6-4 6-4. But the Bryan Twins, the top seeds, once again failed to win a big event; they fell to the Chilean team of Gonzalez and Massu 7-5 6-4. (Interesting to note that Gonzalez and Massu are the only players still alive in both singles and doubles.) #3 seeds Llodra and Santoro lost 9-7 in the third to Croatia's Ancic and Ljubicic, and the #8 seeds, Israel's Erlich and Ram, suffered a very surprising 2-6 6-2 6-2 loss to Germany's Kiefer and Schuettler.

Washington: I'll Show You!
Maybe the Dutch Tennis Federation was trying to motivate Raemon Sluiter. Sure, it cost them all representation at the Olympics, but at least they ended up with a quarterfinalist in the United States.

On an otherwise quiet day, Sluiter produced the only upset, taking out #6 seed Alberto Martin 7-6 5-7 7-6 (how's that for close)? The rest was routine: #2 seed Lleyton Hewitt beat Alejando Falla to move ahead of Juan Carlos Ferrero in the rankings and keep alive his hopes of reaching #5 (and hence being seeded #4 at the U. S. Open). #4 seed Robby Ginepri started slowly but managed to get his game in order to beat qualifier Harel Levy 4-6 6-2 6-1. And #7 seed Cyril Saulnier beat Gilles Elseneer 6-3 7-6.

We'll cover the doubles results, if anything big happens, tomorrow.

Women's Match of the Day

Olympics - Third Round
Alicia Molik def. Lisa Raymond 6-4 6-4

Here we go with Molik again. The way she's playing lately, she deserves it.

At Eastbourne, Molik told Daily Tennis that she felt she was almost ready to really move to the top of the game. And she was very motivated about the Olympics: It's not just representing your country," she says. "It's being there with every other athlete. It's a huge honor."

In Sydney four years ago, it was an honor she didn't prove worthy of. Ranked #100 at the time, she played, but only because of the Olympic rules and the paucity of strong Australians, and she lost first round. This year is different. In 2000, she was the #3 Australian in singles; today, she's #1.

And #1 with a bullet. It's been just two weeks since she hit the Top 25, at Stockholm. It didn't take her long to pick up another milestone: With this fairly routine win, she's now a Top 20 player. Odds are that she'll be #19 after this is over -- and her draw is still fairly nice; next up for her is Ai Sugiyama, a player who can't beat her with power; indeed, Molik, even before her big surge, beat the Japanese in their last meeting, at Amelia Island 2002. From a first round loser in 2000, it looks like Molik just might have a shot at a medal this year. Gold, probably not. Bronze, though, looks doable. It's been quite a while since Australia has had a female player with that potential. And she and Rennae Stubbs are looking pretty good in the doubles, too.

Lisa Raymond came in ranked #40; getting as far as she did should lift her to #36. We already know one seed is out of the U. S. Open. Chances are we'll lose at least one or two more. Probably not enough to get her an Open seed, but who knows?

Men's Match of the Day

Olympics - Third Round
Fernando Gonzalez (16) def. Andy Roddick (2) 6-4 6-4

As the old song says, "Do not let your chances like sunbeams pass you by, For you never miss the water till the well runs dry."

By the looks of things, Andy Roddick is going to be very thirsty very soon. Because he's once again blown a chance to gain on Roger Federer.

Blown it completely. This doesn't budge either his Race or his Entry total at all; he has too much in his fifth tournament. This was an 80 Race point event, and he earned only an eighth of that.

It was a strange match: Roddick got 75% of his first serves in, and hit 13 aces, and won 70% of first serve points, and 50% even on his second serve -- but he had his lapses. And Gonzalez capitalized very well, converting two of four break points against the guy who, last year, led the ATP in break points saved. And, even though Gonzalez's serve numbers were far less gaudy (less than half of first serves in), Roddick never broke, and earned only two break points. Gonzalez broke in the third game of the first set, and then in game nine of the second, and that was that.

And so Roddick remains #2 in both Race and Entry rankings. He's safe there, with a large margin in each. But the goal surely is not to stay where he is....

Gonzalez came in at #21. The win assures that he will be Top 20 after the Olympics. He still needs another couple of wins (or a couple of withdrawals) to earn a Top 16 seed at the U. S. Open -- but it's looking more and more possible.

August 18: Long Island - First Round
Nicolas Kiefer (WC) def. Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6 7-6(7-4) 6-3
At the time, we said, "Recently, paging idly through a math textbook, I encountered something called 'Mathieu Functions.' Don't worry -- I won't explain them. For the good and simple reason that I couldn't make heads or tails of them myself. All I know is that they solve Mathieu's Equation, and that Mathieu's Equation is a differential equation involving waves in elliptic cylindrical coordinates. (Translation: This isn't 'rocket science' -- rocket science, which properly should be called ballistics, is easy, at least if your computers are good enough. This -- urgh.) But it appears that it is Nicolas Kiefer, and not Paul-Henri Mathieu, who is solving the Mathieu Equation. Because Mathieu still can't seem to get started this year, and Kiefer is doing quite well, thank you. It starts to seem as if Kiefer is better for his long layoff. In proof of that assertion, we note that Kiefer is #64 in the ATP Race. Which may not sound like much, but remember, Kiefer didn't really start playing again until a few weeks ago. To pick up 79 Race points in the handful of tournaments Kiefer has played is highly impressive. It's a little more complicated than that, formally; Kiefer did play a few matches this spring (losing most of them). But lately -- starting at Halle, he beat Feliciano Lopez and Arnaud Clement and finally lost in the final to Roger Federer. At Indianapolis, he beat Kafelnikov and went on to the quarterfinal. He beat Sjeng Schalken at Los Angeles and went on to the semifinal. Of course, the usual caveats apply. It's only a first round match at a small event; it's not going to do anything for Kiefer's ranking. It still looks like a good sign. Not so for Mathieu, who last year made the quarterfinal with wins over Guillermo Coria and one Pete Sampras. That's not that many points -- but the way Mathieu has been playing lately, anything is big. This loss translates into a few more ranking spots down the drain." A year later, Kiefer is back in the Top 20 (though he now has to start defending). Mathieu continues to look like a train wreck, though.

August 19: Long Island - First Round
Agustin Calleri (6) def. Jan-Michael Gambill 6-4 7-5
At the time, we said, "It never gets better. First round at Los Angeles (to Michael Joyce!). First round at Montreal. First round at Cincinnati. Jan-Michael Gambill hasn't won a match since Indianapolis. And that's on hardcourts, historically his ideal surface! It's one of those things we can't explain. It just is. It's scary, too. Losing to Agustin Calleri doesn't help. Oh, Calleri has been having a terrific year. But it's all clay. Calleri has been all but invisible on hardcourts. He lost first round at both summer Masters. In fact, of all the players who will be seeded at the U. S. Open, only one (Martin Verkerk) had worse hardcourt results over the past year. Calleri hasn't won a hardcourt match since Miami, and has exactly three hardcourt wins all year. An ugly picture. Fortunately for Gambill, he wasn't defending enough to matter much, even given his current slide (he made the third round last year). But Gambill has fourth round points at the U. S. Open. Will he snap out of this in time to do any good? For Calleri, it probably qualifies as more of a moral victory: It's his first hardcourt Round of Sixteen since Indian Wells, and only his second of the year. It's not going to change his ranking all by itself; it's first round points at an optional event. And besides, he made the Round of Sixteen here last year also." A year later, Gambill continues to be in horrid form. But Calleri has been injured; his ranking has gone into the tank, too.

August 20: Long Island - Second Round
James Blake def. Tommy Robredo (3) 6-3 6-4
At the time, we said, "Time and again we've seen it: A player comes to an event with a lot to defend, doesn't worry about it too much, fails to defend, watches his ranking drop -- and kicks into gear to do something about it. We don't know that that's what's happening with James Blake. He seems to be a pretty smart guy, and probably realized knew all along that he really needed to protect his points before they came off. He's following the script even so. Last week, his Washington points came off, and he fell so low that he won't be seeded at the U. S. Open -- and will have to face a seed in the first round. So here he is, kicking back into form. So far, of course, it's only quarterfinal points at the lowest level of ATP events. This isn't going to do him any real good.... Still, he seems to be getting back into form after a rather tough summer. If he keeps this up -- well, there are no hardcourt players left in his half of the draw...." But Blake, of course, has been injured for most of the summer of 2004. That's hurt his ranking far more than anything that happens at Washington or Long Island. While Robredo has had enough good results lately to put himself in the Top 20.

August 21: Long Island - Second Round
Jeff Morrison (Q) def. Mikhail Youzhny 7-6(9-7) 6-3
At the time, we said, "Could the rise of players like Robby Ginepri and his pal Mardy Fish be inspiring Jeff Morrison? Something surely is. And about time, too. Morrison has been stuck around #200 for a couple of months now, and has been having a year consisting mostly off losses in qualifying -- and worse. But now, suddenly, he's looking alive again. And it's not just all the clay players in this draw, because Youzhny is a solid all-surface performer. Plus this win means that Morrison will finally get to pick up some real points. He had second round points last year, but now he gets quarterfinal points atop his qualifying points. It's his first quarterfinal of 2003. That should give him a kick of a dozen or more places (it's hard to tell when one is that far down). And he has a U. S. Open wildcard, so he doesn't need to worry about qualifying. That wildcard had seemed pretty undeserved. Looks like the Open was smarter than it seemed. And Morrison really has nowhere to go but up. His only ATP results after Long Island in 2002 were a first round loss at the U. S. Open, a second round loss at Hong Kong as a qualifier, and a second round at Tokyo.... For Youzhny, this is fairly insignificant. He was unable to play at this time last year, and missed the U. S. Open. This doesn't help him -- but it doesn't hurt, either." A year later, the explanation seems to be simply that Morrison tends to come alive in summer. He had an even better summer season this year. But he largely failed to follow it up last year. Can he finally change that?

August 24: Long Island - Final
Paradorn Srichaphan (1) def. James Blake 6-2 6-4
At the time, we said, "If you're going to come out of a slump, there is no question: Right before the U. S. Open is a very good time. Which is good news for both James Blake and Paradorn Srichaphan. Blake has been having a very tough summer, and it shows in his ranking; he came here having fallen all the way to #41. Srichaphan hadn't fallen as far -- he was barely off his career high, and he made the Indianapolis final -- but he wasn't even close to equalling his results from last year, either; it was an unsustainable situation.... Srichaphan won a title for the first time since Chennai. The only problem is, he won [Long Island] last year, too, and it was a bigger event then. Srichaphan actually loses points, though not enough to seriously affect him. But it means he'll be sitting right where he was. But it's sort of like bringing your car into the auto dealer to be worked on: The car is in the lot beforehand, and afterward, but it's working a lot better even if it hasn't moved much. Blake will move up; he didn't play Long Island last year, and this final breaks a streak of losing in the quarterfinals or earlier that goes all the way back to San Jose. He'll be gaining about five spots -- plus self-confidence." A year later, Srichaphan is out of the Olympics early, and will lose some of the points he gained here, while Blake is in a rather tougher field in Washington -- and in even worse shape, rankings-wise, because of his summer injury. He lost first round at Washington, which means a big slide.

Five Years Ago: Nicolas Lapentti has a very strange collection of titles -- three on clay, one on hardcourts, one on carpet. (Very strange, given that five of his six other finals have been on clay and one on hardcourts.) There isn't much doubt about his best title, though: Five years ago, Indianapolis was as strong as a non-required event got, and Lapentti won it over Vincent Spadea.

Ten Years Ago: In terms of titles, 1994 was the best year of Wayne Ferreira's career; he ended up with five of them. Most were small. Indianapolis, his third title of the year, was a major exception; with a prize total of $915,000 dollars (more than twice the current value, taking inflation into account), it was very large indeed.

bandabou
Aug 20th, 2004, 03:02 PM
Olympics Women: Anxious Moments
It wasn't just the closest match of the day. It was also the biggest.

The biggest, because Amelie Mauresmo has always struggled in the big matches. The biggest, because of the Big Three (Henin-Hardenne, Myskina, Mauresmo), Mauresmo was the only one facing a Top Ten opponent. The biggest, because Mauresmo had started to suffer a skin rash against Chanda Rubin the day before.

And, of course, the biggest, because the #1 ranking was still on the line when the match started (though not when it finished). Mauresmo edged Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 4-6 6-2. The loss may well mean that Kuznetsova will stay stuck at her current #10 (her fate depends on how Vera Zvonareva does at Cincinnati). And that means she probably won't get the #8 U. S. Open seed, barring additional withdrawals.

Especially since Serena Williams will presumably still have a protected seeding.

Nor will Mauresmo earn the #1 seed. Justine Henin-Hardenne secured that when she beat Mary Pierce 6-4 6-4; that assures that she will stay #1 at least for the moment.

The contest for #2 remains "live." #3 seed Anastasia Myskina earned the day's easiest win, beating Francesca Schiavone 6-1 6-2. With Myskina and Mauresmo both in the semifinal, that means two more matches for each, no matter what happens from here on. One is guaranteed to outlast the other -- either they meet in the final, in which case one takes the gold, or one makes the final and the other doesn't, or they meet for the bronze medal. Whoever gets the better medal is #2 in the world, except that a bronze won't do it for Myskina (and don't ask what happens if none of the top three wins gold...). And that better-of-the-two medalists will have the inside track for the #1 ranking after the U. S. Open.

Schiavone won't be getting any medals. She will probably get the #16 U. S. Open seed, since she's currently #17. But it's not certain. Because our fourth semifinalist is Alicia Molik. She provided the day's only upset as she beat #8 seed Ai Sugiyama 6-3 6-4. If Molik can reach the final, she, not Schiavone, will get the #16 seed. If she earns a bronze medal, she's the #17 seed. If she falls in the bronze round, she's #18. On top of everything else, she's now won nine straight matches.

She won't be medalling in doubles, though; #8 seeds Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian, who have the absolutely unique distinction of being the only players ever to have beaten Venus Williams in doubles without having beaten Serena, can also add an Olympic semifinal to their resume; they upset #4 seeds Molik and Stubbs 6-3 6-2.

And the contest for the doubles #1 remains fierce. Both #2 seeds Ruano Pascual/Martinez and #7 Suarez/Tarabini are still in action; the former beat the other Chinese team, Yan and Zheng, 6-1 6-1; Suarez and Tarabini edged Nathalie Dechy and Sandrine Testud 6-4 1-6 6-4. Starting with the next round, the results really count; since, as in the contest for the singles #2, either Ruano Pascual or Suarez must medal, and the player with the higher medal will be #1. (If it's Suarez taking the bronze and Ruano Pascual taking nothing, then Suarez is #1 by all of one point. But it's still #1.)

Martina Navratilova won't be earning an Olympic medal. That one career objective is denied to her; she and Lisa Raymond, the #3 seeds, lost a nailbiter 6-4 4-6 6-4 to Ai Sugiyama and Shinobu Asagoe, who are now up to eight straight wins. That also means that Sugiyama moves past Navratilova to take the #9 ranking -- and Navratilova has the U. S. Open final coming off in three weeks. Asagoe also benefits; the win puts her in the Top 30.

We currently calculate the doubles Top 25 as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4866*
2..(1) SUAREZ .............4844*
3..(3) Black ............. 3287
4..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3181
5..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3017
6..(6) STUBBS .............2919
7..(7) Shaughnessy ....... 2835
8..(8) Petrova ........... 2769
9.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2743*
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2708
11.(11) Huber ............. 2234
12.(12) RAYMOND ........... 2129
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1718
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1716*
15.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1381*
.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
.(17) Tanasugarn .........1315
.(18) PRATT ............. 1230
.(19) Vento-Kabchi .......1228
.(22) MYSKINA ........... 1144
.(20) CASANOVA ...........1141
.(26) SUN ............... 1134*
.(24) VINCI ............. 1129.5
.(29) LI .................1113*
.(25) Loit ...............1082

Cincinnati: About Time!
Thursday, they finally trotted out the big guns.

With no insult intended to anyone here, this tournament really broke down into three tiers of players: The two Top Ten women, Lindsay Davenport and Vera Zvonareva; the other Top 30 woman, Amy Frazier; and everyone else, ranked #40 or below.

Going into Thursday's action, we'd seen all of Everyone Else. We'd seen Frazier. We hadn't seen the Big Two.

Zvonareva was out first. She really didn't look particularly good, beating Lucky Loser Antonella Serra Zanetti 6-4 7-6. Not a good sign, given that she needs to reach at least the final if she wants to stay at #9 and have a hope for the #8 U. S. Open seed.

Flavia Pennetta, though, is on a fine run. The #7 seed, the fourth-highest ranked player in the field based on this week's rankings, won her seventh straight match, beating Rita Grande 6-7 6-2 6-4. The bad news is, she retired from the doubles with a left wrist strain, so it's not clear if she can continue.

Also doing well all of a sudden is Laura Granville; last week's Vancouver finalist upset #5 seed Denisa Chladkova 6-1 6-1.

Then it was Davenport's turn. We knew that Lilia Osterloh had been playing well. We didn't know she was playing that well. Davenport made the quarterfinal, but the score was 4-6 6-4 6-1. Tough or not, it's her fifteenth consecutive win.

Singles action closed with qualifier Shuai Peng, winner of three big Challengers in the past year (Changsha $50K, Dothan $75K, Prostejov $75K), finally making her first WTA quarterfinal; she beat Alina Jidkova 7-5 4-6 6-1.

Olympics Men: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Guess what: We're going to have an American medalist in tennis after all. It's just that it won't be Andy Roddick.

It was mostly a very quiet day. Three out of four matches were settled in straight sets. The one exception was produced by #16 Fernando Gonzalez and #8 Sebastien Grosjean. In a slugfest that saw Grosjean earn 72 points and Gonzalez 74, Gonzalez managed to keep his game just barely in control to earn a 6-2 2-6 6-4 victory. That puts him very firmly in the Top 20; if he can win a medal, he will be Top 15.

And his chances don't look half bad, because he's the second highest seed left in the draw. And the other is also a Chilean. #10 Nicolas Massu took care of #3 Carlos Moya in a 6-2 7-5 nerve-fest.

Which brings us to our two Americans. Taylor Dent finally ended Tomas Berdych's improbable run 6-4 6-1; that leaves Dent one win away from the Top 20. Mardy Fish is one win away from the Top 30; he took out Mikhail Youzhny 6-3 6-4. And, in a nice bit of balance, Fish faces Gonzalez and Dent faces Massu next.

As far as the tennis is concerned, they should probably just rename this the Chilean Olympics. Because not only are Gonzalez and Massu in the singles semifinals, they are in the doubles final: They took out Croatia's Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic 7-5 4-6 6-4. Nor will they be facing doubles experts for the gold; Germany's Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler eliminated the last seeded pair, India's Bhupathi and Paes, 6-2 6-3.

Maybe there is hope for Schuettler yet....

Washington: Open Circuit
Michel Kratochvil may be the best lousy player on the ATP Tour.

We say that because he's shown his potential. He reached two finals in 2001, making it up to #35 in the world in 2002. In 2001, he beat, among others, Max Mirnyi, Arnaud Clement (twice), Gaston Gaudio, Guillermo Coria, Tommy Robredo, Sjeng Schalken, and Dominik Hrbaty. In the first part of 2002, he beat David Nalbandian, Guillermo Canas, Andre Agassi, Mirnyi, Hrbaty, Younes El Aynaoui, and Fabrice Santoro.

Then he must have eaten a toadstool or something, because he poisoned his game. After Wimbledon, he went 3-10. 2003 was worse; he made one quarterfinal all year.

We aren't going to say he's back; since his problems are all in his head anyway, he could easily sink back into mushroom-dom. But he's already improved on 2003; having made the quarterfinal at Munich, he's reached his second quarterfinal of 2004. He beat #8 seed Dmitry Tursunov in two tiebreaks.

If Kratochvil isn't the best lousy player, maybe Jan-Michael Gambill is. And, unlike the Swiss, he shows no signs of getting over it. He lost to Gilles Muller 7-5 5-7 6-2.

Doing a little better is another slumping player, Paul-Henri Mathieu, who beat Adrian Garcia 7-6 6-4.

That brought up Andre Agassi, with the chance to clinch at least the #6 ranking and with hopes of earning the #4 U. S. Open seed. He still has to slug it out with Lleyton Hewitt, but so far, so good: He beat Kristian Pless 6-4 6-2. And he's the only seed left in the top half of the Washington draw.

Women's Match of the Day

Olympics - Quarterfinal
Justine Henin-Hardenne (1) def. Mary Pierce 6-4 6-4

And so Justine Henin-Hardenne can relax.

Sort of.

You'll recall that we told you before the tournament that Henin-Hardenne had to make the final of the Olympics to clinch the #1 ranking. You can scratch that. Henin-Hardenne has come far enough, and enough quality points have leached out of Amelie Mauresmo's draw, that the #1 seed is safe. For now. Barely. If Mauresmo wins the whole thing, and Henin-Hardenne loses her semifinal and the bronze medal match, she'll still lead Mauresmo by a few dozen points.

This was the first really big test for Henin-Hardenne. Maria Vento-Kabchi, her second round opponent, is a tough competitor, but she can't swamp an opponent with power the way Pierce can. It did seem as if the Belgian needed a few games to get into the swing of things, but she broke in game five of the first set, and that was largely it. Pierce, never know for her movement, seemed just a little too much behind the ball this time.

And that means, amazingly enough, that Pierce will not budge at all in the rankings; she came in at #28, and there she remains; she picked up over 140 points, but she was sitting below a huge gap in the rankings. It's now a very small gap -- but it's there.

Henin-Hardenne earns at least three more weeks at #1. But the situation remains tough for her. She has 1074 points to defend at the U. S. Open; Mauresmo has 218 and Anastasia Myskina 210. As it stands, Henin-Hardenne has to repeat as Open champion to stay #1; even if she wins the Olympics, she'll probably need a final, and some help from the AMs. It looks as if Lindsay Davenport is just about out of it; even if she wins Cincinnati. she'll be some 600 points off the pace, and has over 400 points from the Open to defend; she could pass any of the big three, but not all.

It's still going to be a fascinating three weeks.

Men's Match of the Day

Olympics - Quarterfinal
Nicolas Massu (10) def. Carlos Moya (3) 6-2 7-5

It's a good thing neither of these guys have a heart condition. We might not have just a winner and a loser on our hands; we might have a couple of cases of cardiac arrest. Anyone who thinks players don't care about the Olympics should have watched this match to show what players look like under emotional pressure.

It showed in the results. Massu seemed to be shaking at various times in the match. But Moya seemed almost unable to hold his racquet. He produced 10 winners -- and 37 errors. His forehand -- his major weapon -- supposedly didn't produce a single winner. It was the sort of match where you go home, bury your head in your pillow, and wish that no one had been watching.

In the short term, the big loser here is not Moya but Marat Safin. Safin was #13 coming into this match, but Massu now passes him; the Chilean will be at least #13 when the event is over. And that means that he'll be the #12 U. S. Open seed (higher if he can make the final). Moya stays #4, as we'd known he would. But Moya could have grabbed the #3 spot in the Race; instead, he stays at his current #4. And the events from now on are generally played on surfaces he doesn't like much. This was, arguably, his last big chance of the year.

Massu has had a very difficult year this year, at least until he won Kitzbuhel. This is important in at least two ways: He managed to win a very big match. And he did it away from clay.

Number One the Hard Way
This week was the first chance, though we now know it won't come off. Still, some time in the next few weeks, unless Justine Henin-Hardenne has an absolutely miraculous recovery, the #1 ranking is going to change hands. It could have happened as soon as this week: Entering Thursday's action Amelie Mauresmo still had a chance at the top spot if she won the Olympics and Henin-Hardenne lost early. That didn't happen, but there will be several more chances in the coming month. During that period, there are three candidates to take it: Mauresmo, Lindsay Davenport, and Anastasia Myskina. Of those three, only Davenport has been #1 before; indeed, neither of the others had been as high as #2 until this month.

Does that lack of experience matter? You bet it does! We first saw this when watching Kim Clijsters last summer. Clijsters has a great record last year -- except when it was really big. Think the Australian Open against Serena Williams. Think Roland Garros against Justine Henin-Hardenne. Think Wimbledon, or the U. S. Open.

Or think of all the times she had the #1 ranking in her grip. Wimbledon. San Diego. Los Angeles, where she zipped out to a 6-1 lead in the first and then lost the second set before finally pulling things together.

It was ugly. Was it atypical? Not so that you'd notice. Earning the #1 spot seems to be quite an intimidating task.

We thought we'd look at the women and the ways they took to the #1 ranking. We're going to start at the beginning of 1996, and look at every first-time #1 since that time. Singles and doubles, just for completeness. Starting with singles, naturally. Note that we're only going to examine the first time the player becomes #1. Presumably it's easier, mentally, after that.

The first player to become #1 for the first time in that period was Martina Hingis, on March 31, 1997, following Miami. Hingis did win Miami -- but she didn't have to; with Steffi Graf's points coming off, Hingis was #1 win, lose, or get injured. (The one thing winning did for her, aside from extending her winning streak, was enable her to keep the top spot throughout the spring while Hingis was herself injured.)

That was the last instance for quite a while of a player winning her way to the top, even in the limited sense that Hingis did it. The next new #1 we had was Lindsay Davenport, on October 12, 1998, at Filderstadt. Davenport had clinched #1 when Hingis lost there. Davenport then proceeded to lose herself to Sandrine Testud.

Fast forward three years and a day (October 13, 2001). The scene is again Filderstadt, and this time it's Jennifer Capriati going for the #1 ranking. Capriati lost to Testud in the quarterfinal. But Hingis injured herself in the semifinal, and Capriati was #1. But she didn't know it until after she lost.

The next change came after Dubai 2002. Venus Williams was going for #1, and, yes, she lost to Testud in the semifinal. But it didn't matter. Jennifer Capriati had not attempted to defend her points from Memphis 2001, where she had reached the final. That would have given Venus the #1 ranking even without playing Dubai.

That rather dismal record finally changed at Wimbledon 2002: Serena Williams won Wimbledon, and she became #1 by virtue of winning it.

And, just over a year ago, Clijsters finally reached the top by winning Los Angeles. Even so, it took her three tries -- and a match against Lindsay Davenport, who at that time was working on some sort of record for finals lost by a Top Five player.

Then Justine Henin-Hardenne did it legitimately: She took over the top spot after Zurich last year. She won Zurich, and she would not have been #1 if she hadn't done well; Clijsters wasn't defending anything (or, rather, she was, but it was less than her seventeenth tournament score, so it didn't matter).

We can't absolutely prove what happened in the changes of #1 before that; we don't have the complete rankings lists involved. But it appears that Serena was the first player to win her way to the top in fifteen years. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario became #1 for the first time on February 6, 1995; she did not win a title that week (Steffi Graf failed to defend the Pan Pacific). Monica Seles became #1 for the first time on March 11, 1991; she did not win a title that week. Steffi Graf became #1 on August 17, 1987; that followed her win at Los Angeles.

Turning to doubles, much more briefly, the same sort of picture emerges: Most players did not win their way to the top. (We couldn't help noticing a strange oddity: Martina Hingis seems to have been responsible for a very large share of the changes in #1 ranking. You'll see what we mean.) Again, we're starting with 1996.

The first "first timer" in this period was Lindsay Davenport, who grabbed the #1 spot (from Natasha Zvereva) on October 20, 1997, following Zurich. Davenport wasn't even in a final that week; Martina Hingis and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beat Larisa Neiland and Helena Sukova at Zurich, and Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs beat Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat at Quebec City.

Next to take #1 was Hingis herself, and she did do it by winning; she and Jana Novotna won Roland Garros, making Hingis #1 on June 8, 1998.

The next first timer was Anna Kournikova, who took the top spot on November 22, 1999, when she and Hingis won the year-end championships.

Our next #1 was Corina Morariu, who became #1 on April 3, 2000; she did not win that week. Julie Halard-Decugis and Ai Sugiyama beat Nicole Arendt and Manon Bollegraf at Miami.

That was the first rankings change in a wild year which saw six #1 doubles players -- all of them except Kournikova first-timers (and Kournikova was still in her first stint as #1; she'd merely taken the top ranking the year before). Lisa Raymond grabbed the top spot on June 12, following Roland Garros -- and no, she didn't win; Hingis and Mary Pierce beat Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez.

On August 21, 2000, we found ourselves with co-#1 players as Rennae Stubbs joined her partner Raymond at the top of the rankings. But they didn't win the Canadian Open; Hingis won it with Nathalie Tauziat. (We told you Hingis would show up a lot. But we're done with her now.)

Next to take the top ranking was Julie Halard-Decugis, who did it on September 11, 2000 (not yet an ominous day) after she and Ai Sugiyama won the U. S. Open.

Sugiyama was next to the top, gaining the spot on October 23, 2000. She did not win Linz, but she earned the top spot by reaching the final; she and Nathalie Tauziat lost to Amelie Mauresmo and Chanda Rubin (which is a pretty bad loss, given Mauresmo's doubles results).

It was almost two years before we had a new #1 in Paola Suarez, who made it on September 10, 2002. And she did do it the hard way, by winning the U. S. Open with Virginia Ruano Pascual.

It was just over a year ago that we added another to our list in Kim Clijsters, who made the top spot on August 4, 2003 (only to lose it a week later, gain it back for three weeks, and lose it permanently). She did it in style; she and Sugiyama won San Diego. A month later, on September 8, we added Virginia Ruano Pascual to the list (she again kept it for only a week at the time); she gained the top spot after winning the U. S. Open.

Still, our record is this: In singles, of the last ten #1 players, only five (Graf, Hingis, Serena, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne) won a tournament before becoming #1. And Hingis didn't have to win, so only four players actually won their way to the top.

In doubles, of the last eleven first-time #1 players, six have won their way to the top: Hingis, Kournikova, Halard-Decugis, Suarez, Clijsters, Ruano Pascual.

Obviously players do win their way to the top. But it isn't all that common. Though it seems to be becoming more frequent. Whatever that says.

bandabou
Aug 25th, 2004, 06:53 PM
New Haven: The Next Step
Would you believe that Daniela Hantuchova has won her opening match in eight straight tournaments?

It's true. Since Birmingham, Hantuchova has won at least one match at every event she's played. Of course, she has only once won more than one match (that being during her terrific run at Eastbourne), and she hasn't beaten a Top 30 player in that time. But, since losing to Golovin at Birmingham, all her losses have been to Top 20 players. It's not a great comeback -- but it's not bad, either. She took out qualifier Lindsay Lee-Waters 7-6 7-5. And Hantuchova faces Lucky Loser Marissa Irvin, who replaced Lindsay Davenport in the draw, next. Win that, and Hantuchova will probably move up to #32 (now that it's too late to earn a U. S. Open seed).

Hantuchova's match -- the last of the first round -- meant that five of six qualifiers lost in the first round, and the only qualifier who advanced had faced another qualifier. And the first match of the second round settled the one remaining qualifier: #7 seed Elena Bovina took out Marta Marrero 6-3 6-2. That all but clinches Bovina's Top 25 spot; it absolutely guarantees that Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi will fall to no better than #26.

At least the Israeli doesn't have to worry about Tatiana Golovin overtaking her. The young Frenchwoman lost much too easily to #3 seed Jennifer Capriati, 6-3 6-2.

Lost amid all the chatter about Maria Sharapova this year is the fact that she came to New Haven with a record of only 9-5 on hardcourts, and most of those wins coming in events with very large draws; she has only one hardcourt quarterfinal this year. And even that is an improvement on her 10-7 record last year. For that matter, she was 5-7 at events above the Tier III level in 2003. This week, her troubles are back. She lost her opener to wildcard Mashona Washington 6-3 2-6 6-2. We mentioned earlier that this was turning into the best summer of Washington's long career. Obviously this makes it even better: Just weeks after reaching her first Tier II quarterfinal at Stanford, she adds her second, and one day after probably the best win of her career (over Meghann Shaughnessy), she has topped it. #81 coming in, she will gain between 15 and 20 ranking spots.

Washington's Monday opponent Shaughnessy is almost a wreck in singles, having lost her last five matches. But doubles is easier if you're hurt, and she also gets to play with a very good partner in Nadia Petrova. The pair, seeded #2, edged the Italian team of Rita Grande and Flavia Pennetta 6-2 4-6 6-1.

Alexandra Stevenson just can't catch a break these days. Having been relegated to qualifying in singles (where she is losing with great regularity), she and Angela Haynes were wildcarded into the doubles main draw -- ironic, since Stevenson has always been better in singles than in doubles. It didn't do any good; they lost to Els Callens and Emmanuelle Gagliardi 7-6 6-1.

All those people who are trying to kill doubles might want to take a look at New Haven. Olympic bronze medalist Alicia Molik decided to play here as a U. S. Open warmup -- but only in doubles. Given how much partner Magui Serna has been struggling, that may involve her in more work than singles. But Molik and Serna, the #4 seeds, edged Russell and Santangelo 6-4 4-6 6-3.

Forest Hills: Taking the Good with the Bad
In our hurried preview to Forest Hills, we noted that it had less prize money than some Challengers. It turns out the event is even more Challenger-like than we thought: They even play the matches on time. None of this "Let's wait until the middle of the night to start" business.

We're not sure what the audience thinks. As journalists, it almost tempts us to forgive them.

With only 14 singles matches to play in the whole tournament, and no doubles, the first day's schedule was naturally pretty light. So were the matches. Anabel Medina Garrigues produced the first upset of the tournament by beating #3 seed Maria Sanchez Lorenzo 6-3 6-2. Then Kristina Brandi topped Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-3 6-1.

Ironically, Brandi had so many points in her seventeenth tournament that that didn't so much as go on her record, even though she is in what is technically a quarterfinal. Medina Garrigues also gains only a few points. But they face each other next. The winner will move up to pass none other than Sanchez Lorenzo.

The late (well, later) match pitted American Jill Craybas against Marion Bartoli, playing her first match since blistering her hand at Cincinnati. There is the temptation to wonder if the organizers didn't schedule that match early in the week to take advantage of Bartoli's problems. It didn't help. The Frenchwoman beat Craybas 7-6 6-2

Long Island: Slow Down a Minute
If the courts at Long Island are any indication, the surface at the U. S. Open isn't going to be as fast as everyone expected.

As evidence we offer the fate of qualifier Alexander Popp. The guy has a serve that -- well, it gave him two Wimbledon quarterfinals despite an almost complete lack of a ground game. Hardcourt doesn't help him as much, but still, he should be able to hold most of his games on anything faster than clay.

Not this week. Luis Horna, the #9 seed, took out the big German 6-1 6-3.

Also unable to hold serve was #6 seed Mario Ancic; he lost to Dmitry Tursunov 6-1 6-4, making him the first seed to lose (as oppose to withdraw).

The surface was too fast for Albert Costa, though; he lost to Igor Andreev 6-1 5-7 6-4. That completed a miserable first round for Spaniards. Earlier Tuesday, David Ferrer had lost 6-1 6-3 to qualifier Stefan Koubek. Of the five Spaniards in the field, only one -- Fernando Verdasco -- advanced, and he had faced another Spaniard in the first round.

With all the injury problems on the Tours these days, someone should create a course in how to come back after a long layoff. It looks as if Jarkko Nieminen has finally figured out his version of the curriculum. He surprised Robby Ginepri 6-4 6-4.

This place really does seem to favor speedy players. In addition to Koubek and Nieminen, both known for their speed, Nikolay Davydenko topped qualifier K. J. Hippensteel 6-2 6-3. Plus, of course, #2 seed Lleyton Hewitt extended his winning streak to six with a 7-6 6-1 win over lucky loser Olivier Mutis, though -- for the second straight match -- he ran into a bit of a rough spot, this time in the first set when he blew a 5-3 lead.

We did eventually have a big server come through: #7 Joachim Johansson took out another Lucky Loser, Daniel Elsner, 6-4 6-3.

The day's final match was even more routine: #4 seed Paradorn Srichaphan took out qualifier Kevin Kim 6-3 6-2.

Women's Match of the Day

New Haven - Second Round
Jennifer Capriati (3) def. Tatiana Golovin 6-3 6-2

Just when we were getting on the Tatiana Golovin bandwagon, she does this to us.

We had high hopes for this match. Golovin came in ranked a mere #31, but that's based on 11 events. Give her a full schedule and she should be Top 20 at least; her points per tournament make her #14 in the world, though there is a bit of Slam bias in there. And Jennifer Capriati skipped the Olympics, allegedly because of injury. If that doesn't translate into a high chance of upset, what does?

Evidently nothing, based on the scoreline.

It's a fairly significant win for Capriati, too, who now has five straight wins at this tournament -- the site of her only title in the last two and a half years. Had she lost, she would have had no chance of regaining the #7 ranking. As it is, her draw is looking very nice -- she's the first player in her half to make the quarterfinal, and she's the top seed in the half now that Lindsay Davenport is out. She really ought to make at least the final. And the player she is seeking to overtake, Maria Sharapova, lost her opener. Quite an opportunity.

Had Golovin won this, she could have confidently expected to make the Top 30 next week. As it is, she might make it, but there are too many players on her heels for her to feel secure. Plus she is out of one of the few U. S. Open warmups allowed her by the age rules.

Men's Match of the Day

Long Island - First Round
Jarkko Nieminen def. Robby Ginepri (WC) 6-4 6-4

This is one of those matches where you can't help but wonder what it means. Is Jarkko Nieminen back, or is Robby Ginepri slumping further?

It's been a tough summer for both. Nieminen hurt himself this spring, and has been falling fast; #30 as recently as Estoril, he's now hovering around #70. Ginepri has been healthy, but he hasn't had nearly the results in 2004 that he had in 2003; having hit #25 after the Australian Open, and having managed a secondary peak of #29 at Wimbledon, he fell as low as #54 last week, though he's back in the Top 50 now. Still, given that he hasn't been out of action, his fall has been nearly as bad as Nieminen's.

It wasn't exactly a serving contest. Nieminen earned the only break of the first set in game five, but in the second, Ginepri broke for 4-2, whereupon Nieminen broke back (with some help from the net), and picked up another break on a Ginepri error at 4-4, and that was that.

It's only one match. It probably doesn't really tell us anything. But, on the evidence, Nieminen is snapping out of his funk faster.

The Power of Prediction
One of the most obnoxiously boring debates in all of tennis is the one about "which player is greatest." It's boring because the same things get said over and over again. It's obnoxious because it's pointless. Greatness is not a linear quantity -- you can't say "Pete Sampras is 63.47% greater than Andre Agassi." Or, rather, you could perhaps say some such thing, and even produce a formula to back it up -- but no such formula will measure greatness. Sampras was a greater grass player than Agassi. Agassi was/is a better all-surface player. Agassi lasted longer. Etc. Any plain old numeric measure is guaranteed to do injustice to somebody.

And the rankings are a plain old numeric measure.

But the rankings, unlike any of these other formulae people wave about, have a purpose: They seed tournaments.

That set us thinking about "predictors" -- statistics which imply a likelihood of winning a particular tournament. Specifically (since it's coming up), the U. S. Open.

We thought we'd look back over the last dozen U. S. Opens, and look at some other measures to see what best predicts a winner. We're going to do this for the men; we'll see if anything actually predicts very well before we decide whether to bother with the women.

For starters, here are our last dozen USO winners:

2003: Roddick
2002: Sampras
2001: Hewitt
2000: Safin
1999: Agassi
1998: Rafter
1997: Rafter
1996: Sampras
1995: Sampras
1994: Agassi
1993: Sampras
1992: Edberg

Now let's compile our list of possible predictors. Our primary tools are of course the key tournaments: The four previous Slams, the Masters Cup, the hardcourt Masters events, the previous year's Paris Masters (we can't really do the other indoor Masters, Stuttgart/Madrid; it bounced around too much), the leading clay Masters (Rome), and what was for most of this time the strongest optional summer hardcourt event (Indianapolis). To this we'll add the previous year-end #1.

We won't list all the guys who achieved those various results. We'll just list, for each winner, the successful predictors. So, e.g., in the list below, the first line reads: 1992/Edberg: USO, YE #1. That means that Edberg, the 1992 U. S. Open winner, was also the 1991 Open winner and the 1991 year-end #1. Those two predictors corresponded to his 1992 U. S. Open win. He did not win any of the other possible predictors (Australian Open, Indian Wells, etc.). That gives us this list of successful predictors:

1992/Edberg: USO, YE #1
1993/Sampras: Wimbledon, Miami
1994/Agassi: Canadian Open
1995/Sampras: Wimbledon, Indian Wells, YE #1
1996/Sampras: USO, Paris, Indianapolis, YE #1
1997/Rafter:
1998/Rafter: USO, Canadian Open, Cincinnati
1999/Agassi: Roland Garros
2000/Safin: Canadian Open
2001/Hewitt:
2002/Sampras:
2003/Roddick: Canadian Open, Cincinnati, Indianapolis

It's interesting to note that three of our winners (Rafter in 1997, Hewitt in 2001, and Sampras in 2002) were completely un-predicted. We also note a tendency in recent years toward unpredictability: We had 20 successful predictions, and 12 of them were in the first five years, 1992-1996. Every one of those years had at least one successful predictor. Since then, we've had two dominant hardcourt players (Rafter 1998, Roddick 2003), and other than those years, almost a complete failure to predict.

But, in order to get a column out of this, we have to assume that something works. So let's slice the data the other way: What are the most successful predictors? The following list shows each possible predictor, the number of times it produced a successful prediction, and the success rate (that is, what fraction of the 12 times it was right):

Canadian Open: 4.(33%)
Year-End #1: 3.(25%)
Previous USO: 3.(25%)
Wimbledon: 2.(17%)
Indianapolis: 2.(17%)
Cincinnati: 2.(17%)
Paris: 1.(8%)
Indian Wells: 1.(8%)
Miami: 1.(8%)
Roland Garros: 1.(8%)
Rome: 0.(0%)
Australian Open: 0.(0%)

Thus the Canadian Open is the best predictor (especially recently: Of the eight successful predictions since 1997, three have been by the Canadian Open, and 1999 was the only recent year in which there was a successful prediction without the Canadian Open being a predictor). Next on the list are the previous year's #1 and being the defending USO champion. But there are no really strong predictors.

We aren't going to try to convert these predictors into a prediction; we aren't in the prediction business, and even if we were, we'd surely come up with something a lot more complex than this! But we can do this much: We'll take the "value" of each predictor (from 4/12 for the Canadian Open down to 1/12 for Paris, etc.) and see which players are most "predicted" for this year, expressed as "points" based on the percentages above. (Note that the results themselves are not percentages, nor probabilities, nor anything else, just relative measures of how many predictors predict each guy and how good those predictors are.) The results:

Roddick: 75.(4 predictors)
Federer: 58.(3 predictors)
Agassi: 17.(1 predictor)
Henman: 8.(1 predictor)
Gaudio: 8.(1 predictor)

Hardly a big surprise: By this reckoning, Andy Roddick is both the most popular and the strongest choice, with Roger Federer second. And not many other guys on the list.

Which, come to think of it, is probably about what the bookies' odds will look like.

bandabou
Aug 26th, 2004, 03:13 PM
New Haven: Income Statement
From now on, it's all profit for Nathalie Dechy. Every point she earns will help her ranking. Her last event of 2003 was the U. S. Open, where she made the second round. After that, nothing. She has nowhere to go but up.

But how much she goes up remains an open question. If she wants to really climb, she needs to do better than she did on Wednesday. She beat Akiko Morigami, but the score was 6-0 3-6 6-2. And, because she stood at the bottom of a very large gap in the rankings, she hasn't budged yet. #29 she came in, and #29 she remains.

And she could still fall, because Daniela Hantuchova (among others) is still active. Barely. In a match that was your typical hardcourt break-fest between players playing a bit below their best, she edged Marissa Irvin (who had taken Lindsay Davenport's place in the draw) 7-5 4-6 6-3. That leaves Hantuchova one win away from the Top 30. And if it isn't Hantuchova who takes away Tathiana Golovin's #30 spot, it will be Lisa Raymond; Raymond took out Nadia Petrova 3-6 6-4 6-4, and faces Hantuchova next, with the winner guaranteed to pass Golovin and end up no worse than #30.

Petrova at least managed to win in doubles; she and Meghann Shaughnessy became the first team to reach the semifinal as they edged Hantuchova and Dinara Safina 6-2 4-6 6-2.

The day's third singles match had lots of interesting resonances. Jelena Jankovic is from Serbia and Montenegro, and came in ranked #42; she is currently Serbia's #2, but at the rate she's going (or, rather, at the rate Jelena Dokic isn't going), she will almost certainly end the year as their #1. Jelena Kostanic is from Croatia; she isn't going to become Croatia's #1 any time soon (barring injury to Karolina Sprem), but she arrived #39 and would like to stay Top 40.

It may not happen. Jankovic put herself on the verge of a Top 40 spot, and on the verge of passing Kostanic, with a 6-2 7-5 win.

Singles action closed with #2 seed Elena Dementieva beating Claudine Schaul 6-2 6-2.

Mashona Washington couldn't quite extend her recent surprising singles results to doubles, but she and Marlene Weingartner made it surprisingly close against top seeds Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs. The Wimbledon champions advanced 4-6 6-4 6-4.

This seeming tradition of long doubles matches continued to the end: #3 seeds Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond topped Caroline Dhenin and Silvija Talaja 2-6 6-2 6-4.

Forest Hills: I've Got a Secret
Only fifteen women at Forest Hills, and they still managed to come up with a player we've never heard of. Our sum total information about Elizabeth Kobak is that she is an American, ranked #906, with no prior WTA matches and no major Challenger results.

At least she can now claim that, when she lost her first match, she lost to a Top 50 player. #4 seed Iveta Benesova beat her 7-6 6-1.

There isn't much more to say about Tathiana Garbin's loss. She went out to Katarina Srebotnik 6-3 6-3.

Match three involved a player with hardly more WTA experience than Kobak, though she's done quite a bit more in Challengers. Kirsten Flipkens, whose only previous WTA matches were losses at Antwerp and Luxembourg 2003, finally hit the win column with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Maria Elena Camerin.

The last match of the day finally gave us a decent contest, though in the end it followed form. #2 seed Emilie Loit edged Anca Barna 5-7 6-2 6-4. The win guarantees that Loit will stay Top 40; she will probably end up several spots higher than that.

U. S. Open Seeds, Women

The U. S. Open seeds were announced late Tuesday, and there were no surprises except the lack of surprises. The only top 32 player not playing is Kim Clijsters, which allowed Meghann Shaughnessy to take the #32 seed.

The seeding list follows this week's rankings exactly, except that Serena Williams, who would have been seeded #10, was promoted to the #3 seed based on her special ranking. The players who suffer directly as a result are Lindsay Davenport, dumped from #4 to #5 (surely the most significant demotion), and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who slips from #8 to #9.

If additional seeds withdraw (e.g. Serena, who of course is suffering from a bad knee), the next players in line are Daniela Hantuchova and Conchita Martinez.

The full seed list is as follows:

1. Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
2. Amelie Mauresmo, France
3. Serena Williams, United States
4. Anastasia Myskina, Russia
5. Lindsay Davenport, United States
6. Elena Dementieva, Russia
7. Maria Sharapova, Russia
8. Jennifer Capriati, United States
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
10. Vera Zvonareva, Russia
11. Venus Williams, United States
12. Ai Sugiyama, Japan
13. Paola Suarez, Argentina
14. Nadia Petrova, Russia
15. Patty Schnyder, Switzerland
16. Francesca Schiavone, Italy
17. Alicia Molik, Australia
18. Karolina Sprem, Croatia
19. Silvia Farina Elia, Italy
20. Chanda Rubin, United States
21. Amy Frazier, United States
22. Magdalena Maleeva, Bulgaria
23. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia
24. Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, Israel
25. Elena Likhovtseva, Russia
26. Elena Bovina, Russia
27. Mary Pierce, France
28. Nathalie Dechy, France
29. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece
30. Tatiana Golovin, France
31. Maria Vento-Kabchi, Venezuela
32. Meghann Shaughnessy, United States

Long Island: Got No Expectations
Losing streaks inevitably feed on themselves. Lose enough matches, and you have to wonder if you can win the next one.

You really have to wonder when it comes to a third set tiebreak.

And a third set tiebreak was where Jan-Michael Gambill found himself. It's been an awful year for the American, who is down to #79 (Race and Entry both) and who has been losing to the likes of Jan Hernych and Jeff Morrison and Lars Burgsmuller and who hasn't made a quarterfinal since Scottsdale. The pressure told. He lost to Dmitri Tursunov 6-7 7-6 7-6.

The other Russian in the draw, Igor Andreev, was less fortunate, falling to #10 seed Jurgen Melzer 6-3 6-4.

How well does Paradorn Srichaphan like playing here? Twelve straight wins well. The 2002 and 2003 champion made the 2004 quarterfinal with a 7-6 7-5 victory over Wayne Ferreira.

Action closed with #7 seed Joachim Johansson taking out qualifier Stefan Koubek 6-2 6-4.

U. S. Open Seeds, Men

The U. S. Open seeds were announced late Tuesday, and of course the first thing everyone looked at was who was playing. As expected, Guillermo Coria is out, meaning that Carlos Moya takes the #3 seed and Lleyton Hewitt is #4. The other potential seed not playing is Sjeng Schalken, who would have been #26.

Other than those absences, the list exactly follows last week's rankings. The full list:

1. Roger Federer, Switzerland
2. Andy Roddick, United States
3. Carlos Moya, Spain
4. Lleyton Hewitt, Australia
5. Tim Henman, Great Britain
6. Andre Agassi, United States
7. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain
8. David Nalbandian, Argentina
9. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina
10. Nicolas Massu, Chile
11. Rainer Schuettler, Germany
12. Sebastien Grosjean, France
13. Marat Safin, Russia
14. Fernando Gonzalez, Chile
15. Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand
16. Andrei Pavel, Romania
17. Juan Ignacio Chela, Argentina
18. Tommy Robredo, Spain
19. Nicolas Kiefer, Germany
20. Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil
21. Taylor Dent, United States
22. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia
23. Vince Spadea, United States
24. Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia
25. Jiri Novak, Czech Republic
26. Mardy Fish, United States
27. Mario Ancic, Croatia
28. Joachim Johansson, Sweden
29. Guillermo Canas, Argentina
30. Feliciano Lopez, Spain
31. Fabrice Santoro, France
32. Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden

Should there be another withdrawal, Fernando Verdasco is next in line.

Women's Match of the Day

New Haven - Second Round
Lisa Raymond (WC) def. (5) Nadia Petrova (5) 3-6 6-4 6-4

Figuring out who is the biggest head case in tennis is one of those Utterly Impossible Questions (there are so many really good candidates) -- but if you chose Nadia Petrova, we wouldn't argue very hard. She's certainly doing a good job of utterly wasting her quite significant gifts. It's costing her, too, since she's seen her ranking more than double in the past four months.

Making it more amazing is the fact that the loss came to Lisa Raymond. Raymond has had a stellar doubles career, and has been a solid singles performer, but for most of 2004, it seemed as if her singles career was in a terminal decline. Between the Australian Open and the Olympics, she compiled a record of 7-11, with three of the wins coming at a Tier III; she didn't beat a single Top 30 player in that time. She hadn't made a quarterfinal since Memphis. Given her age, it really looked as if her days as a Top 30 player were permanently over.

Not so fast. Raymond came here ranked #36. This win guarantees that she will reach at least #33, and the #32 spot is almost certain. And if she can beat Daniela Hantuchova in the next round, she's Top 30.

Petrova, by winning her first match here, rose from #15 to #14. But she has a big pile of points to defend in the indoor season, and she continues to look like a player who is completely lost. She moves up for the moment. At this rate, it's going to be no more than a moment. And the problems are all in her head....

Men's Match of the Day

Long Island - Second Round
Paradorn Srichaphan (4) def. Wayne Ferreira 7-6(7-3) 7-5

It never ceases to amaze the author how tennis tournaments find ways to shoot themselves in the foot with journalists. If they have a star player -- say Andre Agassi -- and they schedule him for a reasonable hour, they'll get coverage of his matches in the paper and people will say, "Ooh! Agassi is playing at (wherever)." But no; they schedule Agassi for the late match all the time, so they never get much in the paper.

And when you're Long Island and you don't have much in the way of star players, making every match a late match seems really a bad strategy. Take this match: This is the Match of the Day because the two matches before it didn't give us anything to say, and the match after it is running so late that we won't have time to write about it.

But we don't have anything to say about this match, either. So we'll talk about Paradorn Srichaphan and Long Island. It was his first title, two years ago. It was the first (and, to date, only) title he's ever defended, last year. It's the only title he's won twice. And here he is in the quarterfinal for the third straight year.

Think he likes this place?

In terms of points, it does him no good. Srichaphan plays oodles of events, and has most of his success at optional tournaments (he has a couple of Masters semifinals, but generally he does very badly at required events). Even though Long Island 2003 is already off the books, he still hasn't gotten past his fifth optional event. Indeed, it hardly matters what he does here. But it hasn't been a great year for him (he's #16 in the rankings, but only #24 in the Race, and he's about out of hardcourts); a good result going into the U. S. Open could be just what the doctor ordered.

Wayne Ferreira has now announced just when he'll retire: It will be after this fall's Davis Cup tie. So this won't be his last loss, and he'll have at least two more chances for a last win. But this might be his last tiebreak. If that matters.

Local Favorites, Part I
Yesterday, we looked at "predictors" which implied U. S. Open success. You'll recall that the three most effective predictors were the Canadian Open title, the previous U. S. Open title, and the previous year-end #1. Indianapolis and Cincinnati also scored high, while Roland Garros and Rome and the Australian Open scored low.

We didn't really make anything of that in the previous article. But it's an interesting list. The best predictors of U. S. Open results are not other Slams, or big events, but hardcourts (yes, this is true even of the previous year-end #1; since almost half the points on the ATP are scored on hardcourts, the rankings generally correlate well with hardcourt results).

This bears thinking about: If hardcourt success predicts hardcourt success, why doesn't the U. S. Open seed by surfaces, as Wimbledon does?

The basic answer is, The players would scream. In a sense, they even have a point; results are results, whether earned on hardcourt or clay or limburger cheese. But our goal is to seed as well as we can.

So let's do it. Here is our proposal, which -- like the Wimbledon seeding system -- is a modification of the ATP rankings, emphasizing hardcourts. (No, we don't think this the ideal system, and we'll do something better for the women later on. But this follows the ATP rule of "poor little us, we enjoy being dumb so much that we can't do any math except addition.")

What we will do is start with each player's ranking points, then start adding hardcourts back: The U. S. Open from last year, the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, the Canadian Open, Cincinnati, and one optional result, which must be from this summer and must be a semifinal or better (except that we will also allow Olympic quarterfinals, since the Olympics is so much bigger than other events). Since the more recent results seemed to be better predictors, we will give them full weight, while giving all events through Miami (inclusive) only half weight.

As with Wimbledon, we will only examine the 32 players who would have been seeded anyway. Guillermo Coria and Sjeng Schalken in fact won't be playing the Open, with Fabrice Santoro and Jonas Bjorkman getting seeds as a result, but we'll just assume they end up at the bottom of the list.

So here is our raw data. Because we have only limited column width, we have to do this in two tables. First are the Top 32, who would be the U. S. Open seeds could they all play, with their point totals entering this week:

Rank..Name.....Points
1..Federer.....5910
2..Roddick.....4520
3..Coria.......3070
4..Moya........2745
5..Hewitt......2430
6..Henman......2380
7..Agassi......2340
8..Ferrero.....2280
9..Nalbandian..1990
10..Gaudio......1955
11..Massu.......1845
12..Schuettler..1760
13..Grosjean....1655
14..Safin.......1585
15..Gonzalez....1350
16..Srichaphan..1335
17..Pavel.......1310
18..Chela.......1310
19..Robredo.....1270
20..Kiefer......1235
21..Kuerten.....1230
22..Dent........1195
23..Hrbaty......1178
24..Spadea......1135
25..Ljubicic....1135
26..Novak.......1130
27..Schalken....1120
28..Fish........1105
29..Ancic.......1070
30..JohanssonJ..1004
31..Canas........989
32..LopezF.......960

Now we'll list how they did at each of the hardcourt events. In the table below, "US03" is points earned at the 2003 U. S. Open, "AO04" represents the Australian Open, "IW04" is Indian Wells, "Mi04" is Miami, "CO04" the Canadian Open, "Ci04" Cincinnati, "Other" is the player's other good summer hardcourt result (if any) and the result which produced it.

Rank..Name.......US03.AO04.IW04.Mi04.CO04.Ci04..Ot her
1..Federer.......150.1000..500...35..500....5
2..Roddick......1000..250..125..500..350..225..200 ..Indianapolis.W
3..Coria.........250....5..125..350....5....0
4..Moya..........150....0....5..125...75..125..100 ..Olympics.QF
5..Hewitt........250..150...35...35...75..350..175 ..Washington.W
6..Henman..........5...75..350....5...35...75
7..Agassi........450..450..225...75...35..500...75 ..Washington.SF
8..Ferrero.......700..450....0....0....5...35
9..Nalbandian....450..250....0....0....5....0
10..Gaudio..........5...35...35....5....5...35
11..Massu..........75....5....5....5....5....5..40 0..Olympics.Win
12..Schuettler....150....5....5....5....5....5
13..Grosjean........5..250...75...75....5....5..10 0..Olympics.QF
14..Safin...........0..700...35....5....5..125
15..Gonzalez.......75.! ...5...35..225...75...35..205..Olympics.Bronze
16..Srichaphan....150..150....5...75...35...75
17..Pavel...........0..150...15..125....5....5
18..Chela..........75...35..125...35...75...75
19..Robredo.........5....5....5...75...35..225
20..Kiefer.........35....5....5..125..225...35..14 0..Indianapolis.F
21..Kuerten.........5...75....5....5...75...35
22..Dent..........150...75...75...15....0....5..18 0..Olympics.SF
23..Hrbaty.........35...75...35...35....5...35
24..Spadea..........5....5...35..225...35....5
25..Ljubicic.......35...35....5...35...35...35...9 0..Indianapolis.SF
26..Novak..........75...75...35...35...35....5
27..Schalken......250..150....5....5....0...35
28..Fish...........35....5...75....5....0....5..28 0..Olympics.F
29..Ancic...........5...75....5....0....0....0
30..JohanssonJ......5...75....0....5..125....5
31..Canas...........0..150...15...75....0....0
32..LopezF..........5....5....5....5...35...35

A! nd so now we're ready to crank. Again, we'll take the player's points, add half of what he earned at the 2003 USO, the 2004 Australian, and the two spring hardcourt events. We'll add the full amount from the Canadian Open, Cincinnati, and the other event.

As usual, we have no idea how this will turn out. The author is carefully typing all this before entering the formula into the spreadsheet. In the list below, "Adj." is the adjusted seed under the above formula, "Name" is of course the player's name, "AdjPts" is the adjusted points the player earns, "Seed" is where he would have been seeded under the ATP system had everyone played, and "Diff" is the difference between the two seedings. A positive "Diff" score means a player who would be promoted if we used the alternate seedings, a negative means a player who would lose ground. And so, without further ado,

Adj.Name..........AdjPts...Seed..Diff
1..Federer..........7257.5...1.....0
2..Roddick..........6232.5...2.....0
3..Agassi...........3550.....7.....4
4..Coria............3440.....3....-1
5..Hewitt...........3265.....5.....0
6..Moya.............3185.....4....-2
7..Ferrero..........2895.....8.....1
8..Henman...........2707.5...6....-2
9..Nalbandian.......2345.....9.....0
10..Massu............2300....11.....1
11..Safin............2085....14.....3
12..Gaudio...........2035....10....-2
13..Grosjean.........1967.5..13.....0
14..Schuettler.......1852.5..12....-2
15..Gonzalez.........1835....15.....0
16..Kiefer...........1720....20.....4
17..Srichaphan.......1635....16....-1
18..Chela............1595....18.....0
19..Robredo..........1575....19.....0
20..Dent.............1537.5..22.....2
21..Pavel......! ......1465....17....-4
22..Fish.............1450....28.....6
23..Kuerten..........1385....21....-2
24..Schalken.........1360....27.....3
25..Ljubicic.........1350....25.....0
26..Spadea...........1310....24....-2
27..Hrbaty...........1308....23....-4
28..Novak............1280....26....-2
29..JohanssonJ.......1176.5..30.....1
30..Ancic............1112.5..29....-1
31..Canas............1109....31.....0
32..LopezF...........1040....32.....0

Note that our top two remain the same -- no surprise there. We see a big promotion for Andre Agassi. That is a bit of a surprise, but he certainly has justified it on hardcourt! Marat Safin moves up, and he's a former U. S. Open champion. Nicolas Kiefer moves up; he's had a great summer. Mardy Fish probably shouldn't has fallen as much as he did, but he's been hurt a lot. Dominik Hrbaty deserves automatic demotion at required events.

It may not be a perfect list. But who could argue with a system that will make Federer, Roddick, Agassi, and Hewitt the top four seeds at the U. S. Open?

bandabou
Aug 27th, 2004, 02:04 PM
New Haven: Sights Raised

A few weeks back, we had occasion to look over Elena Bovina's results for this year. It was eye-opening. Seeing a player play gives one sort of impression, but you always tend to remember the matches you see. It's a detailed image, but it's not the big picture.

Bovina's big picture is surprisingly positive. The Russian came to New Haven with a record this year of 17-11 and no first round losses. She had five wins over Top 20 players. And yet -- is anyone thinking of her as a big threat? Not that we've noticed.

That may require some re-thinking. Because she's in her first semifinal of the year. Easily. She took out Mashona Washington 6-3 6-2. For Washington, merely making the quarterfinal spells a career high somewhere on the good side of #70. But for Bovina, it spells a move from #27 to #22, and she's one win away from the Top 20.

Lisa Raymond has her own milestone; she's back in the Top 30 following her 6-4 6-3 victory over Daniela Hantuchova. The day's third match featured no such noteworthy results; #2 seed Elena Dementieva took out Jelena Jankovic 6-1 6-4.

By evening, it was looking as if Jennifer Capriati really might have a chance to win this event. But that ignored Capriati's ability to shoot herself in the foot; #8 seed Nathalie Dechy, who had never beaten her before, simply outplayed the American, taking ever chance she was offered to be aggressive. Capriati lost 6-4 7-5, meaning that the American is now without any titles in the past year -- the only player in the Top Ten (indeed, the only player in the Top 13) without a title. The loss also costs Capriati her chance to pass Maria Sharapova and take the #7 ranking.

Dechy, amazingly, is still stuck at #29, and would fall to #30 if Lisa Raymond wins the title. But she can prevent that beating Raymond in the semifinal.

The doubles was far less crazy. #4 seeds Alicia Molik and Magui Serna opened things up by beating Els Callens and Emmanuelle Gagliardi 7-5 7-6. #1 seeds Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs followed with a 6-3 6-3 win over Kostanic and Schaul. Action concluded with #3 seeds Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond beating Marrero and Nagyova 6-1 7-6.

Forest Hills: Just Passing Through
A full enough database of results can yield all sorts of interesting facts. For example, since the start of 2001, only one player has had both a walkover and a withdrawal at the same event (Chanda Rubin at this year's Pan Pacific). The player with the most walkovers in that period is Lindsay Davenport; she has four. We've had three instances of a player withdrawing from a final (Davenport at Munich 2001, Dokic at Paris 2002, Venus Williams at Berlin 2004).

But we can't tell you the last time a player made a semifinal without playing a match. It's probably happened -- but not anytime recently!

Elena Likhovtseva was the top seed at Forest Hills, and appears to have gotten a first round bye because there was no qualifying draw to supply a player when someone pulled out. This being a 16-draw (actually a 15-draw), that put her in the quarterfinal.

And then quarterfinal opponent Marion Bartoli, who had withdrawn from Cincinnati with a hand blister, withdrew from Forest Hills. And so Likhovtseva was in the semifinal without playing a match.

Wish we could do that.

The other two early matches made up for it, at least in terms of time spent on court. Next up for Likhovtseva -- assuming she ever plays a match here -- is Anabel Medina Garrigues, who edged Kristina Brandi 5-7 6-1 7-6. That will move Medina Garrigues to at least #45 -- within two spots of the career high she hit before ruining a ligament at the 2002 Australian Open. If she can win that, she should at least equal that career high.

Kirsten Flipkens is also looking at a career high, as well as her first WTA semifinal. She took out Emilie Loit 6-2 4-6 6-2. That should leave her just on the verge of the Top 150.
Action closed with the third three-setter of the day: #4 seed Iveta Benesova became the only seed to actually win her way into the semifinal as she beat Katarina Srebotnik 4-6 6-4 6-1. Benesova is already at a career high of #44, but needs at least one more win to go above that.

U. S. Open Seeds, Women

The U. S. Open seeds were announced late Tuesday, and there were no surprises except the lack of surprises. The only top 32 player not playing is Kim Clijsters, which allowed Meghann Shaughnessy to take the #32 seed.

The seeding list follows this week's rankings exactly, except that Serena Williams, who would have been seeded #10, was promoted to the #3 seed based on her special ranking. The players who suffer directly as a result are Lindsay Davenport, dumped from #4 to #5 (surely the most significant demotion), and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who slips from #8 to #9.

If additional seeds withdraw (e.g. Serena, who of course is suffering from a bad knee), the next players in line are Daniela Hantuchova and Conchita Martinez.

The full seed list is as follows:

1. Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
2. Amelie Mauresmo, France
3. Serena Williams, United States
4. Anastasia Myskina, Russia
5. Lindsay Davenport, United States
6. Elena Dementieva, Russia
7. Maria Sharapova, Russia
8. Jennifer Capriati, United States
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
10. Vera Zvonareva, Russia
11. Venus Williams, United States
12. Ai Sugiyama, Japan
13. Paola Suarez, Argentina
14. Nadia Petrova, Russia
15. Patty Schnyder, Switzerland
16. Francesca Schiavone, Italy
17. Alicia Molik, Australia
18. Karolina Sprem, Croatia
19. Silvia Farina Elia, Italy
20. Chanda Rubin, United States
21. Amy Frazier, United States
22. Magdalena Maleeva, Bulgaria
23. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia
24. Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, Israel
25. Elena Likhovtseva, Russia
26. Elena Bovina, Russia
27. Mary Pierce, France
28. Nathalie Dechy, France
29. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece
30. Tatiana Golovin, France
31. Maria Vento-Kabchi, Venezuela
32. Meghann Shaughnessy, United States

Long Island: Going Back to Where I Come From
Lleyton Hewitt's career seems to be coming full circle.

When Hewitt came up, he was prolific in small titles, but far less effective in the big ones. He had nine career optional titles before winning his first required event at the 2001 U. S. Open. He had six titles before he so much as reached a Masters final (at Stuttgart 2000). Then, in a span of just over two years, he won four required events.

And hasn't won one in the year and a half since.

But at least he's doing very well at the optional events! As in, three titles in four optional events this year: He's won Sydney, Rotterdam, and Washington. And now he's in the Long Island quarterfinal. That's seven straight wins, and 12 of his last 13. He beat Michael Llodra 6-1 6-4.

Another fast mover, Nikolay Davydenko, produced the day's first upset: He took out #8 seed Fernando Verdasco 7-6 6-3. Speed didn't do Jarkko Nieminin much good, though; he lost to #9 seed Luis Horna 6-3 6-4.

Singles action concluded with #5 seed Juan Ignacio Chela taking out Thomas Enqvist 6-4 5-7 6-1.

One of three doubles quarterfinals didn't go off; wildcards Albert Costa and Alex Corretja withdrew, giving #3 seeds Allegro and Kohlman a free pass to the semifinal. In addition, #4 seeds Aspelin and Perry took out Jeff Coetzee and Alberto Martin 7-6 6-4. But Michael Llodra showed that he can win without Fabrice Santoro as he and Anthony Dupuis took out #2 seeds Pala and Vizner in three sets.

U. S. Open Seeds, Men

The U. S. Open seeds were announced late Tuesday, and of course the first thing everyone looked at was who was playing. As expected, Guillermo Coria is out, meaning that Carlos Moya takes the #3 seed and Lleyton Hewitt is #4. The other potential seed not playing is Sjeng Schalken, who would have been #26.

Other than those absences, the list exactly follows last week's rankings. The full list:

1. Roger Federer, Switzerland
2. Andy Roddick, United States
3. Carlos Moya, Spain
4. Lleyton Hewitt, Australia
5. Tim Henman, Great Britain
6. Andre Agassi, United States
7. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain
8. David Nalbandian, Argentina
9. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina
10. Nicolas Massu, Chile
11. Rainer Schuettler, Germany
12. Sebastien Grosjean, France
13. Marat Safin, Russia
14. Fernando Gonzalez, Chile
15. Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand
16. Andrei Pavel, Romania
17. Juan Ignacio Chela, Argentina
18. Tommy Robredo, Spain
19. Nicolas Kiefer, Germany
20. Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil
21. Taylor Dent, United States
22. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia
23. Vince Spadea, United States
24. Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia
25. Jiri Novak, Czech Republic
26. Mardy Fish, United States
27. Mario Ancic, Croatia
28. Joachim Johansson, Sweden
29. Guillermo Canas, Argentina
30. Feliciano Lopez, Spain
31. Fabrice Santoro, France
32. Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden

Should there be another withdrawal, Fernando Verdasco is next in line.

Women's Match of the Day

New Haven - Quarterfinal
Lisa Raymond def. Daniela Hantuchova 6-4 6-3

When Daniela Hantuchova first came up, there was a lot of oohing and aahing about the length of her legs. There is only one problem: For a tennis player, it's not length that counts, it's speed. And Hantuchova's legs are much shorter on speed than on inches.

As Lisa Raymond forcibly reminded Hantuchova. In the raw power categories, Hantuchova did very well, firing a pile of aces and hitting a lot of baseline winners. But Raymond kept feeding her junk, and she really never adjusted, and often found herself trying to change directions when she just isn't that fast. With all her power, she didn't manage a single break, and Raymond broke early in the first set, and early in the second, and finished it off with another break. It was really quite routine.

But it means that Raymond has her first semifinal since Memphis, and her first Tier II-or-better semifinal since the 2003 Pan Pacific. It's been quite a couple of weeks for her: First the win over Farina Elia at the Olympics, and now back-to-back wins over Top 35 players here. (She said herself that she hadn't expected to play singles at either event, and that perhaps it loosened her up. Certainly she was quite free-flowing in this match.) And with those wins, she's Top 30 herself. Oh, it wasn't mathematically certain as of when she won the match, but it was guaranteed in practice: She would be #30 (with a chance to go higher), Tathiana Golovin #31 -- and Hantuchova #32. Which is still an improvement for the Slovak; she came in at #34.

Men's Match of the Day

Long Island - Second Round
Juan Ignacio Chela (5) def. Thomas Enqvist 6-4 5-7 6-1

These days, the story of Thomas Enqvist's life seems to be "not quite."

Enqvist, of course, ended up missing the end of the 2002 season, and a big chunk of 2003, with injuries. This year, things have been looking up a bit. After winning only one Slam match last year, he made the third rounds of all three Slams so far this year; after going 13-27 in 2003, he made his first semifinal of 2004 as early as Memphis; after ending last year at #95, he's up to #60 this year.

But that's still a good distance below his peak. And that's deserved. Because he's also had a five match losing streak this year (six, if you don't count qualifying wins). He's still struggling to get past quarterfinals. He's still "not quite."

And that seems to have cost him at the end.

In terms of rankings, this doesn't make any real difference. Chela has done well enough this year that another optional quarterfinal doesn't make any difference. Enqvist could have used quarterfinal points -- but of course he didn't get them. And even he doesn't get much value out of second round points at a low-level optional event. If there are any effects at all, they will be psychological. But those, of course, are the most important kind.

Local Favorites, Part II
It almost seems as if women's tennis is developing an annual Summer Crisis. Last year, it was Kim Clijsters taking the #1 ranking away from Serena Williams. This year, we've heard complaining about the possibility of Amelie Mauresmo or Lindsay Davenport taking the top spot without holding a Slam. The screams haven't been as loud -- but that's because it hasn't happened yet. It's very possible that it will, two weeks from now at the U. S. Open.

With that going on, here has been a certain tendency to forget the purpose of the ranking system. We talked about this yesterday, at least a little. The purpose is not really to determine who is #1. It is to determine who gets into tournaments, and who gets seeded. In that sense, it's doing pretty well. There are those who think Davenport or Mauresmo should not be threatening the #1 ranking. But there is no question that they are top players, and deserves direct admission to every WTA event, and should be seeded high at these events.

It's down the rankings that things get tricky. If there is no real doubt that Mauresmo should be seeded high, well, are you absolutely sure that Maria Vento-Kabchi should be seeded at the Open, and that Conchita Martinez should not? Should Vento-Kabchi or Elena Likhovtseva really be seeded ahead of Daniela Hantuchova? Of Lisa Raymond? Of Dinara Safina? This is the real point of the ranking system.

But if a primary purpose of rankings is seeding, what is the purpose of seeding? To reward players for success -- or to try to ensure that the players most likely to win a particular tournament don't meet early in the event?

If the former, then certainly the seedings should precisely follow the rankings. But this is not the sole purpose of seeding; if it were, then Wimbledon would not feel the need to rearrange its seeds. At least part of the purpose is to determine who is most likely to win.

And, for that purpose, the current rankings are not ideal; surfaces play too big a role.

We hasten to add that the effective if unacknowledged purpose of both ATP and WTA ranking systems is to seed the U. S. Open. This is especially true of the ATP ranking system: It requires points at the Slams (two out of four of which are played on hardcourts), and gives extra specially large points for Slams, and it also requires points at the Masters Series (four out of nine of which are on hardcourts -- and all four on DecoTurf and the like rather than Rebound Ace). Thus the ATP rankings are most accurate when seeding the U. S. Open.

The WTA rankings are a bit more general-purpose, since they have (for this year, at least) six Tier I events that are not played on hardcourts, and they don't have required events. But still, the Slams have big points, and the clear plurality of points are awarded on hardcourts (especially for the top players, who don't play all the scattered little Tier IV events on clay). Thus both ATP and WTA rankings should, theoretically, be most suited to seeding the U. S. Open, which is a Slam and is played on DecoTurf.

Most suited, but not ideally suited. We can surely do better. Let's start, though, by reviewing the WTA seeds, with some information about their hardcourt results. We summarize with the table below. Note that, unlike the men, we don't break events up into Required and Optional, because the women don't do that -- and because they have that genuinely brilliant invention, the Tier II tournament (a tournament which brings in some but not all the top names, with points to match), which the men don't believe in. So we'll allow all hardcourt points, simply distinguishing new from old.

In this table, "Seed" is the player's WTA seed. "Player" is the player's name. "Best 17" is her point total under the WTA rankings. "Total" is her total points in all events. "#Trns" is the number of tournaments she's played in the past year. "OldHC" is the points she earned at hardcourt events from the U. S. Open 2003 through Indian Wells 2004. "NewHC" is the points she's earned at hardcourt events since Wimbledon (counting the Olympics but not New Haven). We will follow the Wimbledon practice and examine only the players who would have been seeded in any case (plus Kim Clijsters, who isn't playing, and the top two alternates, Daniela Hantuchova and Conchita Martinez), though it's likely that at least a few unseeded players (notably Lisa Raymond) actually would fare better in what follows than some of the lower-ranked players on this list. Note: The following list is in ranking order, so Serena Williams is in the eleventh spot even though she's seeded #3.

Seed..Player.........Best17...Total....#Trns..OldH C...NewHC
1...Henin_Hardenne....4950....4950......13....3200 .....435
2...Mauresmo..........4491....4492......18.....660 .....688
4...Myskina...........4247....4364......20....1155 .....654
5...Davenport.........4009....4009......15....1114 ....1314
[6]..Clijsters.........3565....3565......11....1441.. .....0
6...Dementieva........2791....2796......22....1084 .....341
7...Sharapova.........2462....2462......17.....455 .....135
8...Capriati..........2350....2350......13.....581 ......94
9...Kuznetsova........2090.25.2114......21.....940 .....251
10...Zvonareva.........2090....2265......24.....34 6.....574
3...SWilliams.........1995....1995.......8.....428 .....346
11...VWilliams.........1991....1991......12.....27 0.....351
12...Sugiyama..........1930....2149......26.....57 0.....284
13...Suarez............1738..! ..1739......18.....564.....120
14...Petrova...........1735....1741......23.....53 2......86
15...Schnyder..........1641....1684......24.....50 3.....130
16...Schiavone.........1469....1474......22.....50 9.....316
17...Molik.............1443.5..1450.5....23.....49 9.....534
18...Sprem.............1369.75.1375.75...22.....23 8.....199
19...FarinaElia........1260....1267......24.....34 2......74
20...Rubin.............1251....1251......17.....48 4.....206
21...Frazier...........1233....1245......22.....37 7.5...334
22...Maleeva...........1214....1219......22.....10 4.....152
23...Zuluaga...........1180.75.1184.75...21.....54 2.....116
24...Smashnova+Pistole.1159....1186......27.....18 9.....125
25...Likhovtseva.......1131....1140......26.....30 1.....504
26...Bovina............1130....1130......17......9 0.....127
27...Pierce............1110....1110......16.....15 6.....237
28...Dechy..............953.....954......18.....68 7......55
29...Dani! ilidou.........924.75..931.75...24.....561.....120
30...Golovin.... ........923.5...923.5....11.....292.....116
31...Vento-Kabchi.......920.5...927.5....24.....377.....180
32...Shaughnessy........893.....898......22.....54 3.......3
Alt1.Hantuchova.........875.....881......23.....16 2.....112
Alt2..Martinez..........851.....855......21.....28 6......62

Now we crank. The first thing we do is what we did with the men: We'll add the New Hardcourt points, and half the Old Hardcourt points, and see where that puts us. The result is this seeding list, where "Seed" is the player's adjusted seed as it would be under this system, "Name" is her name, "Points" is her adjusted point total (used to calculate the ranking), "WTA" is her WTA seed, and "DIFF" is the difference between WTA and adjusted seeds, with a positive "DIFF" meaning a player who deserves promotion and a negative "DIFF" implying one who would earn demotion.

Seed.Name.............Points....WTA..DIFF
1...Henin-Hardenne....6985.......1.....0
2...Davenport.........5880.......5.....3
3...Mauresmo..........5509.......2....-1
4...Myskina...........5478.5.....4.....0
5...Clijsters.........4285.5....[6]
6...Dementieva........3674.......6.....0
7...Zvonareva.........2837......10.....3
8...Sharapova.........2824.5.....7....-1
9...Kuznetsova........2811.25....9.....0
10...Capriati..........2734.5.....8....-2
11...SWilliams.........2555.......3....-8
12...Sugiyama..........2499......12.....0
13...VWilliams.........2477......11....-2
14...Molik.............2227......17.....3
15...Suarez............2140......13....-2
16...Petrova...........2087......14....-2
17...Schiavone.........2039.5....16....-1
18...Schnyder..........2022.5....15....-3
19...Likhovtseva.......1785.5....25.....! 6
20...Frazier...........1755.75...21.....1
21...Rubin.............1699......20....-1
22...Sprem.............1687.75...18....-4
23...Zuluaga...........1567.75...23.....0
24...FarinaElia........1505......19....-5
25...Pierce............1425......27.....2
26...Maleeva...........1418......22....-4
27...Smashnova-Pistole.1378.5....24....-3
28...Dechy.............1351.5....28.....0
29...Daniilidou........1325.25...29.....0
30...Bovina............1302......26....-4
31...Vento-Kabchi......1289......31.....0
32...Golovin...........1185.5....30....-2
33...Shaughnessy.......1167.5....32....-1
34...Hantuchova........1068....Alt1
35...Martinez..........1056....Alt2

The obvious thing about this list is the big boost it gives Lindsay Davenport, who was actually demoted below her #4 ranking by the WTA but who of course won four hardcourt titles this summer. This system gives her a well-deserved lift to #2.

But it also leaves Serena Williams way down at #11 (actually #10, with Clijsters out). Serena of course hasn't been very effective this year -- but her hardcourt record is 12-1, which is up there in Davenport's league. Serena frankly demonstrates most of the problems with the WTA's current system: Her WTA ranking of #11 is certainly too low (she has a Slam final and a Tier I title and another good final at Los Angeles), but her special seeding of #3 is certainly too high for general seeding purposes. (Would you seed her #3 on clay? Why?)

We need -- or at least we want -- a better answer. Which, as always, brings us back to the Declining Divisor ranking, which (like the WTA rankings) rewards players who play more but which also (unlike the WTA rankings) makes losses count and which (unlike the WTA rankings) does not hold injury against players too extremely. To recall how this works, the Declining Divisor operates by calculating divisor rankings (total points over total events) with a minimum divisor of 17, but counting each tournament over 17 as only two-thirds of a tournament. That produces this rankings list, where "Rank" is where each player would rank under the declining divisor, "Score" is her DD score (rounded to one decimal place), and "WTA" is her WTA ranking. Note that this is a general-purpose ranking, with no surface adjustment.

Rank.Player...........Score....WTA
1...Henin-Hardenne...291.2......1
2...Mauresmo.........254.3......2
3...Davenport........235.8......4
4...Myskina..........229.7......3
5...Clijsters........209.7......5
6...Sharapova........144.8......7
7...Capriati.........138.2......8
8...Dementieva.......137.5......6
9...SWilliams........117.4.....11
10...VWilliams........117.1.....12
11...Kuznetsova.......107.5......9
12...Zvonareva........104.5.....10
13...Suarez............98.4.....14
14...Sugiyama..........93.4.....13
15...Petrova...........82.9.....15
16...Schnyder..........77.7.....16
17...Rubin.............73.6.....21
18...Schiavone.........72.5.....17
19...Molik.............69.1.....18
20...Sprem.............67.7.....19
21...Bovina............66.5.....27
22...Pierce............65.3.....28
2! 3...Frazier...........61.2.....22
24...Zuluaga...........60.2.....24
25...Maleeva...........60.0.....23
26...FarinaElia........58.5.....20
27...Golovin...........54.3.....31
28...Dechy.............54.0.....29
29...Smashnova-Pist....50.1.....25
30...Likhovtseva.......49.6.....26
31...Shaughnessy.......44.2.....33
32...Martinez..........43.5.....35
33...Daniilidou........43.0.....30
34...Vento-Kabchi......42.8.....32
35...Hantuchova........42.0.....34

This at least brings both Williams Sisters into the Top Ten. But it's a general ranking, not a hardcourt ranking. So now let's go the whole way: We'll add in our New Hardcourt points, and half the Old Hardcourt points, and calculate a Declining Divisor on that basis. This is about as close as we can get, using just WTA numbers, to a true hardcourt ranking. As always, we don't know how this will turn out. The columns in this table are the same as above: "Seed" is where the player would be seeded under the Hardcourt Declining Divisor, "Player" is the player's name, Score is her HDD score, "WTA" is her WTA seed at the U. S. Open, and "DIFF" is the difference between WTA and actual seeds.

Seed..Player..........Score....WTA....DIFF
1...Davenport........407.2......5.......4
2...Henin-Hardenne...336.2......1......-1
3...Mauresmo.........325.9......2......-1
4...Myskina..........302.0......4.......0
[5]..Clijsters........226.8.....[6]......1
5...Capriati.........157.1......8.......3
6...Sharapova........160.7......7.......1
7...VWilliams........169.6.....11.......4
8...Dementieva.......164.8......6......-2
9...SWilliams........147.9......3......-6
10...Zvonareva........152.7.....10.......0
11...Kuznetsova.......134.6......9......-2
12...Suarez...........121.4.....13.......1
13...Sugiyama.........116.3.....12......-1
14...Rubin............100.7.....20.......6
15...Schiavone........100.3.....16.......1
16...Molik............107.2.....17.......1
17...Petrova...........99.0.....14......-3
18...S! chnyder..........92.4.....15......-3
19...Frazier...........81.5.....21.......2
20...Pierce............88.1.....27.......7
21...Likhovtseva.......77.8.....25.......4
22...Golovin...........68.1.....30.......8
23...Sprem.............79.7.....18......-5
24...Bovina............77.0.....26.......2
25...Maleeva...........80.8.....22......-3
26...Zuluaga...........74.8.....23......-3
27...FarinaElia........77.7.....19......-8
28...Dechy.............62.5.....28.......0
29...Smashnova-Pist....61.4.....24......-5
30...Martinez..........60.9...Alt2
31...Daniilidou........57.2.....29......-2
32...Vento-Kabchi......63.6.....31......-1
33...Shaughnessy.......48.3.....32......-1
34...Hantuchova........47.3...Alt1

This is purely and simply fascinating: Lindsay Davenport, whom the WTA system demoted in the seedings, is far and away the best hardcourt player this year, and should be the #1 seed. We also note that Jennifer Capriati should get a bit of a boost, and that Venus Williams under this system enters the Top 8. Chanda Rubin, another injured player, moves up, as does Tatiana Golovin, who is very effective when allowed to play. But Silvia Farina Elia, who has real trouble on hardcourt, falls, as does Karolina Sprem, whose results are still mostly on traditional surfaces.

If nothing else, this might give the WTA something to think about.

Mr_Molik
Aug 27th, 2004, 02:16 PM
thanks :worship:

bandabou
Aug 30th, 2004, 09:21 AM
New Haven: Football Practice
Friday was the day players started kicking themselves. For players such as Jennifer Capriati, the kicking was figurative: "How did I lose in a draw where both finalists were ranked below #20?" Elena Bovina, though, was kicking for other reasons: She was trying to straighten out her back.

Painful as it looked, it proved not to be a problem; Bovina she climbed all over countrywoman Elena Dementieva. She served big, she hit big from the baseline, she showed a willingness to come to net and the ability to execute once there. Bovina reached her first final of the year -- and put herself back in the Top 20 -- 6-1 6-1.

It's been quite a summer for tall women. Every event in the United States since Wimbledon had featured a finalist who is 6'2"/1.89 m. Lindsay Davenport was responsible for the first four of those finals, and she won them all. Could Bovina equal it?

And what about Nathalie Dechy? Has someone been feeding her pit bull hormones or something? She's playing the most aggressive tennis we've ever seen from her. She blitzed Lisa Raymond to the tune of a 4-0 lead in the first set, hurt her neck -- but, helped by a very flat Raymond, still managed a 6-4 6-0 win. (We note that Raymond has been bagelled fully five times this year, and though she won the first of those matches, she's lost the last four, all since Roland Garros, and that in every case she was bagelled in the second set.) The lost still put Raymond at #30 in the world -- but it put Dechy in her first-ever Tier II final.

Of course, it was Bovina's first Tier II final also. But all else being equal, the big strong player will beat the quick and steady player when the result becomes a contest of nerves. So it proved -- barely. In a match which saw the two women alternately collapse, Bovina took home that first big title 6-2 2-6 7-5.

Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy had an incredible spring in doubles, winning Miami, Amelia Island, Berlin, and Rome, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Then they went into a funk, and lost in the quarterfinals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

It looks as if they're back. They won their last tournament, at Los Angeles (after which Shaughnessy missed several events with an injury), and on Friday, the won another of their patented just-barely-making-it-through matches, edging #4 seeds Alicia Molik and Magui Serna 6-1 0-6 6-3. That put them in the final against #3 seeds Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond, who had beaten Wimbledon champions and top seeds Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs 7-6 6-4. (That left former partners Raymond and Stubbs 2-2 against each other this year.) The #2 seeds had another seesaw in the final; Petrova and Shaughnessy beat Navratilova and Raymond 6-1 1-6 7-6 to win their Tour-leading sixth title of the year. (For reference, Black/Stubbs and Ruano Pascual/Suarez each have four titles; McShea/Sequera, improbably enough, stand in fourth place with three titles, and Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva is the only other team with more than one.) They would be a shoo-in for doubles team of the year -- if only they could win a Slam! But big events really seem to get on their nerves....

Forest Hills: Are Your Papers In Order?
Getting started on the WTA is no fun. Not only do you have to drag yourself to a bunch of uncomfortable places to play $10K events with no one watching, not only do you have to face a whole new level of opposition and find yourself getting crushed for a while -- but you also have to deal with all the paperwork.

And, sometimes, that actually gets worse if you're successful. Case in point: Kirsten Flipkens. She was last year's U. S. Open Junior champion. Which should have gotten her direct entry into this year's main draw qualifying.

Except -- Flipkens had a successful enough summer (title at the Innsbruck Challenger as a qualifier, semifinal at the Modena $75K event, etc.) that she's into the Top 200. And that means that she no longer needed a qualifying wildcard. She could get in directly.

If she filed the right paperwork. But she thought she had the wildcard, and didn't file it. And the Open didn't give her a wildcard on its own volition. So she was stuck.

As a consolation prize, she did get to play Forest Hills as a wildcard -- her first WTA main draw outside the Benelux triangle. In the process, she earned her first two WTA wins, including one win over a Top 40 player (Emilie Loit). But while her third WTA main draw was the charm in terms of finally winning a match, her third match in New York was not charmed. #4 seed Iveta Benesova took her out 7-5 6-2. Flipkens still hits a career high. And Benesova had her own chance to reach one in the final.

Her opponent would be top seed Elena Likhovtseva, who finally played a match on Friday, topping Anabel Medina Garrigues 3-6 6-0 6-1.

And having shown herself capable of playing, Likhovtseva went out and did it again on Saturday, routinely trouncing Benesova 6-2 6-2. It's her first title since Gold Coast 1997, and only the third of her career (the first coming way back at Montpellier in 1993), and even though the round points are few and the qualify points fewer, it moves her up to #24 -- her best ranking since the fall of 2001.

Long Island: The Moving Finger
Tennis is a fast-moving sport in more ways than one. Here it is Sunday, and we're writing about Friday, and it all seems so long ago.

Which is sad, in a way, because Friday's four semifinals were all great matches -- every one a three-setter, and every one featuring a tiebreak.

#2 seed Lleyton Hewitt, as befitted the top player in the draw, came the closest to having a routine match. He went down a break early to #5 seed Juan Ignacio Chela, but managed to earn it back, and though he lost the first set tiebreak, the rest was easy as he advanced 6-7 6-1 6-1.

Two-time defending champion Paradorn Srichaphan, though, was pushed to the limit by #7 Joachim Johansson, who broke in the first and ninth games of the first set, and then saved five break points in the second set to make it to a tiebreak. But the Swede double-faulted in the tiebreak, and Srichaphan broke at 4-3 in the third and served out a 3-6 7-6 6-3 win.

Dmitry Tursunov had never made an ATP semifinal before, but he earned his first with the day's only upset, beating #10 Jurgen Melzer 4-6 7-6 7-3.

When Luis Horna faces Nikolay Davydenko, you know you're in for a match that takes longer than the score would imply. Their two hour, 19 minute contest was no exception. A couple of double-faults by Davydenko gave Horna the first set, but the Russian won the second in a tiebreak. Horna built a 4-0 lead in the third, lost three straight games -- but finally prevailed 6-4 6-7 6-4.

And that meant he got to face Srichaphan for the chance to reach his first career final. It had the look of a nervous match by Horna: Srichaphan won the first set 6-1, and went up 2-0 in the second. Then Horna won four straight. Srichaphan battled back to make it 4-4, and then Horna earned a decisive break. The third set was rather like the second: Horna led 4-2, Srichaphan levelled, and finally Horna won the tiebreak, and made that first final, 1-6 6-4 7-6.

Unfortunately for him, he would face a much more rested opponent. Hewitt had played the day match anyway, and had only had to play half a match. Tursunov retired with a back injury trailing 6-3 1-0.

There were times when it seemed as if Horna's exhaustion was showing. Of course, that might just have been the frustration of facing Hewitt. The #2 seed took home title #4 of the year 6-3 6-1.

There is a certain tendency to assume that much of Michael Llodra's doubles success is due to playing with Fabrice Santoro. After all, he had only two doubles titles coming into this year, and the big one was with Santoro, who has had plenty of other successes, including winning Paris 2002 with Escude. But this time it was Llodra who was propping up his partner: Llodra and Anthony Dupuis, unseeded because of Dupuis's weak doubles results (he hadn't won a doubles match all year), won the title 6-2 6-4 over #3 seeds Yves Allegro and Michael Kohlmann.

Women's Match of the Day

New Haven - Final
Elena Bovina (7) def. Nathalie Dechy (8) 6-2 2-6 7-5

According to Douglas Adams, there is nothing a traveller needs more than a towel. Certainly it was true on this day. It was hot. It was humid. It was sunny. And these players would have been sweating through their shoes even without that.

Sweating because it was the first Tier II final for either of them -- the biggest day of their careers to date.

The parallels were funny. Both came in ranked in the low twenties. The two are occasional doubles partners, and will reportedly be playing together at the U. S. Open. They even came in with similar injuries -- Elena Bovina to her lower back, Nathalie Dechy to her upper back and neck.

It was truly a nervous final. Bovina started out in dominant form, using her height and her power to dominate. But Dechy eventually started to steady down, and Bovina got nervous. They stayed nearly level in the third, and then Dechy managed to scrape up break points, but couldn't convert. Finally Bovina broke at love, and she had that first title.

We've been pointing out, this week, the overall strength of Bovina's results this year. It hadn't really shown in the rankings, because second rounds aren't much good to anyone, and the Russian often found herself hurt or unable to defend when big points came off. This time, she held things together for long enough to finally claim that first big title (her first two, Warsaw 2002 and Quebec City 2002, were both Tier III). She also moves up to #19 in the world -- not a career high, but of course a title like this is the sort of thing that can reshape a career.

Dechy, amazingly, moves up only one spot, from #29 to #28. But she has less than 40 points to defend for the rest of the year. Assuming she can continue to play as she's been playing lately, she should at least manage a year-end Top 25 ranking.

Men's Match of the Day

Long Island - Final
Lleyton Hewitt (2) def. Luis Horna (9) 6-3 6-1

Trainers treating Tour players have lots of different medications in their arsenals: medications for cramps, for general pain relief, for cooling. Maybe they need one more: Antidepressants, for player who have to play against Lleyton Hewitt.

You could see The Look on Luis Horna's face: "How did he get to that?" "How could anyone return that ball?" "What does it take to win a point around here?"

Whatever it takes, it was more than Horna had. There was only one game where he managed even to threaten Hewitt's serve, and of course Hewitt always gets into his opponents' service games. The Australian managed the key break in the middle of the first set, and from then on it was just a matter of rolling to the finish line.

And rolling to his fourth title of the year, and second straight. With it, he moves up to #4 in the Race, and he's just about sure to overtake Guillermo Coria at the Open next week.

There is just one fly in the ointment, and that's that all his titles are optional. Which means, first, that he doesn't move up much in the rankings (he came in #5, and there he stays). And second, he's filled almost all of his optional slots; at most, he can pick up about 50 more optional Race points this year, and 30 or so is more likely, and that's if he wins several big titles; small ones won't do. If he wants to end the year at #4, or even #5, he has to do it at the required events. Which, in practice, probably means the U. S. Open or nothing. And while he's won the Open before, he also comes in having played ten matches in the last two weeks....

Luis Horna, earlier this summer, was threatening the Top 30. He had slipped a little coming into this event, falling to #38. But that's without ever making a final in his career; unlike Hewitt, he had, and has, room to pick up optional points. He doesn't quite make it to the Top 30 with this result, but he's taken another step, both points-wise and psychologically. This should really help. As long as he doesn't have to face Hewitt again any time soon, anyway.

Men's Look Forward: U. S. Open
Call it "Andy's Last Stand."

Roger Federer leads Andy Roddick by nearly 300 Race points. The most Roddick can earn between now and the end of the year is between 500 and 600 points. It's a pretty simple equation: Either Roddick gains at least some ground in New York, or Federer is certain to be the year-end #1.

And the shape of that contest pretty well shapes U. S. Open as a whole. There are three basic scenarios: Federer Wins, Roddick Wins, Other Wins.

The reasons for favoring Federer are that he's the best player in the world, and showed his DecoTurf competence at last year's Masters Cup and this year's Canadian Open. The reasons for not favoring Federer are few, but if you had to pick a surface to beat him, DecoTurf is probably it; anything faster makes his net game too strong, and anything slower makes it too hard to hurt him while giving full scope to his touch. Maybe, if you're really, really good, you can overwhelm his backhand on DecoTurf. It's about the only surface where it's possible.

The reason for favoring Roddick are that he is the best DecoTurf player in the world, having won the Canadian Open, Cincinnati, and the U. S. Open last year, and having added Miami and another Indianapolis title this year. The reasons for not favoring Roddick are that he hasn't been quite as good on hardcourt this year as last, and last year, he was dealing with a lesser Federer.

The reason for favoring Anyone Else is simply that they outnumber the Top Two 64:1. Most of them can't really expect to win. But on a very good, very lucky day, they might take out one of the Top Two. And, with six chances to do so before the projected Federer/Roddick final, their odds are really pretty good.

So who are these Anyone Elses? The obvious first thought is Lleyton Hewitt. In the Race, he is the leading hardcourter other than Federer and Roddick, and he is the most recent champion in the field other than Roddick, and he's won ten straight matches. The other side of the coin is, while he is oozing optional titles, he hasn't won a required event in over a year. And he's played ten matches in the past two weeks, and at 23.

The next obvious candidate is Andre Agassi, the only guy other than Federer and Roddick to have won a hardcourt required event in the year and a half since Hewitt won Indian Wells 2003. And yet -- well, he did win Cincinnati. But he's also suffering more and more odd and unexpected losses.

Other than that -- who knows? Marat Safin is the only other past winner in the draw, and what are the odds of him holding it together for seven straight matches? We have a few other past finalists -- but Todd Martin, the 1999 runner-up, seems to have finally grown old; 1998 finalist Mark Philippoussis is playing so badly that the Australians are talking about dropping him from Davis Cup; and 1997 finalist Greg Rusedski, while he's at last winning matches again, is still very inconsistent. That leaves last year's finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero, but he's almost enough of a wreck to be a Williams Sister. World #3 Guillermo Coria can't play. Carlos Moya may be the closest thing we have to a dark horse -- but the guy has only three hardcourt titles in his long career. If he's a dark horse, the rest of the field is a black hole.

Never thought we'd see a Slam where the women have twice as many candidates to win it as the men do.

Officially, of course, there are plenty of other candidates, some of them seeded quite high though no real threat to win. Federer is of course the #1 seed, and Roddick #2. With Guillermo Coria having undergone surgery, Moya is #3, and Hewitt #4. Tim Henman, who is in Moya's quarter, takes the #5 spot and has been mentioned by some as having an outside shot here. Agassi is #6 and is in Federer's quarter. The #7 seed goes to last year's finalist Ferrero, who is in Roddick's quarter, guaranteeing that at least one of them will lose points. The #8 seed is David Nalbandian, who is in Hewitt's quarter; if he could ever stay healthy, he would be a real threat -- but he's hardly been able to play since Roland Garros, and with so many different parts hurting, what are the odds they will all last?

The #9 seed is Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio, who is in Henman's eighth; the #10 seed belongs to Olympic champion Nicolas Massu, who would face Andre Agassi for a spot in the quarterfinal. Slumping Rainer Schuettler is #11, and in Ferrero's section; Sebastien Grosjean, who would probably like this court better if it were even faster, is #12 and in Nalbandian's eighth (imagine how long the points would be if those two meet in the Round of Sixteen). The #13 seed is Marat Safin, who would face Roddick in the Sixteens; Fernando Gonzalez is #14 and would face Hewitt. #15 seed Paradorn Srichaphan, who has terrible results in required events and who finally lost at Long Island on Saturday, is in Moya's part of the draw; #16 Andrei Pavel is in Federer's.

The lower-down seeds include #17 Juan Ignacio Chela, drawn to face Grosjean in the third round; #18 Tommy Robredo, who would go against Safin; #19 Nicolas Kiefer (Gaudio's section); #20 Gustavo Kuerten (faces Gonzalez); #21 Taylor Dent (faces Massu); #22 Dominik Hrbaty (faces Srichaphan); #23 Vincent Spadea (faces Schuettler); #24 Ivan Ljubicic (faces Pavel); #25 Jiri Novak (faces Agassi); #26 Mardy Fish (faces Henman); #27 Mario Ancic (faces Moya); #28 Joachim Johansson (faces Ferrero); #29 Guillermo Canas (faces Roddick); #30 Feliciano Lopez (faces Hewitt); #31 Fabrice Santoro (faces Federer); and #32 Jonas Bjorkman (faces Nalbandian).

There are a handful of interesting stories from qualifying, too. Richard Gasquet, who continues to be up and down, gave a pretty good demonstration of why. He was playing Michael Russell -- and having more trouble than he should have, being up a set but down 4-1 in the second. He threw his racquet -- behind his back, not looking where it might land. Where it landed was above the eye of an official. Gasquet was defaulted. Russell managed to win his next match, but lost the qualifying final to long-injured Frenchman Jerome Golmard.

Seeds did not fare well in the qualifying; #1 Jan Hernych lost in the first round to Marc Gicquel, and #2 Gilles Muller followed up his success at Washington with a first round loss to Danai Udomchoke. #3 Potito Starace and #4 Philipp Kohlschreiber came through, but #5 Kristof Vliegen lost in the final round of qualifying to Ivo Heuberger (who also beat Brian Vahaly in the second round), #6 Adrian Garcia lost in the second round to Brendan Evans, and #7 Todd Reid went out in his opener to Andre Sa. Vliegen makes the main draw as a Lucky Loser, but the others, since they lost in early rounds, are done.

Perhaps most amazing of all, Nicolas Lapentti had to play qualifying -- and lost first round to Ivan Miranda, who then lost to Paul Goldstein.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

T. Martin vs. (31) Santoro. Talk about a contest of canny veterans! And while Martin has looked pretty washed up this year, Santoro looked equally washed up last year, and here he is a seed. So maybe there is hope for the American.

Nieminen vs. (16) Pavel. Two guys who have both been injured lately. Pavel recovered strong but has slowed; Nieminen seems at last to be picking up speed.

Corretja vs. Mathieu. Two guys playing well below their peak. Corretja may never see his best days again, but he has more experience with problems than Mathieu.

El Aynaoui vs. (21) Dent. A year ago, El Aynaoui would have been the seed. This year, he's been injured and has had great trouble coming back. But he's had another couple of weeks to practice, and Dent is always fragile.

(25) Novak vs. Stepanek. This is just not nice. Two very close friends and doubles partners, and they get stuck playing in the first round.

Ginepri vs. (6) Agassi. Think this one will be on American TV? Think it will be on more than once if it rains? Think it will be on more than once even if it doesn't rain? Think we're really sick of seeing the same players and matches over and over again?

O. Rochus vs. (27) Ancic. You have to love the contrast in styles. And if Ancic loves fast courts, so does Rochus.

Karlovic vs. (5) Henman. Henman seems to have worked so hard on his all-around game that it's hurt him a bit on faster courts. And, of course, it's very, very hard to deal with the Karlovic serve.

Berdych vs. (32) Bjorkman. The kid from Czechoslovakia had the goods to beat Roger Federer. Why not Bjorkman?

Gonzalez (14) vs. Soderling. The Chilean likes facing big servers, but he's erratic.

Davydenko vs. Philippoussis. Speed versus power. And, to some extent, Philippoussis's future is on the line.

Ferreira vs. (4) Hewitt. In many ways historic: Ferreira will extend his consecutive-Slams-played streak -- and will play no more.

(23) Spadea vs. Horna. Horna didn't miss a seed by much, and he had a great run at Long Island. A very tough opener for the American.

(13) Safin vs. Enqvist. Big power, not too much speed. Both are below their historical bests. Safin is closer, but he's also flakier.

The Rankings

We already have given the answer to the first question: Federer.

To state that in slightly longer form, The #1 player when all this is over will be Roger Federer. The only question is, by how much? In safe points, he leads Andy Roddick by 5760 to 3520. In other words, even if Roddick defends and Federer loses first round, the Swiss will have a lead of over a thousand points. If he does better than Roddick, it could come close to or even exceed 3000 points.

In fact, Roddick's #2 ranking is under theoretical threat: If Carlos Moya wins the whole thing and Roddick loses in the first three rounds, Moya is #2.

Moya is a more serious threat to #3 Guillermo Coria, needing only a quarterfinal to pass him. Tim Henman is also within reach of Coria; he could pass him with a semifinal (a quarterfinal could take him past Moya if the Spaniard loses early). And Lleyton Hewitt could pass Coria with a final. Thus we could have a real tussle for the #3-#5 spots.

Only seven players are absolutely guaranteed Top Ten spots when this is over: Federer, Roddick, Coria, Moya, Henman, Hewitt, and Gaudio. Agassi, with semifinalist points to defend, is a mere #8 in safe points; he's likely to stay Top Ten but it's certainly not guaranteed. Last year's finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero is down to #13 in safe points; semifinalist David Nalbandian is #14; they are in real trouble. The top candidate to take one of their spots is Nicolas Massu; Sebastien Grosjean is next, but with Rainer Schuettler, Marat Safin, Ferrero, and Nalbandian all within 150 points of him, it's clear that there will be a free-for-all for that #10 spot.

It should be recalled that Bucharest and Costa do Sauipe come off this week along with the Open. That affects Massu, last year's Bucharest finalist, and Schuettler, the finalist in Brazil, but the guy who will really suffer is Sjeng Schalken, an Open quarterfinalist last year who also won Brazil. He isn't even playing this year. The best he can end up is #33, and a ranking in the #38 range seems more likely.

Rounding out the "Oh dear" list is last year's quarterfinalist Younes El Aynaoui, who is still trying to get something together this year. Those quarterfinal points represent just about half of what he has left; another early loss could leave him below #150.

Key Matches

Second Round: Mayer vs. (6) Agassi. Agassi's draw is vicious: Ginepri, Mayer, Novak, Massu, Federer. And he has to win this match to have any hope of staying ahead of Gaston Gaudio.

Second Round: (26) Fish vs. Mirnyi. This is Fish's first event since losing the Olympics, and this perhaps his first real test. A win might even put him in the Top 25. As for Mirnyi, he really needs to break out of a funk. Plus, of course, there are the Davis Cup implications.

Second Round: (8) Nalbandian vs. Youzhny. Nalbandian, even if he's healthy, is rust personified. And Youzhny is tough. And if Nalbandian loses, he falls to no better than #14.

Third Round: (10) Massu vs. Dent. Interesting Olympic echoes. And Dent probably has to win to stay Top 25, while Massu needs a victory to have a chance for the Top Eight.

Third Round: (7) Ferrero vs. (28) J. Johansson. A must-win for Ferrero if he wants to stay Top Ten.

Third Round: (29) Canas vs. (2) Roddick. It was Canas who cost Roddick his first-ever Masters title in the 2002 Canadian Open final. Roddick has an even better reason to want to win this, though: If he comes through, he clinches the #2 ranking.

Fourth Round: (8) Nalbandian vs. (12) Grosjean. If Nalbandian wins this, he might stay Top Ten. If Grosjean wins, he's nearly sure to be Top Ten.

Fourth Round (13) Safin vs. (2) Roddick. The first possible meeting of past champions.

Quarterfinal: (1) Federer vs. (6) Agassi. Win this, and Agassi should at least stay Top Eight. As well as salvaging a tough year. Will DecoTurf be enough to pull him through?

Quarterfinal: (3) Moya vs. (5) Henman. If Moya wins this, he's #3 in the world (barring a title by Lleyton Hewitt). If Henman wins it, he is #3 (again, barring a title from Hewitt). If Moya gets to this match and Henman doesn't, Moya is likely to be #3 even if he loses the quarterfinal.

bandabou
Aug 31st, 2004, 06:59 PM
U. S. Open: Knocking the Props Out
If asked to sum up Tamarine Tanasugarn's year in one word, there isn't much doubt which word we would use. The word is "miserable." She has a 12-19 record, plus some qualifying losses. She has 13 first round losses, and other than on grass (where she went 6-3 with a quarterfinal at Birmingham and a fourth round at Wimbledon), she has only once won more than one match at an event -- and that event was Hyderabad, with an incredibly weak field.

But she has always managed to stay fairly close to the Top 50. Why? Because of her 2003 U. S. Open, where she reached the Round of Sixteen with wins over Schnyder and Hantuchova.

Maybe coming back got her thinking again about that embarrassing win over Hantuchova (where she celebrated winning a game before it was over). Or maybe she was still in her slump. Or maybe she just ran into Gisela Dulko, who has been rising fast. Whatever the explanation, Tanasugarn is out in the first round, 7-6 6-3. And, with the loss, about 40% of her points evaporate. She won't be thinking about the Top 50 again any time soon; from #52, she will fall to somewhere around #90.

Tanasugarn may have felt deja vu. Conchita Martinez faced some of her own. One of the events coming off this week is Bali, where Martinez last year faced Maria Vento-Kabchi, and lost. Vento-Kabchi got her again this year, by the improbable score of 0-6 6-2 6-3. It is Martinez's good fortune that most of the players ranked near her are also defending a lot, so even though she sees her point total drop by more than 60, she may not lose much ground. But Martinez is healthy; this was supposed to be the year she finally rebuilt her ranking. Instead, she's seen it roughly double in the course of the year.

It was twice a good day for Ai Sugiyama as she started her quest for a return to the Top Ten. For starters, she beat Teryn Ashley 7-5 6-2. Later came word that her potential third round opponent, Karolina Sprem, was out; Sprem, the #18 seed, lost to countrywoman Jelena Kostanic 6-3 2-6 6-4. Kostanic will probably move from #40 to the upper thirties; Sprem, who continues to struggle on modern surfaces, may fall out of the Top 20.

It looked for a time as if the news might get even better for Sugiyama; potential fourth round opponent Jennifer Capriati started out absolutely miserably against Denisa Chladkova. But Chladkova's game might almost be designed to be disrupted by the weather conditions and Capriati: High ball toss, big swings, just too many things that can go wrong when pressed. Capriati settled down to beat her 2-6 6-1 6-2.

The third candidate for the Top Ten in early action, #10 seed Vera Zvonareva, had much the easiest time, crushing Henrieta Nagyova 6-1 6-1.

Amelie Mauresmo, the top player in action, didn't do quite as well in her first match, having a brief lapse in the middle of the first set. But she still took a step toward the #1 ranking with a 6-4 6-2 win over Marissa Irvin.

Magui Serna has been almost invisible since the grass season, but maybe she's finally recovering. She beat qualifier Maureen Drake 6-2 6-4 to set up a meeting with Capriati. Other than that, it was a pretty good day session for qualifiers. Eugenia Linetskaya may be the next Big Russian Thing; having reached the finals in the big Challengers at Orange and Dothan, she won the Bronx $50K Challenger two weeks ago and now has her first WTA win after beating Rita Grande 5-7 6-1 6-2. Julia Schruff has wins in consecutive WTA events for the first time in her career; having qualified for and made the second round at Stockholm, she did the same at the Open with a 6-3 6-7 6-1 victory over wildcard Jennifer Hopkins. Severine Beltrame scored her first Slam win with a 7-6 4-6 6-1 victory over Martina Sucha. And Stephanie Foretz took out Shenay Perry 7-6 6-7 6-4.

Also coming through the hard way was #22 seed Magdalena Maleeva, who edged Flavia Pennetta 2-6 6-4 6-4. But #16 Francesca Schiavone pounded Klara Koukalova 6-1 6-3, #17 Alicia Molik improved her chances of staying Top 20 by beating Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-0 6-2, and #30 Tatiana Golovin moved back toward the Top 30, and earned her first U. S. Open win, 6-2 6-4 over Anca Barna.

#23 seed Fabiola Zuluaga fell somewhere between the two extremes, beating Myriam Casanova 6-3 6-4 but needing at least two more wins if she is to make the Top 25. It wasn't until late afternoon that we finally had our second upset of the day; Marion Bartoli took out #32 seed Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4 6-4. That puts Bartoli, #50 coming in, ahead of Shaughnessy, who had 196 points to defend and is likely to end up between #45 and #50.

#6 seed Elena Dementieva's match with countrywoman Dinara Safina went about as you would expect for those two: It resembled a roller coaster ride punctuated with bad serving. Dementieva had eight double faults in four service games in the first set, allowing Safina to take it. But then Safina seemed to wither in the heat; Dementieva kept alive her hopes of reaching #5 2-6 6-1 6-2. Safina, who had 118 points to defend, may well fall out of the Top 50. Another seed who did much better in the second set than the first was #15 Patty Schnyder, who made it by qualifier Roberta Vinci 7-6 6-0.

Wildcard Amber Liu continues to struggle outside of college competition; her WTA record is now 1-7, and she has a six match losing streak. Slumping Julia Vakulenko beat her 3-6 6-3 6-1.

Camille Pin is having the best summer of her career (which is not saying much), and when Daniela Hantuchova came out in horrible form, it looked as if the Lucky Loser might be posting one of the day's big upsets. But Pin's whole problem is that she has no real weapon to put an opponent away (to give just one indication, her fastest serve was listed as 83 miles per hour, and the rest of her game is to match). Hantuchova finally came back to win 1-6 7-6 7-6.

Anna-Lena Groenefeld came in ranked more than twenty places higher than Els Callens, but because she has been rising and Callens falling, the German had to go through qualifying. Maybe it tired her out. Callens advanced 2-6 6-4 7-5.

We thought we might have seen the traces of a limp as Serena Williams faced Sandra Kleinova. There was no sign of it in the scoreline; Serena advanced 6-1 6-3 to keep herself well and truly in the hunt for a Top Ten spot.

It looked for a time as if Jelena Dokic, who hadn't played a match since Wimbledon and hadn't won a match since Charleston, might actually come back strong against a Nathalie Dechy still tired and hurting from New Haven. She couldn't keep it up. Dechy advanced 3-6 6-0 7-5. The loss is likely to drop Dokic out of the Top 40, but Dechy -- who has now defended the last of her points from 2003 -- is on the verge of the Top 25.

In other matches, Akiko Morigami beat Emmanuelle Gagliardi 6-2 6-2, Tathiana Garbin disposed of countrywoman Mara Sangangelo 6-2 6-1, Vera Douchevina kept Aniko Kapros (who had to pull out of the Olympics with injury) winless since Wimbledon with a 6-1 6-3 win, Iveta Benesova moved another step toward the Top 40 with a tough 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over wildcard Bethanie Mattek, Lindsay Lee-Waters dropped Claudine Schaul out of the Top 50 2-6 6-2 6-4, and Angela Haynes posted her first Slam win with a 6-7 6-1 7-6 victory over Tatiana Perebiynis, who will be dropping out of the Top 80.

Women's action concluded with Cara Black denying wildcard Jamea Jackson her first Slam win 7-6 5-7 6-4.

U. S. Open: Culture Shock
Twenty years of cutbacks in government funding to public radio stations have had some interesting effects. Classical music stations, for instance, have done audience research and learned that their listeners prefer to hear the announcers talk more about the musical selections. In other words, the best way for a classical music station to succeed is to play less classical music.

Hm.

(Before you say they should stop playing classical music, we should note, that same market research says that classical music is the best way for public radio stations to survive. The listeners don't want to hear the music, but they don't want to hear anything else, either. Double hm.)

Watching this day's television coverage, you get the disturbing feeling that the TV networks think that the best way to cover tennis is not to cover tennis. For once, though, one can almost understand it, as several of the top players were all out of sorts.

Starting with #3 seed Carlos Moya. It would be tough to call this Open an opportunity for Moya to actually win Slam #2, but it certainly looks like an opportunity for him to snag some big points.

He's going to have to play a lot better than this, though. Moya took on wildcard Brian Baker, and you would have thought that Moya, not Baker, was the teenager struggling to find his game. He butchered his first service game, eventually got the break back, lost the tiebreak, won the second set as Baker suffered (nervous?) cramps, then struggled again in the third before finally winning 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-2.

Roger Federer played a much cleaner match, but he also faced a more experienced opponent, and he certainly wasn't at his absolute best. Still, the top seed took out Albert Costa 7-5 6-2 6-4.

#26 Mardy Fish too had his problems, struggling mightily to put away scrambling David Ferrer in the first set. Once he'd done that, though, he took charge, winning 7-5 6-3 6-2.

That started what proved to be a very routine day for seeds: Of the first eight in action, seven advanced. The only exception was Mario Ancic, playing his first Slam as a seed; he lost to Olivier Rochus 7-5 6-2 7-6. But #16 Andrei Pavel broke out of his recent rut to beat Jarkko Nieminen 6-3 7-5 6-7 6-3 (the only problem for Pavel being that he is out of open slots in his ranking tally; from now on, he has to start defending); #19 Nicolas Kiefer continued his solid summer with a 6-3 7-5 6-2 win over Nicolas Mahut, and #25 Jiri Novak handled pal Radek Stepanek 7-5 6-1 6-3.

Mention the words "Jerome Golmard" and "retirement" in the same sentence, and you just naturally assume that the oft-injured Frenchman would be out. But for once the shoe was on the other foot; Golmard advanced when Irakli Labadze retired after losing a first set tiebreak. But Younes El Aynaoui still can't shake his problems; he retired trailing #21 seed Taylor Dent 6-1 2-1.

Speaking of long-injured Frenchmen, Paul-Henri Mathieu can celebrate his first Slam victory of the year; he beat Raemon Sluiter 6-2 7-6 7-6. The 26-point third set tiebreak was the longest of the tournament so far.

Whatever is wrong with Max Mirnyi, it isn't going away. He lost 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-4 to Michal Tabara, who scores his first Slam win since the 2001 Australian Open. There was no coming back from the dead for Alex Corretja, though; he lost 2-6 6-4 6-0 6-1 to Sargis Sargsian. Corretja's last win at the Open came in 2002.

Potito Starace, however, can claim his first Open win; he beat Alexander Popp 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-3. Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus can claim even more: His first Slam win of the year, in only his second ATP event of 2004 (the first being the Olympics, where he got in based on nationality rather than results). He beat slumping Olivier Mutis 2-6 6-2 6-1 7-5.

Fernando Verdasco just missed getting seeded at this Open. He didn't let it bother him; he edged Igor Andreev 6-3 6-4 4-6 2-6 7-5. Nor was Thomas Johansson bothered by the fact that he hadn't played the Open since 2001; he took out Daniel Elsner 7-6 6-4 6-3.

In 2002, after losing to Pete Sampras, Rusedski said that Sampras was finished at the Open. It's true that Sampras hasn't been back since. But Rusedski himself hasn't had a win since then. In a dramatic match in which he saved a couple of match points, Cyril Saulnier topped Rusedski 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 7-6.

A battle of Alexes went to Calatrava, who beat Bogdanovic 6-3 3-6 4-6 6-1 6-4 to win his first Slam match of the year. Also advancing in five sets was Karol Kucera, who took out Xavier Malisse 6-1 1-6 1-6 6-4 6-1. And also winning his first Slam match of the year was Amer Delic, who took out Janko Tipsarevic 6-1 6-3 6-4.

Somebody really ought to have put Gaston Gaudio and Juan Monaco out of their misery a lot sooner. In one of the best arguments for one-set matches we've ever seen, #9 seed Gaudio advanced 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-2.

Todd Martin hadn't been talking of retiring that we've heard, but maybe he wanted to go quietly. He came here with fourth round points to defend, and with his ranking down to #96, a first round loss would leave him around #145. After going down two sets to one against .#31 seed Fabrice Santoro, he seemed set to turn things around, but suffered cramps and eventually lost 3-6 6-4 6-4 7-5. The umpire then told the crowd that Martin was retiring. We will have a farewell feature later in the Open.

In the evening highlight match, #6 Andre Agassi made it ten seeds up, nine through; he just kept playing tougher and tougher against Robby Ginepri, finally advancing 7-6 6-4 6-2.

The day's final match was suspended with Florian Mayer leading Flavio Saretta 6-4 6-2 5-1.

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - First Round
Marion Bartoli def. Meghann Shaughnessy (32) 6-4 6-4

Given how many players came in with bumps, sprains, question marks, it was amazingly quiet: 14 of 16 seeds in action came through. And the other seed to lose, Karolina Sprem, is no fan of hardcourts and wasn't defending anything.

Meghann Shaughnessy, though is a pretty pure hardcourt player, even though she spent a lot of time in her developing years playing on clay. The problem is, clay didn't teach her anything; she still builds her game around her big serve. And Shaughnessy suffered from a shoulder injury for much of the summer; her serve still seems to be off. Take away Shaughnessy's weapon, and she's rather too predictable -- especially when dealing with someone like Bartoli, who is two-handed on both sides and whose best shot is her return. When Shaughnessy got her first serve in, she would usually win the point. But she put in less than half her first serves, and that was that.

And Shaughnessy was defending 196 points at this Open -- over a fifth of her total. It has been, frankly, a miserable year for her, and this made it more miserable. #35 coming in, this will cost her at least 10 ranking spots, and 12-13 seems more likely.

Bartoli, by contrast, will be shooting up; she might well hit a career high at this Open. #50 coming in, she moves close to #40, and she faces #88 Vera Douchevina next. A Top 40 spot really does look like a possibility.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - First Round
Olivier Rochus def. Mario Ancic (27) 7-5 6-2 7-6(8-6)

Once again the rule proves true: You do not want to face Olivier Rochus on a fast court. On slow courts, his lack of a serve seems to be fatal. On fast stuff, where you can't return him to death, he's trouble.

The service statistics reveal that point brilliantly. Ancic had 19 aces, Rochus none -- but Rochus actually won a higher percentage of points on serve than Ancic (75% on first serve, to 71% for the Croat, and 55% versus 43% on second serves). Ancic did manage more winners -- but he made far more errors; Rochus had only 12, and a ratio of winners to errors of 3:1. He had five break points, and converted them all. And he was drilling passing shots; Ancic was a mere 30 of 60 on net approaches.

And so we had the first upset of the tournament, and it went, literally, to the little guy.

In terms of rankings, this doesn't mean much. Ancic wasn't defending anything, so he will end up right around his current #29. Rochus lost first round last year, so he picks up a few points -- enough to put him back firmly in the Top 100 (he was an even #100 coming in). But that's all. Still, we're coming up on the indoor season; this might get him into a few more events, and if they're on a fast enough surface, maybe he can do some damage.

bandabou
Sep 1st, 2004, 01:25 PM
U. S. Open: Act One, Scene One
There is a script to be followed when a talented but inexperienced young player takes on a strong veteran in a highlight match: The young player starts out playing terribly due to nerves, digs herself a huge hole, realizes she's losing, loosens up, starts playing her best, cuts into the gap -- and then collapses.

Nicole Vaidisova has studied that script in detail. She was blown out in the first round against Justine Henin-Hardenne -- who happens to be the first Top 40 player she has ever faced -- went up two breaks in the second, then lost them, and the match (her first Slam main draw match, and obviously her first Slam showcourt match) 6-1 6-4.

That opened a day in which three of the four contenders for #1 were in action (a side effect of Serena Williams's special ranking: Even though we have four players dominating the Tour this year, Lindsay Davenport was seeded #5 and, by luck of the draw, ended in the top half with Henin-Hardenne and Anastasia Myskina, rather than in the bottom half with Amelie Mauresmo. Talk about top-heavy draws!).

It will tell you something about Anastasia Myskina that she was up 6-1 5-0 and serving for the match and she still was cussing at the world. But that was just the way she is; she did not fall apart, but beat Ludmila Cervanova 6-1 6-0 to keep herself in the hunt for #1.

Around the time she finished the first set, Lindsay Davenport took the court against Lubomira Kurhajcova. That proved a much tougher match, for the first half set. When Davenport finally broke at the end, it was a matter of cruising. The final score was 6-4 6-0. Which meant that all four #1 prospects are through, all having won their matches in straight sets.

Several other seeds also posted blowouts: #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova beat the WTA's most loudmouthed youngster, qualifier Sesil Karatancheva, 6-2 6-0 to keep herself in the thick of the contest for the #10 ranking. #14 Nadia Petrova had her best match in a while, blasting Zheng Jie 6-0 6-1. Zheng fought her way into the Top 50 earlier this year by playing herself to death, and has indeed played like the dead lately: Having made the fourth round at Roland Garros, she has lost her opening match at all five events since, and will be no better than #58 when this Open is over. Another Russian, #26 seed Elena Bovina, ran her winning streak to six with a 6-3 6-0 win over Marta Marrero; her Top 20 ranking is looking more and more secure. But #25 seed Elena Likhovtseva, who hit the Top 25 as a result of her Canadian Open final and title at Forest Hills, is right back out; she lost to countrywoman Maria Kirilenko 7-6 6-3, and will be no better than #28 after the Open. The other seed to fall in early action was #24 Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, who has now lost all three of her matches since retiring at Stockholm; she fell to Shinobu Asagoe 3-6 6-4 6-1.

Scoring her first WTA win, and of course her first Slam win, was qualifier Anna Chakvetadze, who edged slumping Barbara Schett 1-6 6-4 6-2. Chakvetadze (formerly listed as Tchakvetadze) has been climbing fairly steadily recently; #374 at the end of last year, she was #222 at the time of Roland Garros, and followed that up with a final at Surbiton, played her first WTA match as a qualifier at Stockholm, and came here ranked #175. She has almost increased her points by almost half, and will rise to around #135.

Tzipora Obziler has WTA wins, but not lately; her last was all the way back at the Australian Open. (Of course, she has played only one WTA event since then.) But she was lucky enough to face another qualifier, Angelique Widjaja, who has been hurt and whose ranking is also down in the pits. Obziler advanced 7-5 6-3.

Mashona Washington has been having a terrific summer beating up on higher-ranked players. Maybe she wasn't ready for one who is ranked lower. Qualifier Antonella Serra Zanetti, who has been improving her serve at least a little, took out the American 7-5 7-5, meaning that Washington, who has been rising in the rankings almost weekly, is likely to take a hit this week.

Seeded Americans did better in afternoon play: #20 Chanda Rubin beat Maria Sanchez Lorenzo 6-2 6-2 (a loss that could cost Sanchez Lorenzo her Top 50 ranking), while #21 Amy Frazier topped wildcard Kelly McCain 6-2 6-2.

You'd think that #21 seed Silvia Farina Elia would be getting the hang of hardcourt by now. Not much sign of it; she barely edged qualifier Abigail Spears 3-6 6-2 6-4. The story was much the same for another one-hander: #29 seed Eleni Daniilidou beat #108 Silvija Talaja (another player who prefers clay), but the score was 3-6 6-3 7-5. Daniilidou still needs two more wins if she wants to get to the Top 30.

After nearly disappearing for a couple of years (last WTA event was Shanghai 2002), Nan-Nan Liu seems to be making a comeback, having made the semifinals of the Beijing and Lexington Challengers this year and qualifying for the Open. Sadly for her, she ran into Paola Suarez, and is out 6-1 7-5.

If high-ranked Russians mostly did well, life wasn't as much fun for those lower down. Tatiana Panova, who has only two WTA wins since Miami, lost 6-3 6-2 to Katarina Srebotnik, while Alina Jidkova fell to Lisa Raymond 7-5 6-3. Raymond is in the midst of a tight little knot of players all trying to reach or stay in the Top 30 -- a group which also includes Mary Pierce. Pierce, the #27 seed, started with an easy 6-1 6-2 win over Emilie Loit.

Samantha Stosur started 2004 in decent form, posting ten wins in seven WTA events. Since then, she has won only two matches, both at Birmingham. She finally broke out of it with a 7-5 6-4 win over Virginie Razzano. Tina Pisnik, though, isn't coming out of her funk; she lost to Jill Craybas 6-2 6-1, and will be dropping at least a couple of places below her current #51.

Alexandra Stevenson has been doing all the theoretically right things to try to get her game together: She's played Challengers (well, a Challenger: Surbiton) and played qualifying (her last five events have all been qualifying draws), and been out there just about every week. It simply isn't working. She has yet to win a match this year. She does have a few qualifying wins -- but at the Open, she decided to take a wildcard. No dice; Virginia Ruano Pascual took her out 6-4 7-5.

If you watch Laura Granville and Maria Sharapova, it's pretty obvious why they tend to produce very close matches: They play very similar power games; there isn't much to choose between the two of them. But Sharapova is a little bigger, a little stronger. As the result showed: Sharapova advanced 6-3 5-7 7-5; the loss will probably drop Granville back below #70.

It's really too bad that Petra Mandula had to be so out of form when she faced Venus Williams. Had she been right, it might have been very interesting. As it was, it was surprisingly close. Venus is still in the hunt for a Top Ten ranking, but the score was 6-3 7-6.

In other results, Maria Elena Camerin topped Melinda Czink 6-4 6-2, Barbora Strycova suffered her fourth straight loss as she fell to Anabel Medina Garrigues 7-5 6-3, Kristina Brandi pounded Milagros Sequera 6-1 6-2, Nicole Pratt struggled past Catalina Castano 3-6 6-1 6-3, Arantxa Parra Santonja took out Marlene Weingartner 6-2 7-6, Dally Randriantefy won her first Open match since 1996 as she spoiled wildcard Jessica Kirkland's Slam debut 6-4 6-4, and Jelena Jankovic moved another step closer to a Top 40 ranking with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Lucky Loser Nuria Llagostera Vives. Outside court action closed with qualifier Shikha Uberoi, playing only her second WTA main draw, upsetting Saori Obata 6-3 3-6 7-5 to earn her first WTA win. Obata, #56 coming in, had 178 points to defend (from two events), and will fall to around #80.

U. S. Open: Don't Blink
It didn't take Florian Mayer much time to finish off his match against Flavio Saretta. One game, and that was it. 6-4 6-2 6-1.

Now if only Tim Henman had been that efficient! Henman has been suffering from back problems, and you could see it, especially in the way he handled low balls but also in his movement. He had a bunch of chances to win the second set against Ivo Karlovic, but blew them, and then lost the tiebreak. You had the feeling that he was spent, but somehow he managed to summon enough strength to pull out a 7-6 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-4 win. What he'll be like in the next round, though, we hate to ask.

It turned out to be a lousy Open for Croats. Mario Ancic was the first seed to lose Monday. Karlovic was one of the first losers of Tuesday. And Croatia's top player, Ivan Ljubicic, is also out; he ended up retiring while tied 3-6 6-3 1-1 with Hyung-Taik Lee.

The only other seed to lose in early action was #14 Marat Safin, who had one of his typical do-I-really-want-to-be-here matches and lost to Thomas Enqvist 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-3 (and it shouldn't have taken even that long; Enqvist was up a break in the third set but double-faulted it away and then let himself be broken). But #10 Nicolas Massu showed that the Olympics hadn't used up all his energy as he trounced Jose Acasuso 6-4 6-0 6-2; #22 Dominik Hrbaty posted one of his rare routine wins in a required event as he took out Oscar Hernandez 6-1 6-2 6-1; #18 Tommy Robredo had little trouble with Danai Udomchoke, advancing 6-4 7-5 6-4; and #15 Paradorn Srichaphan overcame a slow start to eliminate Victor Hanescu 4-6 6-4 6-1 6-1. Later in the day, #28 Joachim Johansson took out Yen-Hsun Lu 6-3 6-1 6-3.

#29 Guillermo Canas hadn't played a U. S. Open match since 2001, but there wasn't much sign of rust; he topped Kristof Vliegen 6-3 4-6 7-5 6-1.

#11 Rainer Schuettler again was the exception that proves the rule; on a day when most seeds came through, he lost to Andreas Seppi 3-6 4-6 7-6 7-6 6-1; he's likely to lose a few more ranking spots, though Safin's loss could save him. Juan Carlos Ferrero didn't lose, quite, but he sure gave it the old college try, repeatedly muffing chances to polish off Thomas Zib before finally prevailing 4-6 7-5 7-6 6-7 6-3.

Much of the day's excitement proved to be on the outside courts and in the "who?" matches; there were four five-setters scattered around the grounds. Mariano Zabaleta has not been having much fun since winning Bastad almost two months ago, and Dmitry Tursunov added to his misery 4-6 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2. Rafael Nadal doesn't have much experience with five set matches, but he has lots of youthful energy; he outlasted Ivo Heuberger 6-0 6-3 4-6 2-6 6-3. Stefan Koubek practiced his specialty of sticking around until his opponent fell apart, and beat Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-3 6-4 1-6 2-6 6-3. And Alexander Peya topped Bobby Reynolds 2-6 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-4.

Michael Llodra didn't actually go five sets, but it was close. He once again showed that he isn't just a doubles player as he beat Gilles Elseneer 2-6 7-6 7-6 6-2.

Several low-ranked Americans had good days: Paul Goldstein took out Takao Suzuko 7-6 2-6 6-2 6-1 for his first Slam win since the 2001 Australian Open, and Jan-Michael Gambill took a brief respite from his funk to beat Rajeev Ram 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-4. But Americans didn't have it all their own way; Filippo Volandri took out K. J. Hippensteel 6-3 6-4 6-2.

Australia's Davis Cup decision just keeps getting harder; Mark Philippoussis hasn't played yet, but Wayne Arthurs lost to Arnaud Clement 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-3.

Tennis lost one Martin on Monday, but the other is still around; Alberto Martin beat Anthony Dupuis 3-6 6-2 6-4 6-4.

There was very little to say about the evening match, except that it was mercifully quick; #2 seed Andy Roddick beat Scoville Jenkins 6-0 6-2 6-2.

Coverage of the more noteworthy doubles matches is found in today's doubles preview.

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - First Round
Shinobu Asagoe def. Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi (24) 3-6 6-4 6-1

If there is a lesson in this for Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi, it can be summed up in a single word: Heal.

Smashnova-Pistolesi is quite short, so she doesn't put too much strain on her legs, but otherwise she's an ankle injury waiting to happen: She plays way too many events (using Tier IVs and overplaying as a substitute for posting big wins), and of course she makes her living by running. The amazing thing is not that she ended up with tendonitis in her legs at Stockholm; it's that she had had no other significant injuries since 2001.

But, having hurt herself, she didn't slow down at all, playing Sopot, then the Olympics, and now the U. S. Open. The latter two, note, on hardcourts. This is not the way to rest and recuperate.

And she's paying the price; she's played all those events, but she hasn't won a match. She can't really have expected much anyway; both the Olympics and the Open are on fast hardcourts. Of course, it's hard to blame her for wanting to play both; the event she really should have skipped was Sopot. Except that it's on clay....

In any case, she's out. And that means that she will not be returning to the Top 25 at this time; the best she can hope for is #26, and #27 or #28 looks more likely.

Asagoe, ironically, could fall more than Smashnova-Pistolesi, unless she can beat Jill Craybas in the next round. Last year, she made the third round with a win over Maleeva. This defends slightly less than half her points; if she loses in the next round, she'll fall from #62 to around #70.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - First Round
Juan Carlos Ferrero (7) def. Tomas Zib (Q) 4-6 7-5 7-6(8-6) 6-7(4-7) 6-3

The really depressing part is that Juan Carlos Ferrero went through this for almost nothing. Almost nothing, as in he's defended 5% of the points he earned here last year when he made the final.

It was a match the Spaniard should have won repeatedly. He had all sorts of chances in the fourth set, and blew them all (mostly with nervous-looking errors), and then played a hideous tiebreak. He went up a break in the fifth as Zib showed signs of cramping, but couldn't ever win an easy service game, and by the end he was looking as if he too were suffering physical problems. Which is likely enough, given all the back problems and such he's suffered this year. He finished it off with another break, but you had to wonder how much longer he could have kept it up had Zib held in that game.

And he faces Stefan Koubek next. Stefan Koubek, who makes points last as long as they possibly can. And that's after playing four and a half hours of sloppy, nervous tennis. If Ferrero loses his second round, he'll end up no better than #13, and he might well end up at #15 or even lower. And that's with the Madrid title still on his record. At the rate he's going, he will end the year below the Top 20. Ferrero won this match -- but it looks like a case of winning the battle and losing the war.

For Zib, this is probably the match of his life. And, in his case, just getting this far may do a little good. Last year, he lost in the second round of Open qualifying. At #141, the difference between second round of qualifying and main draw is significant. (As is the cash, for that matter.) He should gain about ten spots. Which still leaves him -- playing qualifying.

Another Long Farewell
Retirement is a tricky thing. Michael Chang dragged it out, and waited much too long; people are still ragging on him for it. Pete Sampras, given that he won the last event he ever played, arguably went too soon. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, by retiring once when he didn't mean it and once when he did, probably went too soon and too late.

By the looks of things, Todd Martin timed it just right: He quit after the match that finally dropped him out of the Top 100.

Martin suffered for his whole career from being a fifth wheel -- literally. At 34, he came up right at the front of the generation that included Andre Agassi (now 34), Jim Courier (34), Sampras (33), and Chang (32), being a few months younger than Agassi but older than the others. Naturally he was compared to them, and naturally the comparison was unfavorable.

Take him away from that context, and suddenly the story looks a lot better. He had eight titles in his career, on just about every surface: Coral Springs 1993 on green clay, Barcelona 1998 on red clay, Memphis 1994, 1995, Stockholm 1998 on indoor hardcourt, Queen's 1994 on grass, and Sydney 1994, 1998 on hardcourt (Rebound Ace). He had finals at he 1994 Australian Open and the 1999 U. S. Open, plus two Wimbledon and two U. S. Open semifinals; he had at least a 2:1 won:lost record at every Slam except Roland Garros, and even there, he ended up 11-11 in his career.

His peak ranking was #4, achieved after the 1999 U. S. Open final; he ended that year at #7, and also ended 1994 in the Top Ten. He was in the year-end Top 20 in 1993 (which was also his first year in the Top 50), 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, and 1999, and managed the astonishing feat of having a winning record every year of his career from 1991 to 2003, despite severe injury problems in several of those years. From 1993 to 1999, he had at least one title every year except 1997, his first big injury year.

It's regrettable that he didn't play more doubles; his skills were perfect for it. Still, he won five doubles titles, including Cincinnati in 2002, and peaked at #30 in the doubles rankings.

Sadly, it was more for his losses that he was remembered: His meltdown in the 1996 Wimbledon semifinal, and his inability to put away Andre Agassi in the 1999 U. S. Open final. This has caused some people to label him "too nice."

And yet, that niceness caused him to be liked and respected by all the younger American players, many of whom regard him as a mentor; he's likely to be a great coach sometime soon. He is also considered one of the smartest players in tennis. And he used those gifts on behalf of the sport, serving three terms as president of the ATP Player Council. ATP CEO Mark Miles said of him, "[H]e was always a gentleman and the embodiment of the highest standard of sportsmanship. Off the court no player in the past 15 years can match his record of leadership and service on behalf of his fellow players, the ATP, and the game of tennis."

And when he went, he went quietly, with no hoopla, no farewell tour, no stretching it out or trying to milk wildcards. Like Martin himself, it was a quiet farewell. He's earned his retirement.

Enjoy it well, friend!

Doubles Preview
The contrast could hardly be greater. In singles, we already know who will be the #1 man when the Open is over. We have two clear favorites to win the thing. We won't say the outcome is predictable, but the expectations are clear.

Not so in doubles! Going into action, there was no overwhelming favorite -- and no fewer than seven men had the chance to become #1 when all this was over (and two more who could end up co-#1 in points but ranked #2 because they lose tiebreaks).

If you're wondering how that it possible, it's because there are three teams (Bob and Mike Bryan, Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, and Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett) where both players have the same points and so would be co-#1 if they get there at all (the Bryans would be ranked co-#1, Nestor would precede Knowles on tiebreaks, and Ullyett Black). Still, that leaves us with six players or teams contending for #1: Jonas Bjorkman, Mahesh Bhupathi, Knowles/Nestor, Fabrice Santoro, Bryan/Bryan, Black/Ullyett.

As to how that is possible, the reason is that the top teams are also the teams with the most to defend. Coming in, Bjorkman was #1 and partner Todd Woodbridge was #2 -- but they were defending champions. Take those points off, and Bjorkman is still #1 in safe points, and Woodbridge #2, but of course their margin is small. The Bryans came in at co-#3, but they were last year's finalists, so they're all the way down at #8 in safe points. And so forth. What we ended up with was this situation:

* Bjorkman at #1 in safe points
* Bhupathi at #2, tied with Woodbridge, about 300 points back. Since Woodbridge is playing with Bjorkman, he cannot become #1.
* Knowles and Nestor tied for #4/#5, about 300 points behind Bhupathi and Woodbridge and 600 points behind Bjorkman
* Santoro 40 points behind Knowles/Nestor, 650 behind Bjorkman
* Mirnyi 25 points behind Santoro. Since he is playing with Bhupathi, he cannot become #1.
* The Bryans 40 points behind Mirnyi, 715 points behind Bjorkman
* Ullyett and Black 250 points behind the Bryans, 985 points behind Bjorkman

Black and Ullyett aren't really in the contest; their only hope to get to the top is to win the Open (and they are the 2001 titleists, after all) and have Bjorkman/Woodbridge lose their openers and have Bhupathi/Mirnyi lose before the semifinal. But it's mathematically possible.

It's interesting to note that every one of those nine guys has at least one doubles Slam; more than half of them have multiple Slams. It's quite a collection of talent.

If we look down the seeds list, it's as follows:

The #1 seeds are Bjorkman and Woodbridge. They're also the obvious favorites, with Woodbridge being the all-time leader in doubles Slams and Bjorkman #2 among players in the field. And the fact that the courts are fast can only help them. But they're also an old pairing, and Bjorkman is one of only three of the contenders for #1 who is playing singles (and one of the others, Max Mirnyi, went out on day 1).

The Bryans are the #2 seeds. And, of course, hardcourt is their native surface. But they haven't won a required title all year. Based on recent results, frankly, they're over-seeded.

Knowles and Nestor are #3, and they're looking fairly solid this year, with a title at Cincinnati as well as Marseille and Barcelona. The flip side is that a combined age of 65-on-Saturday, they have only one Slam in their long careers.

Bhupathi and Mirnyi are #4, but Mirnyi is in a real funk right now, with his single and doubles rankings both falling. They've won Slams together and separately (unlike the Bryans or Knowles and Nestor), but right now they aren't really very intimidating; their only title in 2004 is Rome, though Bhupathi won the Canadian Open with Paes and Auckland and Dubai with Santoro. They managed to win their first round match, but it was extremely close against a not particularly noteworthy team; they edged Garcia and Prieto 4-6 6-4 7-6.

As for Santoro, he's seeded #5 with Michael Llodra. These two don't have all that many titles together (mostly because, until recently, they were so far apart in the singles rankings, they couldn't play the same events), but they did win the Australian Open and make the final at Roland Garros; in addition, Santoro had the two titles with Bhupathi and Llodra just won Long Island.

Black and Ullyett are #6, and having a very strong year, with titles at Miami and Hamburg.

Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley, the #7 seeds, aren't doing nearly as well this year as last. Still, Hanley won Rotterdam with Stepanek and Nottingham with Woodbridge.

The #8 seeds are Martin Damm and Cyril Suk, with titles at Doha and 's-Hertogenbosch. Julian Knowle and Nenad Zimonjic are #9, Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez #10, Frantisek Cermak and Leos Friedl #11, Jared Palmer and Pavel Vizner #12, Leander Paes and David Rikl #13, Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram #14 (and they became the first seeds to fall on Tuesday), Lucas Arnold and Mariano Hood #15, and Chris Haggard and Petr Pala #16

Roland Garros champions Xavier Malisse and Olivier Rochus still haven't moved their rankings up enough to get seeded -- and it cost them as they had to face #9 seeds Julian Knowle and Nenad Zimonjic and lost 6-1 6-4. Among the other strong unseeded teams are Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek, the 2002 finalists here, and Olympic medalists Massu and Gonzalez. It's interesting to note that Sebastien Grosjean and Arnaud Clement, the winners at Indian Wells, are both in the doubles but with different partners: Grosjean is with Paul-Henri Mathieu and Clement with Gregory Carraz. Canadian Open winners Bhupathi and Paes are of course playing with different partners also. Having a required event title this year but not playing is Tim Henman, who won Monte Carlo with Zimonjic.

If the seeds were to hold, we would have these quarterfinals:

(1) Bjorkman/Woodbridge vs. (5) Llodra/Santoro
(4) Bhupathi/Mirnyi vs. (7) Arthurs/Hanley
(8) Damm/Suk vs. (3) Knowles/Nestor
(6) Black/Ullyett vs. (2) Bryan/Bryan

Of course, they all have to make the quarterfinal first! For Bjorkman and Woodbridge, the first serious problem appears to be Paes and Rikl in the Round of Sixteen. But Llodra and Santoro face Novak and Stepanek in the first round, and Etlis and Rodriguez in the third. Bhupathi and Mirnyi appear to have a fairly clear path. The biggest challenger to Arthurs and Hanley might be Poland's Fyrstenberg and Matkowski in the second round. Damm and Suk (who easily won their opener 6-1 6-4 over Thomas Johansson and Robert Lindstedt) could benefit from their opponents' troubles; they're supposed to face Knowle and Zimonjic in the third round, but the #9 seeds, having dealt with Malisse and Rochus in the first round, now have to contend with Massu and Gonzalez in the second. (Talk about terrible draws!). Knowles and Nestor also had a fairly tough first round test against Brazil's Kuerten and Sa (Kuerten is a very solid doubles player, and Sa hasn't fallen apart in doubles the way he has in singles), though they handled that well, beating the Brazilians 6-4 6-3. Black and Ullyett look to be in decent shape (and they started out very well, beating Argentines Chela and Gaudio 6-2 6-1). Bryan and Bryan were drawn to face Erlich and Ram in the Round of Sixteen, but got a gift from Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut when the Frenchmen beat the Israeli #14 seeds in a third set tiebreak.

azza
Sep 1st, 2004, 02:52 PM
Thx :)

bandabou
Sep 2nd, 2004, 09:47 AM
U. S. Open: First Down?
It looked for a time as if we might be able to cross off our first candidate for #1. Amelie Mauresmo was looking sloppy against Julia Vakulenko, and in any case she wasn't doing what you have to do to beat Vakulenko: Make her move. Far too often, Mauresmo hit straight to the Ukrainian, and in a strict hitting contest, Vakulenko can match if not exceed Mauresmo in raw heat. But Mauresmo finally got wise to that, and made Vakulenko move at least a little. The measure of how bad she is at that is the fact that she was having foot problems in the third set. Mauresmo finally advanced 3-6 6-2 6-2, and we'll have to wait at least until tomorrow to see if things become any clearer at the top.

Serena Williams said before this tournament that she was around 90%. In her first match, she looked close to 100%. But she may have been right after all, on average. Because, against Lindsay Lee-Waters, it's hard to believe she was even 80%. She advanced 6-4 6-3, but it was much closer than that score. Against a tougher opponent, she would have been out. Quickly.

And that looks like trouble, because her next opponent is Tatiana Golovin, and Golovin looks more than ready to take that next step; she beat Akiko Morigami 6-4 6-4.

Alicia Molik has taken big strides in recent months, but this time she clearly regressed. She started the day's action playing Daniela Hantuchova, and broke in Hantuchova's second service game -- and then started making errors, and not getting enough oomph on her serve, and slowly sinking into the floor. Molik, who had 134 points to defend, will lose at least one ranking spot, though she's likely to stay Top 20; Hantuchova beat the #17 seed 6-4 6-3, though she still needs at least one more win to get back into the Top 30. And that win will have to come against #15 seed Patty Schnyder, who beat Iveta Benesova 6-4 6-1 and whose game is very different from Molik.

#31 seed Maria Vento-Kabchi, who has big points to defend, needs even more to reach the Top 30, but she's still in the contest; she beat qualifier Julia Schruff 6-1 2-6 6-2.

We wouldn't count Jelena Kostanic entirely out of the Top 30 race, either, though she still has a long way to go. She beat qualifier Eugenia Linetskaya 6-4 6-3, and next faces Ai Sugiyama, who beat Gisela Dulko 6-2 6-4. That should be a very fun match.

Elena Dementieva wasn't supposed to play on center court, but when the first three matches all went quickly, she was promoted. That can only have helped her against opponent Severine Beltram; the qualifier was playing the biggest match of her life, and this just made it bigger still. Dementieva advanced 6-3 6-2 to keep alive her hopes of reaching the #5 ranking.

She will probably have to go through Vera Zvonareva first, though. The #10 seed kept alive her hopes of staying in the Top Ten, beating Els Callens 6-3 6-3.

There won't be anyone worrying about facing Magdalena Maleeva, however. The Bulgarian suffered the worst upset of the tournament so far, falling to #185 Angela Haynes 6-3 6-2. That's good news for #16 seed Francesca Schiavone in particular, who has 268 points to defend this week and could fall out of the Top 20 if she fails; the Italian beat Stephanie Foretz 6-2 6-3 and faces Haynes next.

Haynes isn't the only Big Surprise to make the third round; #88 Vera Douchevina beat Marion Bartoli 5-7 6-2 6-2 to set up a third round meeting with Jennifer Capriati.

Capriati herself had the good fortune to run into Magui Serna on an average day. In other words, a crummy day; Serna has only two states, terrific and lousy, and lousy is more common by a factor of perhaps three to one -- higher on hardcourts. It wasn't pretty, but that's hardly Capriati's fault; she kept herself in the race for a Top Ten spot 6-0 6-2.

It looks as if we'll have a four-way race for three Top 25 spots. The competitors are Amy Frazier, Chanda Rubin, Nathalie Dechy, and Fabiola Zuluaga. The latter two both kept themselves in the thick of things, Dechy with a nice 6-2 7-5 win over Cara Black, Zuluaga by winning a war 6-3 6-7 6-2 over Tathiana Garbin.

The major doubles results are covered in our doubles preview.

U. S. Open: The Beginning of the End
Wayne Ferreira is not retired. Not exactly. There is still Davis Cup, and South Africa can certainly use him. But after 56 consecutive Grand Slams -- the all-time record -- and 57 Slams total, and 100 Slam wins, he's through. As Ursula K. LeGuin said in a completely different context, "He is done with doing. He is going home."

He takes some pretty nice numbers with him, in addition to that consecutive Slams record: 15 career titles, on all surfaces. A peak ranking of #6, back in 1995. Five years in the Top 20. Eleven doubles titles.

It all ended rather quietly as he faced #4 seed Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt won his eleventh consecutive match 6-1 7-5 6-4.

He's the lone Australian to do so, though. Mark Philippoussis took on Nikolay Davydenko in one of those Big Stylistic Contrast matches you don't see enough of any more, and looked ready to win it in the fourth set, but couldn't pull through; he lost the tiebreak, and then started to cramp up in the fifth; with Davydenko clearly about to win, Philippoussis retired trailing 1-6 6-3 3-6 7-6 4-1.

Robin Soderling didn't actually cramp that we saw, but it looked as if he was close; he was certainly trying to get his feet moving against #14 seed Fernando Gonzalez. But Gonzalez was doing a Gonzalez -- big hits going all over the place. And, this time, too many went wide. Especially in the last set, when Soderling was looking so worn. Maybe the Chilean was trying too hard. Whatever the explanation, he's out 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-1.

That was typical of a day which largely reversed the almost-no-upsets trend of Monday and Tuesday. #20 Gustavo Kuerten again looked as if his hip wasn't working right; he faced Kristian Pless -- a guy who has been suffering as many injuries as Kuerten, and who isn't nearly as good, either. But the Dane, who seems to have matured a little during his time off, advanced 6-4 3-6 6-1 7-6 (blowing a chance to finish it without going to the fourth set tiebreak). Pless, who came in ranked #353 and with a whole six Race points, more than doubles his total in the latter department and will be climbing forty-odd places.

Also managing an upset out of nowhere was Ricardo Mello, who topped #17 seed Juan Ignacio Chela 6-2 7-6 2-6 2-6 6-2.

Tomas Berdych, meanwhile, continued to look like a young player on a mission. The Czech, who turns 19 the week after the tournament, played his first Slam main draw here a year ago, and won his opening match. It took him a while, but he duplicated that feat this year, topping Jonas Bjorkman 6-3 2-6 6-2 1-6 6-3. Bjorkman was defending fourth round points; he'll fall from #35 to around #50.

With Rainer Schuettler and Marat Safin out of the running, though, and Juan Carlos Ferrero still looking shaky, Sebastien Grosjean has a real chance to return to the Top Ten. He needed a while to really get up to speed, but once he did, look out. He topped countryman Olivier Patience 7-5 6-7 6-2 6-1.

Like Grosjean, #23 seed Vincent Spadea lost first round last year; like Grosjean, he advanced in four sets this year, beating Luis Horna 6-7 6-2 6-4 6-4. It's too early to know where that will put Spadea, who is in a crowded part of the rankings, but he will likely stay Top 25.

There was a certain air of "Let's Beat Up On Frenchmen" about the whole day; Grosjean advanced, but he was playing a countryman. Otherwise, it was pretty bad. #30 seed Feliciano Lopez beat Arnaud di Pascuale 7-6 6-3 6-2. Jurgen Melzer, who only missed seeding by about 100 points, topped Gregory Carraz 7-5 6-0 4-6 6-3. Philipp Kohlschreiber topped Julien Benneteau 6-1 6-1 6-4. And Karol Beck disposed of Thierry Ascione 6-3 7-6 6-4.

David Nalbandian seems to have only two states: Terrific, or injured. Fortunately for his ranking, since he has 450 point to defend this week, he isn't injured. He beat Dennis van Scheppingen 6-4 7-6 6-3.

Tommy Haas wasn't seeded at this Open, but it may not be much longer; he came in #30 in the Race, and he beat veteran Davide Sanginetti 6-1 5-7 6-2 3-6 6-2.

Four matches involving unseeded players finished off the first round: David Sanchez took out American wildcard Wayne Odesnik 4-6 7-6 6-2 6-3; Tuomas Ketola took out another American, Jeff Morrison, 6-1 3-6 6-3 7-6; Mikhail Youzhny made short work of Albert Montanes, 6-1 6-3 6-2; and Hicham Arazi edged Kenneth Carlsen 6-4 7-6 6-7 3-6 6-3.

When Jennifer Capriati finished quickly and Roger Federer got ready to face qualifier Marcos Baghdatis in the first match of the second round, you got the feeling that everyone was thinking they'd be heading home early on this night. It wasn't that simple. Baghdatis, who played one pro match in 2001 and ended that year at #1379, and didn't play any Tour level matches in 2002 or 2003, meaning that he had only his two Olympic matches at the ATP level prior to the Open, made everyone wonder why we hadn't seen much more of him. The world's #240 player did a fine job of keeping close to Federer, and even took the second set in a tiebreak. But Baghdatis had never played Best of Five before, and it's hard to believe he's faced anyone with Federer's stuff; eventually the top seed wore him down, and posted career win #300 6-2 6-7 6-3 6-1.

The doubles turned serious on Wednesday as we lost our first high-seeded team: Florian Mayer and Rogier Wassen topped #7 Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley 7-5 4-6 6-4. We knew Arthurs and Hanley were struggling, but this is ridiculous. It also adds even more to Australia's Davis Cup misery: Now they have to choose between Arthurs and Philippoussis for singles, and then decide whether to keep Arthurs for doubles. (We might be tempted, in all seriousness, to take Hewitt and Arthurs for singles and Woodbridge and Hanley for doubles; the latter two did win a title together this year, after all, and it would reduce the strain on Arthurs.)

We came very close to losing one of our candidates for #1 as well. As we foretold, the contest between #5 seeds Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro and unseeded Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek was close. Close, as in Llodra and Santoro advanced in a third set tiebreak.

Out are #10 seeds Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez, who fell 6-1 6-4 to Aspelin and Perry, and #16 Haggard/Pala, a pickup team who fell 6-4 6-2 to Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo. That left meant that only one seeded team had an easy time: The Bryans took out Delic and Morrison 6-3 6-4. Also through with relative ease are Olympic champions Gonzalez and Massu, 7-6 6-4 winners over Braasch and Sargsian.

We currently reckon the doubles Top 15 as:

1..(1) Bjorkman...........4090
2..(5) Bhupathi...........3850
3..(2) Woodbridge.........3780
4..(7) Knowles............3555
4..(6) Nestor.............3555
6..(8) Santoro............3510
7..(9) Mirnyi.............3485
8..(3) BryanB.............3445
8..(3) BryanM.............3445
10.(12) Ullyett............3195
10.(11) Black..............3195
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
15.(14) Arthurs............2335

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Second Round
Angela Haynes (WC) def. Magdalena Maleeva (22) 6-2 6-3

If you're wondering, the bandana Angela Haynes wears is one of her personal trademarks. She doesn't just wear it outdoors; as far back as early 2003, she was wearing one in prequalifying of an indoor challenger.

At the time, she looked at least vaguely promising; she actually had a serve, unlike about 80% of the young players in Challengers, and that's the single most important thing separating potential Tour players from Challenger bait. But Haynes seems to be exceptional; her ground game did not match up to the serve. And so she disappointed; at Stanford last year, she played her first WTA event as a qualifier, and won her first round match -- but then got three wildcards (San Diego, Los Angeles, U. S. Open), and lost all three matches. She got into Philadelphia as a Lucky Loser, and lost. She qualified for Memphis, and lost. She was given wildcards to Indian Wells and Miami -- and lost. She was granted entry to Stanford -- and lost. She came to this U. S. Open ranked #185, with one WTA win and a nine match losing streak.

This definitely helps. It's not clear how significant it is; Maleeva, who is no real fan of hardcourt, donated far too many points with errors. But Haynes still gets the points. 110 of them, for reaching the third round and beating #78 Tatiana Perebiynis and #25 Maleeva. That increases her total by more than half. She will gain nearly 60 ranking spots. Which at least means she can get into qualifying at just about any event.

Hard to blame her for being nervous in that last game!

Maleeva lost first round in 2003, so she actually picks up a few points over last year. #25 coming in, she will probably gain a spot or two. But her chances of returning to the Top 20 appear to be over.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - First Round
David Nalbandian (8) def. Dennis van Scheppingen 6-4 7-6(7-5) 6-3

This is turning into the Open of Miracle Saves by players with a bunch of points on the line. Yesterday, it was Juan Carlos Ferrero. This time, it was David Nalbandian.

Coming in, Nalbandian seemed the more dubious of the two. Ferrero was playing badly, but he was playing. Nalbandian had been effectively absent since Roland Garros: He'd earned exactly one Race point in that time. And it wasn't just one injury, either; each week brought something new. When asked to provide a list of players most likely to pull out of the Open, we had pegged Nalbandian at #2, right behind Guillermo Coria, who had already announced he was out.

But there were few signs of trouble in the actual match. Admittedly Nalbandian wasn't facing much opposition; Dennis van Scheppingen is still a respectable #73 in the rankings, but that's mostly points from last fall; he's #116 in the Race, which probably translates to a year-end ranking around #130 if he doesn't pick things up. Still, Nalbandian came out and beat him efficiently.

Points-wise, it's not much help; Nalbandian defends less than a tenth of what comes off next week. Still, it could be big in terms of rankings. He's now #14 in safe points, and well ahead of #15 Andrei Pavel. But winning his next match puts him at co-#12, and two more wins after that could keep him in the Top Ten. It's only a start, but it's a lot better than we frankly expected.

Doubles Preview
Could this be the event where Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez finally lose the top doubles spots?

Don't bet anything you can't afford on it. In fact, don't bet anything at all. It won't happen. Yes, Ruano Pascual and Suarez are the defending champions, and their totals could take a big hit. But the players closest to them -- Cara Black, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Likhovtseva -- are all defending big points also. There is no chance of the top pair losing the top spots.

But it could be close. We have a wide-open contest for #3, and if one of the leaders in that contest can win here, we just might see a change at the top before the end of the year.

The more so since reports are that the courts here, especially the outside courts, are really juiced. That is bad news for Ruano Pascual and Suarez, who hate fast courts almost as much as Republicans hate tax increases.

Plus there are several teams playing very well and looking ready to threaten. Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy have won the last two events they played, and have six titles this year, and have nine straight wins after their 6-1 6-4 drubbing of Beygelzimer and Poutchek. Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs won Wimbledon and San Diego. The only top team that doesn't look to be in peak form is Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva. We wouldn't call it a strong doubles field -- there are no strong doubles fields these days. But it's as competitive as they come.

For starters, let's look at the top 20 in safe points as play starts:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4209*
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4185*
3..(3) BLACK ............. 3065*
4..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951*
5..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903*
6..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........2832*
7..(7) STUBBS .............2825*
8..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2814*
9.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2704*
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2398*
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2249*
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2127*
13.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1608*
14.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1586*
15.(16) ZVONAREVA ......... 1333*
16.(17) TANASUGARN .........1299*
17.(18) PRATT ............. 1181*
18.(20) MYSKINA ........... 1144*
19.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5*
20.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112*

We note instantly that Svetlana Kuznetsova, last year's finalist with Martina Navratilova, is in danger of falling out of the top five -- indeed, out of the top eight. We also note that Shaughnessy and Petrova are within spitting distance of Black at #3. And then there is the contest for the final spot in the Top Ten.

There are a few surprises among the seeded teams. Ruano Pascual and Suarez are #1, of course, and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva #2. Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs are #3, and Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy #4. This is well and good, since those are genuinely the dominant teams of the past year (except for Kuznetsova and Lihovtseva, anyway, who seem to be getting worse as the year goes along, and even they got off to a good start with a 6-2 7-5 win over Ani/Perebiynis). Martina Navratilova, playing her last Slam, is seeded #5 with Lisa Raymond. Janette Husarova is collapsing in singles, but she and Conchita Martinez are deservedly seeded #6 in the doubles. Our first surprise comes at the #7 seed: Liezel Huber and Ai Sugiyama are apparently through. (It's odd; Sugiyama is one of the most-liked players on the Tour, but she can't keep a doubles partner.) Huber is seeded #7 with Tamarine Tanasugarn, who is blossoming as a doubles player even as her singles falls apart; Tanasugarn is Top 20 now, and had never been as high as #50 before this year. The newness of that team may have shown in their result; they beat Anastassia Rodionova and Patricia Wartusch, but the score was 6-1 4-6 6-2. The #8 team is again familiar: Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva, who seem finally to be learning doubles. #9 belongs to last year's semifinalists Marion Bartoli and Myriam Casanova. Emilie Loit and Nicole Pratt are #10, and on Wednesday made the second round 6-3 6-4 over Lehnhoff/Wheeler. Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja, who had a great year last year but who have had all sorts of troubles this year (more due to health and divergent singles schedules than doubles problems) are #11. Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder are #12, and that tells you something about how thin the doubles field is getting these days. Alicia Molik and Magui Serna, who have had a very nice summer, are #13, the Italian pair of Farina Elia and Schiavone are #14, and Ai Sugiyama is with Elena Dementieva at #15 (probably a temporary liaison until Lina Krasnoroutskaya is back). The #16 pair may also be temporary; Els Callens is playing with Petra Mandula.

Lisa McShea, who has three titles this year with Milagros Sequera, nonetheless isn't playing with Sequera; she is teaming with Corina Morariu, and they're unseeded (and could face Ruano Pascual and Suarez in the second round, and Sequera and Maria Elena Camerin in the third); they started with a nice 6-2 7-6 win over Blahotova and Gabriela Navratilova. There are several other good doubles players floating around the draw -- Jelena Kostanic, Shinobu Asagoe, Elena Tatarkova, Janet Lee, Emmanuelle Gagliardi -- but not many strong teams (Asagoe and Rika Fujiwara, for instance, lost 6-1 3-6 6-1 to Jugic-Salkic and Voskoboeva); other than McShea/Morariu, we'd watch out most for Bovina/Dechy and Svensson/Tu (who took out Gubacsi and Nagy, though it took them at least a set too long) and maybe Dulko/Tarabini (Patricia Tarabini was thinking of retiring this year, but when Paola Suarez called her about the Olympics, it really revved her up, and Dulko has proved a good partner for her). We note with interest that Tina Krizan and Katarina Srebotnik are not playing together.

One unfortunate absence is Olympic gold medalists Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian. And Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario has not come back since losing the Olympics; her Olympic partner Anabel Medina Garrigues is playing with Marta Marrero.

Looking at our potential quarterfinals, the draw is as follows:

(1) Ruano Pascual/Suarez vs. (6) Husarova/Martinez
(3) Black/Stubbs vs. (7) Huber/Tanasugarn
(8) Myskina/Zvonareva vs. (4) Petrova/Shaughnessy
(5) Navratilova/Raymond vs. (2) Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva

In trying to handicap the field, we can't help but note that, while Ruano Pascual and Suarez have been the dominant doubles team of the last couple of years, and are the two-time defending champions, it's sort of by default; until this year, they were never really the team you'd think of as #1 (through 2002, they were clearly inferior to the Williams Sisters and Hingis; when those players effectively retired from doubles, dominance in 2003 passed to Clijsters and Sugiyama, only to see Clijsters retire from doubles this year). Even this year, Petrova and Shaughnessy have owned them. But, luckily for them, Petrova and Shaughnessy are in the opposite half of the draw, and if they meet in the final, Petrova in particular can probably be counted on to choke. That's if Petrova/Shaughnessy make the final; they have been far and away the year's best teams -- except in Slams.

Choking is also characteristic of #2 seeds Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva: Kuznetsova made three straight Slam finals from last year's U. S. Open through this year's Roland Garros, and lost them all. Likhovtseva has also lost all her Slam doubles finals (she does have a Mixed slam, but that really doesn't mean anything). And the two haven't won a title since Dubai. Since they're in the Petrova/Shaughnessy half, we could well have a surprise finalist -- perhaps even Navratilova/Raymond, since that's the half with most of the overseeded teams (Schett/Schnyder, Bartoli/Casanova, Farina Elia/Schiavone, Myskina/Zvonareva; Callens/Mandula are actually fairly strong but too new). And the American pair got off to a nice start, beating Ditty/Reeves 6-3 6-2.

The top half is much tougher, with Black/Stubbs having won Wimbledon to cure any jitters Black might have in finals. Husarova/Martinez have been having a nice year, too (21-8 record, though they have only one title); this is probably Martinez's best and last chance to win a doubles Slam. And just about every seeded team in this half is tough, though Huber/Tanasugarn and Dementieva/Sugiyama are new. Expect most of the best matches in that half.

We should perhaps note that a few crazy women are playing mixed as well as singles and doubles: Conchita Martinez, Ai Sugiyama, Vera Zvonareva, Nicole Pratt, Emmanuelle Gagliardi, Virginia Ruano Pascual, Elena Likhovtseva, Barbara Schett, Alicia Molik (a strong contender for the mixed title, since she's with Todd Woodbridge), Patty Schnyder, Petra Mandula, Lisa Raymond, Daniela Hantuchova (playing not with Kevin Ullyett but with Mark Knowles; Ullyett is with Sugiyama), and Maria Vento-Kabchi. Most of them, including such strong doubles contenders as Likhovtseva, lost early in singles, but Zvonareva and Sugiyama and Suarez and Vento-Kabchi and Likhovtseva and Molik and Schnyder are not just playing all three but seeded in both singles and doubles (Sugiyama, Zvonareva, and Likhovtseva are seeded in all three), and Raymond just missed singles seeding.

Chanda Rubin is playing mixed (with Humphries, and they won their opener), but not women's doubles. So are Smashnova-Pistolesi (with Andy Ram) and Sharapova (with Mirnyi); the latter two pairs, in fact, faced off in the first round, with Sharapova and Mirnyi advancing fairly easily.

bandabou
Sep 3rd, 2004, 11:50 AM
U. S. Open: Little White Lies
The next time Lindsay Davenport withdraws from an event citing a wrist problem, check the bandage.

This is not to deny that Davenport has had a lot of left wrist problems in her career. Along with her knees, that wrist is one of her weak points. But after she won Cincinnati, she pulled out of New Haven blaming the wrist. There were two more-or-less-reasonable explanations: That she had wanted to play New Haven, but did well at Cincinnati (where she had perhaps been hard assigned to play), and decided she needed rest; or that she actually had hurt her wrist.

All we can say is, if Davenport is playing this U. S. Open on a bad wrist, watch out for when she heals! For the second straight match, she started a little slowly against Arantxa Parra Santonja, but for the second straight match, after struggling a little (the Spaniard was actually up a break early in the first set), she started steaming. Davenport became the first contender for #1 to advance as she beat Parra Santonja 6-4 6-2.

Davenport may be looking solid, but her path is not looking very easy. Next up for her is Elena Bovina, who now has a seven match winning streak following her 6-2 7-5 win over Maria Elena Camerin, and looks nearly certain to rise to at least #17. And while Davenport has won most of the meetings between the two tallest players in women's tennis, Bovina did win their last meeting, at Filderstadt last year. (In fairness, Davenport was playing her last match before foot surgery. But they've had other close matches, and Bovina has been talking about how well she is playing right now; she looks and sounds confident.)

"Confident" is hardly the word for Justine Henin-Hardenne these days. It looked for a time as if the #1 seed would be out, and her #1 ranking history. She faced Tzipora Obziler, whose story (going into retirement, doing so well in Fed Cup that she came back) is so wonderful that the commentators trotted it out at least three times. (And that's just when we had the mute button off.) But we've seen Obziler -- more closely than Henin-Hardenne had, probably. She doesn't have any big weapons, and she isn't quite as fast or as steady as she needs to be to make up for that; there is a reason she is #133. The match ebbed and flowed as Henin-Hardenne's game ebbed and flowed -- and then, in the third, Obziler clearly got nervous. The top seed advanced 6-2 5-7 6-2, but only after being broken in her last two service games of the second set, and again early in the third. She will definitely need to do better in later rounds -- which may be hard to do, since she has been sick again. A two-hour match was hardly what she needed.

Bovina isn't the only big strong Russian who seems finally to be back on her feed. #14 Nadia Petrova, for the first time in months, is really looking tough here. She faced another fine server, Samantha Stosur, and advanced 6-2 6-2. Plus #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova kept her Top Ten chances alive with a 6-3 6-3 win over Nicole Pratt, who may end up barely on the right side of #50. But the most important Russian of them all, Anastasia Myskina, is gone; another Russian, Anna Chakvetadze, beat her 7-6 6-3.

Lower seeds did rather better in day action: #13 Paola Suarez took out Dally Randriantefy 6-2 6-2 to remain on the edges of the contest for the Top 15, #19 Silvia Farina moved closer to a return to the Top 20 with a 6-2 6-1 win over Katarina Srebotnik, #20 Chanda Rubin also kept her (rather faint) hopes of a Top 20 spot alive with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Antonella Serra Zanetti, #21 Amy Frazier kept herself in the Top 20 mix with a 6-4 6-1 win over Kristina Brandi, and #29 Eleni Daniilidou predictably struggled on hardcourt but beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 1-6 7-5 6-4.

There were only two matches on the schedule involving two unseeded players. In the first, Shinobu Asagoe kept herself fairly close to the Top 60 with a 7-5 6-3 win over Jill Craybas. Lisa Raymond came out later against young Russian Maria Kirilenko, and survived, barely, 4-6 7-6 6-2; one more win and she's guaranteed to be top 30. Especially since that win will have to come against Henin-Hardenne.

Someone was handing out a statistic that qualifier Shikha Uberoi had dozens of wins this year. An interesting statistic, given that "wins" usually refers to WTA wins, of which Uberoi has exactly one in her career: Her first round victory here. It says something about the state of Venus Williams's game that she struggled mightily in the first set against Uberoi, even going down a break at one point. But sanity eventually prevailed, though it took what seemed like forever. Venus made the third round 7-5 6-1.

Maria Sharapova found herself in even more trouble in a match where breaks outnumbered holds. That's no great surprise when one of the players involved is Jelena Jankovic, but serves are one Sharapova's specialties. It seemed to be more of a mental thing: If she put in a serve in the second set, she apparently expected to lose the point, because she would eventually make an error. She got over it in the third, and finally advanced 6-0 6-7 6-1.

The day's last match was probably also the least; #27 seed Mary Pierce took out Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-0 6-1.

The first doubles match of the day also gave us our first upset: Caroline Dhenin and Silvija Talaja took out struggling #11 seeds Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja 6-3 6-1. And Vento-Kabchi and Widjaja were defending more than 300 points (some from the Open and some from Bali). Vento-Kabchi, who has at least been healthy enough to play, came in at #19 and will fall out of the Top 30; Widjaja, who had fallen about ten places in recent months and showed up at #28, may not end up much above #50.

The second seeded pair in action, #16 Els Callens and Petra Mandula, were even more disappointing, losing 6-1 6-1 to Jill Craybas and Marlene Weingartner. Not only is that embarrassing (Craybas and Weingartner are both retrievers, and neither likes the net), but it will probably cost Mandula her Top 40 ranking, and Callens may end up below #40 also.

Better luck attended the first serious contenders to play: #3 seeds Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs, probably the #2 favorites, took out wildcards Lilia Osterloh and Shenay Perry 6-3 6-4. #6 seeds Janette Husarova and Conchita Martinez had a lot more trouble against another of these seemingly-ubiquitous wildcard teams, but they survived to beat Kirkland and Lee-Waters 5-6 7-6 6-0.

Roberta Vinci is Italian, but deep down, it appears she wants to be French. She keeps picking French partners; once Sandrine Testud pulled out, she signed up to play with Severine Beltrame. It was not a success; they lost to Kostanic and Schaul 7-5 6-3. Vinci had nothing to defend, so she will probably stay Top 20; Kostanic is still on the border of the Top 30.

There was a bit of irony in the match played by Bryanne Stewart and Samantha Stosur. They were supposed to play Elena Bovina and Nathalie Dechy, but the latter pair pulled out, so the Australians faced countrywomen Dellacqua and Sewell -- who proceeded to retire trailing 6-3 1-1.

There being no doubles qualifying in Slams any more, that apparently used up the supply of reserve players. When, following Anastasia Myskina's defeat in singles, Myskina and Vera Zvonareva withdraw, they were not replaced; wildcards Audra Cohen and Riza Zalameda, the former ranked #548 and the latter unranked, are now in the second round and the de facto #8 seeds.

At least Myskina and Zvonareva weren't defending anything; at this time last year, they were still learning doubles. #9 seeds Marion Bartoli and Myriam Casanova last year made the semifinal (mostly by gift of the U. S. Open schedulers; they were in the part of the draw where Kim Clijsters and Ai Sugiyama were the top seeds until the organizers managed to delay all of Clijsters's matches to the point that she bailed out). Earned or not, that was worth 362 points to them -- and they lost 6-4 6-2 to Cargill and Miyagi. Bartoli, #15 coming in, will end up between #20 and #25; Casanova, #23, is likely to fall out of the Top 40. The other seeded team upset was #13 Alicia Molik and Magui Serna, who fell 3-6 6-2 7-6 to Camerin and Sequera.

We observe that the organizers are again messing with the top seeds: Last year, they delayed the matches of Clijsters and Sugiyama; this year, they're holding back Ruano Pascual and Suarez. Every match has been played except theirs.

We currently show the Top 25 in doubles as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4209*
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4185*
3..(3) BLACK ............. 3065*
4..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951*
5..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903*
6..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........2832*
7..(7) STUBBS .............2825*
8..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2814*
9.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2704*
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2398*
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2249*
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2127*
13.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1608*
14.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1592*
15.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
16.(17) TANASUGARN .........1303*
17.(18) PRATT ............. 1183*
18.(20) Myskina ........... 1144
19.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5
20.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112
21.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1072
22.(25) Sun ............... 1071
23.(26) SCHNYDER ...........1049*
24.(27) TLi ............... 1034
25.(32) FARINA ELIA ....... 1014.5*

U. S. Open: Business As Usual
There was a headline on the U. S. Open web site saying, "Doubles is moving into the mainstream." Hard to see from here; women's doubles is falling apart, and men's never gets any TV coverage. And it definitely could have used it. Most of the seeded teams advanced, including the top two seeded pairs; #1 Bjorkman/Woodbridge reached the second round with a three set win over Humphries and Johnson, and #2 Bryan/Bryan became the first team to make the third round as they beat Beck and Soderling 6-1 6-3.

But one of our contenders for #1, Fabrice Santoro, is out. Santoro and Michael Llodra, who reached the semifinal last year and were seeded #5, fell rather easily to Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in a second round match, 7-6 6-3, meaning that Llodra will fall out of the Top Ten, and Santoro's #8 ranking is also under threat.

We currently show the doubles Top 15 as follows:


1..(1) Bjorkman...........4160
2..(5) Bhupathi...........3850
2..(2) Woodbridge.........3850
4..(7) Knowles............3555
4..(6) Nestor.............3555
6..(3) BryanM.............3520
6..(3) BryanB.............3520
8..(8) Santoro............3510
9..(9) Mirnyi.............3485
10.(12) Ullyett............3195
10.(11) Black..............3195
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
15.(14) Arthurs............2335

In the singles we had thought, after all of Wednesday's upsets, that things would finally start to get interesting again.

Hah. As long as you weren't a French Open champion or Olympic medalist, everything was fine. For the day session, it was ten seeds up, eight seeds through. #6 Andre Agassi didn't even have to play a full match; after two tough sets against Florian Mayer, the young German couldn't bear the strain; Agassi advanced 7-5 2-6 6-2 1-0, retired. #15 Paradorn Srichaphan was almost brutally quick; after two close sets, he bagelled Paul Goldstein in the third for a straight-sets win. Even #5 seed Tim Henman, who had been struggling with back troubles, looked fine; he beat Jerome Golmard 6-2 6-4 4-6 7-6.

#9 seed Gaston Gaudio, though, found himself an early casualty. He took on Thomas Johansson, still ranked low but clearly getting back to his pre-injury form. Of all the top Argentines, Gaudio is perhaps the most clay-centric anyway, Johansson beat him 6-3 2-6 6-4 6-4 -- and it took that long only because Johansson clearly got nervous on big points.

Then it was the turn of the Olympic medalists, both of whom lost in five sets. Silver medalist Mardy Fish was the first to go; the #26 seed lost to Michal Tabara 6-3 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3. Then it was the turn of gold medalist Nicolas Massu, who went down to Sargis Sargsian 6-7 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-4 in a match arguably even longer than the scoreline; both guys are quick and steady, and the points lasted forever. Massu will still probably end up in the Top Ten, but it will be the low end of the Top Ten, and he is not that high in the Race -- and, with the indoor season coming up, he seems more likely to fall than rise from here on out.

Otherwise, the afternoon was routine: #16 Andrei Pavel took out Fernando Verdasco 7-5 6-3 7-6, meaning that Verdasco, who barely missed a seed here, will probably barely miss a seed at the Australian Open also. #19 Nicolas Kiefer kept up his terrific summer with a 7-6 6-3 7-6 win over Cyril Saulnier in a match most noteworthy for how hot and bothered Saulnier was at the end about the officiating. The one close match for a seed came as #22 Dominik Hrbaty faced countryman Karol Kucera; Hrbaty squeaked through 6-4 6-3 1-6 5-7 6-4. In addition, #31 Fabrice Santoro bounced Dmitry Tursunov 6-1 6-3 6-4; #25 Jiri Novak took out Alex Calatrava 7-5 6-1 6-3.

Surfaces probably decided the two matches between unseeded players; hardcourt-loving Hyung-Taik Lee beat clay player Alberto Martin 6-4 7-6 6-1, and fastcourt-craving Olivier Rochus edged slowcourt fan Potito Starace 6-1 4-6 4-6 6-0 6-3.

Things turned a little more interesting toward evening, as Taylor Dent got into a dogfight with Paul-Henri Mathieu. The match everyone remembers Mathieu playing was his near miss against Andre Agassi at Roland Garros, but the Frenchman (like most top Frenchmen) seems in fact to be a fastcourter; his two titles both came indoors. And Dent loves things fast, too. The key in most Mathieu matches is for him to finish quickly; he has shown a history of wearing down in long matches. (Clay courter? Right.) After he lost a tough first set tiebreak, things looked rather black. They looked even blacker in the fourth when, after winning the next two, he failed to take his opportunities to break, and ended up in a tiebreak; had he lost that tiebreak, he likely would have lost the match. But he won it, finally, and Dent was out 6-7 6-4 6-3 7-6. Dent had reached the fourth round last year; the loss means he will be falling out of the Top 25.

The day closed with Carlos Moya getting into an unexpected dogfight with Amer Delic. Delic showed a fine serve and some amazing tenacity; he fought off nine match points in the final set -- three on his own serve, two of which he saved with aces, and then six on Moya's. On grass, this might have been very interesting indeed. But Moya's ground game proved sufficient in the end; he made the third round 6-2 3-6 6-3 6-2. Still, Delic looks distinctly better than his #245 ranking (which, of course, he will be improving.)

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Second Round
Anna Chakvetadze (Q) def. Anastasia Myskina (4) 7-6(7-3) 6-3

And then there were three. Maybe Anastasia Myskina knew what she was doing when she was talking to herself in the first round, because she quickly became the first of our four candidates to reach #1 to fall. And in stunning fashion. Anna Chakvetadze came here with 16 events in the past year, but only three of them had made any impression on our records: She made the final at the $25K Surbiton Challenger (grass), the quarterfinal at the Cuneo $50K Challenger (clay), where she lost to Pennetta, and she qualified at Stockholm, only to lose in the first round to Farina Elia.

Here at the U. S. Open, her first Slam main draw, it took her three sets to beat Barbara Schett, who is down to #80 and who is mostly a clay player these days. There was absolutely nothing to indicate that this was coming. We often say that anything can happen when Russian faces Russian. Even we didn't dream that "anything" could include this. But Myskina couldn't get her serve in (47% of first serves in, and it was worse in the second set), and was making errors at an utterly uncharacteristic rate -- half of Chakvetadze's points came on Myskina errors. Think the last half set of her semifinal at the Olympics, and you'll get the idea.

It appears that Myskina was not feeling well; she defaulted the doubles. Of course, how much of that was in her head we don't know.

Obviously Chakvetadze's ranking will be zooming. Between qualifying, making the third round, and taking out the world's #3 player, she increases her points by more than 150%. #175 coming in, she should gain on the order of 90 ranking spots. And she faces Eleni Daniilidou, no fan of hardcourts, next.

But the real effect is not down where Chakvetadze is; it's at the top, where Myskina was contending for #1. She is not contending any more. Since she's behind Amelie Mauresmo in safe points, the best she can hope for is #2. And the odds of her getting there don't look especially great. Justine Henin-Hardenne can pass her with a quarterfinal, assuming she faces Nadia Petrova in the fourth round, and Lindsay Davenport might make it with a semifinal, and is guaranteed to pass the Russian with a final. Since these outcomes are not incompatible, this loss could actually cause Myskina to fall to #4.

There are secondary effects. For one thing, it slightly reduces the points available to Henin-Hardenne (who now could face #4 Davenport rather than #3 Myskina in the semifinal), and dramatically reduces the points available to Davenport (since she can't face anyone ranked higher than #15 Suarez in the quarterfinal). The effect of that is to assure Amelie Mauresmo the #2 ranking; Davenport and Henin-Hardenne can't both pass her. And Mauresmo doesn't actually have to win the U. S. Open to take #1. Had Myskina won the Open, she would have been #1 even had Mauresmo made the final. But if Mauresmo makes the final, assuming anything resembling decent quality points, she will be #1 no matter what Henin-Hardenne or Davenport does. Especially as Henin-Hardenne didn't look good at all in her match.

We also note that Myskina has two titles to defend this fall, both involving big points. She might theoretically get a chance at #1 somewhere along the line this year, but in practice, this probably was it.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Second Round
Michal Tabara (Q) def. Mardy Fish (26) 6-3 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3

Where have we seen this scoreline before?

No, it's not the same scoreline as in the Olympic final, but it's the same general feeling: Fish lost the first, took two, and then lost the last two. And while Michal Tabara wasn't as fatigued as Nicolas Massu, neither is he Nicolas Massu. We're talking about a guy with two ATP events this year, and no wins until this week. He made one Slam main draw, as a qualifier, and lost. In 2003, he didn't even make an ATP main draw. In 2002, he had four wins, the last at Casablanca. The last time he reached a third round was at Bastad 2001; the last time he won a Slam match was at the 2001 Australian Open. And he beat Fish on hardcourt.

Urk.

The only consolation for Fish is that he had lost in the second round last year also, so he doesn't actually lose any points. #28 coming in, he looks just about certain to stay Top 30; he might even gain a spot. But he was in Tim Henman's section; with Henman hurting, this was a very big chance completely blown.

Tabara has been rebuilding his ranking this year after that disastrous 2002 and 2003; he came in ranked #149. This increases his point total by more than a quarter; he'll climb to about #115. Which will be a big help getting into tournaments. If he can keep this up, he just might be able to reach the Top 100 by year-end.

Correlation Inefficient
We said, in one of our articles last week, that the purpose of the ATP rankings is to seed the U. S. Open. We stand by that statement; the system should, in theory, be best at seeding the Open.

And correlation usually works both ways: If the rankings predict the Open, then the Open should predict the rankings. In other words, the winner of the Open should be the year-end #1 more often than the winners of the other Slams.

Yes? No? Let's take a look.

What we'll do is look at the Slam winners going back to 1980 (inclusive). We'll list the winners of each Slam, showing those who were year-end #1 in ALL CAPS.

Australian Open


YEAR..WINNER
1980..Teacher
1981..Kriek
1982..Kriek
1983..Wilander
1984..Wilander
1985..Edberg
1986..(not played)
1987..Edberg
1988..WILANDER
1989..LENDL
1990..Lendl
1991..Becker
1992..COURIER
1993..Courier
1994..SAMPRAS
1995..Agassi
1996..Becker
1997..SAMPRAS
1998..Korda
1999..Kafelnikov
2000..Agassi
2001..Agassi
2002..Johansson
2003..Agassi

So the Australian Open winner has been year-end #1 five times in 23 tests.

Roland Garros


YEAR..WINNER
1980..BORG
1981..Borg
1982..Wilander
1983..Noah
1984..Lendl
1985..Wilander
1986..LENDL
1987..LENDL
1988..WILANDER
1989..Chang
1990..Gomez
1991..Courier
1992..COURIER
1993..Bruguera
1994..Bruguera
1995..Muster
1996..Kafelnikov
1997..Kuerten
1998..Moya
1999..AGASSI
2000..KUERTEN
2001..Kuerten
2002..Costa
2003..Ferrero

This time we have six of 24 year-end #1s. Not much difference.

WIMBLEDON


YEAR..WINNER
1980..BORG
1981..MCENROE
1982..Connors
1983..MCENROE
1984..MCENROE
1985..Becker
1986..Becker
1987..Cash
1988..Edberg
1989..Becker
1990..EDBERG
1991..Stich
1992..Agassi
1993..SAMPRAS
1994..SAMPRAS
1995..SAMPRAS
1996..Krajicek
1997..SAMPRAS
1998..SAMPRAS
1999..Sampras
2000..Sampras
2001..Ivanisevic
2002..HEWITT
2003..Federer

Quite a difference here: 11 Wimbledon winners out of 24 have been year-end #1. But that still leaves the big question:

U. S. OPEN


YEAR..WINNER
1980..McEnroe
1981..MCENROE
1982..Connors
1983..Connors
1984..MCENROE
1985..LENDL
1986..LENDL
1987..LENDL
1988..WILANDER
1989..Becker
1990..Sampras
1991..EDBERG
1992..Edberg
1993..SAMPRAS
1994..Agassi
1995..SAMPRAS
1996..SAMPRAS
1997..Rafter
1998..Rafter
1999..AGASSI
2000..Safin
2001..HEWITT
2002..Sampras
2003..RODDICK

This time, we have 13 out of 24 winners -- more than half -- who were year-end #1.

The difference between the Wimbledon and U. S. Open figures isn't statistically significant. Particularly since the U. S. Open is closer to the end of the year, meaning that players who peak then might also be peaking at year-end. But it's interesting. Also interesting is the fact that the ATP has used the current Required and Optional system for only four years, and in that time, no Australian Open winners have been year-end #1, one Roland Garros winner has done it, one Wimbledon winner has taken the nod -- and two U. S. Open winners have done it and a third (Safin in 2000) was only one win away. If the ATP sticks with Required and Optional, we suspect that the rate of Open-winners-who-become-#1 will rise even higher compared to the other Slams.

switz
Sep 3rd, 2004, 12:22 PM
he also has something bitchy to say about patty in his articles.

why is patty and babsi being seeded 12 a sign of how thin the doubles draw is? they are both ranked in the top thirty, have made the round of 16 in all slams this year, have won a tier II title and have have the lead against both eventual champs at RG and wimbledon in R3 matchups. ignorance.

bandabou
Sep 7th, 2004, 02:01 PM
U. S. Open: Skip Ahead to the Good Parts
It was a Labor Day weekend that ended with a bang, but the Friday, for the most part, wouldn't stick in your mind. It was too routine.

The match between #6 seed Elena Dementieva and #28 Nathalie Dechy, in fact, is incapable of being remembered, because it didn't happen. Dechy, who last year withdrew from the Open with the wrist problem that would cost her the rest of her year, withdrew again in 2004.

Beyond that, it was a case of "High seed up, high seed through," mostly easily. #2 Amelie Mauresmo clearly was over her lapse in the second round; after splitting the first four games with #31 Maria Vento-Kabchi, she took charge entirely, advancing 6-2 6-0. #10 seed Vera Zvonareva won the match of alphabetically-last-in-the-WTA players as she beat #23 Fabiola Zuluaga 6-4 7-5. #12 Ai Sugiyama stopped Jelena Kostanic's latest run for the Top 30 6-1 6-3. And #16 seed Francesca Schiavone took out the tournament's Big Surprise, Angela Haynes, 6-3 7-6.

Jennifer Capriati, perhaps characteristically, found a way to almost lose. After blowing away young Russian Vera Douchevina in the first set, she started to miss more balls and, of course, struggle on her serve. The last two sets were marked mostly by breaks, with both players blowing chances in the second but Douchevina having the last mess-up in the third. Capriati finally advanced 6-0 6-7 6-3.

Daniela Hantuchova is definitely making a comeback. The question is, how much of a comeback? On Friday, she took on Patty Schnyder, a player who has no fondness at all for DecoTurf. Hantuchova seems to like the stuff. But, having had match points, Hantuchova couldn't convert (where have we heard that before?); Schnyder survived 6-4 4-6 7-6.

The evening match once again revealed that Serena Williams just isn't right. She survived her match with Tatiana Golovin, but only barely; the score was 7-5 6-4, and Serena had to dig out of a hole to manage that. The loss left Golovin once again just below the Top 30.

But the real news came in doubles. Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy, the #4 seeds, had six titles this year and a nine match winning streak. But they once again fell apart at the Slams. In this case, it was a second round match (they at least made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon). Janet Lee is a good doubles player falling on hard times, but her partner was the extremely inexperienced Peng Shuai -- and yet, Lee and Peng topped Petrova and Shaughnessy 4-6 6-1 6-4, costing Shaughnessy her chance for the #3 doubles ranking.

Other than that, all seeded teams in action advanced: #2 Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva and #3 Black/Stubbs in straight sets, and #6 Husarova/Martinez, #7 Huber/Tanasugarn, and #10 Loit/Pratt in three sets.

As it turned out, those Friday results meant that every Top 16 seed in the bottom half made the Round of 16. Not so on the top half! Anastasia Myskina, of course, was already out. And Saturday cost us two more Top 16 seeds.

The first to go was the biggest upset of all, since it gave us our only unseeded player in the Round of Sixteen. Shinobu Asagoe is one of the great mysteries of the WTA Tour, in that the gap between her Slam results and her other results is perhaps greater than any other player around. At Roland Garros 2002, she beat Myskina. At Wimbledon 2003, she beat Hantuchova. At the U. S. Open 2003, she beat Maleeva. At Roland Garros 2004, she beat Schnyder. At this U. S. Open, she had already beaten Smashnova-Pistolesi. That's five Top 30 players. At other events in that time (she had 32), she had only three Top 30 wins. In the third round, she made her ratio of Slam scalps to other scalps 2:1; she knocked off #13 seed Paola Suarez 6-4 6-4. That put Asagoe -- who came in ranked #62, and who seemed doomed to fall fast before the event started -- back in the Top 50, but it knocked Suarez out of the Top 15.

We've talked for years about Russian Blonde Disease: Can't serve, collapses under pressure. It's starting to look as if there are actually two forms of Russian Blonde Disease, one of which affects Russian Blondes and the other of which afflicts fans of Russian Blondes. The symptoms of the latter form are simple: It makes them incapable of assessing the actual skills of a Russian Blonde. Maria Sharapova has clearly caused quite a few cases of the latter lately. First she was underestimated (admittedly, we were among the underestimators), then she was overestimated. She hits big, of course, but her tactical sense is lacking, and her footwork really isn't all that good (think Venus Williams circa 1996). At Wimbledon, these days, the power and the first serve were enough; the women just don't know how to play grass any more. On hardcourt, it's more of a problem. Especially when you throw in some nerves.

Mary Pierce used to play very much as Sharapova does now. (Not that surprising, given where they both trained.) And she is probably slower now than she used to be. But she still hits big, and she's a better net player than she used to be, and she tries more things. It proved enough, barely, to produce the second upset of Saturday. Pierce came back from a big third set hole to beat the #7 seed 4-6 6-2 6-3.

The other power-versus-smarts match featured a much larger imbalance in the power department, and Silvia Farina Elia's greater variety didn't prove enough. Nadia Petrova made the fourth round 4-6 7-6 7-6; it's the first time she has won three straight matches since Wimbledon, and only the second time since Amelia Island. The loss means that Farina Elia will once again fall short of the Top 20, and will remain the #2 Italian.

We can also mark Lisa Raymond out of the Top 30; she lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-4 6-3. That left Henin-Hardenne needing only one win (over Petrova) to overtake Anastasia Myskina in the race for #2. Her next opponent, too, was likely to be a Russian: #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Amy Frazier 7-6 7-5 to set up a meeting with Pierce, with the winner to play Henin-Hardenne.

Lindsay Davenport keeps seeing quality points drop out of her draw. She was supposed to face Anastasia Myskina in the quarterfinal. With Myskina out, her highest-ranked potential opponent was Suarez. After Asagoe's win, the top opponent she could face is Eleni Daniilidou, who beat Myskina-beater Anna Chakvetadze 6-4 6-2 to put herself back in the Top 30 and set up a meeting with Asagoe. That had every chance to be an interesting match; both had made Slam fourth rounds before (Asagoe at Wimbledon last year, Daniilidou at Wimbledon 2002 and at last year's Australian Open), but neither has ever made a quarterfinal.

Which brings us to Davenport herself, and her contest with Elena Bovina -- the two tallest women on the WTA Tour, and arguably the hottest: Davenport came in with 19 straight wins, Bovina with seven. It was quite a serving contest in the first set, and for four games in the second. But Davenport, helped by what appears to have been a botched line call, won the first set tiebreak, and finally broke Bovina in the fifth game of set two, and the Russian came apart, losing all three remaining games. Davenport advanced 7-6 6-2.

And that set up the much-discussed meeting with Venus Williams. Williams had played Chanda Rubin in a match that looked almost like a meeting between two young Challenger players only with the fast forward button turned on. It was hard-hitting. It was not good-hitting. Venus's forehand was a wreck. But Rubin made too many errors of her own, and couldn't get enough balls to the Venus forehand; Williams advanced 7-6 6-3.

Saturday finally saw top doubles seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez get into action; they won their thirteenth straight U. S. Open match 6-3 7-5 over Hantuchova and Safina. The other teams in action were all playing second round matches; by the time Ruano Pascual and Suarez finished their first round match, only one other second round match remained to be played. And it was finished soon afterward: #5 seeds Navratilova and Raymond edged Benesova and Birnerova in three sets. Also advancing were #12 seeds Schett/Schnyder and #15 Dementieva/Sugiyama, but #14 Farina Elia/Schiavone lost in straight sets to a pair of countrywomen, Rita Grande and Flavia Pennetta.

There is a tendency to make too much of Elena Dementieva's serve. Or, rather, too little. Nearly everyone has heard, by now, how she developed a bad habit as a result of a shoulder injury, and has never gotten over it. But her serve was never good -- and it never kept her from being a fairly solid player. There were people forecasting that Zvonareva would win her Round of Sixteen meeting with Dementieva on Sunday. But big matches are not Zvonareva's specialty. Despite the Roland Garros final, Dementieva is much better on big occasions. As she showed again, coming from way behind to win 1-6 6-4 6-3. The win moved Dementieva past Kim Clijsters to a career-high #5; the loss dropped Zvonareva out of the Top Ten.

At that, Zvonareva is better than Patty Schnyder; at least she tries. Schnyder is just too likely to come out on court and say, in effect, "Phooey on this." She showed, early in the first set, that she could give Serena Williams trouble. But then she decided something like, "It's a hardcourt, Serena is dressed funny, I don't like playing against players who do modeling, I'm through." She was. Serena advanced 6-4 6-2.

Jennifer Capriati had a much bigger contest on her hands; Ai Sugiyama, in fact, had a set point in the first set. But the Japanese couldn't convert; Capriati kept herself in the hunt for a Top Ten spot, and left Sugiyama at her current #13 (or worse) 7-5 6-2.

Amelie Mauresmo confronted a much more game opponent in Francesca Schiavone. As in the previous round, they felt each other out for about four games. Then Mauresmo turned it on, racing through the first set and building a 4-0 lead in the second before playing a horrible service game. But Mauresmo got the break back, and served it out on an incredible scrambling point that will probably end up in the "best of the tournament" film. Mauresmo made the quarterfinal 6-4 6-2, leaving Schiavone at no better than #20.

Sunday's doubles was mostly quiet, with #2 Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva, #6 Husarova/Martinez, #7 Huber/Tanasugarn and #12 Schett/Schnyder all advancing in second round matches, and defending champions Ruano Pascual and Suarez winning an easy second round match over McShea and Morariu. Our unseeded quarterfinalists are Janet Lee and Peng Shuai, who beat Garbin and Krizan in a third set tiebreak.

Monday's action opened with the contest between the two lowest-ranked players in the Round of Sixteen. Every other player to have made the fourth round was Top 30 coming in, but Eleni Daniilidou came in at #33 and Shinobu Asagoe at #62. Neither had made a Slam quarterfinal. Daniilidou had more big match experience (Asagoe has no career titles), and the Greek also had a 2-0 lead in head to head. But those two wins were in non-Slams, and the first was on grass in 2001 (the worst year of Asagoe's career) and the other on Rebound Ace last year. Hardcourt would tend to help Asagoe.

None of which meant anything. The match wasn't about surfaces, or records, or anything external to the players. It was about nerves. And breaks. There were four in the first set, with Daniilidou going up 5-2 and set point before the Greek got nervous and came apart. In the second, it was Asagoe's turn, and she suffered two of the three breaks to even things out. The whole thing lasted almost two and a half hours, and came close to ending in yet another meltdown. Asagoe went up 5-0 in the third, had a match point, watched Daniilidou claw it back to 5-3, served for the match for the second time, got in all sorts of trouble, but finally came through 7-6 3-6 6-3. From #62, she's now up to probably #43; Daniilidou ends up at #30.

We wouldn't bet too much on Asagoe in the next round.

That's especially since she has to face Lindsay Davenport next. Davenport beat Venus Williams 7-5 6-4.

At almost that same moment, Svetlana Kuznetsova was clinching her Top Ten spot; after a close first set, Mary Pierce fell victim to the injury bug; she had her leg worked on, but lost 7-6 6-2. That assured Kuznetsova at least the #10 ranking, while leaving Pierce at #27. That left us close to knowing the final rankings -- except for the Top Four. Especially since Henin-Hardenne was playing the night match.

On this court, if both play their best, Nadia Petrova and Justine Henin-Hardenne ought to be pretty close to equal. But, this court being a Slam court, what were the odds of Petrova playing her best?

The answer is, Better than anyone thought. It was Henin-Hardenne, not Petrova, who looked nervous. The first set was littered with breaks, with both players struggling on second serves and Petrova not getting nearly her ace quotient. But Petrova got the key break. And, in the second, she dominated, breaking twice and not facing any trouble at all until she was up 5-2 and serving for it in the second set. Then she got nervous. It took her four match points, and some rather ugly errors. But she finally finished it off with an ace, and the defending champion was out 6-3 6-2.

Out of the tournament, and out of the #1 ranking. The loss meant that the best Henin-Hardenne could finish was #3, and Davenport will pass her if she reaches the semifinal. As for Petrova, she's up to 13, and would make #11 with a semifinal.

At the top, the contest for the #1 ranking is almost over. Henin-Hardenne's loss leaches still more points out of Davenport's draw. She can still make #1 -- but only if she wins, and earns good quality points. And if Amelie Mauresmo can beat Elena Dementieva Tuesday, it's over. Mauresmo is #1 no matter what Davenport does. Davenport could still make #1 later this fall (indeed, she's the clear favorite for year-end #1, even now) -- but it would still give us our eighth #1 player in three years.

To put it in team sports terms: Mauresmo has a magic number of one: Any combination of Mauresmo wins or Davenport losses, and the Frenchwoman is #1.

The day's doubles started with a fairly big shock as the brand-new and probably temporary team of Ai Sugiyama and Elena Dementieva, the #15 seeds, upset Wimbledon champions Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs 6-2 6-4. That means that Stubbs will fall from #7 to no better than #8, and Black may lose the #3 ranking. Sugiyama will move from #10 to probably no worse than #8, and Dementieva, #63 coming in, is back in the Top 50. In the second match, #5 seeds Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond set up a meeting with #2 seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva, meaning that last year's finalists (Kuznetsova and Navratilova) would meet in this year's quarterfinal. The last doubles match of the day produced no surprises; top seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez kept up their three year winning streak here with a 6-2 6-4 win over Granville and Senoglu.

We currently show the Top 25 in doubles as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4252*
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4230*
3..(3) BLACK ............. 3065
4..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951
5..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903
6.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2877*
7..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........2865*
8..(7) STUBBS .............2848
9..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 2845*
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2425*
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2350*
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2238*
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1706*
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1691*
15.(17) TANASUGARN .........1437*
16.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
17.(18) PRATT ............. 1221
18.(26) SCHNYDER ...........1163*
19.(20) Myskina ........... 1144
20.(29) SCHETT .............1121*
21.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5
22.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112
23.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1072
24.(25) Sun ............... 1071
25.(24) LOIT ...............1046

U. S. Open: Let Me Hear You
There are a lot of things words you could use about David Nalbandian's last match at the 2004 U. S. Open, but "quiet" was not one of them.

Nalbandian wasn't at his best (when is he, these days?); his feet -- the single biggest element in his game -- were bothering him. And he was facing Mikhail Youzhny, who is a tough opponent anyway. Throw in some calls that Nalbandian thought were wrong (and he may well have had a point), and you had fireworks. Nalbandian was storming around, and behaved very badly after the match. It didn't help him; he was out of the tournament -- and out of the Top Ten -- 6-7 6-4 7-5 2-6 6-4.

Nor was he the only top player to go down in a very close match he could ill afford to lose. Juan Carlos Ferrero didn't offer nearly as many complaints, but he if anything played worse, constantly getting chances against Stefan Koubek and constantly throwing them away. The last thing in the world the Spaniard needed was a fifth set against the Austrian, whose one real ability is to sit there and take punishment until his opponent wears down. After splitting the first four sets, Ferrero started the fourth with a break. He held. He had chances for another break. But he earned only one more game. Koubek took out the 2003 finalist 7-6 4-6 6-7 6-2 6-3. And that meant that Ferrero, too, was out of the Top Ten.

Ironically, the player who should have been best positioned to take advantage, #12 seed Sebastien Grosjean, failed to do so -- though he had the excuse that he had to face Tommy Haas. Haas, apart from a big letdown in the third set, was masterful, and topped Grosjean 6-4 6-4 1-6 6-1. The Frenchman is still a pretty good bet to return to the Top Ten -- but had he held seed, he would have guaranteed it.

Other than those top players, only one seed went down in Friday's second round action: Jurgen Melzer -- who has been quietly making a run for the Top 30 -- took out Vincent Spadea in five sets, 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-3 6-4. That killed any hopes Spadea might have had of hitting the Top 20, and opened a slight possibility that he would end up ranked below #25.

One other seed was pushed pretty hard: Feliciano Lopez edged Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5 7-5 6-7 1-6 6-2. Otherwise, it was pretty routine. Lleyton Hewitt started a little bit slowly against Hicham Arazi, but it didn't last; Hewitt, for the moment at least, took over the #3 spot in the ATP Race 7-6 6-1 6-2. A battle of big-serving baseliners went to #28 seed Joachim Johansson, who beat Jan-Michael Gambill 6-4 7-5 7-5. #29 Guillermo Canas won a battle of clay-courters as he beat Filippo Volandri 6-4 7-5 6-1, though surprisingly that did not clinch a Top 30 spot for the Argentine. #18 Tommy Robredo did lose a set to Arnaud Clement, but finally came through 6-3 6-3 3-6 6-4. And the much-anticipated Roddick/Nadal match was a bust; Roddick came through 6-0 6-3 6-4.

In unseeded matches, Tomas Berdych kept up his rapid rise with a 6-3 7-6 6-3 win over Tuomas Ketola, but another youngster, Robin Soderling, won't be climbing in the rankings; he lost to Nikolay Davydenko 6-1 2-6 7-5 6-4. Nor could Thomas Enqvist follow up his win over Marat Safin; Alexander Peya beat him 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-2. Other winners were Michael Llodra, who took out Andreas Seppi 6-0 6-3 3-6 6-3; Karol Beck, who ended Krisian Pless's comeback 6-1 7-6 7-5; and Ricardo Mello, who eliminated David Sanchez 6-1 6-1 6-3.

The top doubles teams in action came through: #1 Bjorkman/Woodbridge and #3 Knowles/Nestor each advanced in three sets. #13 Paes/Rikl advanced in two. But the Olympic champions are at it again: Fernando Gonzales and Nicolas Massu topped #9 Knowle/Zimonjic 5-7 7-5 7-6. #15 Arnold/Hood also lost, falling in straight sets to Gimelstob/Oliver.

Saturday might have been called "The Day of the Chokers." Without actually checking the matter, our guess would be that Dominik Hrbaty and Paradorn Srichaphan led top players in having the lowest fraction of their points earned at required events. Against other opponents, they could probably be counted upon to self-destruct by this point in a Slam. But against each other, somebody had to win.

Both looked a bit sloppy. But Hrbaty's game, if nothing else, is more complex than Srichaphan's. One thing going wrong can be enough to eliminate the Thai. Hrbaty took another step toward the Top 20 with a 7-6 6-3 6-3 win.

Thomas Johansson, though, took a step backward; after two nice early round matches, he looked completely helpless against Nicolas Kiefer (another guy who underachieves at required events). Kiefer produced the day's easiest win 6-4 6-0 6-1. Though Andre Agassi wasn't far behind. He mashed Jiri Novak 6-4 6-2 6-3 to keep himself on the fringes of the race for the #4 spot.

Roger Federer's match with Fabrice Santoro was probably closer than the number of games he lost (ten) would imply. Santoro just kept getting closer and closer. It took him a set to get all his stuff in order, but once he did, he started throwing it all at Federer. Federer weathered the barrage, but the third set could truly have gone either way. The top seed advanced to the fourth round 6-0 6-4 7-6, leaving Santoro just short of a return to the Top 30.

It was a strange day: Four three-setters, all fairly routine (Federer/Santoro produced lots of highlight film points, but there wasn't really much doubt about the outcome). The other four matches were all five-setters, many of them involving come-from-behind wins.

The biggest in terms of outcome was Olivier Rochus's gutsy 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-7 7-5 win over Carlos Moya, equalling the Belgian's best-ever Slam result (he had made the fourth round at Wimbledon 2003 also; he really does like fast courts). That meant, first, that Andy Roddick was assured of keeping the #2 ranking after the Open; second, that Moya would not pass Guillermo Coria to take the #3 spot (not yet, anyway); and third, that Moya might lose his own #4 ranking.

And the leading contender to take it, on paper, was Tim Henman. Though he once again found himself in a five set battle with Michal Tabara, coming back from two sets to one down to advance 4-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 6-3. Not really the recommended way to treat an ailing back.

#16 seed Andrei Pavel looked like he would cruise, then he looked like he was gone. But he finally took out Hyung-Taik Lee 6-4 6-2 1-6 1-6 6-4.

We're going to have to take back what we said about Paul-Henri Mathieu and long matches. Obviously he's solved that problem; after his marathon against Taylor Dent, he fought to the end against Sargis Sargsian. But if Mathieu is improving at long matches, Sargsian is as fit as they come. After many missed break chances on Mathieu's serve in the fifth set, after a game that lasted nearly twenty minutes, after argument over argument over incredibly close line calls, after saving match points, Sargsian finally clawed his way into a fifth set tiebreak -- and won 4-6 4-6 6-4 6-2 7-6, to make a Slam fourth round for the first time in his long career.

The doubles had its own news. #4 Bhupathi/Mirnyi won their second round match by walkover, and #5 Black/Ullyett, #8 Damm/Suk, and #12 Palmer/Vizner all reached the third round by conventional means -- but the very first match of the third round ended in the biggest upset to that point. Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut, a well-established team but not one that sends opponents running in fear, took out the Bryan Twins, last year's finalists and the #2 seeds, 7-6 6-1. That not only took the Bryans -- who still haven't won a required event this year -- out of the contest for the #1 ranking, it dropped them from co-#3 to no better than co-#7.

Sunday's one big result came in doubles, as Leander Paes and David Rikl took out top seeds Bjorkman and Woodbridge 2-6 7-5 6-4. With #3 seeds Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor advancing 6-2 6-1 over Gimelstob and Oliver, that left us with a three-way race for #1. Bjorkman was still atop the rankings, but not by much, and either Nestor or Mahesh Bhupathi had chances at him.

The singles was uneventful. There was only one meeting between seeds in day action: Andy Roddick took on #30 Guillermo Canas. Canas beat Roddick at the Canadian Open two years ago, but in terms of their games, the change has been more than two years' worth. And Roddick had everything working. He took out Canas 6-1 6-3 6-3.

Tommy Robredo made the fourth round in his first U. S. Open three years ago, but hadn't been back until this year. No problems this time; he trounced Alexander Peya 6-3 6-3 6-2.

Joachim Johansson started out a little more slowly, but was able to firm things up in the third and fourth sets. He took out Stefan Koubek 6-7 7-6 6-1 6-3. His reward -- apart from his first Open fourth round -- is a place in the Top 25.

The evening match, #4 seed Hewitt against #30 Feliciano Lopez, was also a blowout. Hewitt advanced 6-1 6-4 6-2.

It turned out to be quite a disappointing day for Austrians. They had three players in the third round: Koubek, Peya, and Jurgen Melzer. Melzer was their big hope, but he won't be making the Top 30 just yet; Michael Llodra took him out 6-3 6-2 7-5. Nor will Mikhail Youzhny be making it; Tomas Berdych continued to gather scalps as he topped the Russian 2-6 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-1. Tommy Haas, though, is getting ever closer; he took out Ricardo Mello 6-2 6-3 7-5.

The day's other match was the all-scrambling contest between Karol Beck and Nikolay Davydenko, which ended with Beck making his first Slam fourth round 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4.

It looks as if someone had a premonition from the very beginning that Andrei Pavel might not be able to play Monday; when they scheduled Pavel against Roger Federer for the night match on center court, they also designated a match for a "possible move to Ashe" even though the schedule there was already quite full. (The match they moved? A mixed doubles match, though they might as well have called it "Sharapova vs. Navratilova," since that's what everyone went to see. It was a funny contest -- Maria Sharapova, the shorter player on the Sharapova/Mirnyi team, is two inches/five centimeters taller than Leander Paes, the taller on the Navratilova/Paes team. The outcome should probably be a lesson to Sharapova -- and, indeed, all these serve-and-stay-back teams playing doubles on the women's side; Navratilova and Paes beat Sharapova and Mirnyi 6-4 6-4, and it wasn't really that close.)

The premonition about Pavel was well-founded; the Romanian pulled out with a herniated disk, and Federer became the first player to reach the quarterfinal. Ironically, although he had never lost before the third round here, and had made four consecutive fourth rounds, it is his first Open quarterfinal. This was the only Slam where he had never gotten that far.

It looked for a time like Back Injury Day at the Open -- Tim Henman, after all, was still suffering, and he started very slowly against Nicolas Kiefer, digging himself a 4-0 hole in the first set. He actually fought it level, lost the tiebreak, won two sets, lost the fourth to leave himself in his third five-set match of the tournament -- and then things were settled by injury. But not Henman's. Kiefer quickly went down 3-0, and then hurt his wrist. Henman -- who earlier this year had made his first Roland Garros semifinal -- made his first Open quarterfinal 6-7 6-3 6-1 6-7 3-0.

The third singles match of the day -- well, the second, based on the schedule -- at least went to completion, but there wasn't much more drama than the Federer match. #6 seed Andre Agassi took care of pal Sargis Sargsian 6-3 6-2 6-2.

Naturally the day's other fine match got no television time at all; Dominik Hrbaty came back from two sets down to beat Olivier Rochus 2-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 6-0

Early doubles action supplied some surprises of its own, as the next-to-last contender to replace Jonas Bjorkman at #1 went down. #4 seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi suffered a surprising 6-4 6-4 loss to Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo, killing Bhupathi's chances of making #1. That leaves only Knowles and Nestor in position to take the top spot. There remains quite a contest for #2, though, since #6 seeds Kevin Ullyett and Wayne Black are looking very solid; they beat #12 Jared Palmer and Pavel Vizner 6-1 6-0, and are now guaranteed to be no worse than #10/#11 when all is over. One more win, and they're up to #6/#7. Win the whole thing, and they might be #2.

In the other big match of the day, Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu continued their summer hardcourt success as they topped #8 seeds Martin Damm and Cyril Suk 3-6 7-6 6-2.

We currently show the doubles Top 15 as follows:

1..(1) Bjorkman...........4235
2..(2) Woodbridge.........3925
2..(5) Bhupathi...........3925
4..(6) Nestor.............3730
4..(7) Knowles............3730
6..(9) Mirnyi.............3560
7..(3) BryanB.............3520
7..(3) BryanM.............3520
9..(8) Santoro............3510
10.(11) Black..............3370
10.(12) Ullyett............3370
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
15.(14) Arthurs............2335

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Fourth Round
Lindsay Davenport (5) def. Venus Williams (11) 7-5 6-4

For the last few months, Lindsay Davenport has been (usually) #4 in the world but (even more usually) seeded as if ranked lower, because of the special seedings given to the Williams Sisters. She had seemed surprisingly quiet. It was more that her words weren't getting out. "I'm irritated," she admitted recently, adding, "When I got my special ranking, I was given only one Grand Slam." (Davenport made her comeback at Stanford, by which time her ranking was down to #9 but she was treated as #3; she was given seeding protection at Stanford, San Diego, Los Angeles, New Haven, the U. S. Open, Moscow, Filderstadt, and Zurich, but her protection had expired by the year-end championships.) "They then took it away from me after three months. It's been eight months for these players now. I just wish the rules were fair across the board and not changed every time the tour wants to change a rule for a player."

The claim that the sisters have been helped for eight months is a little exaggerated; Venus lost her special protection after Los Angeles, which took place six months after her return at the Australian Open. Only Serena is now affected, because she didn't come back until Miami, which means she has been back for a bit less than six months. Thus the Sisters received a normal period of injury help; a protected ranking normally lasts half a year.

Still, it's easy to understand Davenport's frustration; the WTA gave the Williams Sisters much stronger protection than it gave Davenport, or Martina Hingis, who in 2002 came back too soon from what, as a result, proved to be a career-ending injury. The Tour claimed to be following precedent, but Davenport's charge that they were making up the rules as they went along is dead-on; players had been protected before -- but take Davenport: She was #1 when she was injured, but they gave her a special ranking of #3. In the major case of this sort of thing prior to Davenport, Steffi Graf was originally given a protected ranking of #3, which was then lowered to #8. Before that, Monica Seles was given partial protection: She was ranked on the divisor, like everyone else, but with no minimum divisor. (Which is a very sound way to do injury rankings -- but it of course requires a divisor ranking for the uninjured players.) The Sisters, by contrast, were given special rankings fully equal to where they were ranked when hurt. Which was both without precedent and patently silly; whoever came back from a six month layoff at full strength?

And, at this Open, the Williams Rules really bit Davenport. Had Serena not been protected, Davenport would have been seeded #4, meaning that she would not have been in the same quarter as Anastasia Myskina. Plus she would not have had to face Venus Williams in the fourth round, where top four seeds are supposed to face seeds #13-#16.

You could almost feel Lindsay the Gladiator walking out for this match, as if to say, "I am Lindsay Davenport, and I will prove on my body that I am the true #4 seed." She did a pretty good job of it, not even facing a break point until it was 7-5 5-4 and she was serving for the match. That final game seemed to take as long as the whole match -- something like ten deuces, with Venus having repeated chances to get the break she needed to level things. But Davenport finally polished off the win.

And that means that Venus will not be returning to the Top Ten; she will end no better at her current #12. The Top Ten will be, in some order, Mauresmo, Henin-Hardenne, Myskina, Davenport, Dementieva, Clijsters, Sharapova, and three of the four Serena Williams, Kuznetsova, Capriati, and Petrova.

As for Davenport, the win kept her hopes for #1 still alive, barely; she could still pass Amelie Mauresmo if Mauresmo loses her next match to Elena Dementieva.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Fourth Round
Dominik Hrbaty (22) def. Olivier Rochus 2-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 6-0

Could his stunning win over Paradorn Srichaphan the round before have changed Dominik Hrbaty's life?

Hrbaty, from the very start, has tended to do things under the radar. He first hit the Top 100 in 1996. With big wins? Hardly; he ended that year at #77, but had played only two ATP matches, both of which he lost; he did it with Challenger results. In 1997, he played his first Slam at the Australian Open, where he made the fourth round -- and then lost first round at the next three Slams. In 1998, he won his first title, but went a mere 3-4 at Slams and 1-3 at what would later be the Masters Series. In 1999, he had a breakthrough, reaching the Roland Garros semifinal -- and was 0-3 at the other Slams and barely broke even at the Masters. And so it went. In five years since, he's never repeated his Slam semifinal, has never won a Masters, has only one Masters final (Monte Carlo 2000, which may have set a record for weakest Masters field) and no other Masters semifinals. This year, of his 212 Race points entering the Open, 144 were earned at optional events. That's 68% of his points at optional events; Roger Federer, by contrast, has 18% of his points in optional events, and Andy Roddick 27%; the highest percent for any Top Ten player is Gaudio's 38%.

It is a picture of a player who really, really can't win the big matches. But here he is, in his first U. S. Open quarterfinal, and having managed to pull out two matches he could reasonably have been expected to lose: First the match against Srichaphan, where he was playing a higher seed, and then this match, where he was down two sets and could easily have folded. Instead, he's put himself back in the Top 20 -- probably #17. And, who knows, maybe he's over his hump. After all, he now has 262 Race points (putting him at #12) -- meaning that he now has 45% of this points at required events.

Olivier Rochus had never won a match at the U. S. Open entering this year; it was the only Slam where he was winless. And his ranking was down all the way to #100. Obviously the loss is very disappointing -- but it still lifts him to around #70, meaning that he at least will continue to earn direct entry into Slams and nearly every other event except the Masters.

Correlation Inefficient, Part II
Last week, we looked at the men's Slams and how they correlated with the year-end #1, finding that Wimbledon and the U. S. Open correlated pretty well with #1, and the Australian Open and Roland Garros much less so. What about the women? Do they follow the same pattern, or some other? The women, after all, have almost always used a very different ranking system which places somewhat less emphasis on American hardcourts. So let's take a look.

As with the men, we'll go back to 1980 (and will ignore the 1985-1986 co-ranking). In the lists below, we show the winner in each year, with her name in ALL CAPS for those who were the year-end #1.

Australian Open

YEAR..WINNER
1980..Mandlikova
1981..Navratilova
1982..Evert
1983..NAVRATILOVA
1984..Evert
1985..NAVRATILOVA
1986..(not played)
1987..Mandlikova
1988..GRAF
1989..GRAF
1990..GRAF
1991..SELES
1992..SELES
1993..Seles
1994..GRAF
1995..Pierce
1996..Seles
1997..HINGIS
1998..Hingis
1999..HINGIS
2000..Davenport
2001..Capriati
2002..Capriati
2003..S.Williams

Given that the women tend to concentrate more Slams into a few players' hands, it's not too surprising to see that we have a higher rate of #1 players in this list than on the men's side: 10 of 23 Melbourne winners have been year-end #1, compared to 5 of 23 among the men. But, of course, the real question is how this will compare to the results at other Slams. So let's go on with our examination.

Roland Garros

YEAR..WINNER
1980..EVERT
1981..Mandlikova
1982..NAVRATILOVA
1983..Evert
1984..NAVRATILOVA
1985..Evert
1986..Evert
1987..GRAF
1988..GRAF
1989..Sanchez-Vicario
1990..Seles
1991..SELES
1992..SELES
1993..GRAF
1994..Sanchez-Vicario
1995..GRAF
1996..GRAF
1997..Majoli
1998..Sanchez-Vicario
1999..Graf
2000..Pierce
2001..Capriati
2002..S.WILLIAMS
2003..HENIN-HARDENNE

That's 12 of 24. As with the men, the rate at Roland Garros is just a hair higher than at the Australian Open.

WIMBLEDON

YEAR..WINNER
1980..Goolagong Cawley
1981..EVERT
1982..NAVRATILOVA
1983..NAVRATILOVA
1984..NAVRATILOVA
1985..NAVRATILOVA
1986..NAVRATILOVA
1987..Navratilova
1988..GRAF
1989..GRAF
1990..Navratilova
1991..Graf
1992..Graf
1993..GRAF
1994..Martinez
1995..GRAF
1996..GRAF
1997..HINGIS
1998..Novotna
1999..Davenport
2000..V.Williams
2001..V.Williams
2002..S.WILLIAMS
2003..S.Williams

Now here we have a difference. 13 of 24 female Wimbledon winners were year-end #1s. That is not noticeably higher than Roland Garros -- and not much higher than the men's rate, either: 11 of 24 Wimbledon winners went on to be year-end #1 on the men's side.

U. S. OPEN

YEAR..WINNER
1980..EVERT
1981..Austin
1982..Evert
1983..NAVRATILOVA
1984..NAVRATILOVA
1985..Mandlikova
1986..NAVRATILOVA
1987..Navratilova
1988..GRAF
1989..GRAF
1990..Sabatini
1991..SELES
1992..SELES
1993..GRAF
1994..Sanchez-Vicario
1995..GRAF
1996..GRAF
1997..HINGIS
1998..DAVENPORT
1999..S.Williams
2000..V.Williams
2001..V.Williams
2002..S.WILLIAMS
2003..HENIN-HARDENNE

And, once again, the Open is the leader: 15 of 24 victors have ended up the year-end #1. But the other fascinating point is how even it all is: For the men, Wimbledon and the U. S. Open dominated. On the women's side, all Slams are created nearly equal.

Whatever that tells us. It's possibly an artifact: Since the men's ranking system is designed to seed the U. S. Open, and the women's is relatively balanced, of course we'd have more parity between Slams on the women's side. But we'd have a hard time proving it.
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bandabou
Sep 8th, 2004, 01:57 PM
U. S. Open: Choke, Choke, Choke the Match

Amelie Mauresmo will never win a Slam

Oh, there is a possibility that she will someday hold up a trophy. After all, she could have an opponent default a final or something. Or maybe Mauresmo can turn herself into a new player. But the player who came out to face Elena Dementieva on Tuesday will never be able to win a Slam final. The nerves are just too strong. Mauresmo wasn't even playing a particularly late-round match; it was a quarterfinal. But it was a quarterfinal in which she could clinch the #1 ranking.

Instead, she clinched her reputation as a head case. Dementieva had a bad leg and a bad stomach to go with her bad serve, but she made the semifinal 4-6 6-4 7-6.

The second semifinal followed a rather similar pattern: Serena Williams seemed to be dominating at the start of her match with Jennifer Capriati, holding easily in the first game, breaking Capriati in the second, and cruising to a 6-2 first set win. Then, perhaps, the Modern Williams-ness began to creep in. Capriati just kept fighting, and took the second set, but seemed set to lose in the third -- until a series of line calls went her way on balls that nearly everyone except the linespeople saw the other way. It wasn't exactly a pretty match -- apart from the disputed calls (so many that we saw a few people claiming a fix was in), both players had twice as many errors as winners. But Capriati finally prevailed 2-6 6-4 6-4

The result means that Capriati and Serena will both be Top Ten, but Capriati will be ranked at least one spot higher.

In doubles, we were guaranteed a surprise semifinalist in the quarter of the draw vacated by the loss of #4 seeds Petrova/Schnyder and the withdrawal of #8 Myskina/Zvonareva. The surprises turned out to be the highest seeds left in the quarter, Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder, who beat Janet Lee and Peng Shuai 6-2 7-5.

The other doubles quarterfinal looked like something you'd actually expect to see from two of the players who were last year's finalists. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Martina Navratilova were on opposite sides of the net this time, and they proved pretty evenly matched for the first two sets. Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva finally took charge in the third, winning 6-7 7-6 6-1. The win means that Kuznetsova at least will stay Top Five, and Likhovtseva will be no worse than #6. Raymond, though, will not move above her current #11 and Navratilova will fall from #9 to #10 -- possibly lower, depending on how Liezel Huber does. And Huber faces Dementieva/Tanasugarn tomorrow, and who knows whether Dementieva will be up to playing?

It's interesting to note that only two women are still alive in both singles and doubles, and they're both Russian: Dementieva and Kuznetsova.

We currently show the Top 25 in doubles as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4209
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4185
3..(3) BLACK ............. 3065
4..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3041*
5..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3021*
6..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951
7..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903
8.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........2877*
9..(7) STUBBS .............2848
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2425
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2350
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2238*
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1706*
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1691*
15.(17) TANASUGARN .........1437*
16.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
17.(26) SCHNYDER ...........1297*
18.(29) SCHETT .............1255*
19.(18) PRATT ............. 1221
20.(20) Myskina ........... 1144
21.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5
22.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112
23.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1072
24.(25) Sun ............... 1071
25.(24) LOIT ...............1046

U. S. Open: The H Word
If a potential employer were comparing resumes for Karol Beck and Lleyton Hewitt, he might have a hard time telling them apart. They're the same height. They're nearly the same age (Hewitt is a bit more than a year older.) They're both right-handers with two-handed backhands. They both rely on speed more than power, and stay mostly at the baseline. They both have their best results on hardcourts and grass.

Get down to the part labelled "experience," though, and the differences become stark. And, if you watch them on-court, it's clear that Beck is just another fast, steady guy, whereas Hewitt is the greatest practitioner of this style to date. The two played each other close for eight games, but then Hewitt took charge, reaching the quarterfinal 6-4 6-2 6-2.

It's turning into a quarterfinal for the H-es, with Hewitt and Henman and Hrbaty already through. That made it the turn of Tommy Haas. He's now one win away from a return to the Top 30; he took out Tomas Berdych 7-6 6-1 7-5.

The third semifinal didn't have anyone with the initial "H," but Joachim Johansson has that letter in his name twice, and Michael Llodra only once; Johansson posted his best-ever Slam result 6-2 6-3 6-2.

The "H" quotient declined to zero in match #4, but not the degree of blowout. Andy Roddick extended his Open winning streak to eleven by beating Tommy Robredo 6-3 6-2 6-4.

In doubles, Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor kept alive their hopes of reaching the top spots in the world; they finally ended the streak of Olympic champions Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu 7-6 5-7 6-4. The win moves them past Mahesh Bhupathi and Todd Woodbridge to the #2 spot behind Jonas Bjorkman, and at #3, they're the top seeds left; win the tournament and they're #1/#2. But it looks as if the Bryan Twins are at least safe in the Top Ten; Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut upset #6 seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett to leave the twins at co-#7/#8.

We currently show the doubles Top 15 as follows:


1..(1) Bjorkman...........4235
2..(6) Nestor.............3930
2..(7) Knowles............3930
4..(2) Woodbridge.........3925
4..(5) Bhupathi...........3925
6..(9) Mirnyi.............3560
7..(3) BryanB.............3520
7..(3) BryanM.............3520
9..(8) Santoro............3510
10.(11) Black..............3370
10.(12) Ullyett............3370
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
15.(14) Arthurs............2335

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Quarterfinal
Elena Dementieva (6) def. Amelie Mauresmo (2) 4-6 6-4 7-6(7-1)

Forget all the talk about Serena versus Capriati. That match, for all the controversy over line calls, won't end up in the record books. This was the guaranteed Match of the Day from the moment Justine Henin-Hardenne lost. Because this was the match that could make Amelie Mauresmo #1.

You almost had to hope that no one would tell her. Because -- let's face it -- Mauresmo crumbles in really big matches. Obviously Roland Garros has been the worst. But she had trouble at the Olympics, too, and she played far below her best in her one and only Slam final. Add to that the fact that the U. S. Open is played on probably her worst surface and you had a recipe for a real meltdown. Especially as Elena Dementieva has been here before, and hadn't yet reached a mental "danger round."

On the other hand, Dementieva had a thigh strain, meaning that the match turned into something of a contest between Dementieva's body and Mauresmo's head: Which would break down first?

It was pretty ragged at the start as both players broke almost at will. You could see Mauresmo struggling to stay within her game, while Dementieva was of course hitting her powderpuff serves. In the first set, Mauresmo was up 5-4, on break, when Dementieva took an injury time-out -- and, naturally, the Russian came back and had a bunch of break points. But Mauresmo at last managed to hold to take the set.

Not so in the second. Mauresmo couldn't get her serve in, and she made too many nervous mistakes, and Dementieva -- with absolutely nothing on the line -- swung freely and finally picked up the key break. That is, the three key breaks, to Mauresmo's two.

The third set was the sort to cause Mauresmo fans heart attacks. She went down 2-0, won four of the next five games and was up 30-0 on serve -- and was broken to level things at four all. In the next game, Dementieva's leg was clearly hurting badly, and it appeared that the Russian's stomach was bothering her as well; she looked feverish, and called the trainer for her stomach. Mauresmo had two break chances -- and gave them both away with stupid errors, and supplied more errors to put Dementieva up 5-4. If there was anyone out there who didn't want to wring Mauresmo's neck, it's hard to imagine who it was. Mauresmo did hold for 5-5, but she kept charging on nothing in Dementieva's last service game, and the Russian was up 6-5, with Mauresmo having to serve for a tiebreak. She did -- but made error after error in the tiebreak, and Dementieva, limping, gagging, her skin flaming red despite the relatively cool temperatures, was in the semifinal. It was an amazingly gutsy performance by Dementieva. But it only happened because Mauresmo allowed it to happen.

The TV people were saying there was still a way for Lindsay Davenport to become #1 if Mauresmo won this match. All we can say is, one or the other of us can't do math, and -- since they think the rankings are complicated when in fact they are dimwittedly simple (there are lots of possibilities, but all easy possibilities) -- we're betting on us. But it doesn't matter, because Mauresmo didn't win.

And that means, in simplest terms, that the #1 ranking is Lindsay Davenport's for the taking. Win the Open, and she's #1 (barring a walkover in one of the latter two rounds, anyway). Fail to win, and Mauresmo is #1.

Even if Mauresmo does take the #1 ranking this week, she probably can't hold it. Davenport has a lead in the WTA Race (a lead which is effectively certain to grow), and Mauresmo has points to defend this fall and Davenport doesn't. Looking at the numbers, this loss almost guarantees Davenport the year-end #1. And that's even if she doesn't win the Open, and frankly, who would bet against her at this point?

For Dementieva, the rest of the tournament doesn't mean anything, rankings-wise. She's #5 no matter what. Indeed, she could win the Open, and she would still be #5. But she used to be a choker. Clearly not any more.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Fourth Round
Joachim Johansson (28) def. Michael Llodra 6-2 6-3 6-2

And to think Joachim Johansson, at the end of last year, was a big tall guy who had never reached the Top 100 or won a Slam match.

Obviously he's taken care of both of those problems.

In fact, Johansson is making a pretty strong case for Most Improved Player this year. Certainly there won't be many who can top the 81 places he's gained since the end of the 2003 season.

Johansson, surprisingly, didn't win this on his serve alone, though of course he was almost unhittable when he got his first serve in (88% of points won). But he had only ten aces, and Llodra almost matched that with nine. What put Johansson through so easily -- the whole match took only an hour and twenty minutes! -- was his winners. 42 of them, to 14 unforced errors. That is tough to beat.

And with it, Johansson grabs a spot in the Top 25. Probably #22. A career high, obviously. And Top 20 in the Race. And if he can play that well, who knows, maybe he isn't done. One more win, and of course he'll be Top 20. Of course, he'll have to deal with another guy with a cannon of a serve and the ability to hit winners from absolutely anywhere....

bandabou
Sep 9th, 2004, 11:41 AM
U. S. Open: Their Time Will Come
Early last week, the Saint Paul, Minnesota paper printed its longest article in years concerning the U. S. Open. About the matches? About the four-way contest for women's #1? About Roger Federer's quest to win three Slams this year? No, about the zambonis the Open brought it to dry the lines, which are made in Minnesota.

They should have saved it. Wednesday was the day the drying machines came into action. It wasn't quite as wet as it had been at this time last year, but it did rain all day and well into the evening; in round numbers, play was delayed eight hours.

That sent just about every match off to an outside court somewhere, and meant that the day crowd -- such of them as were left -- were divided across five different matches. When Lindsay Davenport and Shinobu Asagoe came out, it was almost like a Challenger. Except that Challengers usually have more people show up for quarterfinals, and the better-organized ones will have volunteers at the entrances to keep people from walking in during points. And, given that it was played on Armstrong, that meant literally tens of thousands of seats empty and echoing.

Not that poor Asagoe had to spend much time there. Asagoe is one of those players who doesn't really have a single strong element to her game: Her serve is not noteworthy, she isn't blazingly fast, she doesn't hit her groundstrokes hard, she's fairly steady but not outstandingly so, and while she hits a lot of changes of pace, they aren't good enough to really drive her opponents crazy. Her drop shots, for instance, were high enough that even the slow-footed Davenport could get to them. The result was just what everyone expected: A Davenport blowout, 6-1 6-1. The win moves Davenport past Justine Henin-Hardenne in the standings, meaning that last week's #1 will fall all the way to #4. If Davenport wins her next match, she passes Anastasia Myskina to take the #2 spot.

Of course, that next match comes against a much tougher customer than formerly-#62-and-now-up-to-#43 Asagoe. She'll face Svetlana Kuznetsova, who took out Nadia Petrova 7-6 6-3.

Those were the only matches left on the revised schedule; the two doubles matches were put off until Thursday.

U. S. Open - Quarterfinal
Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) def. Nadia Petrova (14) 7-6(7-4) 6-3

This match, naturally, was the one the USTA sent Far Foreign: It didn't even make the grandstand court. Strange and ironic, given that, other than Agassi/Federer, it was surely the match most likely to be interesting. Svetlana Kuznetsova is frequently called the best of the Russians, even though she's their fourth-ranked player. But you could make a case for Nadia Petrova as the best, too -- when she plays her best.

And that's the rub for both of them, really: Keeping it going when the going gets tough. Petrova has never won a singles title, and though she is well endowed in doubles, she has underperformed in Slams. Svetlana Kuznetsova does have titles, but she actually had weaker Slam results (Petrova made the Roland Garros semifinal last year, whereas Kuznetsova had never been past a quarterfinal and had a surprising number of early losses).

With so many matches going on, we couldn't see this one; there were no match stats and, we're guessing, no cameras. Based on history, we'd say Petrova finally cracked under the strain. But we don't know. We do know that Kuznetsova has her first Slam semifinal.

What she doesn't have, yet, is much motion in the rankings. Kuznetsova came in #9, and she and Jennifer Capriati are slugging it out for, potentially, the #7 spot, or even #6 if one of them can win (in which case Kim Clijsters will fall all the way to #7). Kuznetsova has to beat Lindsay Davenport if she wants to guarantee a ranking higher than her current #9.

As for Petrova, she at least seems to be getting over her summer slump. But she won't move much in the rankings, either; she'll rise from #14 only to #13.

We do have secondary beneficiaries in the Williams Sisters. Petrova's loss means that Venus will at least retain her current #12. And Serena will break back into the Top Ten, moving from #11 to #10.

Hitting the (S)hot Spot
In the aftermath of Tuesday's officiating disaster in the Serena Williams/Jennifer Capriati match, the demands for a better line-calling system have grown from a dull roar to a sound of pure fury. It's hard to argue, and the idea of putting a Mac Cam on every line sounds wonderful (at least until people realize that someone has to pay for the things -- and, if the system is to be fair, there need to be cameras on all courts, not just center court). The ITF, in fact, is actually testing an automatic line calling technology at this time (though, from what we understand, it is neither Hawkeye nor Shot Spot). But while it's hard to argue with having Mac Cams on every line, there are still problems with the other technologies -- problems reinforced by the fact that, at Roland Garros, the automatic line calling technologies called some balls in or out when the marks on the clay showed the reverse. The right technology would surely help -- but the wrong technology is worse than useless.

In light of the current situation, we thought we would re-run this article from last February 4, explaining why the motion sensor technologies can be wrong about where the ball lands.

***

It's getting to be a roar on the Internet: Kill the Linespeople!

Oh, no one has said that in so many words. But, in the wake of a number of disputed calls at the Australian Open, there has been a swell of support for some sort of mechanical line-calling: Allowing the players to appeal to Hawkeye or Shot Spot or their relatives, forcing the umpires to check these systems before overruling, etc.

It's perhaps time to raise the cautions. A mechanical line-caller sounds good -- but it needs to be reliable. And this is much, much trickier than it sounds. The author had hoped to save this topic until such time as he had been able to really deal with the companies involved, and find out exactly what they're doing and whether it works. It would be interesting to see if they would talk to a physicist and computer programmer.

But there hasn't been time. Maybe someday. For now, we just have to present an outline of the concerns.

The problem is, people want the SpotEye (let's call it that, because we're actually talking about several competing systems) to produce absolute accuracy. But it's not likely that it can produce absolute accuracy. A number of reputable tennis people have questioned the capabilities of the technology. Of course, that might be credited to the innate conservatism of tennis people. But it's interesting to note that the system has not been submitted to the ITF for testing. And there are very good theoretical grounds for thinking that the whole system is not quite perfect.

Let's review how these things work. The exact details vary from system to system, but the fundamentals are all the same. SpotEye uses a series of sensors (radar, infrared, visual) to determine the (slightly approximate) position of the ball at various times. This data is then fed to a computer, which calculates a trajectory based on the data, and from that estimates where the ball would land.

So far, so good. In a vacuum, assuming the sensors are properly calibrated (meaning that they must be installed with incredible precision and kept safe from bumps and jars and bounces -- and how exactly do you prevent that?), SpotEye would be spot on -- exactly accurate to whatever the limits of the precision of the sensors.

But you, dear readers, are presumably breathing as you read this, so you know that we aren't living and playing tennis in a vacuum. And that is where things get hairy.

Being good little physicists, we're going to draw some diagrams to illustrate the point. This gets very complex indeed, since we have forces acting in all three dimensions (and we won't absolutely guarantee that we've thought of them all, though we tried). So we need three diagrams, one from the side, one from the top, and one facing the ball as it's hit toward us. In the diagrams below, o represents the ball, and arrows, such as --> or <-----, represent the forces upon it. The direction of the arrow represents the direction in which the force acts, e.g. an arrow ---> means that the force is pushing the ball to the right

SIDE VIEW OF FORCES


g
|
v
i------>o<-----r
^
|
b s

In the above diagram, "b" represents the buoyant force of air, "g" represents the downward force of gravity, "i" represents the initial acceleration applied by the racquet, "r" represents the resistant force of the air, and "s" represents the force exerted by the air against the spin of the ball (depending on the nature of the spin, this may apply in directions other than the one shown).

Looking at the top view, gravity and buoyancy disappear as forces, but we add another random one, wind ("w").

TOP VIEW OF FORCES


i------>o<-----r

^
|
w

Fortunately, the view from looking into the ball doesn't add any more:

FRONT VIEW OF FORCES


g
|
v
w--->o
^
|
b s

That's six forces, b, g, i, r, s, and w. Of these, g is constant (9.8 meters per second per second), and i is fixed (and doesn't apply the moment the ball comes off the racquet). Three of the forces, though, b, s, and r, depend on a seventh factor, air pressure (p), and s and r vary as the ball slows down. And wind is, well, just wind -- essentially random.

(Incidentally, an alternate approach is to take the last sensor frame beyond the lines, after the bounce, and interpolate. This gives us some extra data: We know that the bounce occurred somewhere between the final "in-court" frame and the first "out-of-court" frame. But it also adds a nasty variable: The bounce. On modern surfaces, the bounce will be fairly consistent from place to place on the court -- but each surface will produce different bounces. And on a grass court, the bounce will not be consistent from place to place. In any case, the bounce is largely dependent on the compressibility of the ball -- and while new balls have fairly consistent compressibility, old balls will gradually lose it. Are you going to take the ball and compress it to destruction after each disputed call to see how it bounced? Unlikely to be popular. Easier, and more accurate in general, to ignore the ball's behavior after the bounce.)

What this all adds up to is a partial differential equation in pressure, time, and wind. That's six variables (including the x, y, and z axes, which are what we actually care about), plus two parameters (initial motion and spin) and a constant (gravity). Air pressure can probably be treated as a constant also, but wind can't.

We had a word for equations like that in our Mathematical Methods class. The word was, "Ouch." The method for solving differential equations is basically magic: "Assume a solution of the form such-and-so," try it, and hope it works. There are a lot of ordinary differential equations that can be solved that way. But of partial differential equations, there are almost none -- we simply don't know what sort of solution to assume.

So we have to use approximating formulas. In this case, two of them: One an approximation to the PDE itself (this may actually improve the accuracy, but who knows?), the other to the solution at a particular point. If you took elementary integral calculus, you may remember some of the simpler of the methods for calculating integrals -- which is another name for solving differential equations: Trapezoidal Rule, Midpoint Rule, Simpson's Rule. Advanced equations tend to get solved with things called Runge-Kutta Methods. (Not that you care; we're just burying you in jargon to prove that we do know what we're saying. Though, in fact, we don't know all that much; the author's DiffEq professor insisted that Runge's name was pronounced "Runj," but the only other qualified person I ever heard refer to the things pronounced his name "Run-gah.")

SpotEye tries to make up for the imperfections of this method by using a lot of sensors, so that it gets four or five or even more fixes on the ball. That spares it the need, for example, to determine the exact spin. It gives us a pretty good fix on the initial velocity vector. It also helps to control for the barometric pressure.

That leaves one variable, though, and it's the biggest problem: Wind.

If the wind is absolutely steady throughout the entire point, and moves in exactly the same manner when the ball is high above the court as when it's near the court surface, then that too would even out. But what are the odds of that? If the wind kicks up after the majority of the sensors have measured the ball, it will blow the ball off-course. SpotEye, keep in mind, does not measure where the ball lands. It measures where the ball would land if nothing caused it to change course. But the wind will cause it to change course.

A lot? No, of course not. SpotEye systems are consistently accurate to within a fraction of a percent of the length of the court. Of course, so are human beings -- how often does a linesperson miss a call by more than a few inches? Keep in mind that we are talking about very small differences. The call that generated the most controversy of all the calls at the Australian Open was in the Clijsters/Henin-Hardenne final, when Clijsters was broken for the last time. The linesperson said the ball was in, the umpire said it was out. SpotEye said it caught a millimeter or two of the line.

But that, dear reader, is less than the margin of error. A lot less. The figure we've seen (and we don't know how it was verified, so we have no clue if it's right or not) said that a typical SpotEye setup could expect to be correct to within two centimeters 95% of the time.

Which means that SpotEye did not tell us whether that most disputed of balls was in or out. SpotEye's graphic showing it clipping the line was well within the margin of error.

Does this mean that SpotEye, or its successors, should never be used? This does not follow, even if the thing is less accurate than human beings. The author can clearly think of one case where SpotEye is desirable: When linespeople end up being unsighted. And we have not, repeat not, said that SpotEye systems are less accurate than people -- just that they are not perfectly accurate. It might prove, upon testing, that humans are accurate to, say, 5 cm. 95% of the time. SpotEye is better than that, so it might be better to use it to replace or correct humans. But then, it might prove otherwise, too. The only way the author can think of to test it is to get some pros to play a match on clay, and test linespeople and SpotEye.

If nothing else, it would help us sort out good linespeople from bad.

But until that happens, the author at least is very cautious about the claim that SpotEye is "spot on." On the really close calls, the math says that SpotEye is likely to be spotty.

One addendum, from half a year later: It should perhaps be pointed out that none of these cautions apply to the high-speed Mac Cams, which are certainly more accurate than human beings. The only problem with Mac Cams is getting enough light for them to work. That can be a very expensive proposition, especially for night matches or indoor events. Cost is a genuine issue here: We can improve the accuracy of line calling, but at a price. The question is, how much are we willing to pay, and how much improvement will we get in return?

bandabou
Sep 10th, 2004, 10:57 AM
U. S. Open: Hope Springs Eternal

After Elena Dementieva's quarterfinal win over Amelie Mauresmo in singles, there was concern about whether Dementieva would be able to play the semifinal. After all, Dementieva hadn't so much won her quarterfinal as stood there hitting passing shots while Mauresmo netrushing herself in the foot. With problems in her leg, stomach, and just about everywhere else, Dementieva hardly seemed able to play.

But it looks like a false alarm. Dementieva is feeling well enough to not only play singles but even to play doubles. And win, even while playing with a pickup partner. (Admittedly Ai Sugiyama, who has three doubles Slams and has been #1, is a pretty good partner to play pickup with.) Dementieva, who reached the final here two years ago with Janette Husarova but who has seen her doubles ranking balloon this year, is in her second Slam doubles semifinal as she and Sugiyama beat Liezel Huber and Tamarine Tanasugarn 4-6 6-2 6-4.

Husarova, meanwhile, lost to the same team as the one she lost that 2002 final to. Husarova and Conchita Martinez, seeded #6, went down to top seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez 6-3 6-3, giving Ruano Pascual and Suarez 16 straight wins here. Nor do they seem likely to stop, since they face mostly nervous Russians from now on: First Dementieva/Sugiyama, and then, in the final, #2 seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva, who beat #12 Schett and Schnyder in the day's only semifinal. That's eleven straight Slam semifinals for Ruano Pascual and Suarez.

Still, the Russians seem to be the story of the day: Two of them (Kuznetsova, Likhovtseva) are in the doubles final, and a third (Dementieva) in the semifinal; Kuznetsova and Dementieva are in the singles semifinals; and Vera Zvonareva is in the mixed doubles final with Bob Bryan (they will play Alicia Molik and Todd Woodbridge, who beat Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes in a match tiebreak).

U. S. Open: Step Outside And Say That
Roger Federer really doesn't make any bones about it. He's an indoor player. What else is there to be when you're from Basel, in the Swiss mountains? Wind is not one of his favorite things.

Andre Agassi grew up in a desert. Wind is no stranger to him. And he hits big, and he has very streamlined mechanics.

And he had seen his best of five match converted into a best-of-three-plus-two-more, played in a howling, swirling wind. Was there ever a better recipe for him to beat Roger Federer?

It was about as close as it could be. Indeed, they ended up even on the second day of the match; Federer, in effect, won on the strength of the extra set he had won the day before. The fourth set went to serve to start, and then, suddenly, Federer was having all sorts of trouble winning points on his own serve. After a bunch of deuces, Agassi broke, then served out the set, and we were even.

The fifth set followed almost the same script, save that Federer served first. The Swiss seemed to have gotten used to the extremely windy conditions, and was able to hold fairly. And then -- could Agassi have gotten nervous? He was the one with the rocky service game, and Federer broke, and served out a win 6-3 2-6 7-5 3-6 6-3.

And that means that Agassi, #7 coming in, will stay right there. He does climb from #9 to #8 in the Race. As for Federer, well, you know where he stands in the rankings.

Meanwhile, Tim Henman was bumping Guillermo Coria off the #3 ranking. Unlike Federer/Roddick, whose match was interrupted just after a set ended, Henman's match was stopped just before the end, and it cost him as Dominik Hrbaty broke in the third game back. But Henman righted ship in the fourth and picked up a 6-1 7-5 5-7 6-2 win to earn his first U. S. Open semifinal.

And that meant that the #3 ranking would be contested between Henman (who has never quite been that high) and Lleyton Hewitt, who came into the day at #5, and #6 in safe points, but was the only other Top Ten player still active. Hewitt had the easiest quarterfinal of all, topping Tommy Haas 6-2 6-2 6-2.

Given the evening forecast, you have to wonder why they didn't make some sort of attempt to start the evening match on time (7:00 p.m. it says on the web site. As best we can tell, that's not when they expect the matches to start, but when they expect the players to wake up or something). That late start was hardly good news for Andy Roddick, who had just double-faulted to hand Joachim Johansson a 3-2 lead when the rain started.

Things didn't really get much better for Roddick in the resumption, which came about an hour later. It was not exactly a match for those who like long rallies. Johansson might almost adopt his motto from the Foreign Legion: "You are a tennis player in order to serve, and the Tour will take you where you can serve." He served out the set, and -- after himself facing several deuces early in the second set -- picked up another break. Twice it appeared Roddick would get the break back -- twice, in fact, he had Johansson 0-40 -- but the Swede saved it both times. It wasn't until the third that Roddick finally found his chance, and earned his first break, and served out the set. And then, in game three of set four, Roddick broke again, and, in effect, the match was even. Especially since Roddick broke in the next game also as Johansson seemed to be wilting. And that going into the first fifth set of his career.

He had more of a second wind than you might have thought. They went to serve for eight games. In the ninth, Johansson was up 40-15, lost three straight points, but survived, and Roddick had to serve to stay in the match. And he instantly handed Johansson three match points. Roddick saved two, but made an error on the third, and Johansson was in the semifinal 6-4 6-4 3-6 2-6 6-4.

For Roddick, the loss does not immediately threaten his #2 ranking. But he could lose the #2 Race spot if Lleyton Hewitt wins the Open. And Hewitt can only gain points this fall.

As for Johansson, he's up to #16 in the rankings, and higher in the Race -- and while people have been calling him a fluke, after that performance, are they sure?

If you were watching the schedule on the Open web site, you might have gotten the wrong impression about some of the day's doubles matches. Both were semifinals, not quarterfinals. And both went to the seeded pairs. Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, seeded #3, are up to #2/#3 in the world after beating Benneteau and Mahut in two tiebreaks; if they can win the final, they'll bump Jonas Bjorkman off the top spot. Standing in their way are #13 seeds Leander Paes and David Rikl, who are up to #14 and #17 after their 6-3 6-3 win over Nadal and Robredo. Paes, who has won doubles Slams, will be #13 if he wins, and Rikl, who does not have a Slam title though he reached the final of Wimbledon 2001 with Jiri Novak, would rise to #16.

We currently show the doubles Top 18 (why Top 18? Because that's about as many as we're confident of) as follows:

1..(1) Bjorkman...........4235
2..(6) Nestor.............4180
2..(7) Knowles............4180
4..(2) Woodbridge.........3925
4..(5) Bhupathi...........3925
6..(9) Mirnyi.............3560
7..(3) BryanB.............3520
7..(3) BryanM.............3520
9..(8) Santoro............3510
10.(11) Black..............3370
10.(12) Ullyett............3370
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(19) Paes...............2635
15.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
16.(14) Arthurs............2335
17.(33) Rikl...............2075
18.(17) Rodriguez..........2010

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Semifinal DOUBLES
Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva (2) def. Schett/Schnyder (12) 6-4 6-2

A cynic would say that we now know who will win the U. S. Open doubles: It's whichever team survives the semifinal between Ruano Pascual/Suarez and Dementieva/Sugiyama. Which, in turn, probably means that it will be Ruano Pascual/Suarez. Because Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva aren't going to win it.

The cynic is likely to be right. Until their streak was broken at Wimbledon, Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva had reached two straight Slam finals -- in Kuznetsova's case, it was three straight. Likhovtseva had an earlier Slam doubles final, and she lost that. The Russians were the top seeds at the Olympics, and lost second round to Dechy/Testud, who hadn't played together, and Dechy hadn't really played doubles this year, and Testud was still trying to recover from retirement. The Russian pair, who haven't won a doubles title since spring though both have recent singles titles at smaller events, simply don't win the big matches.

But they're doing pretty well in the medium-sized ones. This win didn't really mean much -- it remains our opinion that Schett/Schnyder are among the worst seeded teams in the field -- but Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva did beat Navratilova/Raymond in the preceding round, and also beat Gagliardi/Groenefeld, who had two finals in the weeks before the Open, in the second round. The Russians were a bit lucky in their draw -- as in, Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy lost early, opening the draw nicely. But they took advantage. So far, at least.

Which means that Kuznetsova has now assured herself of at least staying #4. This win moves her ahead of world former #3 Cara Black, with only Ai Sugiyama still able to overtake her. As things stand, that makes Kuznetsova #3 unless Dementieva/Sugiyama win the Open. Likhovtseva has clinched a Top Five spot; she'll be #4 unless Dementieva/Sugiyama win.

As for Schett/Schnyder, getting this far puts both of them in the Top 20. Which, given the huge benefits conferred by seeding in doubles, could mean they'll go even higher.

We currently reckon the Top 25 in doubles as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4412*
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4390*
3..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3221*
4..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3201*
5..(3) BLACK ............. 3065
6.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........3037*
7..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951
8..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903
9..(7) STUBBS .............2848
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2425
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2350
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2238
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1706
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1691
15.(17) TANASUGARN .........1437
16.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
17.(26) SCHNYDER ...........1297
18.(29) SCHETT .............1255
19.(18) PRATT ............. 1221
20.(20) Myskina ........... 1144
21.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5
22.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112
23.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1072
24.(25) Sun ............... 1071
25.(24) LOIT ...............1046

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Quarterfinal
Lleyton Hewitt (4) def. Tommy Haas 6-2 6-2 6-2

We've said it before and will doubtless say it again: The ATP rankings are designed to seed the U. S. Open. Look at the seeds in the men's semifinals, then look at the seeds in the women's quarterfinals, and say it isn't so.

This is one of those matches you can't really say much about. It was just too utterly comprehensive. Lleyton Hewitt doesn't hit especially big, which would seem to imply that wind would bother him -- but it didn't. He just kept getting the ball back, and when Tommy Haas gave him a chance, he took it.

And that could well signal changes at the top. Tim Henman's win, earlier, had meant that Guillermo Coria would fall from #3 to #4, and Carlos Moya from #4 to #5. Now Hewitt -- who has won fifteen straight matches -- has booted Moya all the way down to #6; the Australian is barely behind Coria and not far behind Henman. Whichever of them lasts longer will be #3, with ties going to Henman.

What's more, Hewitt is up to #3 in the Race, and he'll keep that spot even if Henman wins the Open. The Australian has nothing to defend this fall. If he doesn't make #3 this week, it probably won't be long. Indeed, he's getting rather close to #2 Andy Roddick. Especially given that Roddick lost in the night match.

Tommy Haas, despite losing, is clearly back to being a significant force on the Tour. #45 coming in, he is just below the Top 30 in the rankings, and above that figure in the Race. He will surely be seeded at the Australian Open. And, in all likelihood, he'll just keep climbing from there.

Connection Speed
It's approaching the status of a running joke: The TV cameras focus in on a player's coach and crack wise about "No coaching from the stands, huh?" Nobody seems to think it possible that coaches sometimes just sit there.

The counter-argument is that a coach in the stands really can't transmit enough information to do any good. And, generally speaking, that seems to be true. Despite all the jokes, we've never seen a case where a coach appeared to be signalling anything complex enough to change the actual nature of the match.

But does it have to be so? Is it impossible for a coach in the stands to send information?

Hardly. Let's give a very simple example, showing how you can communicate without sound using just your face and a single finger. Divide the face into five vertical zones (e.g. forehead, eye, tip of nose, mouth, chin) and five horizontal zones (left cheek, left eye, nose, right eye, right cheek). That happens, if you think about it, to be enough to encode the entire Roman alphabet, if you use either of two commonly-used substitutions (either treat i and j as the same letter, or spell "qu" as "kw"). The table below shows how this might work (a real code expert would probably put the more common letters on more easily-tapped places, e.g. "e" on the end of the nose, say, rather than the right temple):

.........LCheek...LEye....Nose....REye....Rcheek
forehead...a.......b.......c.......d........e
eye........f.......g.......h......i/j.......k
nose.......l.......m.......n.......o........p
mouth......q.......r.......s.......t........u
chin.......v.......w.......x.......y........z

So all you need to do to signal "bh" for "backhand," say, is point to your forehead above the left eye, then point to the point right between the eyes and above the nose. Do it discretely enough -- e.g. by looking as if you're brushing away a fly -- and no one would notice. You could, in fact, use one finger from each hand and send two letters at once.

But suppose you want to send "Hit to his backhand on the deuce court, forehand on the ad court"? Even in shortest form, this would be "BH on deuce, FH on ad." That's 15 letters. Each one takes time -- probably a second each, and allowing for time to actually fire the serve, that's more time than you have between points. Practical? Not really.

In any case, if you spend that much time tapping your face, chances are someone will notice. You might get away with it once or twice -- say, by blotting at your face with a handkerchief. But not very often.

On the other hand, do you really need to spell out the full message? Just how many signals does a coach actually have to send? "Serve to forehand." "Serve to backhand." "Serve and volley." "Big bomb." "Safe serve." "Step in to return." "Stand back to return." "Move left." "Move right." "Hit more to the forehand." "Hit more to the backhand." A coach can't plan the whole point in advance; there are two parties to it, after all. So there aren't many messages to send. The above 25-entry table probably would cover all you need, with some left over for minor encouragement like "you can do it." If it doesn't, you can double the number of messages to 50 by tapping with right or left hand. Or you could, say, clap your hands one, two, or three times afterward, for command set 1, 2, or 3 -- a total of 75 messages. If you really have a lot of messages, you could just tape two spots in succession. That's 25x25=625 possible code phrases. (Note that this is, formally and technically, a code, whereas spelling out a message is what's known as a cipher.)

Of course, it's going to be awfully hard for a player to remember 625, or even 25, different messages. But remember Jim Courier reading a book during his changeovers? Sure, he said it was a book, but how do we know it wasn't a code table? And wasn't Venus Williams consulting notes between matches for a while?

The inevitable conclusion: If you have a smart enough player, a coach could figure out a way to pass coded messages. But if you have a smart enough player, will he or she need that much coaching? Uh....

The next step in all this is to decode your opponent's cipher, if there is one. In theory, the cipher above is easily cracked; it's a simple monalphabetic substitution, which any halfway-knowledgeable cryptographer could figure out in his sleep. And even if they use a code, well, you just watch what the coach signals and what follows; you'll likely be able to cryptanalyze most of it quite quickly.

Assuming, of course, you can tell a coded message from scratching a casual itch. No promises on that count....

bandabou
Sep 13th, 2004, 11:09 AM
U. S. Open: Lindsay's Law Redux
A month ago, one of our staffers predicted that Lindsay Davenport couldn't win the U. S. Open because she'd get hurt. That was around the time she won San Diego. Then she managed to survive at the U. S. Open when all the other top players were going down, and suddenly looked like a clear favorite. Lindsay's Law -- that Davenport can't play more than three weeks straight without getting hurt -- was looking as if it had been repealed.

But the immutable laws of the universe cannot be repealed. Davenport came into her semifinal with a leg injury. You couldn't tell it by her performance, at first, as she pounded Svetlana Kuznetsova. But the Russian, it should be noted, had never made a Slam semifinal before, let alone played for the final. Kuznetsova wasn't really applying much pressure in those early stages.

But nerves are the sort of thing that often go away when a player gets in a big enough hole. Besides, Davenport's problem was clearly getting worse. Kuznetsova took the second set almost as easily as Davenport took the first, and Davenport left the court to get her leg worked on. It helped for a time; she took the first three games of the set. But it didn't last; she won only one more game, and Kuznetsova made her first Slam final -- and a career high ranking of at least #7 -- 1-6 6-2 6-4. For Davenport, it ended her 22 match winning streak, and left her a mere #3 in the rankings. As a result, Amelie Mauresmo is the new #1 player on the Tour, the fourteenth #1 player in WTA history -- and the eighth different woman to hold the top spot in the last three years (following Hingis, Capriati, Davenport, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Clijsters, and Henin-Hardenne).

The other semifinal also involved an injured player, but in Elena Dementieva's case, it just seemed to help her concentrate. She blew through a sloppy Jennifer Capriati in the first set. Then she got a bit too excited, and Capriati evened things. But in the third, Dementieva got it together again, and in a set already marked by as many breaks as holds, broke in the twelfth game as Capriati served for the match. And in the tiebreak, the Russian just kept charging the net. Sometimes it caused her to produce bizarre errors. But it worked often enough that Capriati -- for the second year in a row, and the third time in her career -- lost the Open semifinal in a third set tiebreak. The score was 6-0 2-6 7-6.

The good news in the final was that Dementieva didn't embarrass herself as she did at Roland Garros. The bad news, for her, was that Svetlana Kuznetsova didn't embarrass herself either. Until now, Kuznetsova had seemed the nervous sort. But, apart from a very bad first game, she showed no signs of it here -- and, of course, she can hit her serve somewhere other than straight to the forehand. Kuznetsova, even though she had never been in a Slam semifinal until this week, won her first Slam routinely, 6-3 7-5.

We came close to seeing Dementieva and Kuznetsova face each other in the doubles final also. Kuznetsova had made the doubles final on Thursday. But the rain delays had forced Dementieva to play her doubles quarterfinal on Friday, and she was supposed to play the doubles semifinal after her singles match. Not surprisingly, she bailed out -- meaning that poor Ai Sugiyama, for the second straight year, was out of the U. S. Open doubles due to a combination of rain and a partner who was going for the singles final. That put Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez in their third Slam final of the year, and left them gunning for their third straight Open title.

And that final would be played against Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva, who had lost both the Australian and French finals to the top seeds. Would winning the singles help put Kuznetsova over the top?

It might have, had the Russians been more willing to approach the net. Kuznetsova certainly has the serve to come in on it! And most of the winners were hit from the front of the court. But even though logic and geometry continue to dictate that doubles players come to net, singles habits ruled. Both teams played mostly one-forward-one-back, and no team ever has been better at that than Ruano Pascual and Suarez. In a match where breaks were nearly as common as holds, the top seeds won their third U. S. Open, and third Slam of the year, and seventh overall, 6-4 7-5. Having also won the Australian and French opens, they become the first team to win three Slams in a year since Hingis/Novotna in 1998, the year Hingis won the Grand Slam.

It's the fifth title of the year for Ruano Pascual and Suarez, and three of them Slams, the others being Indian Wells and Charleston.

We calculate the doubles Top 25 as follows:

1..(1) RUANO PASCUAL ..... 4856*
2..(2) SUAREZ .............4834*
3..(4) KUZNETSOVA .........3221
4..(5) LIKHOVTSEVA ....... 3201
5..(3) BLACK ............. 3065
6.(10) SUGIYAMA ...........3037
7..(6) SHAUGHNESSY ....... 2951
8..(8) PETROVA ........... 2903
9..(7) STUBBS .............2848
10..(9) NAVRATILOVA ....... 2425
11.(11) RAYMOND ........... 2350
12.(12) HUBER ............. 2238
13.(13) HUSAROVA ...........1706
14.(14) MARTINEZ ...........1691
15.(17) TANASUGARN .........1437
16.(16) Zvonareva ......... 1333
17.(26) SCHNYDER ...........1297
18.(29) SCHETT .............1255
19.(18) PRATT ............. 1221
20.(20) Myskina ........... 1144
21.(21) VINCI ............. 1116.5
22.(22) MOLIK ............. 1112
23.(15) BARTOLI ........... 1072
24.(25) Sun ............... 1071
25.(24) LOIT ...............1046

Despite losing the final, there is no doubt that Kuznetsova and Likhovtseva will qualify for the year-end championships -- though there isn't any real doubt that Ruano Pascual and Suarez will be year-end #1, either, and they of course are qualified also. Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs are just about certain to be the third team in Los Angeles. The fourth pair is less clear; Nadia Petrova and Meghann Shaughnessy have something of an edge, with Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond second in line, but we could have a surprise, especially if someone gets hurt (and Petrova and Shaughnessy are both injury prone, though the others aren't).

The Russians also had a part in the mixed doubles final: Vera Zvonareva teamed with Bob Bryan to beat Molik and Woodbridge 6-3 6-4, giving Zvonareva her first Slam title of any sort. It's also (and this will tell you something about mixed doubles) her first doubles title of any sort -- she had a couple of previous finals, but never a win. Still, it's a fairly nice birthday present; she turned 20 last Tuesday.

U. S. Open: Changes at the Top
There is a tendency to forget, while watching Roger Federer dominate the singles rankings, that it's been a hectic year at the top of the doubles rankings. Max Mirnyi was #1 at the beginning of 2004. The Bryan Twins didn't win the Australian Open, but did well enough to take the top spots. Jonas Bjorkman took the top spot after Roland Garros. And this week offered us a chance for yet another new #1.

Or, at least, another guy who hadn't been #1 at any time in 2004. Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor had both been #1 for a while in 2002 and after, and while Leander Paes wasn't playing for the #1 ranking this week, he had been at the top five years ago. Even David Rikl, the only finalist without a Slam title to his name, had been as high as #4.

It came down to this: If Knowles/Nestor won the title, they were #1 and #2 (with Nestor apparently winning the tiebreak). If they lost, Bjorkman would keep the top spot.

They didn't leave us in suspense very long. Knowles and Nestor won their second career Slams (their first coming at the 2002 Australian Open) 6-3 6-3.

We reckon the final doubles rankings as follows:

1..(6) Nestor.............4480
1..(7) Knowles............4480
3..(1) Bjorkman...........4235
4..(2) Woodbridge.........3925
4..(5) Bhupathi...........3925
6..(9) Mirnyi.............3560
7..(3) BryanB.............3520
7..(3) BryanM.............3520
9..(8) Santoro............3510
10.(11) Black..............3370
10.(12) Ullyett............3370
12.(10) Llodra.............3160
13.(13) Hanley.............2730
14.(19) Paes...............2635
15.(15) Zimonjic...........2430
16.(14) Arthurs............2335
17.(33) Rikl...............2075
18.(17) Rodriguez..........2010

While watching the singles semifinals, they of course showed the commercials for the upcoming "Wimbledon" movie. And one thing was instantly obvious from the previews: The lead actor can't serve. Not in a professional way.

Maybe they should have gotten Joachim Johansson for the part. Not only is he tall, blonde, and good-looking, but there are no problems with his serve at all except that he isn't allowed to hit it on every point. Unfortunately, this U. S. Open isn't a movie, and silly things don't happen just because some Hollywood goofball thinks they should. Johansson has one of the four or five best serves on the planet (presumably in the universe, unless someone on Alpha Centauri III has been watching our television broadcasts and adopted the sport), but the rest of his game just can't match Lleyton Hewitt, who in any case had Slam semifinal experience and came in with a 15-match winning streak. In a contest that must have given poor Jaslyn Hewitt fits (Jaslyn, the sister of Lleyton and the girlfiend of Joachim -- and where is that in the Hollywood script? -- couldn't even sit down in the friends box, because she wanted to be neutral), Hewitt broke Johansson once in each set to reach his second U. S. Open final, 6-4 7-5 6-3.

Saturday's second semifinal was a lot more interesting, but hardly closer. Roger Federer had a nervous game in the first set, and was broken, and a nervous game in the fifth as he served for the final, and was broken again -- but he he had two breaks in each of those sets, and five breaks total, and made the final 6-3 6-4 6-4. Which meant, among other things, that Hewitt was #3 in the world, with Henman #4.

#3 in the rankings for Hewitt, that is, and #3 in the Race also, and with a chance for #2 if he could win his second U. S. Open. Problem is, that meant beating Federer. And Federer came in with more titles than losses this year -- eight versus six. It's now nine versus six. In one of the most dominating finals ever, at any event, Federer took home his first U. S. Open 6-0 7-6 6-0.

Women's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Final
Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) def. Elena Dementieva (6) 6-3 7-5

Svetlana Kuznetsova is not the second coming of Steffi Graf. She has a two-handed backhand, after all, and she doesn't move quite as fast as the great German. But as long as the ball was somewhere near the right side of the court, you could be forgiven for thinking that Fraulein Forehand had returned. Kuznetsova's big weapon is that good.

Coming in, you knew that each player had an unquestionable advantage and an unquestionable weakness. Dementieva's strength was her all-around ground game, and her weakness her serve; Kuznetsova's strength was her serve, and her weakness her inexperience. That left three variables: Dementieva's health, which might affect her speed (otherwise a big weapon), and both their nerves. Dementieva had been horrid in the Roland Garros final, and Kuznetsova had a bad record in Slam doubles finals.

Nerves really didn't play a role for Dementieva. But the leg probably cost her a little mobility -- and Kuznetsova, apart from a sloppy first game and one butchered match point, showed no nerves at all. She was all over the Dementieva serve, and from about the fourth game on, there wasn't much doubt about the outcome, assuming Kuznetsova didn't fold. And she didn't.

For Dementieva, reaching the final puts her at a career-high #5. But it's Kuznetsova who really zooms: #9 coming in, she is at a career high #6. (In fact, three of the top six are now Russians, and all are at career highs -- Anastasia Myskina has never been #2 before). The news in the WTA Race is potentially even bigger. The win, if we calculated everything right, moves Kuznetsova up to the #3 Race spot, about a thousand points behind Lindsay Davenport and more than 400 behind Amelie Mauresmo but just ahead of Anastasia Myskina and Justine Henin-Hardenne, with Dementieva in sixth place. Those six have probably qualified for the year-end championships. That leaves two spots, which will probably be contested by Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Vera Zvonareva. Last year, the eight players at the Los Angeles championships were Capriati, Clijsters, Dementieva, Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo, Myskina, Rubin, and Sugiyama. Clijsters, Rubin, and Sugiyama have no appreciable chance of qualifying (in fact, Rubin appears to be already mathematically eliminated), and a couple of the others from last year might not make it. Thus, even if there are no injuries, it's possible that only half the players who played last year will be back this year, and if there are injuries, it might be less! Who says there is no depth on the WTA Tour?

Kuznetsova becomes not just our fourth different Slam winner this year, and our third Russian; she is also the third straight player to win her first Slam this year. The last time that happened was back in 1978, in the era of bad Australian Opens: O'Neil won her only Slam in Australia, Ruzici her only title in France, and Martina Navratilova picked up her first title at Wimbledon.

We note another fascinating Kuznetsova fact: This title was the first time she made it as far as a semifinal since winning Eastbourne. Kuznetsova, in fact, has only nine career semifinals, and has won four of the events involved -- a very high rate. (Even Serena Williams has only 23 titles out of 37 semifinals since 1999.) Evidently, if you want to get her, you'd best get her early.

Men's Match of the Day

U. S. Open - Final
Roger Federer (1) def. Lleyton Hewitt (4) 6-0 7-6(7-3) 6-0

If you had asked on Saturday, most people would probably have said that Lleyton Hewitt is the most consistent hardcourt player now active -- maybe the most consistent hardcourt player ever.

That was before Roger Federer took the court for the first set of this U. S. Open final. He was hitting winners from all over the court, and doing it without making errors. Plus he was serving spectacularly -- not hitting aces, but taking control of points from the start. It took nine games before poor Hewitt even took a game. We'd call it a clinic, except that there is no point in a clinic when no mere mortal can learn to imitate what Federer was doing.

The second set was closer, as Federer, who has a history of lapses of concentration, came back to earth. It might have been really interesting had he not already won the first two games. But though Hewitt earned break points in several games, he never converted until the tenth game, in which Federer couldn't seem to string together two straight points. Hewitt broke to level the set -- but after trading two more games, Federer took charge in the tiebreak, and then the demigod was back in the third set. It wasn't that Hewitt was bad; it really wasn't. Federer merely played perfectly. You felt like telling people, "Watch closely. You may never see the like again."

For Federer, this did it. He will be the year-end #1. There is nothing Andy Roddick, or Lleyton Hewitt, or anyone else can do about it. Federer leads Roddick by 440 Race points, and for the rest of the year, we have two Masters events (100 Race points each), the Masters Cup (150 points), and assorted optional events, at which Roddick, if he's lucky, can earn about 75-80 Race points. That still leaves him a few points behind Federer -- and that's if Federer doesn't play another match this year.

Still, we have a solid contest for #2. By getting this far, Hewitt -- whose winning streak was snapped at 16 -- moves to within a few dozen points of Andy Roddick in the Race (he's a much weaker #3 in the rankings, but that's because Roddick played last fall and Hewitt didn't; Hewitt has every opportunity to move up during the indoor season). It's not quite a tie, but it's close -- and Hewitt, with two Masters Cups on indoor surfaces, and finalist showings at both Paris and Stuttgart, has far better indoor credentials than Roddick, who has never been past the semifinal at Paris or the Round of Sixteen at Madrid and has only small indoor titles, both on indoor hardcourt rather than carpet.

But the big story remains Federer. He has his fourth Slam, and has won every Slam final he's ever played. He's the first player in sixteen years to win three Slams in a year. He's won every Slam except Roland Garros. And -- incidental footnote, but worth noting -- he has the biggest lead in the contest for #1 since additive rankings were adopted.

And he just turned 23 five weeks ago. And he has nine titles already this year, with at least ttwo on every surface except indoors, which is his favorite. It's hard to imagine where this will end.

Men's Look Forward: Beijing, Bucharest, Delray Beach
Delray Beach has to wonder what it did to deserve this. First it was bumped off its nice cushy spot in the spring hardcourt season -- not much fun at the best of times. But that put it right smack in the track of Hurricane Frances. And then Hurricane Ivan started to make plans for the site. It now appears that Ivan will be visiting others, meaning the tournament can go forward. But given the transport problems in Florida, turnout seems likely to be low.

If Delray Beach is heavily jinxed, the news wasn't all that great for Bucharest, either, with Romania's star player Andrei Pavel suffering from a bad back.

Which leaves Beijing. Half a world away for the U. S. Open, and with no local players to boost the field. You really have to wonder why the ATP keeps scheduling multiple events for this week.

But Beijing, which is a new event this year, was willing to pay the appearance fees to pull it off. In a week when there are no Top 20 players in action at other events, they have attracted Carlos Moya to be the #1 seed, plus Juan Carlos Ferrero to be seeded #2, David Nalbandian to be #3, Rainer Schuettler #4, Marat Safin #5, Paradorn Srichaphan #6, Taylor Dent #7, and Dominik Hrbaty #8. They even have some pretty good unseeded players: Mikhail Youzhny, Hicham Arazi, Jarkko Nieminen. Below those eleven, it falls off fast -- and more than half of those guys have been slumping. Still, it's the week's elite event.

Delray Beach, by comparison, has no Top 20 players; the #1 seed is Vincent Spadea and Mardy Fish is #2. Mario Ancic takes the #3 seed, and below that, there isn't much: Xavier Malisse is #4, Ivo Karlovic #5, Cyril Saulnier #6, slumping Max Mirnyi #7, and Radek Stepanek #8. Though there are some interesting unseeded players: James Blake is making another comeback attempt, Greg Rusedski and Jeff Morrison will try to recover their summer form, Jan-Michael Gambill will try to turn around his year at an event he has won twice (including last year), and Jerome Golmard will once again try to bounce back from his long injury layoff.

Bucharest, in the absence of Pavel, is easily the weakest of this week's events. Fernando Verdasco is the #1 seed. Fast-rising German Florian Mayer snags the #2 spot, and may be the player most worthy of watching. And, as at Delray Beach, things fade fast from there. Albert Costa took a wildcard to take the #3 seed. Another promising young player, Igor Andreev, is #4. Nikolay Davydenko gets his last chance at a slow surface as the #5 seed. David Ferrer, another slowcourt lover, is #6. Filippo Volandri, who surged last year then started to slide, is the #7 seed. And defending champion David Sanchez is #8. The rest of the field consists, of course, of all the guys who don't have much hope on surfaces other than clay -- plus two slumping but fastcourt-loving Frenchmen, Arnaud Clement and Paul-Henri Mathieu, who for some reason decided to come here. Perhaps the most noteworthy of those other clay-courters are Alex Corretja and Felix Mantilla.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

Given how strong Beijing is, it's surprisingly short of great early matches. But we'd take note of the following:

(7) Dent vs. Arazi. Arazi didn't miss seeding by much, and he's almost the anti-Dent: No big weapons, lots of variety, a baseliner. Much may depend on the speed of the court.

Pless vs. (3) Nalbandian. These days, every Nalbandian match is an adventure. If the Argentine's body is holding up, this is a sure blowout. But is it holding up?

Bucharest is, if anything, better endowed with good first rounders:

Montanes vs. (8) Volandri. Two clay experts, obviously. Montanes has been rebuilding a bit, Volandri slumping a little.

(3) Costa vs. Mathieu. Mathieu at the U. S. Open gave a pretty good demonstration that he's back, and he seems also to have improved his fitness and stamina. But his best surfaces, historically, have been faster. Neither player has had a good year.

(5) Davydenko vs. Mantilla. This is likely to be a long match, but you'll have to turn your head quickly to keep your eyes on these two speedsters.

Our list for Delray Beach is:

(4) Malisse vs. Rusedski. A big serve against a fine return, and both players trying to reestablish themselves. In terms of points, it doesn't mean much. In terms of prestige, it might.

Gambill vs. (3) Ancic. Big server against bigger server. The surface is better for Gambill, and with two titles here, he loves this place. The crowd will be on his side, too. But he's playing horribly this year.

The Rankings

This is a strange week, schedule-wise. The U. S. Open took place a week late this year, so the events that took place at this time in 2003 (Costa do Sauipe and Bucharest) are already off. Delray Beach last year took place in the spring. In 2003, this was the week of Davis Cup, with only Challengers being played. That matters most to Nicolas Massu, who at this time last year was winning Szczecin; he's the only top player who will see any points come off. Other than that, it's all opportunity. The players with the biggest chances are Ferrero, Schuettler, and Safin; if one of them can win here, he ought to be able to return to the Top Ten. Beyond that, we shouldn't see much movement at the top; Carlos Moya can't pick up enough point to move back into the Top Five. And below that, frankly, we can't pick any obvious movers; the tournaments are too wide-open.

Key Matches

At Beijing, we would note the following:

Second Round: (4) Schuettler vs. Youzhny. Schuettler has two titles to defend this fall if he wants to retain any shred of a ranking, and he needs to get in form soon. And here he faces a talented opponent who also happens to be a friend and occasional doubles partner.

Quarterfinal: Moya vs. Srichaphan. This is just about the ideal Srichaphan Situation: Hardcourt. Optional event. Near home, but not so near that he'll be under too much pressure. Srichaphan has trouble against top opponents, but he won't find a much better chance than this.

Quarterfinal: (5) Safin vs. (2) Ferrero. Only one can make the Top Ten. If Ferrero wins this, he might be the one. If Safin wins -- well, he won't be there yet, but he'll be the clear bottom half favorite.

The most interesting match at Bucharest is probably the potential semifinal between #2 Mayer and #4 Andreev, both improving fast and out to show what they can do though neither really a clay expert. Both will have to deal with tough quarterfinal opponents: Andreev with speedy countryman Davydenko, Mayer with speedy Spaniard David Ferrer.

There is also an interesting second round match between Albert Costa and Alex Corretja, assuming they both make it that far, but these days, that's not much of a bet.

At Delray Beach, you can bet the crowd will turn out to see top seed Spadea face James Blake, with Blake really needing a win or two to rebuild some confidence. The other thing to watch is how Mardy Fish recovers from his recent troubles -- which could be very important for Davis Cup. In theory, he shouldn't be too challenged until he faces Ancic in the semifinal. But that's in theory.

bandabou
Sep 14th, 2004, 01:11 PM
Bali: The Shortest Distance
It's a good thing Bali had a qualifying draw that was only two deep. They had enough trouble filling it as it was -- nine of the sixteen players, including one of the seeds, was ranked below #300; six were below #500, and six of them (not the same six) were wildcarded into the draw.

In that context, it's not much of a surprise that all the seeds made the qualifying final. Nor were there many surprises in that final; #1 Samantha Stosur (the only Top 100 player in qualifying), #3 Marta Domachowska, and #4 Mariana Diaz-Oliva all made the main draw. The only minor upset came as #6 Aiko Nakamura took out #3 Jennifer Hopkins 4-6 6-3 6-4 to set up a meeting with countrywoman Ai Sugiyama.

Main draw action in fact produced more surprises, at least on paper: #56 Marta Marrero edged #54 Jill Craybas 6-4 5-7 6-1, while #61 Maria Elena Camerin beat slumping #51 Tina Pisnik 7-5 6-2.

There were no problems for Gisela Dulko, though, at #7 the only seed in main draw action. She faced unranked Ayu Fani Damayanti, given a wildcard in the absence of Wynne Prakusya, who is unable to play. (It's a bit surprising it didn't go to Sandy Gumulya, who is Indonesia's #3, but then, Indonesia's #3 is about as significant as the lieutenant governor of the average state: Even the governor probably doesn't know who she is.) Damayanti, unsurprisingly, won only four games.

The only other match was our match of the day, and we won't talk about it here since we have almost nothing to say about it there.

Beijing: Search the Streets and the Alleys
For a tournament that has Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Nalbandian, and Marat Safin in the field, Beijing certainly didn't have much luck building up a qualifying draw.

As evidence we offer the fact that Nathan Healey qualified for the main draw. Healey, we would note, is a doubles specialist, with no ATP matches this year. Last year, he played singles qualifying only three times, going 2-3 and never making a main draw. But he's in after beating #8 seed Paul Logtens -- who also has no ATP events this year -- 7-5 6-4.

Other qualifiers are Peter Luczak, the top qualifying seed; Arvind Parmar; and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the #5 seed, who also has no ATP main draw matches this year.

Even the main draw featured a couple of players who were match-less this year, starting with wildcard Ben-Qiang Zhu. The Chinese had played Shanghai last year (losing to Magnus Norman), but hadn't been seen since. In an interesting bit of cross-strait rivalry, he lost to Taiwan's Yen-Hsun Lu 7-5 6-2.

Also playing his first match of the year was Paul Baccanello, who seemed to have an opportunity before him, since he faced Rainer Schuettler. He couldn't take advantage; Schuettler, the #4 seed, beat him 6-4 6-3.

In that company, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who stands at #120 in the rankings and #128 in the Race, is pretty distinguished. But he won't be climbing this week; Jarkko Nieminen took another step toward recovering his form by beating the young Spaniard 7-5 6-4.

Bucharest: Under Sedation

This time, Richard Gasquet kept his temper. Of course, it's easy to do when you lose only three games in your match.

Bucharest is an oddity: Weak at the top, but strong in the middle. Gasquet probably would have gotten directly into either of the week's other events. But at Bucharest, he had to play qualifying. It went well enough; he's in the main draw after a 6-0 6-3 victory over Artemon Apostu-Efremov. Also qualifying were Stanislas Wawrinka, Franco Squillari, and Novak Djokovic, playing only his second ATP main draw of the year.

Main draw action was mostly about Spaniards -- four of the day's six matches involved players from south of the Pyrenees. And, in three out of four cases, a Spaniard won. Felix Mantilla was responsible for probably the biggest paper upset; he beat #5 seed Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 6-0, effectively ending Davydenko's year in terms of earning points, since he's unlikely to do much on carpet. #8 seed David Sanchez did his part with a 6-2 7-6 win over Raemon Sluiter. And a battle of two Spaniards ended, somewhat surprisingly, with Alex Corretja coming out on top, edging Oscar Hernandez 7-5 2-6 7-5.

Ironically, the one Spaniard to lose was the highest seeded: Paul-Henri Mathieu continued his recent string of hot results with a 6-1 6-2 win over Albert Costa.

The other seed in action was young Russian Igor Andreev, who easily handled Kristof Vliegen 6-2 6-3.

Arnaud di Pasquale for once faced an opponent in worse physical shape than he was. Di Pasquale, who had earned only 12 Race points (many of them in qualifying) in seven events this year, increased that total by a quarter when Daniel Elsner retired with flu trailing 4-0.

Delray Beach: The French Re-Connection

Is it just us, or is the world being overtaken by Frenchmen making comebacks? At Bucharest, it was Paul-Henri Mathieu and Arnaud di Pasquale. At Delray Beach, it's Jerome Golmard.

Golmard, who turned 31 last week, has been off the radar so long that it's easy to forget that he was Top 50 from 1998 to 2001, peaking at #22. In that time, he won a couple of hardcourt titles and made the Monte Carlo semifinal. He slipped a little in 2002, but still managed to end the year at #73. Then came the injury. He played only three matches in 2003, winning none and retiring in two of the three. 2004 hasn't been much better; he did manage to qualify for the Australian Open, and even win a match, but then didn't make another main draw until after Wimbledon. Since then, he's been almost respectable, picking up 12 Race points. Now he can add three more. He took out Dick Norman 7-5 3-6 6-4.

Jan-Michael Gambill hasn't been hurt, but he could certainly use a comeback about now. His ranking is down to #75, his Race standing is even lower, and we're about done with hardcourts. Unfortunately, he was down a set to Mario Ancic when we last heard. The final result will have to wait for tomorrow.

Women's Match of the Day

Bali - First Round
Kristina Brandi def. Saori Obata 6-1 6-2

About six months ago, it seemed as if Japanese tennis was going places. In addition to Ai Sugiyama, the Japanese had managed to assemble three top-fifty-or-nearly players: Shinobu Asagoe, Akiko Morigami, and Saori Obata, all of whom were taking turns trying to become the #2 Japanese.

The problem is, all three players were depending too much on a few results. Asagoe, after the grass season, fell out of the Top 50, only to get back after the U. S. Open (really, there wasn't much question that she was Japan's #2, but you wouldn't know it from the rankings). Morigami is just below the Top 50, but is likely to fall after Shanghai comes off.

And Obata already took her hit. She was last year's semifinalist here, and those points came off at the Open. That dropped her from #56 to #78, which would almost have left her in qualifying here. But, of course, she had a chance to regain the points at Bali this year.

Oops.

This isn't really a surprise; Brandi, at #41, was the higher-ranked player even before Obata's fall. But a struggle would have been nice. As it is, Obata seems likely to end up mostly in qualifying next year. Of course, it was playing those weaker events that helped her get as high as she did.

As for Brandi, she had a few points to defend, and needs to win at least one more round just to stay where she is. But if she can do that, she has chances for the Top 40. And, in a minor irony, the player she is likely to face in that second round is last year's other semifinalist, Maria Vento-Kabchi.

Men's Match of the Day

Bucharest - First Round
Paul-Henri Mathieu def. Albert Costa (3) (WC) 6-1 6-2

It looks safe to say that Paul-Henri Mathieu is back over his hump.

There have been lots of explanations for why Mathieu has been bad over the past few years. A popular one is that he was devastated by his Davis Cup loss to Russia that cost France the Cup. We'd think more of that theory if it weren't for the fact that he's been hurt for a lot of that time. And after he got well, he of course had to get his game back.

By the looks of things, he's there. Not only is he just off his best-ever Slam Away From Home, but he's beating a top clay-courter routinely on clay. Would we swear he's 100% right? No, not quite, given how inconsistent Costa has been lately. But he's surely at least 100% better. Not that it does him any real good; it's still only first round points at a bottom-of-the-rankings-table event. But we're coming up on the indoor season, where he did so much damage two years ago. Maybe he will finally be able to back up those results.

Since this was an off week last year, this of course doesn't hurt Costa rankings-wise. But it was one last clay chance -- and he hardly even showed up to see what he could do.

This Week's Movers -- Women
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Anna Chakvetadze -- Moved 84 places, from #175 to #91.
Qualifying for your first Slam, earning your first WTA win, and beating Anastasia Myskina all tend to add up to a big move

Runner-Up: Stephanie Foretz -- Moved 24 places, from #111 to #87
Foretz actually added two events this week: She qualified for the U. S. Open and made the second round, and then she made the second round at the Denain Challenger. Combined, those were enough to give her a big boost.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Amelie Mauresmo -- Moved 1 places, 50%, from #2 to #1
Mauresmo didn't exactly accomplish what she hoped to at the U. S. Open, but neither did anyone else, and so she becomes the new WTA #1

Runner-Up: Chakvetadze, cut ranking 48%
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Tamarine Tanasugarn -- Dropped 44 places, from #52 to #96
Last year at the U. S. Open, Tanasugarn beat Daniela Hantuchova. This year, she exited quietly.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Justine Henin-Hardenne, ranking increased 3 places, 400%, from #1 to #4.
Last year's U. S. Open winner couldn't defend, and in a year when four players were contending for the top and she had played less than any of the others, that was enough to cost her
Ranking Notes
If you're wondering what happened to Angela Haynes, who beat Magdalena Maleeva, she gained 53 places, from #185 to #132, but since she still isn't Top 100, we don't list her in the above statistics.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

Giving the award to Mauresmo feels unsatisfying, since (as we will see later this week) her claim to the top ranking isn't that strong even if you think someone can be #1 without a Slam (and the author has no problem with that). But she is #1, and for the first time. Hard to give anyone else the Mover award in that context!

This Week's Movers -- Men
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Olivier Rochus -- Moved 30 places, from #100 to #70.
Rochus finally rescued his year with a U. S. Open fourth round. And that ignores the fact that he beat Carlos Moya and Mario Ancic!

Runner-Up: Michael Llodra -- Moved 18 places, from #56 to #38
The Frenchman continues his breakthrough year with a fourth round at the Open.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Joachim Johansson -- Moved 14 places, 47%, from #30 to #16
It was a breakthrough year for the Swede even before he reached his first Slam semifinal, and obviously that just made it better....

Runner-Up: Lleyton Hewitt -- Moved 2 places, 40%, from #5 to #3
Despite having his hide handed to him in the final, Hewitt clearly re-established himself as one of the game's elite at this Open.
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Younes El Aynaoui -- Dropped 79 places, from #80 to #159
His almost year-long injury and recover really hurts El Aynaoui, who was an Open quarterfinalist last year.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: El Aynaoui, ranking increased 99%.
Rankings Footnotes
The ATP didn't make a big deal of this, but we have to note that Daniel Nestor, as a result of winning the U. S. Open, takes over the #1 doubles ranking, replacing Jonas Bjorkman; his partner Mark Knowles moves up to #2.

And just so everyone knows, Marcos Baghdatis is now up to #196 in the world. But poor Nicolas Lapentti, at #157, is actually below brother Giovanni, who is #149.

Todd Martin retires with a ranking of #138. Wayne Ferreira isn't precisely retired, since he'll still play one more Davis Cup tie, but he is #111 after his last ATP event.

We also finally have an explanation for Sjeng Schalken's recent troubles: He, like Justine Henin-Hardenne, has been suffering from mononucleosis/glandular fever. He will not play again until the last month of the season at least. His inability to play the Open dropped him from #27 to #50, and it's probably going to get worse.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

Obviously we can't give it to Roger Federer. It's tempting to hand the award to Lleyton Hewitt, who is looking more and more like the year-end #2. But we can keep it in the family (sort of) by giving the award to Joachim Johansson.

bandabou
Sep 15th, 2004, 09:58 AM
Bali: Over Evens
It was a day when most of the news was in doubles. Six singles matches were played, but only one involved a seed, though it also involved an upset: Yoon Jeong Cho posted her best win of the year as she took out #6 Maria Vento-Kabchi 7-5 6-1.

But the doubles teams were out in force: All seeded pairs were in action (though we haven't seen Kuznetsova/Sanchez-Vicario yet). Top seeds Anastasia Myskina and Ai Sugiyama may have been wondering what they were playing so early; Sugiyama, after all, was in New York until Friday playing doubles, and has yet to play her singles match; Myskina, as the top singles seed, has a first round bye and hasn't played yet either. Add that to the fact that they've never played together before, and they had some trouble. But they managed to win a third set tiebreak to eliminate qualifiers Anca Barna and Jelena Jankovic.

#2 seeds Maria Vento-Kabchi and Angelique Widjaja have a lot more experience together, but they also came in with a three match losing streak -- and Vento-Kabchi had lost her last four doubles matches. They too were pushed hard, but took out Camerin and Pennetta 3-6 6-3 6-3.

The other two seeded teams had it much easier; #4 Garbin and Pratt advanced in straight sets, and #3 Dulko and Sequera lost only one game against Curran and Grandin.

The singles matches were generally fairly short, too: Only one went three sets. Anca Barna topped qualifier Mariana Diaz-Oliva 2-6 7-6 6-2.

With Vento-Kabchi out, we're developing a bit of a contest for the last spot in the Top 40. Flavia Pennetta beat Nicole Pratt 7-6 6-4 to give herself a shot at #40; Marion Bartoli is right behind her following her 7-6 6-2 win over Anabel Medina Garrigues. Pennetta and Bartoli each need one more win to move past Conchita Martinez and clinch a Top 40 spot. Kristina Brandi is also on the edge of that mix.

The other two matches both involve qualifiers, who posted a split decision; Australia's Samantha Stosur took out Milagros Sequera 6-2 7-6, but Marta Domachowska went down 6-3 6-4 to Marlene Weingartner.

Beijing: It's a Small, Small World
Beijing and Delray Beach are 11 time zones apart (13 as the tennis clock ticks). It takes work to schedule two events that far away from each other. But, this week at least, they're both being afflicted by similar weather. Around the time rain bothered Delray Beach on Monday, it was starting up at Beijing -- only it was Tuesday in China by then.

The weather meant that only two matches could be completed in Asia, both resulting in the easy dismissal of qualifiers. #7 seed Taylor Dent took out Peter Luczak 6-3 6-2; Noam Okun beat Arvind Parmar by the same score.

The only other match underway saw Mikhail Youzhny up a set but down a break in the second on Ivo Heuberger.

Bucharest: Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Apparently Arnaud Clement is listening too much to all the people analyzing his game. He's French and he's fast; he must like clay, right?

Tell that to his two titles, both indoors. Tell it to his five finals, two on grass, two indoors, one on Rebound Ace, and zero, count them, zero, on clay. Tell it to his 7-8 record at Roland Garros, the only Slam where he has a losing record.

But, in a week with two nice hardcourt events, he decided to play clay. And we decided to play "I told you so," because be lost to qualifier Novak Djokovic, who earned his first-ever ATP win 2-6 6-4 6-4.

Another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, may have known what he was doing in playing on clay. He beat another rising clay player, Potito Starace, 6-3 6-4.

For the second straight day, Spaniards did well, except for the top Spaniard in action. #1 seed Fernando Verdasco is out 7-6 7-6 to Victor Hanescu, probably Romania's biggest hope with Andrei Pavel unable to play. But #6 seed David Ferrer, who first made his mark by winning this tournament two years ago, beat Stanslas Wawrinka 6-4 7-6, while Alex Calatrava beat Juan Monaco 7-6 6-2.

The other seeds in action both had easy times. #2 Florian Mayer easily knocked out slumping Dennis van Scheppingen 6-1 6-1, while #7 Filippo Volandri had the only win over an unseeded Spaniard as he beat Albert Montanes 6-3 6-1.

Other than Hanescu, it was a lousy day for Romanians. Razvan Sabau, who came out of nowhere (literally -- he hadn't played an ATP main draw in 2003 until then) to reach last year's Bucharest semifinal, lost pitifully, 6-1 6-1, to Philippe Kohlschreiber. Those points are already off, but Sabau had only on ATP match all year. At this rate, he won't get another until Bucharest 2005. The other wildcard in action, Victor Ionita, at least made a match of it, but he's out too; Stefan Koubek beat him 6-3 7-6.

The day's other match was a contest of slumping Argentines, which saw Jose Acasuso beat Franco Squillari 3-6 6-4 6-2.

In addition to losing its top singles seed, the tournament is without its top doubles seeds; the Russian team of Andreev and Davydenko beat Knowle and Zimonjic 6-4 6-4.

Delray Beach (Monday): The French Re-Connection
We now return you to our interrupted coverage of this tournament, already in progress. The first paragraph and a half, about Jerome Golmard, are from yesterday. The rest is new, more or less.

Is it just us, or is the world being overtaken by Frenchmen making comebacks? At Bucharest, it was Paul-Henri Mathieu and Arnaud di Pasquale. At Delray Beach, it's Jerome Golmard.

Golmard, who turned 31 last week, has been off the radar so long that it's easy to forget that he was Top 50 from 1998 to 2001, peaking at #22. In that time, he won a couple of hardcourt titles and made the Monte Carlo semifinal. He slipped a little in 2002, but still managed to end the year at #73. Then came the injury. He played only three matches in 2003, winning none and retiring in two of the three. 2004 hasn't been much better; he did manage to qualify for the Australian Open, and even win a match, but then didn't make another main draw until after Wimbledon. Since then, he's been almost respectable, picking up 12 Race points. Now he can add three more. He took out Dick Norman 7-5 3-6 6-4 in a rather odd ending: at match point against, on his own serve, Norman hit a fault, thought it was a let, and tried for a first serve. It went out, and Norman was broken on a double-fault.

Jan-Michael Gambill hasn't been injured, but he could certainly use a comeback about now. It didn't happen this time; he went down easily in the first set to Mario Ancic, and was broken in the first game of the second set, and that was that. Ancic, the #3 seed, advanced 6-3 6-4

Gambill was the defending champion, but last year Delray Beach was played in the spring (somehow, Gambill seems only to win during one week: All three of his titles have been in that spot just before Indian Wells). The loss doesn't cost him anything -- but his ranking is down to #75, his Race standing is #81, and there aren't many hardcourt events left for him to use to rebuild. Even though he doesn't lose any points, this hurts.

Gambill was the only player in action who played a seed but failed to produce an upset. Paul Goldstein posted probably his best win of the year as he edged #5 seed Ivo Karlovic in a third set tiebreak, while Greg Rusedski kept up his recent good results with a 7-5 4-6 6-1 victory over #4 Xavier Malisse. The trend extended to doubles, where Fish and Jones beat #3 seed Garcia and Prieto in straight sets. Given that Mike Bryan has a bad hip, the doubles success for Fish might be important for Davis Cup, though Bryan is trying to hold off surgery.

Max Mirnyi can't seem to shake his slump, either; he teamed with Amer Delic, and they lost in three sets to Garcia and Mello.

One singles and one doubles match had to be postponed due to rain.

Women's Match of the Day

Bali - First Round
Yoon Jeong Cho def. (6) Maria Vento-Kabchi 7-5 6-1

Could the injury nightmare finally be ending for Yoon Jeong Cho?

Chances are, if you remember Cho at all, it's for not quite beating Monica Seles at the 2002 U. S. Open. But she appeared, at that time, to be turning into quite a promising player. She had beaten Paola Suarez before losing to Seles. At the end of that year, she made the final at Pattaya, beating then-#30 Tamarine Tanasugarn. At Auckland, she made the final also, with wins over Pistolesi and Clarisa Fernandez. She made the semifinal at Memphis. She was 11-6 going into the clay season. Then she started to struggle, and eventually got hurt; she didn't play from Shanghai 2003 to Miami 2004. And you can guess how well she came back.

And, naturally, her ranking has been falling for the entire time since. Oh, she's won a few matches, mostly in qualifying and Challengers; she even made the semifinal at the Surbiton Challenger. But it's a case of earning six points here and a dozen there; her ranking is down to #313.

But she won her opener at the Olympics, and now this. It's not a great sign, but it's certainly better than what came before! And, because she was having so much trouble last year, she has nowhere to go but up. This win increases her point total by more than a third; she will probably end up somewhere around #255. And if she's actually back in her 2002 form, this event is weak enough that she just might be able to do some damage.

Vento-Kabchi was last year's semifinalist, but those points are already off; she was down to #40 as a consequence. She wasn't defending anything this week, but because others are gaining, she will slide to no better than #41. And it will be #42 if Kristina Brandi, who was supposed to face Vento-Kabchi next but who will now face Cho, can make the semifinal.

Men's Match of the Day

Bucharest - First Round
Victor Hanescu def. Fernando Verdasco (1) 7-6(7-4) 7-6(7-3)

When Fernando Verdasco first came up, we thought he might prove to be a hardcourter. It's true that he earned his first ATP win on clay (Sopot 2002), but you could explain that away because he's a Spaniard and was playing exclusively on clay. To that point, he had played five qualifying draws in 2002, all on dirt.

In 2003, the picture changed dramatically. He scored his second career wind at Miami over Karol Kucera -- and went on to beat Max Mirnyi to reach the third round. After losing first round matches at Estoril, Barcelona, Valencia, and in qualifying for Rome and Roland Garros, he qualified for Wimbledon, qualified for Cincinnati, qualified for Long Island, and qualified for and reached the third round of the U. S. Open. And he won hardcourt matches at Shanghai and Tokyo also. Main draw clay record in 2003: 1-4. Hardcourt record: 6-6.

The story has been distinctly different this year as he reached the final at Acapulco and won Valencia, and didn't do anything noteworthy on hardcourt. But maybe all that trouble on clay last year was symptomatic of some weakness in his clay game. Don't ask us what -- it can't be big, or he wouldn't have done as well as he does! But in a match settled by two tiebreaks, where he played a Romanian opponent, it might be enough.

In terms of rankings, of course, this doesn't mean anything. Verdasco wasn't defending anything, and Hanescu has only first round points. But maybe a smarter coach than we are will see something in this.

Landing On Top
With the announcement that Amelie Mauresmo is the WTA's new #1, there has been quite a bit of highly predictable dissatisfaction. It was a bit funny to sit down on Saturday morning and suddenly think, "OK, so who should be #1?" -- and not have a clue to the answer. Mauresmo's claim is certainly not overwhelming -- but the credentials of the other contenders (Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Anastasia Myskina) aren't instantly overwhelming, either.

We of course can't make the WTA adopt a better ranking system -- we've been writing about this for years, and all they do is keep coming up with proposals for less accurate ranking systems. But we can at least try to reach an answer that satisfies us -- and maybe you.

So what we'll do is take the Top Four -- Mauresmo, Myskina, Davenport, and Henin-Hardenne -- and compare them under a variety of other measures.

Understand that this is based on results right now, this week. Lindsay Davenport still has a huge lead in the Race, and is the likely year-end #1. But we're looking at the current moment.

To start with, the rankings as the WTA lists them.


1 Mauresmo........4527
2 Myskina.........4155
3 Davenport.......4057
4 Henin-Hardenne..4004

Now let's try an obvious alternative: Won/Lost in the past twelve months. This is a measure, obviously, of who wins when she plays.


Rank..Player..........Wins..Losses.....%
1.....Davenport........56......8....87.9
2.....Henin-Hardenne...47......8....85.5
3.....Mauresmo.........57.....15....79.2
4.....Myskina..........53.....17....75.7

Obviously Davenport wins this measure, though Henin-Hardenne is close enough that it wouldn't be too bothersome if the Belgian were considered the #1. A minor caution is required: Davenport has played two Tier III events in the past twelve months (Strasbourg and Cincinnati), posting a 6-1 record. Myskina played Sopot, going 2-0 and withdrawing to play the Olympics, er, rest an injury. Tier III events really don't involve the same level of difficulty as stronger events, though, meaning that wins there mean less. Happily, it's easy to show that eliminating those events wouldn't affect the standings; Davenport would still have the best percentage and Myskina the worst.

For those interested in Slam won/lost, we have Mauresmo at technically 17-3.(85%, but of course she withdrew from the Australian Open), Henin at 11-2.(84.6%), Myskina 14-3.(82.4%), Davenport at 17-4.(81.0%). Thus Davenport, our winningest player overall, has the worst record at Slams! (Which goes far to explain the present situation, when you think about it.)

If we look at the players each has beaten, the following list shows each player's wins over then-Top Ten players over the past year, plus wins over players who are now Top Ten, plus the Williams Sisters. The number to the left of the player's name represents her ranking at the time she was beaten.

Davenport:
3. Mauresmo (Amelia Island)
5. Myskina (San Diego)
8. Dementieva (Sydney)
9. Zvonareva (Cincinnati)
[12. V. Williams (U. S. Open)]
[13. V. Williams (Los Angeles)]
[15. V. Williams (Stanford)]
[16. S. Williams (Los Angeles)]

Henin-Hardenne:
2. Clijsters (Australian Open)
2. Mauresmo (Olympics)
3. Myskina (Olympics)
4. Mauresmo (Sydney)
4. Davenport (Indian Wells)
5. Capriati (Los Angeles Championships)
5. Davenport (Australian Open)
5. Myskina (Indian Wells)
8. Dementieva (Filderstadt)
8. Myskina (Los Angeles Championships)
10. Rubin (Sydney)
[14. Kuznetsova (Indian Wells)]
[29. Kuznetsova (Dubai)]
[33. Kuznetsova (Australian Open)]

Mauresmo:
1. Henin-Hardenne (Amelia Island)
2. Henin-Hardenne (Los Angeles Championships)
8. Dementieva (Moscow)
8. Capriati (Berlin)
7. Myskina (Sydney)
9. Myskina (Philadelphia)
9. Dementieva (Los Angeles Championships)
9. Capriati (Rome)
10. Kuznetova (Olympics)
[14. Kuznetsova (Berlin)]

Myskina:
1. Clijsters (Leipzig)
2. Henin-Hardenne (Leipzig)
5. Capriati (Doha)
6. Capriati (Roland Garros)
7. Mauresmo (Moscow)
8. Sharapova (San Diego)
9. V. Williams (Roland Garros)
10. Rubin (Australian Open)
10. Dementieva (Roland Garros)
[11. Kuznetsova (Roland Garros)]
[20. Kuznetsova (Doha)]
[24. Sharapova (Indian Wells)]
[32. Sharapova (Australian Open)]

This presents a completely different picture. Davenport may be winning matches, but she isn't beating anyone in particular except Williamses in the throes of horrid slumps. We thought we would need some sort of formula for this, but it seems pretty clear that Henin-Hardenne -- the only one of the four to have beaten all three of her rivals -- is the best at beating top opponents, Myskina probably next, Mauresmo third, and Davenport dead last.

Now let's try another measure: Points per tournament. This, again, measures how effective a player is when she plays -- and includes quality points, measuring toughness of the opposition. That gives us this list:


Rank..Player........Points...Events...Pts/Event
1.....Henin-Hardenne..4004.....13........308.0
2.....Davenport.......4057.....15........270.5
3.....Mauresmo........4258.....18........236.6
4.....Myskina.........4194.....20........209.7

Once again, Henin-Hardenne comes out on top, and would still be #1 even if her total were divided by the old WTA minimum divisor of 14.

Let's try one more measure: "Winning the big ones." We'll examine all players who have won titles at the Tier II and higher levels. From that we'll create a ranking system of sorts, based solely on titles. We'll base this very loosely on the ATP Race system: We'll set a Slam as worth 200 points. That makes the Championships worth 150, and a Tier I worth 100. But we'll keep that wonderful invention, the Tier II, and make it worth 75 points. A Tier III we'll set equal to 35 points. But we'll also give bonuses and subtractions, somewhat arbitrarily: A Tier I or Tier II that is significantly stronger than average we will be worth 20 extra points; a weak Tier I or Tier II will lose 20 points. The list below will include all winners of Tier II or better events in the past year. Events are listed in the order played.

Bovina won:
New Haven (55/Tier II-)
Total: 55 points

Clijsters won:
Filderstadt (95/Tier II+)
Luxembourg (35/Tier III)
Los Angeles Championships (150/Championships)
Paris (55/Tier II-)
Antwerp (55/Tier II-)
Total: 390 points

Davenport won:
Pan Pacific (80/Tier I-)
Amelia Island (75/Tier II)
Stanford (55/Tier II-)
Los Angeles (75/Tier II)
San Diego (120/Tier I+)
Cincinnati (35/Tier III)
Total: 440 points

Dementieva won:
Shanghai (55/Tier II-)
Total: 55 points

Henin-Hardenne won:
Zurich (100/Tier I)
Sydney (95/Tier II+)
Australian Open (200/Slam)
Dubai (75/Tier II)
Indian Wells (120/Tier I+)
Olympics (80/Olympics)
Total: 670 points

Kuznetsova won:
Eastbourne (55/Tier II-)
U. S. Open (200 points)
Total: 255 points

Mauresmo won:
Philadelphia (55/Tier II-)
Berlin (80/Tier I-)
Rome (100/Tier I)
Canadian Open (80/Tier I-)
Total: 315 points

Myskina won:
Leipzig (95/Tier II+)
Moscow (80/Tier I-)
Doha (75/Tier II)
Roland Garros (200/Slam)
Total: 450 points

Sharapova won:
Japan Open (35/Tier III)
Quebec City (35/Tier III)
Birmingham (35/Tier III)
Wimbledon (200/Slam)
Total: 305 points

Sugiyama won:
Linz (55/Tier II-)
Gold Coast (35/Tier III)
Total: 90 points

Serena Williams won:
Miami (100/Tier I)
Total: 100 points

Venus Williams won:
Charleston (80/Tier I-)
Warsaw (55/Tier II-)
Total: 135 points

Not much doubt about how results stand up in this classification. Henin-Hardenne is #1, Davenport and Myskina effectively tied for #2 (we'll call it a tie, since we might have awarded slightly different bonus points for tournaments if we did this again), and Mauresmo clearly last; she is, in fact, behind Kim Clijsters also.

Let's sum this up. We have four distinct measures apart from the WTA's: Won/lost, top opponents beaten, big events won, and points per event (divisor). Our four players stack up as follows in these categories:

Davenport: #1 in won/lost, #2 in divisor, #2 in big ones
Henin-Hardenne: #1 in big ones, #1 in quality opponents beaten, #1 in divisor, #2 in won/lost
Mauresmo: #3 or worse in all categories
Myskina: #2 in quality opponents beaten, #2 in big ones

The overall picture is clear: Henin-Hardenne is #1 in three of four categories, and #2 in the other. Seems pretty obvious that, under a better ranking system, she would still be #1. Davenport is probably #2, Myskina #3, Mauresmo #4.

We feel much better. Sure, the WTA rankings are a mess, but at least we know who should be #1.

So why is Mauresmo #1? In simplest terms, because the WTA ranking system ignores losses. As long as they add points, instead of looking at per-tournament results, this is liable to keep happening. (Recall that, in the won/lost statistics, Mauresmo had the most wins, though she also had a lot of losses.)

If we know the WTA, this is going to induce them to once more mess with the ranking system, probably by increasing Slam points yet again. Of course, that won't work; the players they want to penalize (Davenport and Mauresmo) had the most Slam wins. The logical course would be to go back to the divisor, under which Henin-Hardenne remains #1. But what's logic in dealing with the WTA?

bandabou
Sep 16th, 2004, 10:58 AM
Bali: True to Type

In one way at least, Bali -- despite having two Slam winners in the draw -- is looking like an ordinary Tier III: Seeds are getting knocked out right and left. Of the six seeds who had first round matches, four are out.

To make matters worse, all three of the seeds upset on Wednesday were defending points. Ai Sugiyama, who suffered a stunning 6-4 7-6 loss to countrywoman Aiko Nakamura -- a qualifier ranked #165 -- won't suffer in the rankings; she came in at #14, and had enough cushion that she will remain there (though this probably kills her chances of a return to the Top Ten this year). But Chanda Rubin, last year's Shanghai finalist, will be falling at least five spots after losing 6-1 6-4 to Tathiana Garbin. And #8 seed Jelena Jankovic finds her #36 ranking in some slight danger after losing 4-6 6-2 6-2 to Indonesian wildcard Angelique Widjaja.

Kristina Brandi is no longer a threat to her, though, or to reach the Top 40; she lost 6-2 4-6 6-3 to the resurgent Yoon Jeong Cho, who in two matches has increased her point total by two-thirds and will rise from #313 to around #225. That also means that Conchita Martinez will be able to stay Top 40 for at least one more week. Indeed, she's sure to be at least #39, because Gisela Dulko took out another of the players who could pass her. Dulko, the #7 seed, topped Flavia Pennetta 4-6 6-1 7-5 to move another step closer to the Top 30.

The other seed in action, Nadia Petrova, came through the easy way. Akiko Morigami retired trailing 6-2 3-1. Morigami, #51 coming in, had 137 points to defend from Shanghai and will be falling about 20 places.

Everyone seems to know that Svetlana Kuznetsova and Martina Navratilova played together in doubles last year, but people tend to forget that it was Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario who discovered Kuznetsova in 2002, and that Navratilova partnered with Kuznetsova because she had done so well with the Spaniard. Kuznetsova/Sanchez-Vicario, in fact, had the second best record of any team with two or more events in 2002: 17-2, 89%, with three titles in five tournaments played (Sopot, Helsinki, Princess Cup); that 89% record trails only the 93% posted by Hingis/Kournikova (and the latter pair had fewer titles due to withdrawals). Two years later, the two are still doing just fine; they beat Domachowska/Voskoboeva 6-4 6-3.

Beijing: Unbalance of Power
You don't often see a tournament with such a huge gap between top and bottom players as Beijing. The tournament has eight seeds who are all Top 30 (seven of them are Top 20), a couple of unseeded players who are Top 50 -- and most of the rest of the field isn't even Top 100.

For the most part, it showed in the scores. #2 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero at least temporarily threw off his recent troubles to beat Justin Gimelstob (who has fallen all the way to #256) 6-4 6-1. #6 seed Paradorn Srichaphan had only a little more trouble with Jean-Rene Lisnard (#125), advancing 6-4 7-5. And #8 seed Dominik Hrbaty took out wildcard Yu Wang Jr. (not to be confused with Taiwan's Yeu-Tzuoo Wang) 6-2 6-2. Plus Mikhail Youzhny disposed of Ivo Heuberger (#129) 7-5 7-6.

There was one upset, though it looks more than a little strange: Qualifier Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took out top seed Carlos Moya 6-3 6-3.

The rain that had so messed up play Tuesday was back; David Nalbandian's match with Kristian Pless was suspended with Nalbandian having won the first set in a tiebreak, and two other first round matches, including Marat Safin's, didn't even start.

Three matches involving unseeded players did finish: Davide Sanguinetti edged qualifier Nathan Healey, playing his first ATP singles match of the year, 5-7 7-5 6-2; Kevin Kim posted his first ATP win of the year as he took out Lars Burgsmuller 6-2 6-2; and Hyung-Taik Lee disposed of Glenn Weiner 6-2 6-4.

Bucharest: Great Mysteries Revealed

At least we know what happened to Nikolay Davydenko in his singles match: He had a bad foot. And Davydenko is like a cavalry unit without its horses: It may be physically present, but it isn't going anywhere. Davydenko and Igor Andreev had to pull out of the doubles due to the older Russian's injury.

It didn't bother Andreev in singles. He became the first seed to make the quarterfinal as he beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6 6-2.

The guy who beat Davydenko proved it was no fluke. Felix Mantilla backed it up with a 6-3 6-1 win over Alex Calatrava. That was it in the way of good news for Spaniards, though: Alex Corretja lost to the resurgent Paul-Henri Matheiu 3-6 6-3 6-1, and David Sanchez, last year's champion, went tamely before Jose Acasuso, 6-3 6-0. Good thing his points are already off. But after a breakthrough year in 2003 that took him into the Top 50, Sanchez is now down to #77, and this isn't going to help.

Delray Beach (Tuesday): With a Little Help From My Friends
ATP draws are random. The organizers cannot cook things. But a little luck of the draw never hurts.

We have to suspect that the organizers at Delray Beach were happy when the draw pitted James Blake against wildcard Adrian Bohane, who had no ATP matches to this point. Sure, it cost them their wildcard, but odds were they were going to lose him anyway. At least this meant that Blake would make it to the second round. Though it was close. It took Blake three sets to top Bohane 4-6 6-3 6-2.

Other wildcards were no luckier. Wayne Odesnik, who seems on his way to historic footnote-hood as the guy who out-aced Joachim Johansson earlier this year, lost 4-6 6-3 6-0 to Bjorn Phau. And Todd Widom went down 6-4 6-3 to Jeff Morrison.

Florida proved almost as much of a graveyard for low seeds. #6 seed Cyril Saulnier had his match held back for 24 hours, but it just meant he lost later; Kenneth Carlsen took him out 2-6 6-4 7-5. #7 seed Max Mirnyi had a nice win over Juan Ignacio Chela at the Olympics, but he now has a three match losing streak, falling to qualifier Hugo Armando 3-6 7-6 7-6. And Sebastien de Chaunac took out #8 Radek Stepanek 6-7 7-6 6-1. That leaves only three seeds: The top three. Mario Ancic had advanced on Monday. On Tuesday, top seed Vincent Spadea managed, barely, to set up a meeting with Blake, beating Alejandro Falla 4-6 7-5 6-1. #2 Mardy Fish, playing close to home, had a much easier time with qualifier Andres Pedroso, who was playing his first ATP match; Fish came through 6-1 6-2.

Matias Boeker does have ATP match experience, but it's been a while. He didn't make a main draw this year or last; in 2002, he played one match, losing his opener at the U. S. Open. He finally won a match, beating Robert Kendrick 6-3 6-2. Another qualifier, Amer Delic, picked up his third win of the year, taking out Adrian Garcia 2-6 6-2 6-3. And Ricardo Mello, who reached the Top 100 for the first time this week, celebrated with a 6-1 6-4 win over Gilles Elseneer.

Women's Match of the Day

Bali - First Round
Tathiana Garbin def. Chanda Rubin (5) 6-1 6-4

Tathiana Garbin is, not to be too polite about it, wacky. But she's wacky like a fox. Not endowed with great speed or great power or great anything else, she goes into her matches planning to try something nutty. Even she doesn't know what it will be -- but neither do her opponents. And, sometimes, she hits the jackpot, especially when her opponent is out of form.

As, for instance, when she beat Monica Seles at Indian Wells 2001, and followed it up with a win over Justine Henin at Miami. She beat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario on clay a year later, and beat Jelena Dokic here at Bali a year ago. She took out Eleni Daniilidou at Hobart this year. Her win over Justine Henin-Hardenne at Roland Garros this year was mostly luck, as was her win over Smashnova-Pistolesi at the Olympics, but the quality points count.

And this win doesn't look like lucky. Chanda Rubin had won two matches at each of her last four events, and lost to a player ranked #12 or higher in every one of them. But now she's out hard.

And it was a bad time for a loss. Rubin last year had reached back-to-back finals at Bali and Shanghai. Bali of course was already off -- but Shanghai, as a Tier II, was bigger anyway. It appears that Rubin will be able to stay Top 30 -- but just barely. From #24, she will fall to probably #29.

Garbin, #59, already had an absurd 55% of her points from quality points, earned for beating top opponents (the typical number is about 35%). This will move that yet a little higher. She was defending a little, but this should still gain her four to six ranking spots.

Men's Match of the Day

Beijing - First Round
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Q) def. Carlos Moya (1) 6-3 6-3

The official ATP headline for this match was "Moya Stunned." You can call us stunned if and when Moya returns his appearance fee.

We won't say, without checking it, that this is the biggest upset of the year. But it's working on it. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came in ranked #209. He had no ATP matches this year. Last year, he played qualifying at only one event (Roland Garros, naturally, since he's French). And before that, of course, nothing. Nor has he been tearing up the Challenger circuit; he's up from #387 at the end of last year, but that's mostly natural increase of schedule; he had only 12 events in 2003.

This is quite a way to start one's ATP career! And Tsonga is ranked so low that even the relatively poor points for a first round win at an optional event have meaning: He should be hitting the Top 200.

The fly in the ointment is that there is no real reason to think Moya so much as cared about the outcome of this match. Maybe he tried, and was just jet lagged or sick or something. But he had every reason to be apathetic. Moya already had 20 points in his fifth optional event, meaning that he had to reach the final for this to affect his ranking at all -- and even if he won, it wasn't going to make any real difference. And the field here makes it instantly obvious that the field was pulled in by appearance fee. We don't know that Moya was paid off; he might have come on his own. But first prize here is only $69,200; odds are that all the high seeds made more than that just to show up. So Moya wasn't playing for points, and probably wasn't playing for money, and now he isn't playing for either. #6 he was, and #6 he remains.

One Year Ago on the ATP:

September 15: Bucharest - Final
David Sanchez (4) def. Nicolas Massu (2) 6-2 6-2
Because of a rain delay, the Bucharest final was played on Monday. Hence this Match of the Day. At the time, we said, "Forget this business of calling Juan Carlos Ferrero 'the mosquito.' Ferrero is more like a buzzing horsefly: He can sting you no matter how alert you are, and even if he doesn't sting you, you'll notice him. David Sanchez, now, is a mosquito. He sneaks in by stealth, and you can probably repel him if you're ready. But if you aren't ready -- ouch. Especially this time. The court was wet, and Massu was struggling with the heavy balls. Sanchez broke the Chilean five times and was broken only once. He won the last five games of the match. The whole thing took only eighty minutes. It's the second title of the year (and of his career) for Sanchez, though the effects won't be all he hoped; he said, 'After this win I will be top 40 in the world, my goal is to be top 30 before the end of the season.' The problem is, he isn't Top 40; he's only #47. And he's #46 in the Race. And he likes clay. Even the Top 40 is likely to be beyond him. As for Massu, he's up to #37, though actually lower (#38) in the Race. But he can at least dream about the Top 30. Especially since he seems to be improving -- except when it rains." Sanchez, after that breakthrough year, has faded this year. Not Massu, who now is Top Ten and Olympic champion. Of course, he sees a few points come off this week....

September 16: No ATP matches played

September 17: No ATP matches played

September 18: No ATP matches played

August 21: DAVIS CUP -- Semifinal
Australia vs. Switzerland
Lleyton Hewitt def. Roger Federer 5-7 2-6 7-6(7-4) 7-5 6-1
At the time, we said, "Ultimately, it wasn't going to matter. Australia had already effectively clinched when they won the doubles; they knew they could win the second reverse singles, so this was almost irrelevant to the outcome of the tie. But, psychologically, it was something else. Roger Federer may have won Wimbledon. But he blew all his chances to take #1. He blew the U. S. Open. And then he blew this. Thoroughly. Even more thoroughly than he blew the match against Andy Roddick when he went for #1. Late in the third set, the score was 7-5 6-2 5-3 for Federer. And serving. And Hewitt broke. And held, and when they reached the tiebreak, Hewitt won. He sprinted to a 5-2 lead in the fourth, Federer brought it back to 5-5, but Hewitt won the set from his knees (almost literally; the winner that earned him the set came on a diving volley). And that was effectively that; Federer, who had played a relatively long opening singles match, then a much-too-long doubles match, seemed to be out of gas, and went tamely. Afterward, Hewitt said that it was better than winning a Slam. It certainly was a lot more work than either of his Slam title matches! And so Switzerland was out of Davis Cup; Australia finds itself once again in the final, against Spain. And they'll be playing in Australia, which means that they won't be playing on clay this time. That's big for Australia. But even bigger is the fact that Lleyton Hewitt is again Lleyton Hewitt." He's reinforced that in the months since. But we also see that this was a preview of the U. S. Open final. Of course, that was a different Federer....

Five Years Ago: Back then, they still played a whole clay mini-season (four events) after the U. S. Open. And a kid named Juan Carlos Ferrero picked up his first career title at Mallorca, beating Alex Corretja in the final. Ironically, he wouldn't win another title for a year and a half, and that next one was on hardcourt.

Ten Years Ago: Wayne Ferreira won the third of his five titles of 1994 at Bordeaux. He thus retires just ten years after his most successful season.

bandabou
Sep 17th, 2004, 08:35 AM
Bali: Range of Possibilities
If there is a wacky way to win, Tathiana Garbin will try it.

In this case, it was an opponent who couldn't play. Garbin and Marion Bartoli were scheduled for first match on, but in Bali, first match on is at 4:00 p.m. local time. And Bali is only eight degrees south of the equator. That makes it, technically, winter, but it certainly wasn't cool. Bartoli retired with heat illness trailing 6-0 2-0.

Anastasia Myskina, who was first on center court, made it to the end of her match, but she's Russian; maybe the heat got to her, too. Or maybe she's just thinking too much again. Maria Elena Camerin beat her 6-3 1-6 6-2.

Other than that, it was a good day for Russians. (It's usually a good day for Russians these days, isn't it?) Svetlana Kuznetsova ran her winning streak to eight with a 6-4 6-4 win over Samantha Stosur; she's getting close to hitting the Top Five. All she needs to do is reach the final -- though she'll have to beat countrywoman Nadia Petrova in the semifinal to get there; Petrova, the #4 seed, beat Marta Marrero 7-5 6-1.

Also standing in Kuznetsova's way is Angelique Widjaja, who will face her in the quarterfinal; Indonesia's top player reached her first quarterfinal since Hyderabad -- and only her second since Bali 2003 -- with a 6-4 4-6 6-2 victory over Anca Barna. We should note, however, that Kuznetsova has already beaten her once at this tournament: The Russian and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beat Widjaja and Maria Vento-Kabchi, the #2 seeds, 6-3 6-4. Going to Bali, we're told, was supposed to be a sort of a vacation for Kuznetsova. We'd hate to see what she does when she's working hard.

That was the only upset in doubles; Myskina may have lost in singles, but she and Ai Sugiyama pounded Marta Marrero and Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-1 6-2. #3 seeds Dulko/Sequera and #4 Garbin/Pratt also advanced in straight sets. In the day's other singles match, Marlene Weingartner topped Aiko Nakamura 7-5 6-3.

Beijing: Another Day, Another Downpour
At this rate, they'll have to tear down Beijing and replace it with a rain forest. That's the bad news. The good news is, the rain held off long enough to get in the entire singles schedule. All eleven matches: The three remaining first round matches, plus the eight second round matches.

In a couple of cases, that even produces some signs of genuine grit and determination. You'd almost expect Marat Safin to fold up and go home upon being told he had to play two matches in one day. Instead, he came out and did his best to be highly efficient. First he blasted Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-4 7-5, and then he turned around and played his second match against wildcard Hao Lu. Of course, Lu had already had to play three sets to top Lucky Loser Prakash Amritraj. Still, Safin beat him 6-2 6-2.

The other guy to play two matches was David Nalbandian, and he really made life tough on himself. He had won the first set against Kristian Pless on Wednesday when the rains came, but instead of finishing that match off quickly, he lost the second set before finishing off a 7-6 2-6 6-3 victory. And then he went out and played three sets against another Lu, Taiwan's Yen-Hsun, finally advancing 6-7 6-4 6-4.

The reward for all his effort is that he finds himself the top seed left in the draw; #2 Juan Carlos Ferrero posted another depressing result as he lost to Kevin Kim 6-4 6-4. And joining him on the "more of the same awful stuff" bandwagon was Rainer Schuettler; the #4 seed lost to Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 6-1. (The two then went out to play doubles together, and lost in three sets to Huss and Lindstedt).

#8 seed Dominik Hrbaty, who doesn't need the points, had the easiest day of any seed, bouncing David Sanguinetti 6-2 6-2 -- a result that doesn't even count toward his Optional Five. But #6 Paradorn Srichaphan barely edged Noam Okun in a third set tiebreak. And Taylor Dent gave us three seeds down on the day; he lost to Jarkko Nieminen 6-3 7-5.

The beneficiary of Carlos Moya's earlier loss turned out to be Hyung-Taik Lee; he made the quarterfinal with a 7-6 6-3 victory over qualifier Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Bucharest: I'll Take Seconds
When Andrei Pavel pulled out of Bucharest, it seems to spell bad news for the locals. That was until Victor Hanescu showed up.

This hasn't really been a breakthrough year for Hanescu; after ending last year at #70 -- his best ranking ever -- he's now down to #96. Big results have been relatively few; he did make the semifinal at Scottsdale, but other than that, it's been quarterfinals or worse. He came here having lost first round at Stuttgart (where he was sick), Umag, Sopot, the Olympics, and the U. S. Open. Think he was glad to win his first round match?

And now he's topped it, with his first quarterfinal since Nottingham. Having beaten top seed Fernando Verdasco in the first round, he became the only Romanian in the quarterfinal with a 6-2 6-3 win over Stefan Koubek.

Other than that, it was a day of tough but expected wins. #2 seed Florian Mayer beat Arnaud di Pasquale 7-6 4-6 6-3, #6 seed David Ferrer joined countryman Felix Mantilla in the quarterfinal with a 4-6 6-4 6-4 victory over qualifier Novak Djokovic, and #7 Filippo Volandri beat Richard Gasquet 6-2 1-6 6-3.

Delray Beach (Wednesday): No Pun Intended
Forget the wordplay. Ricardo Mello is not feeling mellow at all. He's feeling driven.

We've heard, more than once, that a male player needs to produce by age 23 or he will never produce at all. It's not universal, but it's a fair rule of thumb. And Mello turns 24 in December. By the looks of things, he's recently realized that he has only three months to go, and is getting busy. A week after his surprising third round showing at the U. S. Open, he's in the Delray Beach quarterfinal with the day's biggest upset. He disposed of struggling #2 seed Mardy Fish 5-7 6-4 6-4. Since Mello isn't defending anything, that should spell another career high.

That meant that only two seeds remain in the draw, and one of them, Vincent Spadea, wasn't in action. That left only #3 seed Mario Ancic. He's the clear favorite to reach the bottom half semifinal after his 6-1 6-3 win over Amer Delic. He is, after all, ranked #29, and Mello, at #100, is the next highest player in the bottom half.

Though Jerome Golmard in particular is sure to move up. Golmard is in the first quarterfinal of his comeback, having beaten countryman Sebastien de Chaunac 6-3 6-2. Golmard came in at #252; he should gain roughly 40 ranking spots. Our other quarterfinalist is Kenneth Carlsen, who won his second straight cliffhanger, beating Bjorn Phau 5-7 6-4 6-2. With so many low-ranked players in action this week, we won't guarantee that that will put him in the Top 100, but it seems likely.

One first round match was left over. Jeff Salzenstein edged Marco Chiudinelli 7-5 6-7 6-2.

James Blake's comeback in doubles didn't start nearly as well as his singles comeback. He and Jeff Morrison lot 6-2 6-4 to the interesting team of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, seeded #2. The other highlight doubles team, Jan-Michael Gambill and Vincent Spadea, also lost in straight sets, to Carlsen and Karlovic. #1 seeds Etlis and Rodriguez advanced in straight sets, but #4 Haggard and Koenig were upset in straights by Kerr/Thomas.

Women's Match of the Day

Bali - Second Round
Maria Elena Camerin def. Anastasia Myskina (1) 6-3 1-6 6-2

And to think, just two weeks ago, we were talking about Anastasia Myskina's chances of becoming #1. If she keeps up this post-Olympic funk, she isn't going to be #2 much longer.

In fact, just one more week. Next week is the anniversary of Leipzig, where Myskina converted herself into a top player with wins over Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne. And then comes Moscow, her other big title of 2003. If Myskina does not do something at Shanghai to defend points, she will fall to no better than #3 next week, and #4 after Moscow comes off.

Myskina has played four matches since losing the Olympic semifinal to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She lost the bronze medal easily to Alicia Molik. She blasted Ludmila Cervanova at the U. S. Open, but then lost to Anna Chakvetadze. And now she's out to #61 Camerin. It just so happens that Myskina has only two losses to players ranked below #50 this year. And they've come in her last two matches. It's not that she's unable to play, physically; she won in doubles, after all, and easily. It's her head.

So what else is new?

Even though Myskina is hardly playing like a #2 player these days, Maria Elena Camerin still gets the points. After a couple of years hovering around #100, she has been climbing steadily this year, reaching #61 entering this week -- already a career high. This win will put her in the Top 50. It will be very interesting to see if she can sustain that.

Men's Match of the Day

Beijing - Second Round
Kevin Kim def. Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-4 6-4

We give up. It makes no sense. Yes, Juan Carlos Ferrero has been injured in about fifteen different ways this year: He had chicken pox, he had bruises, he had back problems -- we've lost count. But come on: Even David Nalbandian has been able to play this week, and he's suffered more injuries than Wile E. Coyote in a cartoon where the Roadrunner is feeling particularly vicious. It was already a lost season for Ferrero -- but a strong finish might at least have helped him for next year. Ferrero isn't Carlos Moya or Dominik Hrbaty; he can use optional points.

Instead, he's out to Kevin Kim. In one sense, that's not as ugly a result as Carlos Moya's yesterday. But, if anything, it distorts the field more. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Moya, at least had the grace to lose in the second round, so he wouldn't produce an unbalanced quarterfinal. We have four unseeded quarterfinalists. Two of them -- Mikhail Youzhny and Jarkko Nieminen -- are good players who are suffering not-so-good spells. Another -- Hyung-Taik Lee -- is at least a solid hardcourt player on his good days. Then there is Kim. He of the #143 ranking and the six Race points coming in and the history, at age 26, of never really even threatening the Top 100. It's losses like this that are likely to leave Ferrero below #20 at year-end. He'll need a miracle to make the year-end championships. And he just doesn't seem to be in miracle mode right now.

To add to the irony, this will do Kim very little good in the long run. This week, all he is defending is a second round result at the Mandeville Challenger, so he should gain a dozen or so spots. But he'll lose most of that ground next week; one of his best results of 2003 came at the San Antonio Challenger, where he reached the semifinal, and that comes off in ten days.

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills
Forget hitting the Top 10, or the Top 20, or the Top 50. If you're a WTA player, what really brings the perks is to be Gold Exempt.

The benefits of Gold Exempt-hood are substantial -- at least as long as you aren't Serena Williams or Anna Kournikova and actually have to make a living playing tennis. The list of rewards and obligations is complicated, but we can summarize the benefits fairly easily:

* Gold Exempts participate in the WTA bonus pool (i.e. they get cash just for turning up at enough tournaments)
* Gold Exempts are allowed to set their schedules a full year in advance, which may allow them entry into tournaments which they would not otherwise qualify for
* Gold Exempts get unlimited wildcards
* Gold Exempts are not penalized for withdrawals, unless it causes them to fail to play enough tournaments to meet their requirements

In return, Gold Exempts are expected to meet certain scheduling requirements (to allow the WTA to meet its guarantees to the tournaments), but these requirements are not heavy by modern standards (13 WTA events, which implies 17 total events, since the Slams aren't WTA events; there are also some "distribution" requirements, and some specific rules based on exactly where a player stands on the Gold Exempt list, but these requirements are not onerous). The Williams Sisters never seem to meet the requirements, but until this year, nearly everyone else did. It's a nice deal.

And there are only twenty Gold Exempts in a given year -- 16 selected based solely on their rankings (the top 16 in the rankings at the time the list is created) and four wildcards chosen by tournament directors.

So why are we talking about this now? Because the Gold Exempts are chosen this week -- the week after the U. S. Open. That means we automatically know who sixteen of next year's Gold Exempts will be: They're this week's Top 16 (assuming they all continue to play next year): Mauresmo, Myskina, Davenport, Henin-Hardenne, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Clijsters, Capriati, Sharapova, Serena Williams, Zvonareva, Venus Williams, Petrova, Sugiyama, Schnyder, and Suarez.

But that leaves the four wildcards. So who gets those?

There are some eligibility requirements. To be a gold exempt wildcard, a player must meet one of these criteria (2004 WTA rules, section III.A.2.b; these may of course be revised in the 2005 rules): "At the time the 2004 Gold Exempt player list is initially composed, a player must satisfy one of the following in order to be named to the list: (i) Top 50 WTA Singles Ranking immediately following the 2003 US Open; (ii) Top 10 WTA Singles Ranking in prior year-end rankings; or (iii) winner of a Grand Slam Tournament singles title."

This is a change from the previous rules: The 2003 criteria might be called the General Eligibility Rule (must be in the Top 50), the Anna Kournikova rule (must have been Top Ten at the end of some previous year), and the Mary Pierce rule (must have won a Slam). The 2004 rules have retained the General and Pierce rules, but eliminated the Kournikova rule and added what appears to be a Williams Rule (Top Ten at the end of the previous year). (Of course, if Kournikova decides to come back, they will probably restore the Kournikova rule.)

The first (general eligibility) rule of course gives us 34 candidates, the players ranked #17-#50: Asagoe, Bartoli, Benesova, Bovina, Brandi, Daniilidou, Dechy, Dokic, Dulko, Farina Elia, Frazier, Golovin, Hantuchova, Jankovic, Kostanic, Koukalova, Likhovtseva, Loit, Maleeva, Martinez, Medina Garrigues, Molik, Pennetta, Pierce, Pratt, Raymond, Rubin, Safina, Schiavone, Shaughnessy, Smashnova-Pistolesi, Sprem, Vento-Kabchi, Zuluaga. Surprisingly, the other two rules produce only one additional name (assuming Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova don't try to become full-time singles players): Monica Seles. Chanda Rubin was Top Ten last year and is not Top 16 this year, but she is at least in the Top 50; Mary Pierce and Conchita Martinez are former Slam winners and are not Top 16 this year, but they too are Top 50.

Looking over the list of eligibles for the four wildcards, most can be immediately eliminated; the tournament directors, who choose the four wildcards, won't be interested. It's hard to imagine Iveta Benesova, e.g., being nominated. Looking over the list, several of us concluded that the four remaining gold exempts would be chosen from these ten: Karolina Sprem, Alicia Molik, Magdalena Maleeva, Chanda Rubin, Mary Pierce, Tatiana Golovin, Daniela Hantuchova, Conchita Martinez, Jelena Dokic, and Dinara Safina. Of these, we can eliminate on other grounds Golovin; she's too young to be eligible.

That's not to say these nine are the most deserving; if we were trying to determine who deserves it, well, we'd have to go primarily with the players who just missed the Top 16: Bovina, Sprem, and Molik, with Pierce perhaps the fourth. (Seles would go on the list were we sure she would play -- but that's looking less and less likely.) It's not likely to work that way in practice. The Gold Exempt list exists to help support tournaments. So they go for players they consider likely to put fans in the stands.

We're just guessing, but based on that, we'd say that Pierce has the strongest claim. Dokic is probably out because her results have been so bad. Rubin has a strong case simply because she's American and so many of the tournaments are in the United States. Hantuchova may get well get votes as a glamour girl; there are usually a couple of wildcards in that category. Safina's chances, on the other hand, might well be hurt by "Russian fatigue," and Martinez by her lack of recent results and general tendency to mope. But it's hard to be sure.

Our "guess list" (as of today; it was different a few days ago, and might be different again tomorrow): Pierce, Rubin, Hantuchova, and Sprem.

We'll find out soon enough, of course. And we aren't going to go near the question of where the players will end up on the Gold Exempt list (since that's decided solely by the tournament directors).

As a footnote, last year the WTA created a new category, Gold Exempt Emeritus. The requirements for this are: "i. Player has won a minimum of 3 Grand Slam singles and/or WTA Tour Championships singles titles; ii. Player has provided at least 14 years of service to the Tour; iii. Player has obtained a number 1 WTA Tour singles ranking at any time during her career; and iv. Player has demonstrated an exceptional level of commitment and excellence on the Tour over an extended period of time." Two players met these criteria last year: Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova. As written, they don't cover Martina Hingis, but it's our informal sense that Hingis will get GE Emeritus status if she can be lured back. But it's also our feeling that she won't be: Her foot really does hurt when she practices, and she isn't going to return.

Roadkill
Last Thursday, the WTA released a "roadmap to 2010," a plan for changes in the WTA over the next few years. One of our readers, upon seeing it, informs us that she literally screamed and started posting warnings all over the internet. Looking at postings to the usenet group devoted to tennis, it appears that every post regarding the "Roadmap" has been negative, accusing the WTA of blindly following the ATP's mistakes and ignoring fans. (To be fair, while all the posts have been negative, they have been relatively few.)

We know why they're worried, too, because there are a number of places in this roadmap where the WTA faces, well, a fork in the road. And several of those branches could lead to difficult decisions and, based on WTA history, imply that they're going to do something stupid. That doesn't mean that they will; it means that they are opening the door for it.

And the burden of the changes is likely to fall on the Gold Exempt players, since they're the ones the WTA wants to participate in more events. Since we've been looking at Gold Exempts, let's look at the Roadmap also, trying to see what each part means, looking at both the possible payoffs (there are some) and the dangers (there are some of those, too). What follows is likely to sound very negative. It isn't, really; everything the WTA is working on is worth working on. If they do things right, things could get a lot better. But most of these topics have been worked on before, and few of the changes proved to be for the better. History tends to be full of bad news.

It's also awfully long. We could, of course, just tell you what the WTA should do, since it all seems very clear from here. But it will, we hope, sound more objective if we try to document it a little.

The published plan offers eight "Key Elements," several of which are being implemented already. We'll list each "Key Element," and the history it invokes.

** Shorter Playing Season ("Significant First Step in 2005": Extended off-season, from 5 weeks to 7 weeks, through renewed ITF Agreement)

Obviously promising; given the rash of injuries this year, more time off for the players can only help. (Of course, many of the players, being somewhat lacking in common sense about rest and recovery, will use the time to play exhibitions rather than get healthy.) The only caution here is that, historically, the Tours have announced "shorter seasons" about every third year, and have then let the year creep longer between announcements. We suffered such "creep" this year with the addition of the Olympics, for instance, and one of the two weeks gained in 2005 comes simply from the elimination of the Olympic week. (The other is a more fundamental change in that the Fed Cup final is moved forward.) There is reason to hope that the season can be shortened by at least another week down the road, since the Australian Open is scheduled to be moved a week later. But that requires eliminating events, or combining more tournaments in one week, somewhere -- and preferably somewhere in the hardcourt season.

** Series of easily-identified top events in the most ideal weeks of the season

This has a very good precedent, in the creation of what are now the Tier I events (the name has varied over the years). What was once the Super Series has been a great success; prize money at these events has grown faster than at any other tier level. If there is any problem with the Tier I events, it's that there are too many of them (quick: Can you name all ten played in 2004? Answer: Pan Pacific, Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, Berlin [scheduled to be downgraded], Rome, San Diego [newly upgraded], Canadian Open, Zurich, Moscow). If a few more become "super elite" in some way, as Miami has long been, that could well be good.

The worry here is how this will work out in practice. If it means that there will be a more organized publicity campaign, that's good. If it means focussing all the attention on the top few events, as the ATP does, there is a real danger of damaging the lesser tournaments. Right now, the ATP allows -- in effect, forces -- all tournaments below the Masters level to operate on an appearance fee system, something the WTA is largely free of. (Officially, there are no appearance fees on the WTA at all. In practice, some events clearly find ways, not necessarily monetary, to lure in players. But since all events Tier III and higher are guaranteed a certain number of players, they don't need to bribe every top player they get; at most, they go after one or two -- or, in the case of Filderstadt and San Diego, they treat all the players, even the no-names, so well that everyone wants to play.) Since appearance fees only go to the top players, allowing them on the WTA has the potential danger of making it harder for players outside the Top 20 to survive -- which in turn could affect the competitiveness of the Tour. This is particularly so since total WTA prize money is much less than ATP prize money. Such a change also increases the danger of ghettoizing the non-favored events -- which, ultimately, risks turning away the casual fans in those areas, which in turn increases the likelihood that the events will die.

It's always worth remembering that fans in the stands pay actual money to watch tennis, and may even try to drag in people who wouldn't otherwise watch. And they are more likely to buy tennis paraphernalia. They're worth far more than TV viewers. A slight increase in TV viewership, at the cost of a significantly smaller number of fans in the stands, is not a good tradeoff.

** Mandatory tournament commitment system for players

Does this mean required events? Particularly, does it mean making all the Tier I events required? If so, that again brings us to the scenario mentioned in the previous point: Weaker fields at smaller events. And that has a very strong economic implication: It means more dependence on television revenue as opposed to ticket revenue (fewer top players at the lesser events means fewer people buying tickets). If the networks don't offer the television coverage that the WTA expects, this could spell danger.

The author became interested in tennis at a time when there was no pro tennis in my area. It was years before anything came here -- and that only a Challenger. The Challenger is wonderful, and more interesting than watching Andy Roddick and Serena Williams all day every day on TV. It's also more educational; one who has not seen live pro tennis cannot fully appreciate the sport. But to get people who aren't tennis fanatics to attend events, it helps to have at least a few recognizable names at all events, not just the big tournaments. That's not possible when all the top players are being used up at a few mandatory events.

We can demonstrate this by taking a list of (roughly; we're guessing) the ten most popular players on the ATP as of the end of last year -- an ATP equivalent of the Gold Exempts. In rankings order, Roddick, Federer, Ferrero, Agassi, Coria, Moya, Philippoussis, Henman, Kuerten, and Hewitt. Most were healthy in the first half of this year (through Roland Garros). Let's march down the optional events in the first half of the year and see how many of these players turned up:

Adelaide -- none
Chennai -- 1
Doha -- 3
Auckland -- 2
Sydney -- 4
Milan -- none
San Jose -- 2
Vina del Mar -- 1
Buenos Aires -- 3
Memphis -- 1
Rotterdam -- 4
Costa do Sauipe -- 2
Marseille -- 2
Acapulco -- 1
Dubai -- 4
Scottsdale -- 1
Estoril -- none
Houston -- 1
Valencia -- 1
Barcelona -- 2
Munich -- none
Casablanca -- none
St. Poelten -- 1

That's 36 appearances, 23 tournaments, an average of just over one and a half of our top players per tournament. And five events had no top players. They spent at least $350,000, and got squat.

Let's compare that with the WTA record at Tier II and lower events. This time, we'll just count Top Ten players present.

Tier II events
Sydney -- 8
Paris -- 2
Antwerp -- 1
Dubai -- 5
Doha -- 4
Amelia Island -- 7
Warsaw -- 2

Smaller events
Gold Coast -- 1
Auckland -- none
Canberra -- none
Hobart -- none
Memphis -- none
Hyderabad -- none
Bogota -- none
Acapulco -- none
Casablanca -- none
Estoril -- none
Budapest -- none
Strasbourg -- 1
Madrid -- none

At the Tier II events, we had 29 appearances at seven events -- more than four Top Ten players per event. And every Tier II had at least one top player; most had several. Even throwing in the lesser events, we have 31 appearances at 20 events -- a rate on par with the ATP's for all events, and a much more organized system: The more money the event has, the more top players it's likely to get.

Adding a few more top players to the top events doesn't accomplish much; someone who won't attend a Tier I with six of the top ten players in the world isn't likely to attend a Tier I with nine of them, either. (Admittedly a fan who will only go to see, say, Serena Williams will skip the event if Serena isn't there. But you can require until you're blue in the face and it won't fix Serena's knee or her penchant for outside activities. And the Serena-only fan might just as well live in a city which doesn't have a required event. In any case, this problem can be better addressed through the Gold Exempt rules: More hard assigns and a heavier mix of Tier I events for the top Gold Exempts, with real penalties if the players don't meet their commitments.)

We also note that the ATP's concept of required events hasn't really forced all the top players to turn up at Monte Carlo (only seven of the Top Ten played this year) or Wimbledon. And is making players play all the same events really going to help the injury problem the WTA claims it doesn't have? Let's recall how severe this problem is: Martina Hingis, retired at 22. Anna Kournikova, probably also retired at 22. Of the current or recent Top Ten, Kim Clijsters, out for half a year. Justine Henin-Hardenne, not injured, but worn out; her sickness perhaps aggravated by exhaustion. Amelie Mauresmo has suffered repeated back problems. Lindsay Davenport is constantly injured, and missed the end of last year. Venus and Serena Williams each missed more than six months in the last fifteen months. Nadia Petrova has had shoulder problems for years. Elena Dementieva missed much of last year's indoor season, and now has a leg injury. We can think of only four top players who have been basically healthy, and even they have cause for concern: Svetlana Kuznetsova has had no major injuries but is only now playing a full schedule; Maria Sharapova is healthy but has been playing under age restrictions; Jennifer Capriati has started to suffer all sorts of nagging injuries; and Anastasia Myskina is mostly healthy but keeps having foot problems.

Of course, the stated goal could just mean "You sign up for Miami, you play Miami or else." Or it could mean allowing the Tour more hard assigns (WTA-speak for telling players, "You must play this event"), and enforcing the assigns with penalties. How the WTA will manage this, given that they're killing the top players with the heavy schedule they're forcing on them, we don't know. But if they can pull it off, more power to them.

** Easier-to-understand ranking system ("Significant First Step in 2005": Condensed tier structure with 4 tiers vs. 5)

Let's take this in parts.

The condensing of the tier structure is only partly a ranking issue; there is a money component as well, and that may be the biggest concern. Some history is in order here. If we look back 20 years, the Tour had, broadly speaking, seven tiers: Slam, Championships, $200K, $150K,$100K, $75K, $50K. Ten years ago, the list was Slam, Championships, $750K, $400K, $150K, $100K -- a mere six levels. They came to be called Slam, Championships, Tier I, Tier II, Tier III, Tier IV.

Then the WTA split the Tier IV into the Tier IVA and the Tier IVB. They then renamed these Tier IV and Tier V. Then, two years ago, they added four new levels, giving us a system of levels we might call Slams, Championships, Tier I++, Tier I+, Tier I, Tier II+, Tier II, Tier III+, Tier III, Tier IV, Tier V.

That's eleven tiers (since reduced to ten as they got rid of one of the Tier I grades). This, in one sense, it pretty ridiculous; there is no real gap in quality between, say, a Tier II and a Tier II+. Indeed, the best Tier II events, such as Filderstadt, are usually stronger than most Tier I events. But all those little tiers have their advantages. On the ATP, you can add prize money, and it doesn't gain you points. With ten tiers, the WTA at least makes it worthwhile to pay the players more money. If they eliminate all those extra partial tiers, it will give the tournaments an easy excuse to cut prize money.

On the other hand, the Tier V as a concept has no meaning. Broadly speaking, we can describe the WTA's tiers as follows: Slams/Championships=events where everyone plays. (And the women do; there is no skipping Wimbledon on the women's side.) Tier I=events with about six Top Ten players. Tier II=events with three or four Top Ten players. Tier III=events with two or three Top 20 players. Below Tier III=no guaranteed field. There is no distinction between the Tier IV and the Tier V in this picture.

This tier structure is, as seen from here, straightforward and effective; the Tier II is the single biggest difference between ATP and WTA systems, and it's all to the WTA's good, in that it fills the otherwise incredibly large gap between required events and optional events. If eliminating the Tier V just means combining the two levels of events with similar purpose, then it makes things that much clearer; the Tiers mean what they mean (Tier I=six Top Ten players, etc.), and each tier has two grades within it. If the changes mean doing as the ATP does, and eliminating quality points (earned for beating top players) or going to required and optional (which means whacking all events below the Tier I) -- well, have you heard anyone in the tennis community, except the Tour staffs, praise either of those ATP innovations? Everyone we've ever talked to has called it a horrid idea.

On the other hand, the prize money for the lower-tier events hasn't been raised in years -- indeed, it's been lowered. E.g. a Tier III in 2000 had a purse of $180,000, which was lowered to $170,000 the following year. Getting rid of the Tier V would finally push the smaller events to pay more. Except that the Tier V hasn't exactly been eliminated. If one looks at the 2005 calendar, there are two $110K events at the start of the season. Still, all the other $110K events have been upgraded to $140K. Assuming that sticks, and it doesn't cause events to fail, it's a nice sign. (Note that Forest Hills, e.g., is gone after only a single year -- though we won't mourn a 16-draw event with no doubles and no qualifying).

That brings us to the main part of this idea, the "Easier-to-understand ranking system." If they had said "More accurate ranking system," that might be promising. If they had said, "Ranking system we didn't design ourselves," that would be even more promising. Certainly the ranking system is a mess. It needs work. We showed that earlier this week, demonstrating how Amelie Mauresmo is #1 despite being probably fourth on the Tour in actual accomplishments. The ranking system needs massive work. But it won't get better by being simplified. What is wrong is not that the system is complicated. What is wrong with the system is that it's already too mind-numbingly simple; the WTA's quest to avoid any math beyond addition means that bad results don't count. The WTA's ranking system is not hard to understand; in fact, it's nitwittedly easy. You take the information from the WTA ranking table, look up the size of the tournament, look up the players a particular player has beaten, and add. A third grader could do it. If someone in the WTA offices can't comprehend the rankings, rather than insult the intelligence of the fans, who understand the system perfectly well even if they don't want to do the grunt work of creating software to track it, perhaps the WTA should consider sending that staffer back to third grade to learn how to add.

It's worth reminding ourselves of the WTA's track record on this subject. It's a picture of constant fixes to try to make up for the fundamental flaws in the system. Through 1996, the WTA had a pretty good ranking system in the divisor. It could have been better, but a better system would have required high school math; the divisor could be calculated by anyone who knew how to divide. When the divisor was in use, people sometimes argued that the #2 player should be #1, but none of the business we have now where people are saying the #4 player should be #1 (which she should) or the like. Then -- in 1997, as a marketing gimmick, the WTA broke the system: They went to additive rankings. Now, hardly a year goes by without the WTA diddling with the system to correct flaws that only exist because they use additive rankings. In 1997 they went to Best Infinitely Many. The effect of that was to make Amanda Coetzer, who was barely Top Ten in points per tournament but who played a zillion events, #3 in the world. So the next year, they went to Best 18. The effect of that was that, in 1998, Martina Hingis won the Grand Slam in doubles and ended the year at #2 in the doubles rankings. It didn't happen in singles, but it could have -- indeed, we came surprisingly close in 2003; had Venus Williams played a few more events, or not gone into a deep slump, she might have been ranked ahead of her sister even though Serena was carrying a non-calendar Slam.. Not that the WTA addressed the problem; they just made the doubles Best 12. That would have handled the Hingis problem, but not the Serena problem. Then they fiddled with the points table. Then they went from Best 18 to Best 17. Then, in 2001, Lindsay Davenport ended the year at #1 without having a Slam title. So they changed the points table again -- and watched Kim Clijsters get to #1 without a Slam in 2003. Under roughly the same system (they've added some tiers; we'll get to that below) Amelie Mauresmo is now #1 without a Slam final. And now the WTA is going to fix the ranking system again? What can they do, say, "The winner of the U. S. Open is #1, and everyone else is #2?" Speaking as a mathematician, reading that the WTA is going to make the ranking system "easier to understand" is frightening. The purpose of the ranking system is not to be obvious in three seconds or less (though the current system can be understood in less than a minute). The purpose of the ranking system is to rank players, and it should be designed to do that as well as possible, even if it requires such horrid things as division.

** Packaged television rights and sponsorship deals

This sounds good. It really does. But even here, there is a caution: Remember the ATP's Masters Series and having the one and only sponsor go belly up? Too much reliance on one sponsor can do more harm than good. The goal is to get sponsors for more events, but not to become too dependent on one or two companies.

** Strategic coordination with other tennis governing bodies

Obviously all to the good -- as long as the WTA doesn't develop some sort of inferiority complex and let the ATP or the Slams walk all over them. The caution is that everyone has been saying this for years, and nothing ever happens.

** Enhanced Professional Development programs

This is a case where we have no idea what is intended. It sounds good in theory. Even though the top WTA players are rich, the lower-ranked players have a genuine problem in paying for coaches and training facilities which would allow them to improve. Real help for them would be excellent. If this means more money into programs for juniors, good enough. If it means more money going to Challengers, to help support lower-ranked players, better still. If it means something else -- well, we'll see.

** Enhanced WTA Tour Championships

Does this mean we can have 16 singles players and eight doubles teams again? Or at least the eight doubles teams? Please, please, pretty please?

Speaking apart from the author's own desires, there is a lot to be said for this: The Championships is the biggest indoor event on the Tour, and the stronger it is, the better. (That would be especially true if they'd put it back on carpet, which is fading a little, but even indoor hardcourt is better than outdoor hardcourt.) The danger is that the WTA always seems to be trying to make the Championships into a "Fifth Slam." As best we can tell, every event thinks it's the Fifth Slam -- even the Tier II in Shanghai! In the WTA's case, they seem to push the Championships because they don't want their events to be so overshadowed by the actual Slams. Understandable -- but the marketing has never worked very well, not even for Miami, which is no longer the only 96-draw co-ed tournament around. Better, probably, to treat the Championships as something else -- e.g. as the Great Tiebreak, settling who will be year-end #1 in any year when it isn't absolutely obvious.

bandabou
Sep 20th, 2004, 10:41 AM
Bali: War of Nerves

It's a pretty good general rule that, the deeper you get into a tennis tournament, the more important it becomes that the players be steady under fire. But that seemed to be even more important at Bali than anywhere else.

Consider the records of our quarterfinalists: Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova had had plenty of semifinals. But of the players in the top half of the Bali draw, Gisela Dulko had one career semifinal (Casablanca 2002), Maria Elena Camerin also had one, which led to a final (Casablanca 2001); Marlene Weingartner had three, with no finals; and Yoon Jeong Cho had three, with two finals. There wasn't a title in the lot. And so we had two blowouts: Kuznetsova took out Indonesia's Angelique Widjaja to run her winning streak to nine, while Petrova beat Tathiana Garbin 6-1 7-5. But Camerin struggled past Dulko, the #7 seed, 3-6 6-3 6-2, meaning that Dulko (who deserves at least some consideration for Most Impressive Newcomer honors) will need to wait at least a little longer to hit the Top 30. And Weingartner took out Cho 6-4 5-7 6-2; it's still the best result of the Korean's comeback.

We said above that Petrova has lots of semifinals, and it's true; she has 11. And, unlike those other players, they aren't semifinals at cheap little events, either. She made the semis at Amelia Island 2001, Gold Coast 2002, Roland Garros 2003, 's-Hertogenbosch 2003, Zurich 2003, Linz 2003, Philadelphia 2003, Gold Coast 2004, Miami 2004, Amelia Island 2004, and here at Bali. And in every case she lost to players ranked #11 or higher. But in that whole list, she has only two finals -- Linz 2003 and Gold Coast 2004. And those two events results include the only event in the list where she lost to a non-Top Ten player (to #11 Sugiyama at Linz). Sounds like nerves to us. Looks like nerves on the scoreline, too: Kuznetsova beat her older countrywoman 6-7 6-1 6-2, leaving Petrova stuck at #13 but moving Kuznetsova up to a career-high #5.

In the other nervous contest, Weingartner made her first career final with a 2-6 6-3 6-3 win over Camerin. But there wasn't much she could do in the final; Kuznetsova won the title 6-1 6-4.

The doubles semifinals were about as dull as dull can be; top seeds Anastasia Myskina and Ai Sugiyama made the final on Friday when Milagros Sequera (who was playing with Gisela Dulko) hurt her ankle, and on Saturday Kuznetsova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario continued their amazing reunion tour with a 6-2 6-3 win over #4 seeds Garbin and Pratt. Kuznetsova is going to have a very interesting decision to make when she picks her doubles partner for next year....

But it meant that, for the second straight week, Kuznetsova had to play a doubles final after winning the singles title. For the second straight week, she failed in the second match. And that means that Myskina, who had only one previous doubles final (at Moscow last year, with Zvonareva) at last has a doubles title; she and Sugiyama won 6-3 7-5. Amazing to realize that Myskina has made the Top 20 in doubles without winning anything....

Beijing: You Were Expecting Someone Else?
And on Friday, David Nalbandian turned back into a pumpkin.

Nalbandian, of course, has spent the whole summer struggling with various injuries, missing tournaments or, at best, losing too early. Since reaching the Roland Garros semifinal, he has pulled out of Halle, pulled out of Wimbledon, lost first round at the Canadian Open, pulled out of Cincinnati, pulled out of the Olympics, and bombed out at the U. S. Open. But at Beijing, he finally managed to make a quarterfinal. But then he ran into a lesser but left-handed version of himself in the form of Jarkko Nieminen. Nieminen has had his own troubles this year, but he's also had more time to recover. Nieminen, who has the Bangkok semifinal to defend next week, managed a sort of defence in advance as he took out Nalbandian 6-2 2-6 6-2.

The rest of the day's matches were routine. Marat Safin ended Kevin Kim's shocking run 6-2 6-4, Paradorn Srichaphan disposed of Hyung-Taik Lee 6-4 6-3, and Mikhail Youzhny gave us two Russian semifinalists as he upset Dominik Hrbaty 6-4 6-2.

And those two Russian semifinalists proceeded to remind us that Russian men can win tournaments, too, as they both made the final. Safin topped Nieminen 6-2 6-4, while Youzhny dumped Srichaphan 6-4 6-4. For Safin, it was his first semifinal since Monte Carlo, and his first final since Estoril. Youzhny hadn't made a semifinal since Dubai, and hadn't made a final since late 2002. Despite the rust, they produced a pretty good final; Safin beat Youzhny 7-6 7-5.

The doubles final was as American as the singles final was Russian, and proved even closer. Justin Gimelstob's singles career has been a disaster this year (he has yet to win an ATP-level match), but he now has 11 career doubles titles; he and Graydon Oliver topped Alex Bogomolov Jr. and Taylor Dent in a third set tiebreak.

Bucharest: Top of the Class

It was one of those tournaments that seemed to be ruled by alphabetical order. The finalists both had the initial "A."

There wasn't really much excitement to be found in Friday's quarterfinals. All four matches proceeded in straight sets; only one involved a tiebreak. In every case involving a seed, the (higher) seed won. Promising young German Florian Mayer, who suddenly finds himself Germany's #2 in Davis Cup, took out #6 seed David Ferrer, the 2002 champion, 6-4 6-2; #4 seed Igor Andreev, the other promising youngster in the field, beat veteran Felix Mantilla -- the last Spaniard in what had originally seemed a very Spaniard-heavy draw -- by the same score. #7 Filippo Volandri took care of the last Romanian, Victor Hanescu, by the still-easier margin of 6-3 6-1. In the only match involving unseeded players, clay experience topped fundamental ability; Jose Acasuso took out Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2 7-6.

The semifinal was an entirely different matter: Both matches produced upsets. Acasuso seems to just love these small clay events that aren't part of the mainstream clay season. He came in with five previous finals (including one title), and they all fit that description: Buenos Aires 2001, Sopot 2002 (the one time he won the title), Bucharest 2002, Palermo 2002, and Sopot this year. He bounced Volandri 7-6 6-2.

The Really Big match, though, was that between Andreev and Mayer. Andreev just turned 21 two months ago, but he's actually the veteran of the two, having played his first ATP matches in 2003. Mayer at this time last year hadn't so much as played a qualifying match; his first came at Metz. But, thanks to his terrific Wimbledon, he was the higher-ranked. But he also was the guy who had never been in an ATP final. Andreev had, and it was on clay no less, at Gstaad. Andreev reached his second final 2-6 6-1 6-4.

He wasn't really ready for that final, though; he was nervous and kept rushing points, trying to go for too much. Andreev and Acasuso two split the first two games, but Acasuso won five of the next seven, and then cruised to a bagel in the second set. The final score was 6-3 6-0. For Acasuso, whose ranking was down to #95, that meant an increase of a third in his point total; he'll gain more than two dozen ranking spots.

And after that, it was time for him to play the doubles final. Acasuso had picked up his first title earlier in the summer, winning Umag with Flavio Saretta. Here, he was playing with Oscar Hernandez, and they had beaten Braasch and Kohlschreiber in three sets in Friday's semifinal. He wasn't up for two in one day; Lucas Arnold and Mariano Hood took home the title 7-6 6-1.

Delray Beach: Essay Question

Vincent Spadea has spent more time than he likes being the subject of trivia questions. At Delray Beach, he gets to be something much nicer: Big Name. Not only was he the top seed in the field, but by Friday, he was the only American seed left.

It looked for a while as if he wouldn't keep that status long. Another American, Hugo Armando, was on the verge of taking him out. But then -- well, maybe the 26-year-old Armando remembered that he had had only two ATP wins in 2004 so far. Or that his last quarterfinal came at Kitzbuhel 2001, and as for semifinals -- hah. Whatever the explanation, Spadea made the semifinal 6-3 1-6 6-4. It was still a big event for Armando, #198 coming in, who last year at this time was losing in qualifying at the Szczecin Challenger; he should rise more than 30 places.

Jerome Golmard also lost, but he has to be nearly as happy as Armando; he came in ranked #252, and even though he went out 6-7 6-3 6-3 to Ricardo Mello, he finally had back-to-back main draw wins and a quarterfinal showing. He too will be gaining several dozen spots.

Mario Ancic, at #3 the only other seed in the draw, was a much quicker winner, beating Kenneth Carlsen 6-2 7-5. We also had one unseeded American in the semifinal; 30-year-old Jeff Salzenstein, playing his first quarterfinal since Newport last year, posted his best-ever result as he beat Greg Rusedski 6-4 7-6.

It wasn't to last. Spadea won the battle of Elderly Americans as he beat Salzenstein 6-1 6-3 in the semifinal. That put him in the final against Mello, who kept up his streak of recent hot results with a 7-6 6-3 victory over Ancic.

That score would sound familiar in the final. After a close first set, Mello broke early in the second, and made it hold up to earn his first title 7-6 6-3.

It's been quite a year, and quite a three weeks, for Mello. For three years, 2001-2003, he hovered between #130 and #150. Going into the U. S. Open, he had risen only to #113. He came to Florida ranked #100. He'll be moving up nearly 30 places -- easily a career high. And he did it the hard way, too: He beat all three of the top seeds (Spadea, Fish, Ancic) along the way.

Leander Paes has definitely recovered from his health problems of last year. He's now up to four titles this year, and is winning casually with partners he hasn't even played with before. Paes and Radek Stepanek took out top seeds Etlis and Rodriguez 6-0 6-3.

Women's Match of the Day

Bali - Final
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) def. Marlene Weingartner 6-1 6-4

This is one of those weeks when you wish there were some other event to talk about (we might almost have talked about the big Challenger in Bordeaux; reaching the final put Emilie Loit back in the Top 40. But we don't have the result yet, and we need to send this before play starts in Shanghai). Marlene Weingartner had to be thrilled just to reach the final; her defensive game wasn't likely to do Svetlana Kuznetsova any actual damage. And, obviously, it didn't.

The result is still big for Kuznetsova, who now has back-to-back titles for the first time in her career, and is up to eleven straight match wins; she has three titles this year. By reaching the final, she moved up to #5 in the world, and by winning, she gives herself a real chance to move up to #4 in the next two weeks. She has already reached #3 in the WTA Race, and is now well ahead of Anastasia Myskina in that department; she's moving up on #2 Amelie Mauresmo. She is assured of playing her first year-end championships in singles. She's Gold Exempt. The people who said she would be the top Russian appear to be right; she probably will be at year-end. Bali didn't cause that, but it's definitely helping. And it adds to her big-match record: Kuznetsova has now won the last three finals she's played, and fully half the tournaments in her career in which she's reached the semifinal.

Weingartner, #67 coming in, didn't earn much in the way of quality points (she managed to get to the final by playing two qualifiers ranked below #100, a player who was here on an injury ranking, and an unseeded opponent ranked #61), but she does make her first career final, and it appears she will also be hitting the Top 50.

Men's Match of the Day

Beijing - Final
Marat Safin (5) def. Mikhail Youzhny 7-6(7-4) 7-5

It wasn't the best match of Marat Safin's life; he was broken in his first service game and had some nervous moments early in the second set also; he earned the decisive break at 5-5 in the second set when Youzhny double faulted. But then, odds are Safin will never play the best match of his life; he'll always find some method to get in his own way. It was good enough.

And that has to feel really good, because it's been a long, long drought for him. His last title came way back at Paris 2002, and before that, you have to look back to 2001. He had started this year well, then come apart almost completely. Maybe this will get him back on his game. (And no, we aren't betting on it.)

It certainly makes things much more interesting in the Race. Safin came in at #9, well behind #8 Andre Agassi. This moves him past Agassi into the #8 spot. Assuming that both play anywhere near their form, both Safin and Agassi should move past #7 Gaston Gaudio during the indoor season (since Gaudio is unlikely to do much). But that doesn't mean they will qualify for the Masters Cup. Gaudio, if he does fall below #8, will of course get the Grand Slam wildcard, so one of these guys has to make it to #7 to be assured of direct entry. (They could of course both make it if there is a withdrawal, and Guillermo Coria looks questionable. But better to be safe.) And Safin will almost certainly play more than Agassi in the coming weeks. This title really helps his chances.

It also helps his ranking; #13 coming in, he will finally be returning to the Top Ten.

Youzhny isn't as lucky; he was in a bad spot in the rankings, and the final will gain him only a couple of spots. Still, he's close to a return to the Top 30. It could well happen in time to get him an Australian Open seed.

Women's Look Forward: Shanghai
The WTA's fall Asian hardcourt season is a cyclical thing. Some years, it has only two or three events. This year, with the addition of Seoul and Guangzhou, there are no fewer than six, covering five weeks: Bali, Shanghai, the Japan Open, Tashkent, and the new events.

The heart of the season, though, is Shanghai. The reason is simple: It's the only Tier II in the cycle. As far as history goes, it hasn't much; it replaced the Princess Cup just a couple of years ago. The Japan Open is far older. But it's also a lesser tournament; this is the event which features just about every top player who will be appearing in Asia at all. You can see that in the field: Shanghai looks like Bali with a few extras. And the extras are all at the top. Or almost all. Anastasia Myskina is not playing -- presumably she originally planned to defend her title at Leipzig, and though Leipzig is no more, she decided not to change her schedule (she has, after all, played in four of the last five tournaments: Sopot, Olympics: U. S. Open, Bali). Ai Sugiyama is also out. But Svetlana Kuznetsova, she of the 11 match winning streak, is in the initial draw, and Myskina's place has been taken by two more high-ranked Russians, Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva. Plus -- Serena Williams. Bum knee and all, she's in the field, and making one last use of her special ranking to earn the #1 seed. That hurts Sharapova most, since she ends up seeded #3 and would have been #2 had Serena been seeded based on her ranking. Kuznetsova is #2, Zvonareva #4, Petrova #5, and that, plus #8 seed Jelena Dokic, apparently gave the WTA its quota of Gold Exempts; the field fades a bit below those five Top 15 players. Gisela Dulko, #35 last week, is the #6 seed, Jelena Jankovic #7, and Dokic of course #8.

That doesn't mean that the rest of the field is completely devoid of interesting players. The Chinese hosts are represented by Zheng Jie, and gave wildcards to Yan Zi and Sun Tian Tian, though they may not get much effect from those wildcards, since all three Chinese are in the top (Serena/Petrova) quarter. As is Dinara Safina, the biggest name among the unseeded players. We also have several once-high-ranked players fallen on hard times: Tatiana Panova, Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Maria Vento-Kabchi (the latter being the next player in line for a seed).

The qualifying draw looks as if it had been attacked by mad line-drawing insects; it's littered with changes. Two seeds pulled out -- #3 Aniko Kapros was promoted into the main draw (based on her ranking at the time entries closed), and Marlene Weingartner had to pull out because she was in the Bali final. In addition, Anne Kremer withdrew. We also had a big upset in the first round as Yuka Yoshida topped #1 seed Jill Craybas.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

Because the top seeds get byes, and the field falls off so fast, there are only a handful of these. Of the greatest interest to the locals is surely the contest between Zheng Jie, China's #1, and #5 seed Nadia Petrova. That has some interest even to outsiders, since it's a contest between Petrova's big power and Zheng's steadiness. More interesting, though, is the contest between Tamarine Tanasugarn and #8 seed Jelena Dokic. They're both in horrid slumps. Tanasugarn's is, based on rankings, worse -- but at least she's playing, and has won a few matches this summer. Dokic is hardly competing, and losing when she does play.

About the closest contest of the first round, in terms of rankings, is that between #7 seed Jelena Jankovic and Shinobu Asagoe. There are no big weapons in that one, but a lot of grim determination. That sort of "I'll play it out on this baseline if it takes all summer" determination is also found in the contest between veteran Maria Vento-Kabchi and youngster Flavia Pennetta, who is having the best summer of her career.

The Rankings

Most weeks this autumn will be odd due to calendar shift. But this is, in some ways, the oddest of all. This, last year, was the week of Leipzig, and Leipzig has not only been postponed, it's gone. The WTA usually loses one or two events in a year, and adds one or two others. But Leipzig was a Tier II, and the WTA doesn't like losing those without replacing them. It's yet another blow to German tennis -- and a major loss.

Especially for Anastasia Myskina. Because she isn't playing this week, her #2 ranking is history. She will, in fact, fall all the way to #4, with Lindsay Davenport rising to #2 and Justine Henin-Hardenne moving back up to #3 despite losing some fairly big points herself.

And things could get even more interesting at the top after that. Next week, Myskina sees Moscow come off, and though that's worth less to her than Leipzig (where she beat both Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters last year), a decent result for Svetlana Kuznetsova this week could take her past Myskina next week (especially if Myskina doesn't play Hasselt). Kuznetsova, in fact, is already #3 in the WTA Race, and a title at Shanghai could move her to #2. Lindsay Davenport remains #1 in the Race, and the likely year-end #1 -- but if the American doesn't get out there and play, Kuznetsova might be able to make things interesting.

We could also see some significant movement in the lower part of the Top Ten, too. Maria Sharapova has nothing to defend this week (though she has 138 points the week after), and she is only 96 points behind Jennifer Capriati. A semifinal would move her back up to #8 and drop Capriati to #9. And, with Kim Clijsters losing points, Sharapova could even pass her and move up to #7 with a title.

But Sharapova, and even Capriati, could also lose ground, Serena Williams is within striking distance, barely, if Sharapova loses early and Serena wins the title. On the other hand, Serena is less than 150 points ahead of Vera Zvonareva, and less than 200 ahead of Nadia Petrova; if she pulls out (and we're writing this about twelve hours before Serena's usual last-minute pullout time), one or the other Russian could pass her.

The other player with a lot on the line is Maria Vento-Kabchi, with 141.5 points. A first round loss to Pennetta could cost her her Top 50 spot.

Key Matches

First Round: Vento-Kabchi vs. Pennetta. Vento-Kabchi needs this to stay in the Top 50, but a win for Pennetta assures the Italian's Top 40 ranking.

Second Round: (1) S. Williams vs. Safina. An interesting contest: Serena's bad knee against Safina's bad head.

Quarterfinal. (1) S. Williams vs. (5) Petrova. An interesting contest: Serena's bad knee against Petrova's bad head. Wait. Haven't we heard that somewhere before?

Quarterfinal: (7) Jankovic vs. (3) Sharapova. If Sharapova wins this, she passes Jennifer Capriati. Whether that moves her up the rankings depends on how Serena does.

Semifinal: (3) Sharapova vs. (2) Kuznetsova. Assuming Myskina doesn't play Hasselt, Kuznetsova would be #4 in the world in two weeks if she wins this and plays Sharapova. (Our rough cut is that she needs the quality points from beating Sharapova; no other opponent will do.) But if Sharapova wins this, she assures herself at least the #8 ranking -- and finally achieves something decent at a big event not on grass.

bandabou
Sep 21st, 2004, 03:50 PM
Shanghai: Stubborn, Stubborn
Tina Pisnik is a very stiff-necked individual. We mean that literally. After playing her way into the Top Thirty around the start of the year by putting herself through a ridiculously heavy schedule, she has lately been paying the price in a bunch of early losses and nagging little injuries. Including a lot of neck injuries. This time, she gave up after losing the first set 6-0 to Tatiana Panova. She'll lose another couple of ranking spots as a result.

That was technically an upset. So was the 7-6 6-4 win by Maria Vento-Kabchi (ranked #42) over Flavia Pennetta (#40). But that was it -- for upsets and for surprises. #6 seed Gisela Dulko needs at least one more win to move up in the rankings, but she's off to a good start after her 6-4 6-1 victory over Aniko Kapros. Dinara Safina did a nice job of keeping up the family tradition in China; a day after brother Marat won Beijing, she took out wildcard Yan Zi 6-3 6-2 to break a three match losing streak. And Anabel Medina Garrigues beat slumping Saori Obata 7-5 6-1.

The qualifying was more noteworthy for upsets, though most of them took place early on. #1 seed Jill Craybas had lost in the first round; #2 Marta Marrero in the second. There were no #3 or #4 seeds. #5 seed Jidkova lost in the second round. That left #6 Vera Douchevina as the top seed in the qualifying final, and she faced the only other seed to make the final round, beating #9 Samantha Stosur 6-3 6-3. The other three qualifiers are all below the Top 100: Emmanuelle Gagliardi beat Jennifer Hopkins 6-2 3-6 6-3, Sanda Mamic took out Lioudmila Skavronskaia 6-2 6-3, and wildcard Li Na eliminated Marta Domachowska 6-1 7-5.

There was only one doubles match, but it was an interesting one: Jelena Dokic, who now calls herself a Serb but who doesn't play Fed Cup for Serbia or otherwise tend to involve herself in national tennis affairs, took a wildcard with Serbia's current top player, Jelena Jankovic. But Dokic hasn't been playing much doubles lately (only two matches this year, both losses, and none since Miami); they lost to wildcards Peng and Xie in a third set tiebreak.

Women's Match of the Day

Shanghai - First Round
Maria Vento-Kabchi def. Flavia Pennetta 7-6(7-5) 6-4

Sometimes, the first step is the biggest.

Maria Vento-Kabchi last year qualified for and reached the semifinal of Leipzig. She didn't beat anyone in particular along the way -- her top opponent was Silvia Farina Elia, then #22 and never a great fan of indoor events. Still, she earned 142 points along the way -- almost 20% of her current total. In fact, that result was all that was keeping her Top 50. And that result comes off this week.

With this win, she's defended a quarter of those points. And that makes all the difference, because, had she lost, she would have been no better than #52. As it is, she should stay Top 50 at least. And, with nothing left to defend for the rest of the year, she has nowhere to go but up.

Flavia Pennetta made the Top 40 just this past week. This loss may cost her that spot. She's at #40 in safe points, and if Shinobu Asagoe can beat Jelena Jankovic, or if Jelena Dokic somehow holds seed and makes the quarterfinal, she's out. Nice to see that the parties involved managed a fairly good match, given how high the stakes were.

This Week's Movers -- Men
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Ricardo Mello -- Moved 30 places, from #100 to #70.
Mello, who had never so much as been Top 100 until last week, won his first career title at Delray Beach to hit his second straight career high.

Runner-Up: Jose Acasuco -- Moved 23 places, from #95 to #72
Just last week, Acasuso fell from #79 to #95. His title at Bucharest makes up the loss with interest.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Marat Safin -- Moved 4 places, 31%, from #13 to #9
Safin earned his first title in almost two years to put himself back in the Top Ten.

Runner-Up: Mello, cut ranking 30%
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: TIE:
Jan Hernych -- Dropped 11 places, from #76 to #87
Dennis van Scheppingen -- Dropped 11 places, from #72 to #83
Hernych last year made the final of the Mandeville Challenger; van Scheppingen made the final of Seoul. This year, they're playing mostly at the ATP level -- but not this week.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Rainer Schuettler, ranking increased 2 places, 17%, from #12 to #14.
This is mostly an artifact: Safin and David Nalbandian earned enough points to pass Schuettler. But he has a lot to defend in coming weeks; this likely won't be his only downward move.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

Safin barely edged Mello in the percentage move. But Safin should have been winning titles all along. Mello won his first, and is at a career high. He's the clear winner this week.

This Week's Movers -- Women
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Virginie Razzano -- Moved 25 places, from #113 to #88.
Razzano won the $75K+H Challenger at Bordeaux (which was both a large and a strong Challenger), beating top seed Emilie Loit in the final, to end a five week exile from the Top 100.

Runner-Up: Marlene Weingartner -- Moved 17 places, from #67 to #50
Weingartner reached her first career final at Bali, though her move was slightly limited because she didn't beat a single Top 50 player. (Razzano actually earned more quality points in her first four rounds at Bordeaux than Weingartner earned at Bali!)
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Weingartner -- cut ranking 25%

Runner-Up: Maria Elena Camerin -- Moved 15 places, 25%, from #61 to #46
Camerin beat Anastasia Myskina and Gisela Dulko to reach the Bali semifinal.
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Akiko Morigami -- Dropped 19 places, from #51 to #70
Morigami last year reached the Shanghai semifinal with wins over Martinez and Molik -- the single best result of her career. This year, she retired from her first round match at Bali.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Morigami, ranking increased 37%.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

We have a number of players at career highs, including Svetlana Kuznetsova, who moves up to #5. But that was as much about Elena Dementieva failing to defend points as about Kuznetsova earning them. We'd consider our best candidates to be Weingartner and Camerin. Weingartner had the best percentage move, but only by a fraction of a point. Camerin has what will probably be the best win of her career, and she's at a career high. Give the award to Camerin.

bandabou
Sep 22nd, 2004, 01:15 PM
Shanghai: Localizing the Damage

The Chinese did their best to assure a local player success at Shanghai. It was an ill-fated attempt. Their one player with direct entry, Zheng Jie, hasn't played yet, but she's supposed to face Nadia Petrova. Their first wildcard in action, Yan Zi, lost Monday to Dinara Safina. And, on Tuesday, they lost their one remaining wildcard, Sun Tian Tian, who lost to qualifier Sanda Mamic 6-4 6-2. That happens to be only Mamic's third WTA win, and her first away from clay, and her first since Budapest.

Chinese players haven't been completely eliminated, to be sure. But it was a player they relegated to qualifying, Li Na, who gave them their only win; she upset Nicole Pratt 6-3 6-2. (Of course, Li probably shouldn't have been stuck in qualifying; she has been injured, but has probably the best career record of any Chinese player in the field except Zheng; she has a whole bunch of Challenger titles, including winning the $50K event at Beijing last summer; more recently, she reached the semifinal at the big Bronx Challenger; in 2001, she posted four WTA wins and had 56 pro wins -- tied for third among players that year.) Li, ranked #193 coming in but based on only five events, should gain about 40 ranking spots.

The day's action, in fact, proved a clear sweep for qualifiers: Vera Douchevina will pass her career high of #72 following her 2-6 6-2 6-3 victory over Anca Barna, and Emmanuelle Gagliardi should return to the Top 100 after her 2-6 6-4 6-3 win over Kristina Brandi.

For that matter, the only match between players with direct entry also ended in an upset; Tamarine Tanasugarn beat #8 seed Jelena Dokic 6-3 6-0. That made it five wins for lower-ranked players out of five matches played.

The doubles came closer to following form: Tanasugarn and Nicole Pratt, the top seeds, beat the fairly strong but new (and perhaps injured) team of Sequera and Stosur 6-2 7-6, and the Chinese pair of Yan and Zheng, the #4 seeds, took out Jidkova and Spears 6-3 7-6. But the unseeded Japanese team of Shinobu Asagoe and Rika Fujiwara edged #3 seeds Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva 1-6 6-3 6-4.

Women's Match of the Day

Shanghai - First Round
Tamarine Tanasugarn def. Jelena Dokic (8) 6-3 6-0

Somewhere out there, there may be someone who can figure out Jelena Dokic. That someone isn't us. Yes, she's an emotional mess. But Tamarine Tanasugarn isn't in the greatest shape herself; she came in with a four match losing streak and had only one main draw win in six events since Wimbledon. Take away her six wins on grass, and Tanasugarn came in at 6-18 on the year.

But even that's good next to Dokic, who reached the Pan Pacific semifinal this year but other than that has gone 3-15. This was the sixth time she has been bagelled this year. Her last singles win was at Charleston, and she came in with an eight match losing streak; this makes nine. Dokic may well end up with the year's longest losing streak at WTA events, uninterrupted by Challengers or Qualifying. She hasn't beaten a Top 30 player this year, and with this loss, she has seven defeats at the hands of players ranked below #50. And she had points to defend -- not many, only 29. But it's another blow. At best, she'll stay at her current #43, and it might be lower.

And it's only three weeks until Zurich comes off, where she made the final with wins over Rubin and Clijsters -- her last Top Ten wins. Those 369 points represent more than half her remaining total. If she doesn't get it together soon, she could end the year right around #100.

Tanasugarn, #97 coming in, will probably be safe from that fate. This win will move her into the mid-eighties, and she has only three more results to defend this year, all small: A first round loss at the Japan Open, a second round at Luxembourg, and a semifinal at Pattaya City. It's too late to rescue her 2004, but at least she may be able to end it on an up note.

Goodbye Again

Wayne Ferreira is a bit like Schroedinger's Cat: He is and isn't retired. When he played his last ATP match at the U. S. Open, we gave him a farewell of sorts. But that Open loss was not really his last appearance as a professional. This weekend, he will anchor the South African Davis Cup team that takes on Greece on hardcourt in Pretoria. Indeed, he's more than the anchor; he's the key to the whole tie. Why else would South Africa pick hardcourt as the surface when their other singles guy, Wesley Moodie, lives and dies by his serve? The surface clearly was chosen with Ferreira's counterpunching style in mind.

We say "counterpunching," but by that we don't mean what people usually mean by "counterpuncher" -- a scrambler who actually doesn't land any blows at all. Ferreira, like those sorts of players, knew how to use an opponent's power, but he also knew how to return it with interest. He actually liked facing guys like Pete Sampras and Richard Krajicek who kindly gave him big bombs of serves that he could deflect back at them; it was opponents like Andre Agassi who gave him the most trouble.

Those counterattacking skills translated into fifteen career titles over the course of eleven years, on all sorts of surfaces:

Queen's 1992 (grass)
Schenectady 1992 (hard)
Oahu 1994 (hard)
Indianapolis 1994 (hard)
Bordeaux 1994 (hard)
Basel 1994 (indoor hard)
Tel Aviv 1994 (hard)
Dubai 1995 (hard)
Munich 1995 (clay)
Ostrava 1995 (carpet)
Lyon 1995 (carpet)
Scottsdale 1996 (hard)
Canadian Open (Toronto) 1996 (hard)
Stuttgart Masters 2000 (indoor hard)
Los Angeles 2003 (hard)

That's one clay, one grass, two carpet, two indoor hardcourt, and nine hardcourt titles. Two of them -- Canadian Open and Stuttgart -- were Masters events.

If there was a knock on Ferreira, it was his Slam results. And yet, he had a winning record at every Slam: 39-14 at the Australian Open, 18-13 at Roland Garros, 29-15 at Wimbledon, 18-14 at the U. S. Open. He twice made the Australian semifinal, in 1992 and 2003; he also had a Wimbledon and U. S. Open quarterfinal. At the Australian Open, he never once lost his opener. And it was the Slams which put him in the record books: He played 57 main draws, including 56 Slams straight, starting in 1991 and not giving up until this year. And only 13 times in that 56 Slam span did he lose first round.

All of that naturally translated into some solid career rankings. He first hit the Top 100 in 1991, the year he turned 20; he stayed there every year until this year. In 11 of those 13 years he ended the year in the Top 50; in eight of them, he ended it in the Top 30. He was Top 20 in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2000; he was year-end Top Ten in 1995-1996, peaking at #6.

Nor was he one of those guys who ignores doubles to concentrate solely on singles. He ended up with 11 doubles titles, six of them at Masters events: Miami 1991 with Norval and the rest with Kafelnikov: Indian Wells 2001, 2003; Rome 2001; Monte Carlo 2000; Hamburg 1995. He also won a silver medal for South Africa at the 1992 Olympics.

Pretty amazing for a guy who didn't really like practicing and playing all that much. He was slowing down at the end -- he was #111 in the Rankings when he quit, and #86 in the Race -- but he did, after all, turn 33 last week. After a dozen solid years, he was due for a rest.

bandabou
Sep 23rd, 2004, 02:13 PM
Shanghai: The Long and the Short of It
One of our readers, commenting on why the Russians are more interesting to watch than Americans, told us that all the top Americans play nearly the same game, while the Russians are very diverse.

It's hard to deny, especially when you see Maria Sharapova, who is one of the tallest players on the WTA Tour, take on poor Tatiana Panova, who is about half her size. (Well, she looks half her size, anyway. If you want to make your eyes bug out, consider these Media Guide statistics: Panova is 1.53 meters/5'1" tall, and without an ounce of fat, and her weight is listed as 52 kg/115 pounds. Sharapova, 1.83 meters/6'0" tall, is listed as 59 kg/130 pounds.)

The contrast in styles in that second round contest was dramatic: Panova has great speed and no power; Sharapova has immense power, but a smart opponent can tie her feet in knots. But Panova has never been the same since her injury of two years ago, and this court is reported to be playing fast anyway, which is all to the good for Sharapova. She bashed Panova 6-1 6-1 to move within one win of passing Jennifer Capriati in the rankings.

Two of the day's other second round matches also produced fairly routine wins for the higher-ranked player: #6 Gisela Dulko took out Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-4 6-4, while Anabel Medina Garrigues moved up to probably #44 in the world after her 6-4 6-4 win over Tamarine Tanasugarn. Top seed Serena Williams, though, barely made it through, edging Dinara Safina 6-4 3-6 6-3 despite being down 3-1 in the third set; she had a lot of help from Safina's double faults.

Serena will have an interesting incentive in her next match: She will probably have to win it to keep sister Venus at #12. We don't know who she will face next, but it will probably be #5 seed Nadia Petrova, who eliminated China's top player, Zheng Jie, 6-2 6-2, in one of two remaining first round matches. If Petrova reaches the semifinal, she passes Venus to reach at least the #12 ranking. If she beats Serena (as opposed to getting a walkover), she might well hit the Top Ten.

The day's other remaining first round match was, not too surprisingly, much closer. #7 seed Jelena Jankovic edged Shinobu Asagoe in a third set tiebreak. Ironically, because of where they stood in the rankings and what they had to defend, Asagoe will move up at least one spot, but Jankovic for the moment remains at #36.

Dulko and Vento-Kabchi may have been opponents in singles, but they teamed up in doubles and proved quite efficient: They topped Jill Craybas and Marlene Weingartner (who had to miss the singles qualifying because she was in Bali but who still showed up for doubles) 6-2 6-4.

This event also witnessed the return to action of Olympic champions Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian, who had to miss the U. S. Open. Whatever the problem was, they're clearly over it; they beat Jennifer Hopkins and Janet Lee 6-2 6-2.

Women's Match of the Day

Shanghai - Second Round
Gisela Dulko (6) def. Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-4 6-4

More and more, we're becoming convinced that Gisela Dulko is The Real Thing.

Maybe, if we'd known less, we'd have come around sooner. Dulko has been hanging around the fringes of the Tour for more than three years, losing first round at Miami 2001 and Scottsdale 2002, finally winning a match at Miami 2002, and making the semifinal of her next tournament, at Casablanca. But that was her last WTA match of 2002. In 2003, she qualified for three events, and got into two others as a Lucky Loser, going 4-5 on the year. She went into this year's Australian Open ranked #125 and with a losing record in her career.

It's been a very different picture in 2004. Her record this year is still only 22-17, but she's starting to pile up the results. She beat Petrova at Indian Wells. She beat Martinez at Roland Garros. She beat Pierce at San Diego. She beat Dementieva at the Canadian Open. She scored her first-ever wins at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U. S. Open. She hasn't been past the quarterfinal of a WTA event this year, but she has a lot of those. And she's improved her ranking by 90 places in eight months.

This win should gain her a little more. #34 coming in, this should raise her to #33. At the rate she's going, she will probably be Top 30 by year-end.

It remains to be seen if Vento-Kabchi will be anywhere near there. She was #42 coming in, but with big points from Leipzig. This will drop her to probably #48 -- down from a peak of #26 as recently as two months ago at Los Angeles. She is done defending for the year, so she has a real chance to climb. But she is only 5-7 since Stanford, with no results better than a Round of 16. If that keeps up, she won't return to the Top 40 any time soon.

Was It Just a Year Ago? - ATP
One Year Ago on the ATP:

September 22: Bucharest - Final
Luis Horna (8) def. Andrei Pavel 7-6(8-6) 7-5
At the time, we said, "On the ATP, where there are no bonus points and the vast majority of tournaments are optional, first round matches are usually more important for what they say about the players than for the actual results. That's especially true here. Because what this one says is, 'Andrei Pavel is back.' It's been a while. Pavel hadn't played since Miami. And he was injured well before that; he hadn't actually won since last year. The mere fact that he took the court is fairly big news. The fact that he was competitive was bigger. Happily for Pavel, he has nothing to defend this week; [this loss] won't cost his already-battered ranking further. The bad news is, he has the Vienna semifinal coming up, then a quarterfinal at Saint Petersburg and a third round at Paris. So he needs to get in gear quickly.... It's a fairly nice win for Horna, too, who last year made the Palermo quarterfinal and didn't play another match all year. One more win, and it will be all gain for the rest of the year." Pavel, despite getting so little practice in at this event, would go on to big things in the fall, and just hit a career high after the U. S. Open -- only to get hurt again. As for Horna, 2004 is turning into the best year of his career. So this was fairly good for both players.

September 23: Shanghai - First Round
Guillermo Canas (WC) def. Alex Kim (Q) 7-6(10-8) 7-6(7-0)
At the time, we said, "Another day, another comeback attempt. Yesterday, it was Andrei Pavel. Today, Guillermo Canas.... This isn't actually Canas's first match back; he returned two weeks ago. And lost, of course. But this is his first win. First win since January, in fact. And if it wasn't all that impressive -- Kim is ranked #167 in the world -- at least it shows that Canas can still handle some pressure. And, given that his ranking is down to #204, and he isn't defending any points, this should actually help him. He will probably move back into the Top 200. And -- better yet -- he doesn't have much to defend for the rest of the year: An opening-round loss at Madrid, a second round at Stockholm, a third round at Paris. Unlike Pavel, who probably can't defend what he has left, Canas can at least hope to replace those points. Whether he can come all the way back is another matter. He's almost 26 now, and his wrist problems seem to be turning chronic. But if anyone can do it, the scrappy Canas can." And, of course, he did come back a long way, with two titles this summer to put him back around #30. Chances are that he'll be able to defend fairly well this fall.

September 24: Palermo - Second Round
Nicolas Massu (1) def. Jose Acasuso 6-2 3-1, retired
At the time, we said, "Once Juan Carlos Ferrero won at Bangkok, this was just about guaranteed to be the match of the day. Too bad it had to be such a disappointment. Jose Acasuso suffered a left adductor strain, and that was that.... It's turning into a truly disappointing end-of-the-clay-season for Acasuso, who last year reached two finals at Bucharest and Palermo. This year, he's struggled at both. And that, naturally, is going to be costly. He came in at #74. He's going to drop about two dozen places. The only good news is, he doesn't have much left to defend this year; he made the second round of Madrid as a qualifier, but that's it. But the bad news is, the reason he had such weak results seems to be that he's comfortable only on clay. So he may not have much chance to regroup. For Massu, the points here don't really matter, this being an optional event. But he's consolidating his position. He hit the Top 30 this week as the result of a Challenger win. Now he's doing his best to earn equivalent points at the ATP level." Massu did earn more points in the fall, and that took him close to the Top 10 in the spring; he finally made it thus summer, but now has to start defending. As for Acasuso -- he just won his second career title. But he still needs to learn how to win on something other than clay.

September 25: Palermo - Second Round
Oscar Hernandez def. Tomas Tenconi 7-6(7-3) 6-3
At the time, we said, "This week, the ATP seems to be making a deliberate effort to make this job hard. Result after result comes over the wire. Time after time, we say, 'That's no Match of the Day.' It's odd -- there were upsets at Shanghai, if none at Bangkok. But nothing was inspiring. Martin Verkerk was hurt. Nicolas Kiefer has just been too messed up. We already did Guillermo Canas this week. And so we'll just talk about Oscar Hernandez. He's looking like at least a medium-real deal. Hernandez started the year playing qualifying -- in Challengers. He had to qualify for the $25K+H event at Cagliari in January, then didn't play another Challenger until March, when he qualified for the $25K+H at Barletta -- where he beat #5 seed Irakli Labadze before losing to #4 Albert Portas in the quarterfinal. A few weeks later, he earned direct entry to and reached the quarterfinal of a $50K+H event at San Luis Potosi. In May, he won a $50K event in Birmingham, though the top player he beat (apart from Jerome Golmard, who was injured) was Alex Kim. After a couple of early losses, he made the final of the $50K+H event at Furth, Germany, with wins over Tomas Behrend and Labadze again. After some more low-level results, he won the $25K+H in Genoa at the start of September. And now he's starting to make a dent on the ATP. His first main draw came at Casablanca, though he lost first round. But he made the quarterfinal at Amersfoort. And now he's in another quarterfinal. His ranking has been climbing accordingly. He ended last year at #204, with no Race ranking. He hit the Top 100 just two weeks ago, making it to #97. He made it to #89 this week. And now he'll be gaining more. It remains to be seen how he will do away from clay. But he looks like he at least belongs in the 'promising' folder in the 'unknowns' drawer." A year later, he may be "promising," but he certainly isn't "arrived." After a year of playing mostly at the ATP level, he's still hovering around #100, with no really noteworthy results.

September 28: Bangkok - Final
Taylor Dent (8) def. Juan Carlos Ferrero (1) 6-3 7-6(7-5)
At the time, we said, "There is an old proverb, found in different forms in many cultures, saying something like, 'Do what you must. And no more.' That seemed to be Juan Carlos Ferrero's motto at Bangkok. The truly big match of the weekend was not the final but the semifinal, in which he beat Ivan Ljubicic 6-3 6-3. That match earned Ferrero enough points to clinch the #1 ranking. And, with Andy Roddick not playing next week, Ferrero will keep it for at least one week beyond this. Ferrero's semifinal win meant that the standings in the contest for #1 were:
1.(1) Ferrero.............4195
2.(2) Roddick.............4165
And so at least one bit of pressure came off Ferrero in the final. Both players said it was tougher than the score. (But then, it usually is, except when it's easier than the score.) Ferrero just didn't seem to be very intense; he'd played a lot of long matches to get this far, and seemed content to play for the tiebreaks. (In fact, he said as much afterward.) And it didn't work. And so Ferrero lost his third final in six tries this year. It's a pretty consistent record: He wins the clay finals (Monte Carlo, Valencia, Roland Garros) and loses the hardcourt finals (Sydney, U. S. Open, Bangkok). For Dent, it's his second title of the year, and third of his career; he's never lost a final. Impressively, Dent has now won on grass (Newport 2002), indoors (Memphis 2003), and hardcourt (Bangkok). Last year, Dent lost in the second round at Hong Kong, so this win is almost pure profit. He came in ranked #54. He'll rise about ten places." As it turns out, both of our finalists have been struggling a bit lately. For Dent, it's only surfaced in the last few weeks, but this will be costing him. For Ferrero, whose slump has been year-long, this means still more points off his record; it continues to look as if he'll end the year below #20.

bandabou
Sep 23rd, 2004, 02:18 PM
Eastbourne - Final
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) def. Daniela Hantuchova (WC) 2-6 7-6(7-2) 6-4

It was not a final for the faint of heart.

Or, rather, it was for the faint of heart, because Svetlana Kuznetsova admitted that she was having trouble, especially with her first serve, early on. Kuznetsova, after all, has been struggling in finals all year. She blew three of them (Doha, Dubai, Warsaw). But at least she was reaching finals; Daniela Hantuchova hadn't been near one in a year and a half.

That may have been decisive; Hantuchova served for the match in the second set, and couldn't pull it off. And Kuznetsova was finally getting her serve in order by then, and managed to rescue the match.

How tough was this for Kuznetsova? In the crazy footnotes department, she lost 48 games on her way to the title. Only one winner at a Tier II or higher event has lost more this year: Myskina lost 56 at Roland Garros -- but that was in seven matches; Kuznetsova played four. Kuznetsova's average of 12 games lost per match is 30% higher than the next-highest winner.

The irony is, this doesn't do her much good. Once again we have a Tier II winner who won without beating a Top Ten player (Kuznetsova's top opponent was Vera Zvonareva in the semifinal -- which resembled this match in that Zvonareva served for it and couldn't win it). The quality points stink. And that means that she will remain at her current #9, with Wimbledon quarterfinalist points to defend. But she's now a strong #9; suddenly the loss of those points doesn't look nearly as important.

For Hantuchova, of course, this is pure breakthrough. If Kuznetsova's quality points were poor, Hantuchova's were terrific: She beat a Top Five player (only the second time in her life she's done that), a Top 15 player, and two Top 35 players. She ended up earning 257 points -- only one point less than Kuznetsova earned, despite Kuznetsova's much bigger round points. She shoots up from #54 all the way to #38 -- and, for the first time in more than a year, she's looking like a real threat again.

bandabou
Sep 23rd, 2004, 03:58 PM
Women's Match of the Day

Roland Garros - Quarterfinal
Jennifer Capriati (7) def. Serena Williams (2) 6-3 2-6 6-3

And so the pattern continues: If Serena Williams wins a clay warmup, she wins Roland Garros. If she doesn't, she doesn't.

Of course, it's a rather limited set of data. There has only been one year, in her entire career, in which Serena won a clay title, and that was the year she won everything. But that was also the era when she seemed to have a stranglehold on Jennifer Capriati. That too has passed, as Capriati has beaten Serena in their last two meetings.

It was a story familiar to watchers of Williamses: Serena just made too many errors. Capriati, who clearly has been perked up by her recent coaching change, played much steadier tennis, not going for quite as much, and did a better-than-average job of caring for her serve (only four breaks in thirteen tries -- an amazing result on clay against Serena). She would manage only five breaks herself -- but they were enough.

The result is historic, because it means that Serena is out of the Top Ten for the first time since August 1999. (She has been at #10 a few times since then, but not below it.) Assuming she stays healthy, she will probably make it back this summer -- but likely not until the hardcourt season; she is, after all, Wimbledon champion. (Though, if she defends, we could see Svetlana Kuznetsova or someone fall out of the Top Ten at that time, since Kuznetsova has big Wimbledon points of her own.)

It's harder to say what this means for Capriati, both because she's still active and because she's in the midst of a big mass of players. So far, she still hasn't managed to move above her current #6. If she beats Myskina in the semifinal, she will move past Lindsay Davenport to #5 -- but that's a significant if. So we need to play at least one more round before we can forecast the final rankings in anything other than the extreme conditional.

bandabou
Sep 24th, 2004, 03:06 PM
Beijing: Do-Nothing Bunch
It's not often that you have a whole day's result which make absolutely no difference in the rankings -- but it can happen. Four matches produced zero upsets, little excitement, and no ranking movement at all. In our annual statistical summary, the whole day's action will produce exactly one line: The 6-3 6-4 loss by Shinobu Asagoe and Rika Fujiwara to Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Dinara Safina in the doubles quarterfinal. Also out are Anabel Medina Garrigues and Flavia Pennetta, who lost 6-2 6-2 to top seeds Nicole Pratt and Tamarine Tanasugarn.

The only singles match to be vaguely interesting was that between #2 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and qualifier Li Na; Kuznetsova eliminated the last Chinese player in the singles draw in a third set tiebreak. Otherwise, it was a case of seeds pounding qualifiers: #4 Vera Zvonareva eliminated Gagliardi 6-2 6-3, #5 Nadia Petrova disposed of Sanda Mamic 6-3 6-3, and #7 Jelena Jankovic had an unexpectedly easy time with Vera Douchevina 6-1 6-3.

Women's Match of the Day

Beijing - Second Round
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) def. Na Li (Q) 6-3 6-7(6-8) 7-6(7-3)

Could it be that her fourth straigth week of action (singles and doubles), and eleven straight singles wins, are finally getting to Svetlana Kuznetsova? Li Na is better than her ranking, but she shouldn't be threatening the world's #5 player! But Kuznetsova had match points in the second set, blew them, and then saw Li serve for the match at 5-4 in the third set. She survived, but barely.

That's 12 straight singles wins. You wonder how many more she can manage.

And it doesn't even do her much good, in the short term. She was #5 win or lose. Though, if she does well here, she will make #4 next week, and also take the #2 spot in the WTA Race. But only if she can raise her game enough to beat Gisela Dulko.

For Li, just getting this far is a triumph; it's her first WTA match in three years. But a lot of that is injury; she came in with only five events. #193 coming in, she should rise to not much below #150.

Men's Look Forward: Davis Cup
The United States went to a great deal of trouble to get the perfect surface for their Davis Cup tie with Belarus. The goal: To make it as slow as possible without shifting from hardcourt to, say, clay. With their lineup of hardcourt experts facing the fireballers of Belarus, lack of speed seemed to be key.

As things stand, the Americans might have gone for clay, just to avoid wear and tear. It appears that the real trick for the U. S. will be keeping everyone out of the hospital, not winning matches. Mike Bryan has hip problems. Mardy Fish was having trouble this spring, made the Olympic final, and then started struggling again. Andy Roddick and Bob Bryan are healthy as far as we know, but it's a thin lineup.

Of course, so is the team from Belarus, which consists of Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov and a lot of fervent prayers. (The third player is Alexander Skrypko, and he's actually scheduled to play the doubles with Mirnyi. We'll see.) And both Mirnyi and Voltchkov are struggling. Still, they've played their absolute best in Davis Cup this year, which is why they're here in the semifinal. If the surface in Charleston is faster than the Americans think, they might make a tie of it. At least, they might if one or two Americans really can't play.

The key match, insofar as there is one, is probably the second singles contest, Mirnyi versus Fish. If Belarus doesn't win that one, given how much Fish has been struggling lately, they probably might as well go home.

The other semifinal, Spain versus France, also has a certain hospital air about it. And surfaces again look to be big. Spain is hosting the tie, on clay in Alicante, and they have their big guns: Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moya, and Tommy Robredo, backed by Rafael Nadal. The flip side is, Ferrero is a wreck, and will have just flown in from Beijing; Moya is healthy, but he too is just in from China, where he lost even earlier (though that might say less about Moya than about his appearance fee).

On the other hand, France is operating well below efficiency. Their one solid clay player, Sebastien Grosjean, isn't available. That gives them the interesting lineup of Arnaud Clement, Michael Llodra, Paul-Henri Mathieu, and Fabrice Santoro. Clement clearly prefers faster surfaces; clay is his worst, and the French acknowledged it by not scheduling him to play singles or doubles. Mathieu has also showed a liking for faster courts, and his Davis Cup memories are terrible. Llodra has improved greatly this year, but historically he's the worst singles player on the team. Santoro has had his best results on modern surfaces, and he has been held off the team for the last several ties; this may not be the happiest bunch of guys. The one place the French have a clear advantage is in the doubles, where Llodra and Santoro, winners of the last two Australian Opens, face Robredo and Nadal. But Santoro also has to play singles, which obviously will cost him some energy. The edge is clearly with the Spaniards, though there are a lot of odd variables.

That same description applies to a lot of the playoff ties, as well. Germany, which faces the Slovak Republic on hardcourts in Bratislava, has been scratching off players at a depressing rate. They lost Nicolas Kiefer to an arm injury before the teams were even announced. Then Rainer Schuettler went down with a high fever. That left Tommy Haas and youngster Florian Mayer as singles players, Alexander Waske as an emergency fill-in, and a scramble for a doubles team (they ended up deciding to play Waske with Haas). The Slovaks aren't much stronger in doubles, but with Dominik Hrbaty, Karol Kucera, and Karol Beck, they're at least at full strength in singles. Though Kucera is slumping enough (he's out of the Top 100) that they decoded to play Beck and Hrbaty in both singles and doubles.

Australia had its problem of whether to include Mark Philippoussis on the team solved by an injury: Philippoussis is out. Not that it's going to matter, given that the Australians are hosting Morocco on grass, and Morocco's team is effectively non-existent. They knew from the start that they would be without Younes El Aynaoui, who is still hurting. Then came word that Hicham Arazi is holding out over money -- or, rather, advance payment. Whatever the details, he's out, leaving the Moroccans with a team of Mounir El Aarej, Mehdi Tahiri, Medhi Ziadi, and Talal Ouhabi (the first two being scheduled to play both singles and doubles). Australia, by contrast, will be highlighted by Lleyton Hewitt, who has the chance to set his country's all-time mark for Davis Cup wins. With Todd Woodbridge and Wayne Arthurs for doubles, and Arthurs and Todd Reid splitting the #2 singles (that's our guess, anyway; Arthurs is scheduled to play the first match Friday), Australia looks to be in very good shape.

Given that Chile is hosting Japan on clay at Vina del Mar, it seems unlikely that Japan could win even if Chile's top two, Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez, got hurt. The rest of their team is Adrian Garcia and Hermes Gamonal; Japan is represented by Takao Suzuki, Goichi Motomura, Takahiro Terachi, and Thomas Shimada. The only advantage Japan has is their numbers: Motomura and Suzuki are supposed to play singles, and the other two doubles, while Chile is going with Massu and Gonzalez all the way. It's hard to believe that the Japanese will benefit from the extra rest.

It appears that Croatia's strategy in hosting Belgium is simply to blast the Belgians off the court. They're missing one of their big bombers, since Ivo Karlovic isn't here, but they still have Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic, supported by Sasa Tuksar and Zeljko Krajan (neither of whom is scheduled to play), and they're playing on carpet in Rijeka. Though the Belgian team of Olivier Rochus, Kristof Vliegen, Gilles Elseneer, and Dick Norman rather likes fast courts also. Belgium's plan is to play Rochus and Elseneer in singles and Vliegen and Norman in doubles. Expect to see a lot of aces in that doubles match....

Paraguay, which hosts the Czech Republic on clay in Asuncion, was rather late in naming its team. It seems unlikely to matter, since the Czechs also like clay, and they have veteran Jiri Novak, fast-rising Tomas Berdych, and Radek Stepanek on their team. The one minor surprise is that they took Michal Tabara, rather than one of their myriad fine doubles players, as their fourth. Of course, they should win anyway; bringing Tabara along might help get him back into form. Novak and Berdych will be playing the singles, with Novak and Stepanek the doubles. Paraguay's team is headlined by Ramon Delgado, who has been almost invisible lately; he will play doubles with Francisco Rodriguez (not to be confused with Martin Rodriguez, who is a top doubles player but not Paraguayan), with Paulo Carvallo filling the other singles spot.

Clay looks to be the great equalizer when Austria hosts Great Britain in Portschach. Britain is at full strength, with Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, youngster Andrew Murray, and Alex Bogdanovic. Austria counters with Jurgen Melzer, Stefan Koubek, Alexander Peya, and Julian Knowle. That looks like one of the most competitive ties: Henman vs. Melzer could be close, but it's quite possible that Henman would win both his singles matches, and the Austrians the other two, which means it would come down to the doubles, where Henman and Rusedski face Melzer and Knowle. And Knowle is a pretty good doubles player, and Henman and Rusedski are rusty.

Romania, which hosts Canada on clay in Bucharest, received good news when it was reported that Andrei Pavel would be able to play for them. Without him, they don't have much -- Victor Hanescu, who might be a factor, plus Victor Ionita and Florian Mergea. But, of course, Canada isn't all that strong either: Daniel Nestor is the world's #1 doubles player, but he needs a partner, and Frank Dancevic, Simon Larose, and Frederic Niemeyer aren't strong in singles or doubles. If Pavel is healthy, he should win his two matches and Romania just needs one more win. We'll see if he's healthy. The announced lineup for Romania is Pavel and Hanescu in singles, Ionita and Mergea in doubles (they probably don't want Pavel playing all three days, or else he'd be in there); Canada will have Nestor and Niemeyer in doubles, Dancevic and Larose in singles.

Not even Romania is as dependent on one particular player as is Thailand, though, which will be playing Russia on indoor clay in Moscow. You just know that surface choice was made with Paradorn Srichaphan in mind, since he hates clay and he's the only Thai of significance (the rest of the team is Danai Udomchoke, Sonchat Ratiwatana, and Sanchai Ratiwatana). Russia answers with Marat Safin, Igor Andreev, Mikhail Youzhny, and Nikolay Davydenko. If we were the Russians, we might have tried to find someone with some doubles skills -- but it's not likely to matter. The current plan is for Safin and Andreev to play singles against Srichaphan and Udomchoke, with Safin and Youzhny facing the Ratiwatanas in doubles. Given the surface, a sweep looks possible.

The most interesting of the zonal ties are probably South Africa versus Greece and Italy versus Poland. In the former, played on hardcourt in Pretoria, Wayne Ferreira will be playing his last pro matches; the rest of the team is Wesley Moodie, Rik de Voest, and Jeff Coetzee. Against a Greek team of Konstantinos Economides, Vasilis Mazarakis, Solon Peppas, and Alexander Jakupovic, their odds look pretty good.

Italy has a clear edge in singles, with Filippo Volandri and Potito Starace opposed to probably Lukasz Kubot and Michal Przysiezny. But the Poles will have a big edge in doubles with Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski. Enough to change the outcome of the tie? Probably not -- but there are always injuries, these days.

The other tie worthy of interest is Israel versus Finland, played on an Israeli hardcourt. Finland has the best player in the tie in Jarkko Nieminen, but he has almost no support (the rest of the team is Tuomas Ketola, Juho Paukku, and Lassi Ketola). Israel has a big edge in the doubles with Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram (in fact, Finland seems to have conceded the doubles, since Nieminen isn't playing), and their singles players, Harel Levy and Noam Okun, are stronger than anyone Finland offers except Nieminen -- but they're off form. That one really ought to be settled 3-2. Who gets the three is less clear.

Lady
Sep 24th, 2004, 09:19 PM
Thanks, bandy!! :kiss:

bandabou
Sep 27th, 2004, 04:25 PM
Beijing: Spit Out Your Gum

You'd think they had been applying glue to the court in Beijing; it kept grabbing people's feet. The story of the day Friday was all the ankle injuries. Nadia Petrova might have given Serena Williams a run for her money, but she retired trailing 6-2 4-1 after hurting her left ankle. And Jelena Jankovic, whose right ankle was already bad, hurt it again and quit trailing Maria Sharapova 5-2.

Other than having to pick up all the bodies from the floor, it was an utterly routine day: All four top seeds made the semifinal. In addition to #1 Serena and #3 Sharapova, #4 Vera Zvonareva took out Anabel Medina Garrigues, the only unseeded quarterfinalist, 6-2 6-3. The only player to really have a match on her hands was #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and even she made it through 6-4 6-4 against Gisela Dulko to run her winning streak to 13.

Friday's doubles was mostly about Chinese teams. #2 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian advanced again, beating countrywomen Peng and Xie 6-3 6-2; Dulko and Maria Vento-Kabchi pulled off a paper upset as they beat #4 Yan and Zheng 6-2 7-5.

Saturday had a surprising resemblance to Friday: The top seeds won, they won easily, and they did nothing for their rankings. Serena Williams was just too strong for Vera Zvonareva, advancing 6-2 6-3. Svetlana Kuznetsova's match with Maria Sharapova was a good demonstration of why Sharapova's best results are all on grass. Sharapova can hit with Kuznetsova, but Kuznetsova is much steadier. On grass, where the points are short, Sharapova would win a lot of them on raw power. On this slower surface, more points will last long enough for Sharapova to hit a stupid error. She did so repeatedly, and Kuznetsova won her fourteenth straight match 6-2 6-2.

The doubles had more surprises. It was quite a day for Emmanuelle Gagliardi. She made her fourth doubles final of the year -- but her first at a Tier II -- as she and Dinara Safina upset Olympic champions Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian 4-6 6-1 6-0, ending the Chinese team's winning streak at seven. That put Gagliardi in the final against Gisela Dulko and Maria Vento-Kabchi, who posted their own upset 6-4 6-4 over top seeds Nicole Pratt and Tamarine Tanasugarn. But then the Swiss did something that, as best we can recall, no other active female player except Martina Navratilova has done: She won a mixed doubles title not at a Slam. (No, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario did not ever do it. Nor Rennae Stubbs. Our recollection is that Jana Novotna, who won the mixed at Miami 1987, was the last.)

Admittedly Beijing's mixed event isn't really a proper mixed tournament; the women were playing a Tour event, but the men were here to play a Challenger. Still, it's nice to see; once they get the Olympic facility built, they could probably host men's and women's events the same week, and then we could have a real mixed doubles tournament. Anyway, Gagliardi and Tripp Phillips, seeded #2, beat #3 seeds Justin Gimelstob and Jill Craybas (who had beaten Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Scott Humphries in a match tiebreak in the semifinal) 6-1 6-2.

On Sunday, Gagliardi topped it off with her biggest title ever. For Safina, it was even more of a milestone: She picked up her first-ever doubles title. Gagliardi and Safina beat Dulko and Vento-Kabchi 6-4 6-4. That moves Gagliardi to the verge of the Top 20; Safina will move to around #40.

Serena Williams had even more reason to celebrate. It's been nearly six months since her last title, but she beat Kuznetsova 4-6 7-5 6-4 to end the Russian's 14-match winning streak.

Not a bad way to turn 23 (Sunday was her birthday).

In terms of the record books, 2004 just keeps getting crazier. We have now played twelve Tier II events this year, and Serena is our eighth distinct winner (The full list: Bovina, Clijsters, Davenport, Henin-Hardenne, Kuznetsova, Myskina, Serena Williams, Venus Williams. It's also interesting to note that those eight winners come from only three different countries, and every country with one winner has at least two.)

Keeping track of winning streaks this year is getting extraordinarily complicated; we show nine streaks of ten or more matches this year, and four of them have footnotes (because they started in 2003, or were interrupted by a non-WTA match, or something). But Kuznetsova's fourteen straight wins ties her with Maria Sharapova for what is at least the sixth-best win streak this year, and arguably the third best (the two that are unquestionably better are Lindsay Davenport's 22 match string from Stanford to the U. S. Open and Justine Henin-Hardenne's 16 matches from Sydney to Doha).

Beijing has the curious distinction that seven of eight seeds held seed -- the highest rate at any WTA event this year. Only three other events (Sydney, Memphis, Warsaw) have seen as many as three seeds in four hold seed.

Davis Cup: Lazy Like a Fox

The Spanish knew they would be playing on clay. They knew they would be facing guys not known for producing short points. They were playing best-of-five matches. An early start seemed indicated. Right?

Not necessarily. After all, Fabrice Santoro was playing the second match, and he was also playing the doubles. And he's a lot older than Juan Carlos Ferrero. Tire him out, and good things might happen.

That probably wasn't the plan, but it was how things worked out. The contest between Ferrero and Santoro ended up being suspended in the fourth set.

Though much of that must be placed at the feet of Paul-Henri Mathieu -- and that's a good thing. You have to pity Mathieu: His last Davis Cup match was two years as an emergency fill-in in the decider against Russia, and he lost. And here he was, all lined up to be the goat again.

A repeat was the last thing he wanted. After going down two sets to one against Carlos Moya, he managed a break in game six of the fourth. Only to find himself down 2-0 in the fifth set. The third game was long, but Mathieu finally broke back, and broke again in game seven, and finally worked his way through to a 6-3 3-6 6-2 3-6 6-3 point.

Which of course brought out Ferrero and Santoro. And Ferrero had one of those matches he's produced far too many of lately. He broke five times in the first two sets, only to see Santoro start working his magic in the third. Ferrero then put up a 2-0 lead in the fourth -- and lost the next three games, at which point the match was suspended by darkness, with Ferrero leading 6-3 6-2 1-6 3-3.

These are the sorts of times that give Davis Cup captains ulcers. There were three possible outcomes at that point: Ferrero could win in four, Ferrero could win in five, or Santoro could win in five. If the first, then Guy Forget didn't face too much of a decision: Santoro could presumably play the doubles. But suppose the match went five. Forget had talked about substituting Arnaud Clement for Santoro in the doubles. But while Llodra/Santoro would be clear doubles favorites, Clement/Llodra would not be nearly as strong. If France were up 2-0, should he play Santoro in doubles and go for the quick win, hang the consequences on Sunday? But if it were 1-1, could he not play Santoro and risk going down 1-2 going into Sunday?

Ouch.

As it turned out, the resumption of the singles went very quickly: Ferrero took all three games in Saturday's resumption; the final score was 6-3 6-1 1-6 6-3, and the two teams were even. But Forget didn't take advantage. He plugged in Clement for Santoro, and it cost him what had looked like his one easy win. Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo gave the Spaniards a rare doubles success as they beat Llodra and Clement 7-6(7-4) 4-6 6-2 2-6 6-3. It wasn't the end -- but it certainly didn't look good, either.

And Forget's problems were apparently just getting started, because Santoro didn't come out to play the reverse singles. Indeed, the fourth match, which was live, had almost the look of playing out the dead rubber. Carlos Moya was hurting, so Nadal took on clay-hating Clement, and won the tie 6-4 6-1 6-2. Tommy Robredo then closed things out with a 6-4 6-4 win over Mathieu.

If the Spain/France semifinal started with high drama, the tie between the United States and Belarus yielded little in the way of surprises except a stunning moment in which the commentators actually admitted that one of their pet technologies might be wrong. Andy Roddick, who seems to set a new record for service speeds every time he gets near the Getronics radar gun used (only) in Davis Cup, gave another demonstration of how fast that gun reads as he fired an alleged "155 mile per hour" serve. (Note: It's perfectly possible that Roddick really did fire such a fast serve; the Getronics gadget may be, as its vendors claim, more accurate than competing radar guns. The point is simply that it doesn't read the same as competing radar guns. A record on a Getronics gun is simply not comparable to one set on the slower radars.) However fast it was, it was too fast for Vladimir Voltchkov -- who also managed to light up the gun with an alleged 135+ serve. Belarus's #2 was completely overwhelmed in the first set, and though he managed to play a bit better in the second and third, he never managed to catch up with Roddick, who earned the first point for the Americans 6-1 6-4 6-4.

The second match at least started out close, as Max Mirnyi and Mardy Fish fought each other close for ten games. Neither had so much as faced a break point until Fish had his chance in Mirnyi's sixth service game. But he took it, and then rolled in the second. A brief stumble in the third set wasn't enough to avoid a 7-5 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory for Fish and a 2-0 American lead.

That caused Belarus to shuffle and stick Voltchkov in the doubles with Mirnyi; after all, they had to win. But while Voltchkov is at least a touring player, and Belarus has no one else meeting that description, he isn't much of a doubles performer. The Bryan Twins clinched for the Americans 6-1 6-3 7-5.

The only interesting thing about Sunday was the question, "Might the Bryans play singles?" They didn't; Roddick and Fish both wanted to play. Roddick beat Alexander Skrypko 6-4 6-2, and they gave up the match between Fish and Andrei Karatchenia with Fish leading 3-0; Hurricane Jeanne was knocking at the door, and there was little reason to think the rain would stop any time soon.

The bad news for the Americans, who are in their first Cup final since 1997, is that they will have to face Spain on clay in Spain.

The playoffs produced a surprising number of very quick ties. At least, they were surprising until you looked at the lineups involved. Topping the list, of course, was Australia, which was playing on grass against a Moroccan team without Younes El Aynaoui or Hicham Arazi. The Australians won the first three matches without loss of a set, and though Mounir El Aarej managed to beat substitute Todd Reid 6-2 6-3 in the Australian's Davis Cup debut, Australia polished off a 4-1 win when Todd Woodbridge played what will likely be his last-ever singles match to beat Mehdi Ziado 6-0 6-2. (We won't guarantee that it's his last, of course; this is the second time since he retired from singles that Australia has allowed him to play out a dead rubber on grass.)

Also winning 4-1 was Romania, which won all four singles matches against Canada though they lost the doubles. The big news, arguably, was that Andrei Pavel was healthy enough to play both singles matches, and didn't lose a set.

The biggest blowout of all, though, came as Russia flattened Thailand 5-0. That one, really, was settled in the first match, when Igor Andreev took out Paradorn Srichaphan in straight sets. The Thais didn't even try for a consolation point; once Russia took the doubles, they let Srichaphan off (presumably to help him prepare for Bangkok), which allowed the Russians to sweep the tie.

Chile also finished 5-0 over Japan; the Chileans didn't even lose a set until the tie was settled. After Nicolas Massu and Gonzalez won the first two singles and the doubles, the home team brought in Hermes Gamonal, and he lost a set against Takao Suzuki, but that was that.

The other tie staged in Latin America didn't go so well for the hosts; Paraguay had Ramon Delgado, but the Czechs had Jiri Novak and Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek. After Novak beat one of Paraguay's non-Delgado semi-live-bodies, Berdych beat Delgado in five, and from then on, it was a matter of steamrolling to a 5-0 win.

The final score of Croatia versus Belgium was 3-2 for Croatia, but it wasn't close; both the Belgian wins came after the tie was settled. Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic won their singles matches in straight sets, and then took the doubles in five, and then the substitutions started. Even so, it might have been 4-1 had not Ancic retired from the final match with a back problem.

Austria's contest with Great Britain ended up being played over only two days; rain ruined Friday's action. That may have been important, too, since it increased the burden on Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who aren't exactly spring chickens. Stefan Koubek beat Henman, but Rusedski equalized things with a win over Jurgen Melzer. Austria then brought out a rested doubles team of Knowle and Peya. The doubles was suspended after three sets, but the Austrians won the fourth and final set on Sunday. Henman managed to keep the tie alive with a win over Melzer, but Koubek beat Rusedski to let Austria advance.

The contest between the Slovaks and Germany was even more dramatic. Dominik Hrbaty had no trouble with Florian Mayer in the first match, but Tommy Haas evened things for Germany in the second with a four set win over Karol Beck. It's noteworthy that that was the end of Beck's weekend, even though he was originally scheduled to play the maximum of three matches. Karol Kucera substituted for him in both singles and doubles -- and it worked. The Slovaks lost the doubles in five sets to Haas and Alexander Waske, but Hrbaty evened things with a straight-sets victory over Haas, and then Kucera -- who hadn't been scheduled to play at all -- turned Mayer into the goat with a 6-4 6-0 6-2 decisive win.

A very strange thing happened in the Europe/Africa zonal between Israel and Finland, though: Jarkko Nieminen was anything but Finland's hero. The Finns got off to a nice start when Tuomas Ketola stunned Harel Levy 6-4 6-4 6-3. That looked like it should have been decisive; Nieminen, after all, was still to play. But then Noam Okun took out the only player in the tie who regularly plays at the ATP level, beating Nieminen 6-4 7-5 6-4. And Israel took a 2-1 lead on Saturday when Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram blew out Lassi and Tuomas Ketola 6-1 6-1 6-1. The Israelis then withheld Levy, and Nieminen managed to beat Andy Ram in four sets, so it all came down to Okun against Tuomas Ketola. That went quickly: Okun won the match, and the tie, 6-2 6-2 6-2.

Wayne Ferreira ends his career on an up note. He opened South Africa's tie with Greece by beating Vasilis Mazarakis 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-2. And that was to be the last meaningful match of his career, because Wesley Moodie followed it up with a 6-3 6-2 7-6 win over Konstantinos Economidis. And on Saturday, Jeff Coetzee and Rik De Voest clinched with a 7-6 6-1 6-2 win over Economidis and Alexander Jakupovic. Ferreira then lost his last match to Economidis 6-3 1-6 6-4, but Moodie polished off the tie with a 6-3 6-4 win over Jakupovic, giving South Africa a 4-1 win.

In other zonals, Peru beat Brazil (which of course was playing without the injured Gustavo Kuerten) 4-1; the tie between Pakistan and New Zealand had to be put off for a day due to darkness with the teams tied at 2-2; Italy edged Poland 3-2; China beat South Korea by the same score; and Serbia and Montenegro took out Hungary 3-0, with the last two matches not played. The tie between Mexico and the Dominican Republic was on hold as of press time.

Women's Match of the Day

Beijing - Final
Serena Williams (1) def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) 4-6 7-5 6-4

There was a certain symmetry to it all: This spring, at her first event under an injury ranking, Serena Williams won Miami. Since then -- nothing. Now, at her last event under an injury ranking, she finally has another title.

It wasn't easy. Had Kuznetsova not been so tired -- this was her fifteenth match in the last four weeks, plus a lot of doubles -- it might well have turned out differently. Kuznetsova had match points in the second at 5-4, but couldn't convert, and Serena took the second chance and ran, rattling off seven straight games as Kuznetsova just couldn't get any energy into her serve. The Russian did get a bit of a second wind after that, but it was far too late.

Ironically, Serena has very little else to show for the win other than the title. Maria Sharapova had another disappointing event, but she earned enough points to stay ahead of Serena, meaning that Serena, who came in at #10, stays at #10. And Kuznetsova stays at #5. The week might almost not have happened.

It's a measure of how tough this year has been for Serena that this was only her second Top Five win of the year -- and the other was over an injured Amelie Mauresmo at Wimbledon in a match she was losing at the time Mauresmo's back flared up (though, to be fair to Serena if not to Mauresmo, the Frenchwoman might well have clutched up mentally if she hadn't clutched up physically).

Serena's win does make things very interesting in the WTA Race. Kuznetsova, because she lost, remains barely behind #2 Amelie Mauresmo, and more than 600 points behind #1 Lindsay Davenport. Still, Davenport, Mauresmo, Kuznetsova, and Anastasia Myskina are sure to be going to Los Angeles (and Kuznetsova still has a real chance to end the year at #2, and a theoretical chance even for #1). In practice, Justine Henin-Hardenne is also in, and probably Elena Dementieva as well. The last two spots, though, are tricky. According to our calculations, the win moves Serena up to #7 in the Race. (We have to be cautious about this, because the WTA's totals for the Race do not match the week-by-week rankings figures they have published. It appears that they have retroactively changed the rankings totals of five different players; this affects this historical rankings; it appears that in at least one case a player lost a match she should not have been required to play. We hope to have a fuller story on this later this week once we have tracked down all the implications.) By our numbers, Jennifer Capriati is #8, Maria Sharapova #9, and Venus Williams #10. The WTA can wildcard one player into the Championships. Sharapova is the only Slam winner who isn't sure to qualify, and the WTA, as is its wont, has been giving her a disgusting and excessive amount of publicity. But would they boot Capriati to put her in? Or Serena? And where does Venus fit in? One suspects they did not anticipate this when they cut the Championships field down to eight....

Men's Match of the Day

Davis Cup -- Austria hosts Great Britain
Stefan Koubek def. Greg Rusedski 7-6(7-2) 6-4 7-5

The difference between the good players and the great is that the great can pull off the second miracle.

Rusedski had managed his first miracle of the Davis Cup tie when he beat Jurgen Melzer, Austria's top player, in the opening singles round. That was on Saturday, with Britain down 1-0 after Stefan Koubek disassembled Tim Henman and with Austria having the advantage, in a two day tie (all action on Friday had been washed out by rain), that they actually had two players for singles and two players for doubles. Rusedski had beaten Austria's best player, Jurgen Melzer, to put Britain even. They lost the doubles, it's true, but Henman had overcome his problems enough to beat Melzer and level the tie, and so Rusedski had the chance to be the hero.

Problem is, this is clay. The only surface where Rusedski has never won a title; he has only one clay final, and that long ago. He has a winning record at every Slam -- except Roland Garros. He's never been past the Round of Sixteen at a clay Masters, and has won less than a quarter of his matches, even though he is distinctly over .500 at the others (well, excluding the Canadian Open). On this surface, after two best-of-five matches, there just wasn't enough left.

And so it's Koubek, not Rusedski, who gets to be the hero, having won both his matches, including the decider.

That has to feel really, really good. Koubek has been facing a lot of disappointments lately, and Austria has been looking mostly to Melzer for its triumphs. Given that the clay season is over, that's probably a smart choice; we aren't likely to hear much more from Koubek this year. But this triumph was his.

Women's Look Forward: Hasselt, Guangzhou, Seoul

This was supposed to be the week of Leipzig. It was on the WTA's initial calendar; we have the printout to prove it. But German tennis is evaporating faster than Venus Williams's aura of invincibility; from six women's events as recently as 2000 (Hannover, Hamburg, Berlin, Filderstadt, Leipzig, Munich), they're now down to two (Berlin and Filderstadt), and the former is downsizing.

And Leipzig was a Tier II. The WTA is used to losing smaller events. It does not like losing those key tournaments. There wasn't any chance to replace it this year -- but at least the WTA managed to come up with a bunch of small tournaments to fill the spot: We have three new events this week, which between them manage to offer about three-fourths the money Leipzig would have offered, though of course it's spread out over three times as many players.

By the looks of things, most of the players who would have played Leipzig have instead gone to Hasselt if they're playing at all. You don't often see a Tier III tournament with two Top Ten players, but this one has them: Elena Dementieva, who has two Slam finals this year, took the top seed. But the real news is the #2: Kim Clijsters is finally back. She's been out of her cast for weeks, but only recently been hitting at full strength; it still hurts somewhat (which is reportedly normal). But she's here.

We have three other Top 20 seeds, and one who just missed: Elena Bovina, who earned her second career title on an indoor court, is #3; big-hitting Karolina Sprem is #4, and Francesca Schiavone is #5. Silvia Farina Elia is #6, and indoor-loving Magdalena Maleeva is #7. Nathalie Dechy was supposed to be #8, but she's hurting again; Jelena Kostanic has been promoted to the #9 seed. Below that -- well, it is a Tier III, after all; the only unseeded player we'd call even mildly noteworthy is Emilie Loit. But at least the other competitors are respectable; every player with direct entry (except Kirsten Flipkens, who appears to be a play-up) is ranked in the Top 100. Wildcards went to Els Callens and Caroline Maes. The qualifying does have one surprising name: Marie-Gayanay Mikaelian, who is now ranked well below #150, is trying to start a comeback here, and did make it through her qualifying opener.

The strength of Hasselt didn't hurt GuangZhou too much, though it's lacking in stars. The qualifying draw is nothing to write home about (and more than a little confusing, with two players named Li, a Lee, two Lius, and a Lu, as well as a Yu and a Wu and a Hu and a He and a Xie -- oh, all right, we aren't trying to be racist, but it does sound like someone grunting his way through a fitness drill with a musical accompaniment on the jaw harp), but at least it features an almost-full field (29 of 32 slots in qualifying filled), though they had to hand out 17 wildcards to fill it. Still, the top qualifying seed was supposed to be Jennifer Hopkins, #117 last week, though she ended up promoted into the main draw; that's not bad for a Tier III. And if the main draw is lacking in Top 30 players -- the top seed is Gisela Dulko -- it's very deep below that: Dulko was #34 last week, but the #8 seed, Klara Koukalova, was #51. That's one of the smallest gaps between top and bottom seeds we've seen at am eventthis size. The #2 seed, assuming her ankle holds up, is Jelena Jankovic (who will doubtless appreciate her first round bye); Flavia Pennetta is #3, Marion Bartoli is #4, Maria Vento-Kabchi #5, Kristina Brandi #6, Nicole Pratt #7, and Klara Koukalova #8. It's a very hard-working bunch; expect 100% effort.

There are some interesting unseeded players, too: Dinara Safina is probably the best of them, though Zheng Jie and Tatiana Panova are more typical of the field: Very hard workers without much in the way of weapons. Other than Safina, Vera Douchevina is probably the best prospect, though the Chinese probably have high hopes for Peng Shuai, who earned her first few WTA wins earlier this summer.

It's interesting to note that the doubles field here is vastly stronger than Hasselt, with Nicole Pratt and Tamarine Tanasugarn seeded #1; Olympic champions Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian #2; another Chinese team, Yan and Zheng, #3; and Dulko and Vento-Kabchi #4. Every one of those teams has a combined ranking in the Top 100; Jelena Kostanic and Claudine Schaul, the top seeds at Hasselt, had a combined ranking of #108 last week.

That leaves Seoul, which as a Tier IV could be expected to be the weakest event this week. Interestingly, it was more popular than GuangZhou; the entire qualifying field was full, and they even had an alternate available; the number of wildcards was not excessive. Though very few players in the qualifying field were familiar; we recognized less than a third of the names as having ever played a WTA main draw match, and that often long ago (e.g. #2 qualifying seed Sunitha Rao hadn't made a main draw since Bahia 2002).

The main draw is just plain strange. We have one Top Ten player, Maria Sharapova. And then -- well, then nothing. The #2 seed is Shinobu Asagoe, who isn't even Top 40, and #3 seed Marlene Weingartner is the only other Top 50 players. Mashona Washington is #4 (a nice reward for the amazing summer she had), Katarina Srebotnik #5, Lubomira Kurhajcova #6, Saori Obata #7, and Samantha Stosur #8. It's a field in which Sharapova, who of course has been struggling all summer, really ought to win. Which is fortunate for her, since she has points to defend from the Japan Open.

There are a couple of unseeded players who might be threats, since they've been injured: Anne Kremer and Yoon Jeong Cho. Milagros Sequera also seems to be turning into a bit of an upset artist.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

There really isn't much at Hasselt. If we were going to pick one match to watch for stylistic and competitive reasons, it would probably be Emilie Loit versus Tathiana Garbin; they are likely to throw all sorts of stuff at each other, and it could go either way. No guarantee that it will be close, though, as both players have good days and bad.

At GuangZhou, the match to turn out for is probably Zheng Jie vs. #5 Maria Vento-Kabchi. They're both slumping a little, but they are both very hard workers. Also of some note is Jill Craybas vs. Tamarine Tanasugarn; Craybas is another one of those players who gets the most out of very few tools, while Tanasugarn is slumping.

At Seoul, the best match is at the very top: #1 seed Maria Sharapova against Emmanuelle Gagliardi. Gagliardi has fallen out of the Top 100, but she's been doing very well in doubles lately, and seems to be getting her game together. And Sharapova is perpetually erratic, while Gagliardi is good at staying out there until her opponent self-destructs. Two other noteworthy matches pit seeds against players who are ranked unnaturally low because of injury. #6 seed Lubomira Kurhajcova will face Anne Kremer. But the one the crowd will really turn out for is Yoon Jeong Cho -- who last year looked like she had the potential to be Korea's best-ever player -- against #8 seed Samantha Stosur.

The Rankings

Just about every week this fall is a little strange, due to calendar shift. But this week is stranger than usual. If one Tier II comes off, and a different Tier II replaces it, the total points "in the system" stay constant. But this week, what comes off is Moscow, and we have nothing stronger than a Tier III to replace it. And that means that players who did well at Moscow will take big hits.

Especially since so many of them aren't playing this week. Last year's Moscow winner was Anastasia Myskina. The finalist was Amelie Mauresmo. Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi had her best-ever indoor result in reaching the semifinal, and may fall out of the Top 30 when those points come off; Elena Dementieva was the other semifinalist. The week's other event was the Japan Open, won by Maria Sharapova over Aniko Kapros. That's a Tier III, but it's big points for Kapros, who is a wreck right now.

But the big moves are likely to be at the top. Mauresmo will remain #1, but of course she will lose a big chunk of her lead over Lindsay Davenport. Justine Henin-Hardenne is safe at #3. But #4 Anastasia Myskina sees 379 points come off. She gets 40 back from her eighteenth event. That's still a loss of 339 points. Because Svetlana Kuznetsova lost at Beijing, it appears she will stay at #4 -- but that likely won't last much longer.

Sharapova's failure to play a Tier III this week will certainly cost her the #8 ranking; even if she wins at Seoul, she's going to fall to #10. That means that Jennifer Capriati will move back up to #8, and Serena Williams to #9. The other Top Ten players in action this week, Dementieva and Clijsters, will not move.

Key Matches

The top match on this list surely comes at Hasselt, in the second round, where Kim Clijsters faces Iveta Benesova or a qualifier. It's a great situation for Clijsters to come back -- she isn't defending anything, she's near home, she's playing on her favorite indoor surface. Still, she hasn't played since Berlin, and has only two matches since Antwerp. It won't be an easy match.

Clijsters also faces a tough quarterfinal against Magdalena Maleeva. They're the two best indoor players in the draw; that should be quite a contest. And if Maleeva wins it, she's just about sure to return to the Top Twenty.

Also of note at Hasselt is the quarterfinal between Karolina Sprem and Jelena Kostanic, the top two from Croatia. Sprem still seems to have more trouble on modern surfaces than traditional, and Kostanic won their last meeting. Do it again, and she has a shot at the Top Thirty.

At GuangZhou, Dinara Safina finds herself (for the second straight week) facing the top seed in the second round. If she can beat Gisela Dulko, she'll be getting close to the Top 50. But Dulko has a chance for the Top 30 at this event. The other interesting second round contest will be between Vera Douchevina, the field's top prospect, and #2 seed Jelena Jankovic, who is hobbling.

At Seoul, most of the big matches seem to be in the first round. Particularly since the draw is rather bottom-heavy, meaning that Sharapova has an even easier path to the final than the draw might imply.

Men's Look Forward: Bangkok, Palermo, Shanghai
This is it for the easy part.

That statement requires some explanation. The ATP has required events and optional events. The optional events break up into two classes themselves: The 400K events (the minimum required to be an ATP event as opposed to a Challenger) and larger events. Almost exactly half of the fifty-odd optional events are in this lowest category. But this is it. All three events this week are at the bottom of the scale -- but this week marks the end. After this, all the events, with a single exception, stand much higher on the ATP ladder. At least in terms of points and prize money.

That, combined with the fact that there are three events this week, and two of them in the far east (meaning that there is only a three week far east circuit, with Davis Cup in the middle, rather than a four week circuit, as was possible) tends to produce rather weak events. At least below the top few seeds.

Take Bangkok. It features the week's biggest prize money (the only event with more than the bare minimum), and the organizers clearly decided to get the best top two seeds money could buy: Roger Federer is #1, and Andy Roddick #2, even though Roddick is just in from Davis Cup and has been suffering from a cold. But they didn't want too many other high-ranked players, or it would hurt Paradorn Srichaphan. So Marat Safin is the #3 seed, Srichaphan #4, and things fade rather quickly after that. Last year's champion Taylor Dent is the #5 seed, Feliciano Lopez #6, Igor Andreev #7, and Robin Soderling #8. We do have one big unseeded name in Thomas Johansson, but the rest of the players are, for the most part, not even Top 100.

Palermo has a different incentive for the players: The lure of clay. It's the last event of the season on dirt. You can guess the sort of field it has. It's not a strong event by any stretch; with Carlos Moya hurting after Davis Cup, the only Top 20 player in the field is defending champion and #1 seed Nicolas Massu. But it's deep -- unlike Bangkok, where the unseeded players are no real threat, there are lots of good solid floaters here, such as David Sanchez and Jose Acasuso, as well as fast-improving players such as Juan Monaco and Potito Starace.

The #2 seed is himself a rising star: Florian Mayer will be coming here from Davis Cup, though that's hardly encouraging in his case, since he lost the tie almost single-handedly. He is far from the only one just in from Davis Cup, most of the seeds were playing for their countries last week. Though #3 seed Fernando Verdasco is an exception; Spain had lots of other alternatives available. But #4 Nikolay Davydenko and #5 Filippo Volandri and #6 Rafael Nadal all represented their nations. #7 David Ferrer is another guy not needed by Spain, but #8 Thomas Berdych of course played for the Czechs. Indeed, if there is any problem with this draw, it's jet lag. Berdych and Massu will both by flying a long way in the bad direction; Davydenko too will be earning some frequent flyer points though he's going in the right direction.

Jet lag may also play some role at Shanghai, where Juan Carlos Ferrero will be the #1 seed. Jiri Novak, too, is coming a long way to be the #2 seed. And, once again, it appears to be a case of "find one or two seeds, and ignore the rest." Guillermo Canas is the #3 seed, and the only other Top 50 player in the field. Defending champion Mark Philippoussis, who reportedly was too injured to play Davis Cup, is #4, Hyung-Taik Lee is #5, Jarkko Nieminen will make another long flight to be #6, Ricardo Mello takes advantage of his new Top 100 status to earn the #7 seed, Jan-Michael Gambill is #8, and that's about it for Top 100 players.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

At Bangkok, there is one clear and obvious standout match: (6) Feliciano Lopez vs. Thomas Johansson.

Palermo has a lot more to choose from, including a real threat to the defending champion: Massu, jet lag and all, will have to open against David Sanchez, who has had his best success at clay events on about this scale. We'll also see an all-Spanish battle between David Ferrer and Alberto Martin, both known mostly for their speed; that is likely to be exhausting. The best battle of prospects is probably that between Richard Gasquet and Potito Starace.

At Shanghai, there aren't many first round matches involving players you hear much about. Probably the best-known pair to face off in the opener are Hyung-Taik Lee and Wayne Arthurs. Though the most interesting might be a contest between two namesakes: #3 seed Guillermo Canas will face a younger Guillermo, Spain's Garcia-Lopez. Garcia-Lopez has shown distinct potential this year, though hardcourt may prove a bit of a test. As for Canas, he is the only top player to come here fit and rested, and he's had time to adjust to the surface. Can he use this chance to build up a head of steam?

The Rankings

As is usual this fall, we have events coming off before the 2004 version comes on. This week's "next off" tournaments are Tokyo, won by Rainer Schuettler over Sebastien Grosjean; Metz, won by Arnaud Clement over Fernando Gonzalez; and Moscow, won by Taylor Dent over Sargis Sargsian. Of all those players, only Dent is active, and even he is playing at a smaller event. For Schuettler, that means another swift kick in the ranking; he's going to fall out of the Top 15 (meaning that Andrei Pavel should hit another career high). Dent is sure to fall out of the Top 30, spelling opportunity for Guillermo Canas and Feliciano Lopez. Grosjean had to miss Davis Cup with injury, and of course isn't playing this week; that loss of points means that Juan Carlos Ferrero has a real chance to move back up to #11. Gonzalez won't be affected as much, but Clement and Sargsian, who are well below #50, will be hit hard.

We of course won't be seeing any change at the top; Roger Federer is #1 from now until at least the Australian Open. The only other Top players in action are Marat Safin and Nicolas Massu, and Safin can't gain enough on Gaston Gaudio to move up. Massu has chances, but of course he's tired. The one other player with the chance to do something big is Canas, who could hit the Top 25 with a title.

Though we're getting to the time of the year when the Race actually means something, and is arguably more important than the rankings. Ironically, few players are in action who have much on the line. Roger Federer has clinched the year-end #1. Andy Roddick can pick up a little ground on Lleyton Hewitt, but not much; the points aren't there. The player with the best chance of accomplishing something is Marat Safin, currently #8; he can pad his lead over Andre Agassi and maybe even threaten #7 Gaston Gaudio. But, with Guillermo Coria out for the year, both #8 and #9 should make the Masters Cup. The week is perhaps most important for Nicolas Massu, who is still only #17 in the Race. His chances or making the Top Ten this year aren't very good, but he can return to the Top 15 at least, which would help a lot next year.

Key Matches

It doesn't matter much, really, but there is a potentially interesting quarterfinal at Bangkok, when Roger Federer could face Marc Rosset. Federer looks up to Rosset (and we aren't talking about their heights), and of course there is their Davis Cup relationship. It's been a while since they've been in the same main draw; Rosset is playing mostly Challengers and qualifying these days.

We could also see a quarterfinal between Davis Cup teammates Marat Safin and Igor Andreev. And if Safin wins that, he faces Andy Roddick....

Then there is the quarterfinal between Paradorn Srichaphan and Taylor Dent. Dent is the defending champion, but Srichaphan is Thailand's hero. Both have easy draws to that point.

We already mentioned the Massu vs. Sanchez first rounder at Palermo. Life won't get much easier for Massu after that; in the second round, he could face Starace, who is Italian. And then, in the quarterfinal, he could face Volandri, who is Italy's top player (though he just lost an embarrassing match to Lukasz Kubot in Davis Cup).

Speaking of rising young players, we could also see Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal face off in the semifinal in a contest to see who is the hottest young Spaniard.

Rounding out the hot prospects are Florian Mayer and Tomas Berdych, who also face each other in the quarterfinal. Mayer is seeded higher, but a lot of his results are on fast surfaces; Berdych may be fonder of clay. And Berdych did well in Davis Cup, while Mayer will be having nightmares about his performance.

Shanghai also seems to be saving the best for the quarterfinal. We'd most like to see #7 seed Ricardo Mello, who is on fire these days, against #3 Guillermo Canas.

bandabou
Sep 28th, 2004, 02:40 PM
Hasselt: Lucky Seven
Apparently you had to be one of the top seven seeds to survive at Hasselt. First #8 Nathalie Dechy withdrew. Jelena Kostanic took the #9 seed as a result -- and is out 3-6 7-6 6-4 to Virginia Ruano Pascual.

No such troubles for the top player in action on this day; #3 seed Elena Bovina, who has over 100 points to defend and ran a faint risk of falling out of the Top 20, took the first step toward defending as she beat wildcard Caroline Maes 6-1 6-1.

Only one other main draw match was played, with surfaces proving more important than rankings: Denisa Chladkova, who is happy indoors, upset Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-1 6-4 -- a loss which will probably cost Parra Santonja her Top 60 ranking.

This draw is strong enough that qualifiers aren't really likely to do much damage. But several of them will be thrilled just to made a main draw. The four who made it through are Lindsay Lee-Waters, Eva Birnerova, Angelika Bachmann, and Vanessa Henke. In addition, Emilie Loit and Anca Barna have withdrawn, so Capucine Rousseau and Michaela Pastikova make the main draw as Lucky Losers.

GuangZhou: Split Decision
You almost wonder if the players weren't afraid of SARS, or avian flu, or something. Why else would it be so hard to lure players here, when there were players lined up three deep to get into Seoul?

That was good news for the qualifying seeds, though; six of eight made the qualifying final. Which is good news for the hosts, too, since two of the four qualifiers are Chinese. Li Na, who has been very impressive in China this year (winning the Beijing Challenger, and qualifying for the Beijing Tier II, where she made the second round before losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova), made her second main draw in as many weeks with a 6-2 6-1 win over #2 qualifying seed Aiko Nakamura. And #4 seed Liu Nan-Nan, who lost to Li in the semifinal at Beijing earlier this year but did manage to qualify for the U. S. Open, made only her second main draw since Shanghai 2002 as she beat Zhang Yao 6-2 6-0. Also qualifying are Natalie Grandin, who will be playing only her second WTA main draw since 2001, and Nina Bratchikova, who will be playing her first WTA main draw.

Three first round matches were played, with interesting results for Olympic doubles champions Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian. Wildcard Li, the lower-ranked of the pair, had an easy time with slumping Aniko Kapros, winning 6-1 6-2 (a big blow for Kapros, last year's Japan Open finalist; it appears she'll end up below #90), but Li's partner Sun, who at least attempts to play singles most weeks (this was her ninth main draw of the year) and who earned direct entry, went out by the improbable score of 0-6 7-6 6-1 to #8 seed Klara Koukalova. Also advancing was Barbora Strycova, who snapped a four match losing streak with a 6-2 6-1 win over Sandra Kleinova.

Seoul: Memory Aids

If you were worried about remembering the names of all those Koreans who were stuffing the Seoul draw -- forget it. There isn't much to remember. There were sixteen Koreans in the qualifying draw. Not one made it through to the main draw -- not even Mi-Ra Jeon, who is Korea's more-or-less-#2 player, and who was the top qualifying seed. She had lost in the second round of qualifying to Ayami Takase, but Takase proceeded to fall 6-0 6-2 to #5 qualifying seed Chia-Jung Chuang of Taiwan, who will be playing her first WTA match since losing her opener at the Australian Open. Only one Korean, in fact, made the qualifying final: Jin-A Lee, who lost 6-1 6-3 to #7 Sunitha Rao -- who will be making her first main draw appearance in more than two years. Also qualifying were #8 seed Seiko Okamoto, who beat countrywoman Miho Saeki 7-5 6-2 to reach only her second main draw of the year (where she will face former doubles partner and #2 seed Shinobu Asagoe), and #6 Shahar Peer, who took out Rika Fujiwara 6-1 6-2 to reach her first main draw since Hyderabad.

The Koreans in main draw action fared no better. Wildcard Jin-Hee Kim lost 6-3 6-0 to Sanda Mamic, who had direct entry to a WTA draw for the first time in her career; Yoon Jeong Cho, Korea's one-time #1, had the bad luck to take on #8 seed Samantha Stosur, and lost 7-6 6-4.

Stosur turned out to be the only seed to advance. #3 Marlene Weingartner, who reached her first career final two weeks ago at Bali, did a typical Weingartner, losing her next match 6-1 6-3 to Marta Domachowska, who earned her first WTA win away from clay. And #4 Mashona Washington, who did so well on American hardcourts this summer, couldn't translate that to Korean hardcourts; Catalina Castano beat her 5-7 6-4 6-4.

Whatever is wrong with Adriana Serra Zanetti is not getting better. She is now down to 1-8 at the WTA level this year after falling 6-3 6-4 to Silvija Talaja. Milagros Sequera isn't doing much better; after doing fairly well in late spring and early summer, she now has a five match losing streak after falling to Galina Voskoboeva in a third set tiebreak. That's only the third WTA win for Voskoboeva, all this year. Which is still better than Abigail Spears had been doing; Spears came here with seven prior WTA events going back to 2001, and first round losses in all of them, but she beat Lioudmilla Skavronskaia 6-2 6-3.

Speaking of forgotten players, remember Su-Wei Hsieh? Earned a pile of Challenger wins in early 2001, made the semifinal at her first WTA event at Bali that year, then made the quarterfinal at Pattaya later in the year? And has played only one WTA match since, which she lost? Well, she didn't make the field here in singles -- not even in qualifying -- but she is in the doubles; she and countrywoman Chuang beat wildcards So-Jung Kim and Soo-Mi Yoo in three sets. That match involved the weakest team in the doubles draw; ironically, the other match played involved the strongest team. Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik, the top seeds, beat Saori Obata and Sunitha Rao 6-2 6-1. It's interesting to note that Asagoe had been playing with Rika Fujiwara, but played here with Srebotnik even though Fujiwara was in the qualifying draw. It's probably a smart move, though, the two Japanese hadn't had much luck together.

Bangkok: Half and Half

It was a day with two stories, and only one of them on the court.

The off-court story involved top seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, whose injury woes continue. He had developed a blister on his hand during Davis Cup, meaning that he would not have played the deciding match even had it been live; he has withdrawn from Bangkok.

The on-court story was the contest between Thomas Johansson and #6 seed Feliciano Lopez, won by Johansson in a third set tiebreak after saving two match points.

Only one other singles match was played: Flavio Saretta bounced wildcard Prakash Amritraj 6-3 6-3.

The doubles had its own mildly interesting story: Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes are still playing together even though the Olympics are over. The #1 seeds beat Attila Savolt and Jiri Vanek 6-2 6-1.

Shanghai: Clandestine Dealings

Let's say it straight out: The ATP wants to get rid of doubles. They've cut the prize money, they've cut the fields, they've messed with the entry criteria. No luck.

Now, perhaps, they've found a more subtle way: Create qualifying draws so soft that it lures the doubles specialists into playing singles -- and let it kill them.

Robbie Koenig played one ATP singles match in 2001 (at Shanghai, even), one qualifying match in 2002, no singles at all in 2003. But he decided to try again here. He even made it to the qualifying final. Then -- he withdrew. Suddenly this singles business doesn't look so smart.

Nathan Healey at least managed to play to the end, but he too is out; Melle van Gemerden eliminated him 6-3 7-6. Ivo Klec was the beneficiary of Koenig's withdrawal; he's been ranked since 2001, but this will be his first ATP match in all that time. Also qualifying are Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Bjorn Phau.

The far east has always been good for Kenneth Carlsen; both his career titles (Hong Kong 1998, Tokyo 2002) have come here, and he also has two of his four other finals in the vicinity of the Pacific Ocean. Maybe heading east was a good omen; he beat Jan Hernych 7-5 6-1. There is no sign of a turnaround for Jean-Rene Lisnard, though; he fell to Gilles Muller 3-6 6-4 6-4. Bohdan Ulihrach also continues to struggle; he fell to Davide Sanguinetti 6-3 6-3.

The only seed in action was #3 Guillermo Canas, who took out namesake Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-6 6-3.

Palermo: Double Duty

However well Galo Blanco does at Palermo, he's earned it. He faced a very long day on Monday, and passed the test with flying colors.

They play short sessions in Palermo, and that meant that two second round qualifying matches went unfinished. Blanco and Frantisek Cermak had to finish off those matches before facing each other in the qualifying final. As befits a Spaniard known more for grinding than for offensive capability, Blanco made the main draw 7-5 6-4.

The other matches of the qualifying final round were noteworthy mostly for tiebreaks. Every match had one, and some of them were monsters. Mariano Puerta will be playing his first main draw match since his suspension for using an asthma medication; he won a 26-point second set tiebreak to beat Diego Gimeno-Traver 6-3 7-6. Alessio Di Mauro's tiebreak with Simone Bolelli was a little shorter -- "only" 24 points -- but in his case, it was to stay in the match; Di Mauro made the main draw 3-6 7-6 6-2. Next to that, Nicolas Almagro's 6-2 7-6 win over Leos Friedl looked downright routine; the score in the tiebreak was 7-3.

Only three main draw matches were played, with no particular surprises. #3 seed Fernando Verdasco, who had last week off, was the only seed in action. He had a surprisingly tough time, but finally beat wildcard Francesco Aldi 6-2 4-6 6-2. Jose Acasuso, who always has good success at this time of year and who made the final here in 2002, had the day's easiest match as he beat Alejandro Falla 6-3 6-1. And a battle of Oliviers was won by Olivier Mutis, who beat Olivier Patience 6-4 6-3.

Women's Match of the Day

Hasselt - First Round
Virginia Ruano Pascual def. Jelena Kostanic (9) 3-6 7-6(7-3) 6-4

Virginia Ruano Pascual is not exactly the player you expect to see winning indoors. She's Spanish. She has a one-handed backhand, and doesn't really get all that much weight on the ball. She's actually fairly good at the net, but she doesn't like to come there. All in all, she's a player you don't really expect to see doing damage on medium-to-fast courts.

But Jelena Kostanic seems to be one of those players who has built herself a glass ceiling. Most who have seen her think she has the potential to hit the Top 30. And yet, she seems to save a lot of her best for matches that don't mean much, and really has trouble when she's going for career highs.

We don't know that that's the explanation here, of course. Kostanic, in fact, was defending points from last year, so she needed at least a couple of wins just to break even. Which, obviously, she didn't get. #35 coming in, this costs her about 60 points, and that means she will fall at least one ranking spot. Given where she sits in the rankings, it looks more likely that it will be two or three. Which probably kills her chances of hitting the Top 30 this year; there just aren't enough events left, and most of the remaining tournaments are too strong.

Ruano Pascual came in ranked #61. This is only a Tier III, so the points aren't great, but it does appear she'll gain about half a dozen spots.

Men's Match of the Day

Bangkok - First Round
Thomas Johansson def. Feliciano Lopez (6) 6-1 2-6 7-6(7-5)

This was the match that had everything. For the drama buffs, we had the aging veteran trying to make a comeback. We had the brash young kid with all the power. We had the day's only upset. And we had a spectacular match in which Thomas Johansson saved two match points before finally coming through.

Now if only it meant something.

For Lopez, it literally made no difference at all. This wasn't a great time for him last year; he lost first round at Long Island, the U. S. Open, and Moscow. That last result comes off this week, but of course he replaces it with another first round loss. He isn't going to move more than a place or two.

For Johansson, the points may potentially count, since he isn't defending anything, but he's been back long enough now that second round results at optional events don't mean anything worth noticing. What slight significance it has is in the Race: Johansson came in at #37. This just might gain him a spot or two. He will certainly move up if he can win another round or two. And, of course, he's getting close to that magic #32 that will get him an Australian Open seed. Barring another injury, it looks like he'll make it.

Community Property
It's been an odd year for the WTA. (We suspect you've noticed.) Never have we had such a wide-open year, with four players competing for the #1 ranking at the U. S. Open, four different Slam winners (three of them first-timers, and none of them had a Slam at the start of 2003!), a half dozen players winning their first titles -- we could go on.

Well, we've got one more for you. It looks as if we might tie the record for the least successful most successful player.

We probably need to define what we mean. Every year, some player wins more titles than any other on the Tour. That's our "most successful player" (though she isn't always #1 -- e.g. last year Kim Clijsters had nine titles, but Justine Henin-Hardenne, with eight titles, was the year-end #1).

Let's look at the numbers here. The table below shows the winningest player of each year, and the #2, with the number of players won, going back to 1994:


Year..Winningest............#2 Winner
2003..Clijsters (9).........Henin-Hardenne (8)
2002..S. Williams (8).......V. Williams (7)
2001..Davenport (7).........V. Williams (6)
2000..Hingis (9)............V. Williams (5)
1999..TIE: Davenport, Hingis (7)
1998..Davenport (6).........Hingis (5)*
1997..Hingis (12)...........Davenport (6)
1996..Graf (7)..............Seles (5)
1995..Graf (9)..............Martinez (6)
1994..Sanchez-Vicario (8)...Graf (7)

* Patty Schnyder also had five titles in 1998. But Schnyder's titles were small and Hingis's large; there isn't much doubt about who was more successful.

We don't need to go back before 1994; before that, going back at least to 1983, the most successful player always had at least ten titles per year (Navratilova in 1984 had 15). It tells you something about the changes in the Tour that, since 1993, only one player (Hingis in 1997) has had as many as ten.

But now let's compare that with the numbers for this year. The contrast is striking. We'll ignore players with only one title:


Titles..Player............Title List
6.......Davenport.........Pan Pacific, Amelia Island,
..........................Stanford, Los Angeles,
..........................San Diego, Cincinnati
5.......Henin-Hardenne....Sydney, Australian Open,
..........................Dubai, Indian Wells,
..........................Olympics
3.......Kuznetsova........Eastbourne, U. S. Open,
..........................Bali
3.......Mauresmo..........Berlin, Rome,
..........................Canadian Open
2.......Clijsters.........Paris, Antwerp
2.......Myskina...........Doha, Roland Garros
2.......Loit..............Casablanca, Estoril
2.......Sharapova.........Birmingham, Wimbledon
2.......S. Williams.......Miami, Beijing
2.......V. Williams.......Charleston, Warsaw

And both our top two are a bit questionable right now. Davenport loves indoor surfaces, especially indoor hardcourt, but she's been hurt. Henin-Hardenne does not love indoor hardcourt; it's probably her worst surface. So it's possible that we will equal the 1998 record for least successful most successful player. Even if Davenport or Henin-Hardenne can take charge, it seems certain we'll be at the low end of the scale.

Not really surprising, is it?

bandabou
Sep 29th, 2004, 01:57 PM
Hasselt: Who Was That Masked Woman?

Since when did Vanessa Henke turn into Superwoman?

This is, after all, a player who hadn't played a WTA match since Antwerp 2003. She hadn't won one since Strasbourg 2002. She has been losing in Challenger qualifying. But here she was, having qualified for Hasselt, playing Kirsten Flipkens, who is as close as Belgium comes to having a prospect to join Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne in the elite ranks of the sport. But Henke beat her 6-2 1-6 6-4.

Maybe there it's just that there is something special about this place for marginal players. Michaela Pastikova hadn't won a WTA match since 2000. And she lost in qualifying. But she made the main draw as a Lucky Loser, and justified it with a 7-6 6-4 win over Tathiana Garbin. And Els Callens, who had lost ten of her last eleven matches and has fallen out of the Top 100, beat qualifier Eva Birnerova 7-6 6-4.

On the other hand, Angelika Bachmann couldn't earn her first WTA win since Palermo 2002; she fell to Iveta Benesova 6-4 6-3. And Claudine Schaul couldn't shake the slump that's seen her lose ten of thirteen matches since 's-Hertogenbosch; Maria Sanchez Lorenzo eliminated her 6-3 6-0. Nor could anyone trouble the seeds: #5 Francesca Schiavone eliminated countrywoman Mara Santangelo 6-2 6-0, while #7 Magdalena Maleeva eliminated qualifier Linsday Lee-Waters 6-3 6-3. #6 Silvia Farina Elia had to work against Tatiana Perebiynis, but she too advanced, 5-7 6-3 6-1.

Capucine Rousseau's first WTA match was not exactly a happy experience; she lost to Maria Elena Camerin 6-2 6-0.

GuangZhou: Unsecret Message
If you're looking for a Word of the Day for this day, it might well have been "Better Luck Next Time." Many of the players in China were seeking some sort of milestone win. Few achieved it.

Take Russian qualifier Nina Bratchikova. This was her first WTA main draw, so naturally she was looking for her first WTA win. She didn't get it; countrywoman Tatiana Panova beat her 3-6 6-0 6-3. Qualifier Natalie Grandin was playing her first WTA event in almost exactly three years, but she couldn't pull off a win either, losing to China's Peng Shuai 6-0 6-3. (In fairness, Peng is looking like China's best prospect for the future, with two Challenger titles this year and a 4-3 WTA record since Wimbledon). Wildcard Yan Zi has eight WTA events in the past couple of years, but came in with a five match losing streak going back to last year's Japan Open. Nor is the end in sight; #3 seed Flavia Pennetta beat her 6-1 2-6 6-3.

On the other hand, China's Li Na seems to be on the fast track to recovery from injury. You'll notice that she's mentioned in the notes to today's rankings feature. She'll be moving again this week; she beat Vera Douchevina 6-4 6-1. And Tamarine Tanasugarn, after a dreadful year, has just about assured her year-end Top 100 ranking; she upset Jill Craybas 6-2 7-5. Also posting a small upset was Martina Sucha, who took out Alina Jidkova 6-4 1-6 6-3.

This is proving to be quite a nice tournament for seeds so far; all four who have played have advanced. In addition to #3 Pennetta and #8 Klara Koukalova (who played on Monday), #4 Marion Bartoli topped Jennifer Hopkins 6-0 6-4 and #7 Nicole Pratt disposed of Akiko Morigami 6-3 6-4.

Seoul: Spy Stuff
You can tell a lot about a tournament from its Lucky Losers. At Filderstadt, for instance, a Lucky Loser might be Top 20. Sydney might get a Lucky Loser in the Top 30.

At Seoul, we had a Lucky Loser ranked #258. What's more, she won. Miho Saeki, who hadn't played a WTA match since Quebec City and who hadn't won since Shanghai 2002, replaced oft-injured Henrieta Nagyova and broke her winless streak by beating qualifier Sunitha Rao (who hadn't played a WTA match in two years) in a third set tiebreak.

Nor was she the only Lucky Loser to play and win. Rika Fujiwara, ranked #177, replaced Melinda Czink and pounded wildcard So-Jung Kim 6-0 6-4.

In the end, Lucky Losers did better than seeds here. #1 Maria Sharapova, the only Top 40 player in the draw, had no trouble with Emmanuelle Gagliardi, advancing 6-1 6-3. #2 Shinobu Asagoe took out countrywoman Seiko Okamoto, a qualifier with whom she won a doubles title earlier this year, 6-0 6-2. And Asagoe's current partner, #5 Katarina Srebotnik, bounced Antonella Serra Zanetti 6-1 6-1. But that still means that only four seeds (those three plus Samantha Stosur) are in the second round. Anne Kremer ran #6 Lubomira Kurhajcova's WTA losing streak to four (though she does have Challenger wins in between) 4-6 6-1 6-3, and the heat was too much for #7 Saori Obata, who retired before countrywoman Yuka Yoshida trailing 5-7 6-3 2-0.

Two qualifiers hit milestones. Chia-Jung Chuang, whose only previous WTA match was as a wildcard at this year's Australian Open, picked up her first WTA win by upsetting Katerina Bohmova (who was playing her first WTA match after some nice Challenger results) 7-5 3-6 6-3. And Shahar Peer picked up her second WTA win with a 6-1 6-2 victory over Lenka Nemeckova, who also had been looking for her second win of the year (though she has more in her career).

The Serra Zanetti sisters decided not to play doubles together here, and it worked for Antonella; she and Marta Domachowska beat Abigail Spears and Galina Voskoboeva 6-2 6-3. But Adriana is having no more success in doubles than singles. In an ironic twist, she teamed with Silvija Talaja (the player who had beaten her in singles), but they lost 7-6 6-0 to the Korean pair of Yoon Jeong Cho and Mi-Ra Jeon.

Bangkok: I Won't Stand In Your Way
Roger Federer won't have to worry about facing countryman and role model Marc Rosset after all.

Had Rosset won two matches, he would have been in line to face his countryman and the world's #1. It won't happen now. Paul Baccanello beat Rosset by the very un-Rosset-like score of 7-6 1-6 7-6. That of course also kills Rosset's hopes of returning to the Top 100.

Federer showed no signs of similar problems. He took out Nicolas Thomann 6-4 7-6. And he even finds another Swiss player still in the draw, though it isn't Rosset: Ivo Heuberger took out Attila Savolt 6-4 6-1. And Heuberger and Marco Chiudinelli also gave Switzerland a pair of doubles quarterfinalists as they beat Coupe and Morrison in two tiebreaks.

Morrison's luck was better in singles; he beat Michael Kohlmann 6-4 6-3. But Justin Gimelstob's winning streak is over; having won a Challenger last week, he made it close against defending champion and #5 seed Taylor Dent, but finally lost 4-6 6-4 6-4. Though he did pick up a fairly nice doubles scalp: Gimelstob and Graydon Oliver took out Marat Safin and Robin Soderling in straight sets.

It's starting to look as if Dennis van Scheppingen can only win after the U. S. Open. He's #115 in the Race, but #81 in the rankings, and that's because he earned so many points last fall. He didn't look too good on this day, but he won, beating wildcard Novak Djokovic 4-6 7-5 6-4. In the day's other match, Alex Bogomolov Jr. topped Jaymon Crabb 6-3 6-2.

Shanghai: Second Line of Defense
There can't be many things more irritating for a doubles specialist than watch the partner with whom you played for many years, without much success, pick another partner and suddenly turn into a top player. But that's what Nathan Healey has experienced lately. He had played with Paul Hanley literally from the start of Hanley's career (they reached the semifinal of Hanley's first Challenger at Perth in 1997). They struggled and struggled and went nowhere -- and then, after a few experiments in 2002, Hanley hooked up with Wayne Arthurs, and it carried Hanley into the Top Ten at the end of last year. Whereas Healey ended 2003 ranked #81. If he is, literally, hungry, who can blame him?

Is it coincidence that he's been trying to make a comeback in singles?

And he had about as much luck as anyone could expect. He lost in the final round of qualifying -- but, amazingly, was the top available loser, and made the main draw as a result. Not only that, but he became the de facto top seed, since he went in in place of Juan Carlos Ferrero. And he faced a qualifier.

It didn't help. He lost his second match in two days; qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat him 4-6 7-6 6-4.

Evidently facing Healey is a good luck charm. The guy who beat him on Monday advanced on Tuesday also; Melle van Gemerden took out Jan Vacek 6-4 6-2.

Or maybe it was just a crummy day to be Australian. Because Mark Philippoussis is also out; Glenn Weiner provided the day's one big upset as he beat the #4 seed 3-6 6-4 6-4.

Only one other seed was in action, and he was in almost as much of a slump as Philippoussis. But #8 Jan-Michael Gambill faced a much weaker opponent; Ivo Klec has no ATP experience at all despite years bouncing around Challengers. Gambill trounced him 6-4 6-3.

Also on the comeback trail is Kristian Pless, who finally seems to be getting his game back together; he beat Christophe Rochus 4-6 7-5 6-0.

Everyone agrees that Chinese tennis is making rapid gains. But it hasn't yet reached the point where one can keep track of the players without a scorecard. Especially when they all seem to have the same name. Let's say this as best we can: Zhu won, beating Zib, but Zeng (not Zheng, Zeng) lost. To spell it out: Wildcard Ben-Qiang Zhu beat Tomas Zib (who isn't Chinese, of course) 1-6 6-4 6-4, but wildcard Shao-Xuan Zeng is out 6-3 6-4 to Lars Burgsmuller. The two Chinese players then teamed up in doubles, losing 6-4 3-6 6-2 to Hernych and Sanguinetti.

Palermo: I Want an Armada Too!
It's not just Spaniards who can take over an event -- though there were plenty of Spaniards in action in Sicily on Tuesday. Nine of them, in fact, or about half the players in action. But Italy had its say, too.

And a successful one, for the most part. Filippo Volandri, the #5 seed and their top gun, easily disposed of Albert Montanes (Spaniard #1) 6-2 6-3. And Potito Starace, their other rising star, edged Richard Gasquet 7-6 4-6 6-1. In addition, wildcard Andreas Seppi eliminated Arnaud di Pasquale 6-7 6-2 6-4. Though qualifier Alessio di Mauro couldn't make it four .Italians through; he lost to marathon man Galo Blanco 2-6 6-2 6-2 (Spaniard #2). Even that is good news for Italy, though, since it clears the way for Volandri, who faces Blanco next.

Now let's deal with all those Spaniards. We had two instances of seeded Spaniards facing countrymen; both advanced. #6 Rafael Nadal, who took a wildcard into this tournament, beat qualifier Nicolas Almagro 6-1 7-5; #7 David Ferrer struggled past fellow speedster Alberto Martin 2-6 6-1 6-4. A third all-Spanish contest saw Marc Lopez pound Lucky Loser Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-2 6-2. Which leaves one Spaniard unaccounted for: Alex Calatrava, who beat Daniel Elsner 6-1 6-0.

It proved to be a very good day for seeds who took the court: In addition to Volandri, Nadal, and Ferrer, #4 seed Nikolay Davydenko topped Victor Hanescu 6-2 7-5. But #2 seed Florian Mayer withdrew, and it looks like his spot was jinxed: Qualifier Mariano Puerta took it, and was bounced 6-1 6-2 by Kristof Vliegen.

Another German, Philipp Kohlschreiber, couldn't play through either. He retired with flu after splitting sets with Juan Monaco.

Women's Match of the Day

Hasselt - First Round
Iveta Benesova def. Angelika Bachmann (Q) 6-4 6-3

This is one of those matches that mostly matters for what didn't happen. As in, Iveta Benesova didn't get upset. Which is rather bad news for Kim Clijsters. Because, as a result of this match, Clijsters will have to open her comeback against Benesova, and a Benesova who had a nice easy warmup.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't be so bad for Clijsters; Benesova is not as good as her #37 ranking. We're talking, after all, about a player with ten first round losses in the past year, including one in a Challenger. She's ranked as high as she is in no small part because she can manage to stay healthy while playing around thirty events a year.

Still, she has a title this year, at Acapulco, and she also won the big Ortisei Challenger. And while clay is clearly her favorite surface, she doesn't mind playing indoors; her first career final came two years at Bratislava, and she beat Nathalie Dechy to earn that final.

In terms of rankings, this means nothing. Bachmann, #200 coming in, should gain a little just for qualifying. Benesova came in #37, and she can't move above that unless she beats Clijsters. But under the circumstances, she might indeed be able to beat Clijsters....

Men's Match of the Day

Shanghai - First Round
Glenn Weiner def. Mark Philippoussis (4) 3-6 6-4 6-4

At least Mark Philippoussis can take comfort in the fact that he's already suffered the hit for this.

Philippoussis was last year's Shanghai champion. But those points came off last week, which is why he dropped 28 places between last week and this. But that, of course, was back when he was playing pretty well. This year, he hasn't been having much luck, and he reportedly was too injured to play Davis Cup. (There is a little doubt about that, because Australia had been contemplating leaving him off the team even before he said he was injured, but in practice it probably doesn't matter much. Either he was hurt, or he was in lousy form, and either way, he suffered a nasty surprise.)

Weiner, in fact, has been inflicting a fair number of nasty surprises on opponents this year. At least compared to his historical results. He made the second round of the Australian Open as a qualifier. He made the second round at Indian Wells as a qualifier. He beat Hyung-Taik Lee at Los Angeles before losing to eventual finalist Nicolas Kiefer. It's shown in his ranking: He's up to #128, after finishing last year at #278.

In the short term, this doesn't do him any good, really. Weiner played only one ATP match last year, at Tokyo, where he qualified and then lost to Fernando Verdasco, so he'll lose about as much as he gains for this win. And he has a lot of Challenger results to defend in the next two months: A semifinal at Quito, and another at Austin, and a quarterfinal at Puebla. But if he keeps playing at his present level, he just might be able to defend that and then some.

Philippoussis, as noted, has already seen his points from winning Shanghai 2003 come off. Unfortunately, he made the quarterfinal at Tokyo the following week, so he still has a few more points to lose. It appears his Top 100 ranking is history. The only consolation is, all he has to defend after this is a pair of opening-round losses. And, with his ranking down where it is, he's out from under required and optional. Any wins he can scrape up will count.

Assuming he finds a way to actually earn some wins.

This Week's Movers -- Women
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Emmanuelle Gagliardi -- Moved 13 places, from #106 to #93.
Gagliardi had quite a week at Shanghai, qualifying for the singles and beating Kristina Brandi before losing to Vera Zvonareva -- plus she won both the doubles and the mixed doubles!

Runner-Up: Tie
Marissa Irvin -- Moved 12 places, from #83 to #71
Tamarine Tanasugarn -- Moved 12 places, from #97 to #85
Irvin won the week's biggest Challenger, the $75K event at Albuquerque; Tanasugarn reached the second round at Shanghai with a win over Jelena Dokic.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Lindsay Davenport -- Moved 1 place, 33%, from #3 to #2
Anastasia Myskina's failure to defend her points from Leipzig let the American move up.

Runner-Up: Justine Henin-Hardenne -- Moved 1 place, 25%, from #4 to #3
Same story as the preceding: Myskina didn't defend, so the Belgian moved up.
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Sandra Kleinova -- Dropped 38 places, from #91 to #129
Last year, Kleinova qualified for Leipzig and made the quarterfinal with wins over Schiavone and Maleeva. This year, of course, she did nothing.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Anastasia Myskina, ranking increased 2 places, 100%, from #2 to #4.
Here's Myskina again. Her loss of points from Leipzig is costing her, and her loss of points from Moscow is likely to cost her more in a few weeks.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"

These are subjective picks!

We generally don't like to give awards to players who don't play, so Davenport and Henin-Hardenne are out. That leaves Marissa Irvin, who was second in absolute movement and third in relative movement. Let's also have an honorable mention for Li Na, who cut her ranking by 25% based on actually winning matches. But she's still only #145, so she isn't in line for the real award.

This Week's Movers -- Men
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: David Sanchez -- Moved 13 places, from #85 to #72.
Sanchez made the final of the $125K Szczecin Challenger, though he was blown out in the final by Edgardo Massa (who beat both Sanchez, the #2 seed, and top seed Alberto Martin, but is ranked too low to be on the Movers list).

Runner-Up: Alex Calatrava -- Moved 12 places, from #100 to #88
Calatrava was also at Szczecin, and also lost to Massa -- in this case, in the semifinal.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: David Nalbandian -- Moved 2 places, 15%, from #13 to #11
This is mostly an artifact of the calendar shift. Nicolas Massu, last year's Palermo champion, couldn't defend a title that wasn't played until this week, and Juan Carlos Ferrero had his points from the Bangkok final come off. Since Nalbandian wasn't defending, he climbed.

Runner-Up: Sanchez, cut ranking 15%
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: TIE
Mark Philippoussis -- Dropped 28 places, from #64 to #92
Paul-Henri Mathieu -- Dropped 28 places, from #77 to #105
Philippoussis was last year's Shanghai champion, and of course he couldn't defend it during Davis Cup week. Mathieu, last year at this time, was reaching the Palermo final -- his best result of the year -- and of course he was in Davis Cup this year. And it's going to get worse this week, because in 2003 he made the Moscow semifinal the week after Palermo.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Philippoussis, ranking increased 44%.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

This is rather difficult; if someone is going to be a Mover based on Challenger results, it would be nice if he'd at least win the Challenger! But that's not a possibility this week; our three Challenger winners (Massa, Paul Goldstein, and Justin Gimelstob) all remain below the Top 100. So we're going to give the award to Sanchez, with the note that, if we gave out an actual cash award (which we don't), we probably wouldn't give it this week.

bandabou
Oct 1st, 2004, 08:51 AM
Hasselt: Is That All There Is?
Experienced tournament-goers learn a lot of tricks: "Sit at the end of the court; you'll see better." "Always learn where the bathrooms are before the match starts." "Bring a seat cushion." And, of course, "Go early in the week, when there are more matches to choose from."

The audience at Hasselt is probably wishing it had followed that advice, as there really wasn't much to watch on Thursday. Four matches played, sure, but of excitement very little. Top seed Elena Dementieva didn't look at all like the player who couldn't muster anything for the U. S. Open final; she took out Lucky Loser Michaela Pastikova 6-4 6-2. And that was one of the close matches! By comparison, #5 Francesca Schiavone blew through Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-1 6-0 (meaning that she has lost only three games in her first two matches!), while #7 Magdalena Maleeva eliminated Els Callens 6-0 6-1.

Even the one upset was fairly routine: Maria Elena Camerin eliminated #4 seed Karolina Sprem 6-4 6-4.

GuangZhou: SpaceShipNone

It's a good thing no one in tennis is going for the X Prize (the award given to the first "commercial" craft to reach the boundary of space successfully and repeatedly in a short time span). The requirements for the X Prize are pitiful compared to the requirements for allowing humans to do something actually useful in space, but they do require multiple flights in a short time (one of those flights happening earlier this week) -- and what are the odds of anyone in tennis staying healthy long enough to be able to compete in an equivalent contest?

This week's casualty is Gisela Dulko, the top seed who has been steadily moving toward the Top 30. She won't be making it this week; she suffered an abdominal strain in her match with Dinara Safina, and though she finished the match, she lost 6-1 6-4, and then she withdrew from her doubles match with Maria Vento-Kabchi -- which meant that Safina got past her twice; Dulko and Vento-Kabchi, the #4 seeds, were supposed to face Safina and Barbora Strycova.

That was almost routine on a day when four seeds lost; there is only one seed in the quarterfinal. That one is #6 Kristina Brandi, who beat Tatiana Panova 6-0 6-1. But Dulko wasn't the only one to get hurt; the next-highest seed remaining in the draw, #3 Flavia Pennetta, retired with a left wrist strain trailing Tamarine Tanasugarn 7-5 3-0. That means that all three of the top seeds here are out at least partly as a result of injuries (#2 Jelena Jankovic, who lost Wednesday, had a bad ankle).

The rest of the field seemed to be suffering from some sort of Ancient Chinese Curse; both seeds who faced Chinese players were bagelled. Peng Shuai took out #4 Marion Bartoli 6-1 6-0 to reach her second quarterfinal in her last three events (pretty good for someone who earned her first WTA win only two months ago!), while Li Ting posted her first quarterfinal of the millennium as she beat #7 Nicole Pratt 6-2 6-0. Pratt has had a thoroughly depressing two weeks; it's the second straight tournament at which she has lost to a Chinese player named Li and ranked below #190. Last week, it was #193 Li Na; this week, it's #222 Li Ting.

Unfortunately, whoever laid that curse forgot to protect China's Zheng Jie, who, although unseeded, was ranked higher than her opponent. She too was upset; Barbora Strycova bear her 6-2 7-5. Even so, there are three Chinese in the quarterfinal -- though they're all in the bottom half: Peng and Li Ting, who face each other next, and Li Na, who faces Brandi.

The upset bug didn't really extend to the doubles, since two of three seeded teams in action made the semifinal, but the run of Chinese luck did hold: #2 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian beat Russians Jidkova and Panova 6-3 6-1, while #3 Yan and Zheng took out Jennifer Hopkins and Liu Nan-Nan 6-3 6-2.

Seoul: Endless Repeat
It's getting harder and harder to find new ways to say, "Maria Sharapova is going to win Seoul, whether we like it or not." She is, after all, one of only two seeds left: She beat Lucky Loser Miho Saeki 6-3 6-1, setting her up for a meeting with #8 Samantha Stosur.

Though the truly deep mystery about this draw is, who will be the bottom half finalist? Qualifier Shahar Peer took out #5 seed Katarina Srebotnik 6-3 6-3, so our four candidates for the final are Peer (#238 coming in, and playing her first WTA quarterfinal), Abigail Spears (#128), Silvija Talaja (#115), and Marta Domachowska (#100). Somebody is going to take a big rankings lift.

The top half is a little more interesting, since it features not just Sharapova and Stosur but former Top 25 player Anne Kremer; she beat Lucky Loser Rika Fujiwara 7-6 6-0 to set up a meeting with Sanda Mamic; the winner will face the Sharapova/Stosur winner. Maybe Kremer is starting to recover her old form. One may hope, if only for the sake of having a decent semifinal. If she is, it could be quite a match: Sharapova powerful but erratic, Kremer weaker but quick and steady.

The upsets were not confined to singles; both seeded teams involved in the doubles lost. #1 Asagoe and Srebotnik lost a third set tiebreak to Domachowska and Antonella Serra Zanetti; Taiwan's Chuang and Hsieh took out #3 Stewart and Stosur in straight sets.

Bangkok: Kick in the Teeth
If you've been keeping a collection of Weird Injury Excuses on the ATP lately, you can add another one: A tooth infection. That's the reason Ivo Heuberger gave for pulling out of the doubles.

Of course, he probably wasn't looking forward to facing Roger Federer twice in one day. Federer had already beaten his countryman in singles, 6-1 6-3, and he and Marco Chiudinelli were supposed to face Federer and Yves Allegro in a doubles quarterfinal, but Heuberger withdrew.

Federer was one of five seeds to advance, though his was among the easiest contests. The only seed to fall was the one with the most on the line: Defending champion Taylor Dent fell 6-0 6-4 to Dennis van Scheppingen. But #2 Andy Roddick edged countryman Jeff Morrison 6-2 6-7 6-4, #3 Marat Safin brushed by Jiri Vanek 6-3 6-4, #4 Paradorn Srichaphan thrilled the home crowd with a 6-0 7-6 victory over Alex Bogomolov, Jr., and Robin Soderling knocked off Paul Baccanello 6-1 6-3.

Thomas Johansson, meanwhile, is getting closer and closer to the Top 30; he continued his streak of strong second half results with a 6-3 6-3 win over Adrian Garcia. Our one surprise quarterfinalist, other than van Scheppingen, is Flavio Saretta, who beat qualifier Rogier Wassen (who earlier had beaten Igor Andreev) 3-6 6-1 6-2.

As a result of the Heuberger withdrawal, only one doubles match was played, but it produced easily the day's biggest upset of any kind: Justin Gimelstob and Graydon Oliver topped #1 seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes 6-7 6-4 6-4.

Shanghai: Bottom-Heavy
At this rate, Wayne Arthurs will set the record for most walkovers in a tournament. Going into Thursday's action, he already had a walkover in singles. On Thursday, he added one in doubles; he and Paul Hanley made the semifinal when Jan Hernych and Davide Sanguinetti pulled out.

It didn't save Arthurs in singles, though; he lost to Kenneth Carlsen in a third set tiebreak.

On the other hand, it worked out well enough for Sanguinetti, who made his first quarterfinal of the year with a 6-4 7-5 win over #6 Jarkko Nieminen. (Could Nieminen be another one of these players with a nagging virus of some kind? It seems as if he can't play back-to-back good matches.) That gives us a top half that's almost absurdly open: Two seeds (#1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and #5 Hyung-Taik Lee) withdrew, #4 Mark Philippoussis lost first round, and now Nieminen is out in the second, guaranteeing us an unseeded finalist. In addition to Carlsen and Sanguinetti, the possibilities are Gilles Muller, who beat Glenn Weiner 5-7 6-3 7-5, and Lars Burgsmuller, who beat qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3 6-2.

Just to show how unfair tennis life can be, there are no seeds left in the top half, but all the seeds survived in the bottom half -- though it took all but one of them three sets. The exception was #8 Jan-Michael Gambill, who has his first quarterfinal since posting three back-to-back at San Jose, Memphis, and Scottsdale by beating wildcard Ben-Qiang Zhu 6-0 7-6. His doubles partner Guillermo Canas, though, had a few bad moments against Kristian Pless, but finally advanced 6-2 4-6 6-4. #2 seed Jiri Novak also had a bad second set, but came back to beat qualifier Melle van Gemerden 6-4 6-7 6-1. And #7 Ricardo Mello continued his hot streak with a 1-6 7-6 6-4 victory over Janko Tipsarevic.

Palermo: One Out of Four Ain't Bad
There were four singles matches played. One -- only one! -- was unaffected by the physical state of the players. Ironically, it turned out to be perhaps the lousiest match of the bunch. #5 seed Filippo Volandri topped Galo Blanco 6-2 6-1.

You have to wonder how the match between Jose Acasuso and #8 seed Tomas Berdych would have turned out had Acasuso been 100%. He would eventually pull out of the doubles with a shoulder problem. But he still managed to push Berdych to the limit. The Czech finally advanced 4-6 7-5 6-4. It's a good thing he's young. After playing three sets in his first match, and a monster Davis Cup match, you have to wonder how much longer he can keep that up.

The two unseeded Italians, who were supposed to play doubles together, posted mixed results. Potito Starace withdrew with a stomach problem trailing top seed Nicolas Massu 4-1 (meaning that Massu's winning streak here is now up to seven), but Andreas Seppi got lucky when Kristof Vliegen hurt his ankle, allowing the Italian to advance 6-4 3-6 4-1, retired.

Only two of four scheduled doubles quarterfinals took place. Acasuso's withdrawal gave Etlis and Rodriguez a walkover; Cermak and Friedl benefited from Starace's problem. Advancing by means of actually beating opponents were Arnold/Hood and Fyrstenberg/Matkowski.

Women's Match of the Day

Hasselt - Second Round
Maria Elena Camerin def. Karolina Sprem (4) 6-4 6-4

There is no inherent reason why Karolina Sprem can't win on modern surfaces. Indeed, all that weight she puts on her shots seems brilliantly suited to indoor hardcourt. But there is theory, and there is practice, and practice says that Sprem is a traditional-surface player. Clay is great. Grass isn't bad, either. But give her a nice, high, regular bounce and it seems to confuse her. Her career record on clay, going back all the way to her first WTA match, long before she was ready for the Tour, is 17-11. On grass, she's 6-3. But indoors, she's only 5-4 in her career, and only once has made it past a second round.

And this, obviously, wasn't the one event where she did better. The last player she needed to face was Maria Elena Camerin, who since Wimbledon has gone 9-5 and has wins over Myskina and Dulko and has, with no warning at all, worked her way into the Top 50. There isn't really any doubt about who is the better player of these two -- but throw in Sprem's problems on indoor surfaces and it spells upset.

Though it probably won't hurt Sprem in the rankings. She came in ranked #18, but the player ahead of her, Elena Bovina, had big points to defend; the Russian will need a final to pass Sprem.

Camerin, surprisingly, doesn't benefit very much; she came in at #45, and will move up to probably #43. On the other hand, she faces Virginia Ruano Pascual next, so she isn't necessarily done moving.

Men's Match of the Day

Bangkok - Second Round
Dennis van Scheppingen def. Taylor Dent (5) 6-0 6-4

It really does seem to be a rule: Every time Taylor Dent starts to climb the rankings, something goes wrong with him. Usually it's his back. But it hardly matters what the details are. What matters is, it happens.

And that's quite a blow, because Dent was having the best stretch of his career at this time last year. He won Bangkok, which was small (at least in terms of points), and backed it up by winning Moscow, which wasn't small at all.

His drop in the rankings isn't going to be small, either. Just a month ago, he was #22; just last week, he was still #29. But then Bangkok 2003 came off, and he fell to #34. Now he sees a 50 Race point event come off -- more than a quarter of his total points, though the blow is buffered a little by the fact that it's an optional event. Still, he appears bound out of the Top 50. And there isn't much reason to think it will get better; he came in at #48 in the Race, and it looks as if he'll be falling. Of course, he loves fast courts, so he still has a chance to gain some ground this fall (after winning Moscow, he won only one more match for the rest of 2003). But his chances of earning a seed at the Australian Open look close to dead.

Dennis van Scheppingen continues his mysterious habit of winning only in the fall. Unfortunately for him, he reached the third round at Tokyo at this time last year, so even though he earns a very nice win, it isn't going to affect his ranking very much.

The Price You Pay....

Tennis is a contentious sport. Not just in the sense that players compete. Even more contentious, perhaps, is tennis commentary. It's a rare statement that everyone agrees upon.

One of the few that gains universal consent is "Serena Williams was the dominant player of 2002."

And yet, she's paid something of a price over the two years since. Yes, she won two Slams and a few smaller titles in 2003, but that's a significant decline, and in 2004, she has no Slams and only two lesser titles, one of them in a very weak field. She spent half a year injured, hasn't won a clay title in more than two years, and fell out of the Top Ten for a while. 2003 was been a great year for her by most players' standards -- but by the standard she set in 2002, it's been a slump. And the less said of 2004, the better.

What's interesting is that the last player to have a year like Serena in 2002 was Martina Hingis in 1997, and her pattern was similar: Three Slams and a bunch of titles in 1997, then her results fell off in 1998 (one slam and five titles -- the latter being her lowest total between 1997 and 2000), and she eventually lost the #1 ranking, and was hurt for much of the fall. As with Serena, it wasn't a slump pure and simple -- Hingis, after all, did something in 1998 that no other player has done in the Open Era: She won the doubles Grand Slam with two different partners. Still, it's interesting to note that Hingis's next-best year in terms of titles, 2000, was followed by a similar outcome: a sharp decline in wins, a loss of the #1 ranking, and yet another foot injury, this one finally fatal to her career.

In other words, recently, the cost of a Great Year has been a bad year.

Does this pattern project backward? It's interesting to at least look.

We're going to define a Great Year as one which meets either of two standards: Three Slams, or eight singles titles (the latter picked because, until recently, it almost guaranteed that a player won half the events she played). We'll list all such years, then look briefly at what happened after. We'll examine the last 20 years, partly because that's about when WTA records become reliable and partly because that's all the work we feel like doing. In that period, we have 21 "great years" (11 in which the player qualified based on 8+ titles, 2 in which she qualified based on 3+ Slams, and 8 in which the player earned both):

Kim Clijsters 2003. Results: 9 titles, #1 ranking (briefly), 2 doubles Slams
2004 results: 2 titles to date, just returning to action after missing three Slams; unlikely to finish year in Top Ten

Justine Henin-Hardenne 2003. Results: 2 Slams, 8 titles, #1 ranking
2004 results: 1 Slam, 5 titles to date, missed Wimbledon and should not have played Roland Garros; unlikely to finish above #4

Serena Williams 2002. Results: 3 Slams, 8 titles, #1 ranking, 1 doubles Slam
2003 results: 2 Slams, 4 titles, 1 doubles Slam, year-end #3 ranking; missed U. S. Open

Martina Hingis 2000. Results: 9 titles, 1 doubles Slam, #1 ranking
2001 results: 3 titles, 0 doubles Slams (only year between 1996 and 2002 with no doubles Slams), year-end #4; missed most of indoor season, retired the year after

Martina Hingis 1997. Results: 3 Slams, 12 titles, #1 ranking, 1 doubles Slam
1998 results: 1 Slam, 5 titles, doubles Grand Slam, year-end #2

Steffi Graf 1996. Results: 3 Slams, 7 titles, #1 ranking
1997 results: 1 title (and it a Tier III); missed Wimbledon, U. S. Open

Steffi Graf 1995. Results: 3 Slams, 9 titles, #1 ranking
1996 results: See above: 3 Slams, 7 titles, #1 ranking

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 1994. Results: 2 Slams, 8 titles, 1 doubles Slam, year-end #2 but achieved #1 ranking in 1995
1995 results: 0 Slams, 2 titles, 2 doubles Slams, year-end #3

Steffi Graf 1993. Results: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking
1994 results: 1 Slam, 7 titles, year-end #1 but barely

Monica Seles 1992. Results: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking
1993 results: Not applicable, really

Steffi Graf 1992. Results: 1 Slam, 8 titles, year-end #2
1993 results: See above: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking

Monica Seles 1991. Results: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking
1992 results: See above: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking

Steffi Graf 1990. Results: 1 Slam, 10 titles, #1 ranking
1991 results: 1 Slam, 7 titles, year-end #2

Monica Seles 1990. Results: 1 Slam, 9 titles, year-end #2
1991 results: See above: 3 Slams, 10 titles, #1 ranking

Steffi Graf 1989. Results: 3 Slams, 14 titles, #1 ranking
1990 results: See above: 1 Slam, 10 titles, #1 ranking

Martina Navratilova 1989. Results: 0 Slams, 8 titles, 2 doubles Slams, year-end #2
1990 results: 1 Slam, 5 titles, 1 doubles Slam, year-end #3.

Steffi Graf 1988. Results: 4 Slams, 10 titles, 1 doubles Slam, #1 ranking
1989 results: See above: 3 Slams, 14 titles, #1 ranking

Martina Navratilova 1988. Results: 0 Slams, 9 titles, 2 doubles Slams, year-end #2
1989 results: See above: 0 Slams, 8 titles, 2 doubles Slams, year-end #2

Steffi Graf 1987. Results: 1 Slam, 11 titles, #1 ranking
1988 results: See above: 4 Slams, 10 titles, 1 doubles Slam, #1 ranking

Martina Navratilova 1986. 2 Slams (of 3 played), 14 titles, 3 doubles Slams (of 3 played), #1 ranking
1987 results: See above: 2 Slams, 4 titles, 3 doubles Slams, year-end #2

Martina Navratilova 1985. 2 Slams, 13 titles, 2 doubles Slams, #1 ranking
1986 results: See above: 2 Slams, 14 titles, 3 doubles Slams, #1 ranking

Chris Evert 1985. 1 Slam, 11 titles, year-end #2
1986 results: 1 Slam (of 3 played), 3 titles, year-end #2

Martina Navratilova 1984. 3 Slams, 15 titles, doubles Grand Slam, #1 ranking
1985 results: See above: 2 Slams, 13 titles, 2 doubles Slams, #1 ranking

What is perhaps most fascinating is the decline of Great Years. In the 10-year span from 1984-1993, we had 15 Great Years, meaning that as often as not, two players had great years in the same year. In the 5-year span 1994-1999, we had only four Great Years, and never more than one in a year. Since 1997, we've had only four Great Years, two of them last year and both of those at the low end of the scale.

But wait, there's more: In the early years of our study, having a Great Year was no real bar to having a Great Year the next year; 10 of our 15 Great Year-ers managed it, and Monica Seles probably would have made it 11 had she not been stabbed. Since then, we've had only one back-to-back: Graf in 1995-1996. The last six Great Year-ers have all been significantly injured the next year (Graf 1997, Hingis 1998, Hingis 2001, Serena 2003, Clijsters 2004, Henin-Hardenne 2004 -- though her injury was actually illness, and she has a faint chance to achieve a Great Year in 2004 if she can win three more titles. But Henin-Hardenne has just withdrawn from Filderstadt).

Another point: Players used to produce many Great Years in their careers. Graf had eight. Seles had three and should have had more. Navratilova had five just in the portion of her career covered by this survey. Compare the results since 1996. Hingis has had two, one of them at the low end of the scale; no one else has had more than one, though of course Serena, Henin-Hardenne, and Clijsters are all young. Still, what are they odds that any of them will manage half a dozen great years?

Given the data, we can't prove that Great Years cause injury; the lack of repeats may just be that everything is getting harder these days. But there is no question: It's a lot more unusual to maintain a high level than it used to be.

bandabou
Oct 4th, 2004, 09:25 AM
Hasselt: Getting to the Good Stuff
It was all well and good for Kim Clijsters to beat Iveta Benesova in her first match back. Certainly it was promising. But it didn't really mean much. The gap between Clijsters and Benesova is big enough that Clijsters could hope to win even if operating well below peak efficiency.

Playing against Magdalena Maleeva on an indoor court is another matter. This is the one surface where Maleeva can threaten anyone -- and Clijsters took her out 6-3 6-4 in Friday's quarterfinal. Obviously the time off hadn't cost her too much.

Even though she lost, Maleeva finds herself back in the Top 20, at #19. That's because Francesca Schiavone lost her quarterfinal with Elena Bovina 7-6 6-1. Last year, Schiavone had reached the Moscow quarterfinal, which obviously was worth more than a quarterfinal at a Tier III. The loss dropped her to #22 -- one spot behind Silvia Farina Elia, who once again becomes the top Italian woman.

The other high seed in action also advanced in straight sets; #1 Elena Dementieva eliminated Denisa Chladkova 7-5 6-4. That put her in the semifinal against Maria Elena Camerin, who continued her surprising assault on the top rankings with a 5-7 7-5 6-4 win over Virginia Ruano Pascual. Reaching the semifinal put her at a career-high #42. A win over Dementieva would have made her Top 40.

Of course, she didn't get it. Dementieva made her second straight final 6-3 6-3. And that meant, for the second time in her last three tournaments, that she would face countrywoman Elena Bovina. And Bovina had won their last meeting, at New Haven.

The reason was rather a sad one. Clijsters, for all that she had looked good in her first two matches, evidently still wasn't right. Her wrist forced her to retire trailing Bovina 6-4 2-2. The worst of it is, since she played, she reset her injury clock. Had she stopped playing when she first hurt herself, she would have had an injury ranking of #2 whenever she actually came back ready to play. As it is, unless she skips the next six months, she'll get no injury protection at all, and will be ranked #10 or below when she finally comes back. (In fact, since she will not make the year-end championships, she will be below #10 -- probably below #15 -- at the start of next year.)

The final didn't feature any actual retirements, but it did seem as if the two Russians took turns leaving the court. Dementieva won her first title of the year 0-6 6-0 6-4.

You don't often see players come onto the Tour as doubles specialists, but it seems to be Jennifer Russell's approach. She has only four singles events, and a ranking of #1069 -- but in doubles, she came here with 24 events and a Top 100 ranking. Now she can boast her first title, as can partner Mara Santangelo: They beat Nuria Llagostera Vives and Marta Marrero 6-3 7-5. #88 Russell will gain more than 20 places; #113 Santangelo will move up around 30 spots.

GuangZhou: Give Someone Else a Turn!
It's a good thing Chinese tennis is getting stronger. If they keep this up, no one who isn't Chinese will ever come back to GuangZhou.

According to the reports we've heard, GuangZhou province is the part of China that's gone most thoroughly capitalist. Maybe so, but it's pretty good at protecting its own people. On Friday, every match -- singles or doubles -- involving a Chinese player was won by a Chinese player. Qualifier Li Na, in fact, eliminated the last seeded player in the draw, Kristina Brandi, 6-4 6-0. And Li Ting, who until recently seemed to be turning into a doubles specialist, found herself in the semifinal after beating promising countrywoman Peng Shuai 6-2 6-2.

That left Barbora Strycova as the top player in the semifinal; Strycova, #64, took out doubles partner Dinara Safina 6-4 6-1. Our only other Top 100 semifinalist was Martina Sucha, who eliminated Tamarine Tanasugarn 7-6 7-5. It was a tough day for Tanasugarn; in addition to the loss in singles, she and Nicole Pratt, the top doubles seeds, lost 6-3 2-6 6-4 to the Chinese team of Yang and Yu.

Saturday continued the tradition of upsets; Strycova, who was playing her first WTA semifinal (she had only one previous quarterfinal, at Strasbourg this year) lost to #91 Sucha 6-2 7-5, putting Sucha in her second final of the year (her first being Budapest). It's been a strange year for Sucha, who had fallen enough that she played a couple of Challengers early in the year, and played and lost in qualifying as recently as last week; her overall record going into the final was 15-17 (meaning that she would have a losing record even with a title), but that record consisted of two finals, a quarterfinal at Estoril, a third round at Indian Wells, three second rounds -- and 11 first round losses.

And her opponent of course was Chinese: Li Na beat Li Ting 6-3 6-3 (Li Ting at least made the doubles final as she and Sun Tian Tian beat #3 seeds Yan and Zheng in straight sets; their opponents were also Chinese; Yang and Yu made the final when Dinara Safina pulled out with knee tendonitis. And Li and Sun naturally won the title -- only their second title of 2004, after the Olympics. The final score was 6-4 6-1, but that's not really indicative; Yang and Yu won the first four games, after which Li and Sun took over).

Li Na apparently was aware going into the final that no Chinese woman had ever won a singles title anywhere; it had been almost six years since one reached a final, and that player, Li Fang, is no longer active. Until this week, the best showing by an active player was Zheng Jie's semifinal at last year's Japan Open.

It wasn't a problem after the first few games. Qualifier Li beat Sucha 6-3 6-4; by doing so, she improved her record to 44-3 on the season in eight events; she has six WTA level wins, and twice made it through WTA qualifying; the rest is in Challengers, where she lost only one match, in the Bronx semifinal; her best Challenger title was the $50K at Beijing.

Li, who two weeks ago was ranked #193, and was #145 this week, said afterward that her immediate goal is to hit the Top 100. It appears that she has made it; she'll be moving up to around #95. Sucha, #93 coming in, should move above #70.

Seoul: Too Rich or Too Thin
From what we've heard about Maria Sharapova's endorsements lately, it sounds as if she could buy the whole tournament at Seoul, with quite a bit left over for other sporting events. And if that wasn't enough to have going for her, by Friday, there was only one other player ranked above #100 in draw (which had been thin from the start): #8 seed Samantha Stosur.

Sharapova took care of that situation in very short order, eliminating the Australian 6-2 6-1. Meanwhile, Anne Kremer was reaching her first semifinal since Amelia Island 2002 with a 2-6 6-4 6-1 win over Sanda Mamic (who had herself been going for her first semifinal), Abigail Spears made her first semifinal with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Shahar Peer, and Marta Domachowska eliminated Silvija Talaja 7-6 2-6 6-0.

The semifinal was guaranteed to give us a first time finalist, either Domachowska (whose best previous result had been a semifinal at Sopot) or Spears. It proved to be Domachowska, who took care of Spears 7-6 6-1. As for Sharapova, she cruised again, beating Kremer 6-0 6-2 to reach her first final since Wimbledon.

The final was all you'd expect when a Top Ten player faced an opponent ranked #100. I.e. not much. Sharapova proved that she can still win, at least in fields weaker than some Challengers; she took home her first post-Wimbledon title in less than an hour, beating Domachowska 6-1 6-1. (To be fair, she has been learning from her recent troubles; even in victory, she conceded, "To compete with the Top 10 players, there are a lot of things I have to improve on." On the other hand, she now has the record for weakest win of the year: The top opponent she faced was #81 Stosur. In the next-weakest win, Nicole Vaidisova's title at Vancouver, her top opponent was #74 Sequera.) Sharapova, because she was defending points, actually falls from #8 to #10 in the rankings; Domachowska moves up to around #80.

The doubles final was much more exciting, and really gave the locals something to cheer about. Yoon Jeong Cho and Mi-Ra Jeon needed six match points to beat Taiwan's Chia-Jung Chuang and Su-Weih Hsieh 6-3 1-6 7-5. It's the first doubles title for either Korean player.

Bangkok: Space Race

This Monday marks 47 years since the Russians launched Sputnik 1. Lately, it has seemed as if Roger Federer has been flying almost as high.

Friday was a day of routine. Federer actually had the toughest match, and even he came through in straight sets: He took out #8 seed Robin Soderling 7-6 6-4. Meanwhile, #2 Andy Roddick turned back Thomas Johansson 6-3 6-4, #3 Marat Safin bounced Flavio Saretta 6-2 6-1, and #4 Paradorn Srichaphan eliminated Dennis van Scheppingen 6-2 7-5.

Saturday was altogether a different matter. Federer definitely had one of his little lapses in the second set against Srichaphan, and of course the crowd was going nuts for the local favorite. But Federer managed to settle down to win 7-5 2-6 6-3.

And that meant that we had another Federer versus Roddick contest on our hands, because Roddick managed to win an even closer match against Safin: Tiebreaks in all three sets. Safin won the second tiebreak without losing a point. But Roddick was almost as unbeatable in tiebreaks one and three, and advanced 7-6 6-7 7-6.

Despite that long match, Roddick did have one advantage in the final: He wasn't playing in the doubles. Federer and Yves Allegro beat Aspelin and Landsberg in Saturday's semifinal to set up a meeting with Justin Gimelstob and Graydon Oliver.

You'd never know Federer had been working hard. Roddick had a sore elbow, and Federer trounced him 6-4 6-0 -- the first time in his pro career that Roddick had been bageled. Even in the first set, Federer was in charge, and obviously he dominated in the second.

Even before the doubles final, the ATP press machine was working hard, noting that Federer has won his last twelve straight finals, and has ten titles this year -- the former tying the all-time record, and the latter working toward it.

Ironically, as the ATP was announcing that, Federer was losing a final: He and Allegro lost 5-7 6-4 6-4 to Gimelstob and Oliver. Even Jove nods, or something like that.

Shanghai: Unlucky Seven
Argentine players are by no means all alike. David Nalbandian has a Wimbledon final; Guillermo Coria struggled for years just to win a grass match.

And you could make a case that Guillermo Canas comes closest of any of them to a true all-court game. Canas, after all, won his biggest-ever title at the Canadian Open, and has career finals on grass and indoor hardcourt. He showed his love for clay with two titles this summer -- but he doesn't let the lack of dirt bother him elsewhere.

Certainly not at Shanghai, where he had the chance to clinch his year-end Top 30 ranking (after this week, Canas has nothing except some qualifying points to defend). On Friday, when he faced the hottest player in the draw, he also had just about the day's easiest match; he eliminated Ricardo Mello 6-3 6-4 to stop the #7 seed's winning streak at seven.

Which gave us a semifinal with a curiously clay-like appearance, as the other guy involved would be Jiri Novak; the #3 seed eliminated #8 Jan-Michael 6-3 6-3. And that let Canas show once again his strength on hardcourts: He reached the final -- his third in his last four events! -- 6-1 6-2.

His opponent was to be a guy who had earned fewer Race points in the whole year than Canas had earned in either of his two titles. Lars Burgsmuller came in at #123 in the Race, #133 in the Rankings, with a whole 32 Race points; he had twelve first round losses and nothing better than a second round. But on Friday, he beat Davide Sanguinetti in a third set tiebreak to set up a meeting with Kenneth Carlsen, a 7-6 6-1 winner over Gilles Muller. Carlsen was more rested in the semifinal, and loves playing in the Far East, but Burgsmuller eliminated him 7-5 6-3.

The final looked more like the Real Burgsmuller. He kept making errors, and Canas didn't. The German tried a little of everything -- serving and volleying, staying back. It didn't affect much except the length of the points; Canas took home his third title of the year -- and first on hardcourts -- 6-1 6-0. Afterward, he said that he felt he played like a Top Ten player, and hopes to return to that level next year. It will be a while before we know if he's really up to it; he didn't really return to form until after Wimbledon, and hasn't had much chance to play strong events since then. When he does start again, he'll be stuck playing the indoor Masters, which don't reward his game as much. Still, it's hard to bet against him; he came here at #31 in the rankings, and #24 in the Race; he's now in the Top 20 in the latter, and only a few spots lower in the rankings.

If the singles final wasn't much to watch, the doubles was more than exciting enough for anyone who stayed around to watch, ending in a 24-point tiebreak. #2 seeds Jared Palmer and Pavel Vizner outlasted veterans Rick Leach and Brian MacPhie 4-6 7-6 7-6.

Palermo: Half and Half
Nicolas Massu really does seem to have something limits his movement in the rankings: When he threatens to fall, he turns hot; when he threatens to rise, he cools off.

Last week, Massu saw his title from Palermo come off. So, this week, he quickly made the quarterfinal. But that meant that he was threatening to actually move up -- so he lost. On Friday, he went down to #5 seed Filippo Volandri 6-3 3-6 6-4.

That same Friday cost the only other high seed left, also in three sets: #7 David Ferrer eliminated #4 Nikolay Davydenko 6-2 2-6 6-4. Which left us with two semifinals featuring a lot of young talent: Volandri would face Juan Monaco, who had beaten Olivier Mutis 6-3 6-2; Ferrer's opponent was to be Tomas Berdych, who eliminated Italian wildcard Andreas Seppi 6-2 6-4.

The semifinals proved uneventful. Berdych, after all his marathons earlier in the week, seems to have settled down nicely; he made his first ATP final 7-5 6-4. Volandri had an even easier time, beating Monaco 6-1 6-4 to become the first Italian to reach a final in Italy since Davide Sanguinetti won Milan in 2002.

Volandri couldn't match Sanguinetti's feat, though. In a match that lasted only 56 minutes, Berdych took home his first title 6-3 6-3.

The doubles final, played on Saturday, was an all-Argentine affair, with Lucas Arnold and Mariano Hood upsetting Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez 7-5 6-2. This is turning into an amazing time of the year for Arnold and Hood; last year, they won Palermo; turning to 2004, two weeks ago, they won Bucharest, then last week won the Szczecin Challenger; now they have the title at Shanghai. It's their third title of the year, following Buernos Aires and Bucharest; even though it's an optional event, and small, it should put Hood in the Top 25 and Arnold in the Top 30.

Women's Match of the Day

Hasselt - Final
Elena Dementieva (1) def. Elena Bovina (3) 0-6 6-0 6-4

The truly astonishing thing about this match is, it was even stranger than the score. The two finalists didn't just trade bagel sets. After they split the first two, Bovina went up 4-1 in the third, and had triple break point for 5-1. But she lost that game, and the four that followed -- and then had break points on Dementieva again, but couldn't convert.

Talk about a match where Russian Blonde Disease was the biggest single factor!

Or put it another way: This match went 6-4 in the third, and lasted only one hour and 32 minutes.

Nonetheless, after three blown finals this year (the two Slams and Miami, and nothing smaller than Miami), Dementieva wins her first title in just over a year, since Shanghai 2003. Her record since the Olympics is an impressive 12-2.

In terms of points, though, this didn't mean much for Dementieva. It's only a Tier III, and the top player she beat was #17 Bovina. #6 she was, and #6 she remains, and she'll need another title, somewhere, if she is to move above that. The good news is, she's #6 in the Race also, and with more than a 400 point lead over the #9 player. We don't know when the WTA's oh-so-conservative calculations will qualify Dementieva, but as of now, we say she has qualified -- assuming the WTA doesn't plug in a wildcard. (Which, as of right now, would mean pulling Maria Sharapova out of the Championships to replace her with Jennifer Capriati or Venus Williams. Hm.)

Bovina, too, finds herself right where she started, at #17. But it's more important in terms of her year-end standing. Bovina has a lot to defend in the next few weeks (207 points at Filderstadt, 102 at Zurich, 48 at Linz). In the Race, she still stands below #20. This dramatically improves her chances of ending the year on the good side of that number.

In the strange footnotes department, Dementieva has been bageled four times this year (Sydney vs. Cargill, Roland Garros vs. Smashnova, Olympics vs. Molik, and here). In every case except the Olympics, she won the match.

Men's Match of the Day

Palermo - Final
Tomas Berdych (8) def. Filippo Volandri (5) 6-3 6-3

Roger Federer won again. Ho-hum. Guillermo Canas is dominating small events. What else is new?

Tomas Berdych, now, he's news. We've already seen people wondering if the just-barely-19-year-old from Prostejov might not be the major competition for Roger Federer in two or three years. He did, after all, have that win over Federer at the Olympics.

That seems, dare we say, a little too optimistic. Still, Berdych does look like a genuine candidate for Next Big Thing. This is a guy who, two years ago, was below #500 and had never played an ATP match. At this time last year, he had three Tour matches, and only one win. He ended the year below #100.

And this year? The odd thing is, until the Olympics, he hadn't beaten anyone in particular. Then in Athens he beat Florian Mayer in the first round, Federer in the second, Tommy Robredo in the third. Obviously that turned things around: entering this week, he had pushed his ranking to #55 (lower in the Race, but that's because he was still playing Challengers to start the year). And now he adds his first title. It wasn't even much of a contest; he never faced a break point, and wrapped up the title in less than an hour.

As a result, Berdych will be reaching a career high; this puts him in the Top 40. (For that matter, Volandri hits the Top 40 also.) Nor does he have much left to defend this year; his biggest result in the final part of 2003 was a semifinal at the Bratislava Challenger. At the rate he's going, it looks as if he just might earn an Australian Open seed.

Pretty good for a guy who, until this week, had never been past the quarterfinal of an ATP-level event.

Women's Look Forward: Filderstadt, Japan Open

You have to give the WTA credit. The schedule shift resulting from the Olympics caused a lot of events, including even the Canadian Open, to be shuffled around the schedule a little. But they arranged it so that the really big event of the fall indoor season -- Filderstadt -- hasn't been moved.

There is nothing left on the WTA Tour like Filderstadt -- a Tier II which is stronger than many Slams. San Diego used to be in the same league, but it's moved up to Tier I status. Philadelphia has never been quite the same since the Tour Championships moved to Munich and temporarily eliminated it (and we suspect it will never be the same again, because the eight-draw championships format means that fewer players are in the Race to the end). And Sydney has suffered a little because fewer players seem to want an Australian Open warmup. Filderstadt, though, is still Filderstadt.

As in, The event where Top 20 players often end up in qualifying -- and, as often as not, lose. The tournament that can reasonably expect 18 of the top 20 to be in the field. It is, in all seriousness, the toughest event on the WTA schedule, bar none; the handful of events with stronger fields are also played out over a longer time, so players get more rest.

At least, it's the toughest in most years. Injuries being what they are, it's suffering a little in 2004. Justine Henin-Hardenne is worn out again, and was forced to withdraw. Serena Williams cited her knee as a reason for withdrawing. Defending champion Kim Clijsters is still struggling with her wrist. And Jennifer Capriati also pulled out. Venus Williams isn't playing, either; it may be that this was expected to be a Serena tournament, but it's noteworthy that neither Venus nor Serena has really had much luck indoors (relatively speaking, of course); after Venus Williams had her stunning second half of 2000, in which she won Wimbledon, Stanford, San Diego, New Haven, the U. S. Open, and the Olympics, she lost her only indoor tournament, at Linz; for Serena, in her brilliant 2002, she won only one of her two indoor events in the fall. Neither sister has ever won this crown jewel of the indoor season -- the past five winners have all been #1 at some time in the two months following the event; the roster of career winners includes Martina Hingis (four times), Kim Clijsters (twice), Lindsay Davenport, Anke Huber (twice), Iva Majoli, Mary Pierce, Martina Navratilova (five times since 1984), Gabriela Sabatini, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Pam Shriver; probably the weakest winner in the past twenty years is 1998 champion Sandrine Testud, and she had to beat Davenport to earn it. Frankly, the lack of a Filderstadt title is the biggest single lack in Serena's glittering resume; you'd think she'd do everything she could to play here.

Still, it's an impressive field. Even the qualifying was stronger than last week's tournament in GuangZhou; the top qualifying seed was Fabiola Zuluaga, #25 last week; Eleni Daniilidou, #30 when the seeds were announced, was #2, Lisa Raymond #3, and Jelena Kostanic #4. Jelena Jankovic, who was seeded #3 at GuangZhou, managed to be only the #5 seed in Filderstadt qualifying. Iveta Benesova and Emilie Loit took the #6 and #7 seeds, meaning that we had seven Top 40 players in Filderstadt qualifying.

As for the main draw, it has four of the world's top five; only Henin-Hardenne is missing. Amelie Mauresmo is the #1 seed, and #2 Lindsay Davenport is here to compete for the top ranking. Anastasia Myskina is seeded #3, and Svetlana Kuznetsova #4. Elena Dementieva is #6 in the world, but she ends up seeded a mere #5. Then comes the big hole, where all those players pulled out. As a result, Vera Zvonareva is #6, Nadia Petrova #7, and Ai Sugiyama #8. Patty Schnyder is Top 15, but she is unseeded. So are Karolina Sprem, Silvia Farina Elia, Elena Bovina, Paola Suarez, Magdalena Maleeva, Nathalie Dechy, Alicia Molik, and Francesca Schiavone -- Top 25 players all. In fact, apart from German wildcards Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Marlene Weingartner, the only players in the field who are not Top 25 are Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi (who was Top 25 when entries closed), former champion Mary Pierce, Daniela Hantuchova, and Elena Likhovtseva. Even with all the players absent, this is one tough, tough tournament.

The doubles is a rather different story. Paola Suarez is in the singles draw, and partner Virginia Ruano Pascual is in qualifying (and won her opening match), but they're skipping the doubles. (This is, after all, an indoor event, and this team, so dominant on other slower surfaces, still have only one indoor title!) So Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs took the #1 seed. Svetlana Kuznetsova is reportedly re-thinking her doubles schedule, so Elena Likhovtseva is playing this week with Janette Husarova; they're #2. The #3 seeds are a new team, Alicia Molik and Ai Sugiyama, who reportedly will be together next year also. Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva remain together for the moment; they're #4.

Martina Navratilova is coming back next year, but she's taking a break for the moment, so Lisa Raymond is here with Mary Pierce; they're unseeded. Lindsay Davenport is playing doubles for the first time since Amelia Island; she's back with Corina Morariu. And it seems clear that Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario plans to stay un-retired; she is playing with Daniela Hantuchova -- good news for Hantuchova, who had very good results with the Spaniard three years ago, and has never even threatened that level since.

This year, rather unusually, Filderstadt has competition. This week also hosts the Japan Open -- though that's not really much of a threat to the Filderstadt field. In fact, only one player at Tokyo would have gotten direct entry into Filderstadt! That one player is defending champion Maria Sharapova, who will be playing her third straight event (the first time she has ever done that). And even Sharapova's presence may have been dictated by the WTA rules: A player who wins her first title is required to go back and defend it. Sharapova in fact won two titles last year (the other was Quebec City), so she could have defended in Canada instead, but this strategy improves her chances of making the year-end championships.

At least the field isn't lacking in young stars who don't wear much in the way of clothes; after Sharapova, the #2 seed is Tathiana Golovin. Ai Sugiyama chose to play Filderstadt (and that tells you how much players love Filderstadt, that even Sugiyama played there rather than here), but Japan does get one high seed in #3 Shinobu Asagoe. Kristina Brandi is #4, Meghann Shaughnessy, after struggling with her shoulder for the last several months, returns to action as the #5 seed, Nicole Pratt is #6 (and is the last Top 50 player in the draw), Klara Koukalova #7, and Arantxa Parra Santonja #8. There is one interesting wildcard in the draw in Vancouver winner Nicole Vaidisova. And Vaidisova will be teaming with that other noteworthy youngster, Sesil Karatancheva in the doubles. Karatancheva also won her opening qualifying match, and was to face Anne Kremer in the second round. Other than that, there isn't much to note in the doubles except that Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik are together again this week; they're the top seeds.

It appears several players pulled out at the last moment. Jelena Dokic's withdrawal is probably no surprise. It's more surprising to see that Amy Frazier is out, given her historic success here.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

We're tempted to give you noteworthy qualifying matches from Filderstadt, but we don't have the final schedule yet. In any case, there are plenty of fine matches in the first round. In fact, let's just list every first round match except the ones involving qualifiers and wildcards:

Sprem vs. Farina Elia. Neither likes indoor courts much. Sprem has a big edge in power, Farina Elia in guile. Hard to predict a winner, but it should be fun to watch.

Sugiyama vs. Smashnova. The Israeli hates indoors, and Sugiyama is happy enough on fast courts. But the two courts at Filderstadt are very different, and under the right circumstances, Smashnova might have a chance; Sugiyama is one of the few top players who can't absolutely overwhelm her.

Zvonareva vs. Likhovtseva. They're both Russian, and they've played doubles together. Zvonareva is the better player, but anything can happen when two Russians face off.

Pierce vs. Suarez. Odd to say that Suarez is the higher-ranked. But Pierce hates facing her anyway -- Suarez has won all four of their meetings starting from the 2001 Australian Open.

Maleeva vs. Dechy. Two fairly good indoor players. Edge to Maleeva, but a lot depends on how well Dechy has recovered from her latest injury.

Molik vs. Schiavone. Both ranked right around #20. On paper, the surface would seem better for Molik -- but historically indoor surfaces have been Molik's worst; she's done well on grass, and has clay finals and hardcourt titles, but she has almost no record indoors; last year, she lost in Moscow and Filderstadt qualifying, qualified for but lost first round at Zurich, and made the quarterfinal at Luxembourg; this year, she lost her only indoor match at the Pan Pacific; she didn't play a single indoor main draw in 2001 or 2002. Definitely trickier than it sounds.

In the doubles, we have an interesting first rounder between Black/Stubbs and Pierce/Raymond; also Molik and Sugiyama will make their debut against the fairly tough team of Farina Elia and Schiavone; it will also be interesting to see how Hantuchova/Sanchez-Vicario do against Myskina/Zvonareva.

The Japan Open doesn't offer as much, especially since the top two seeds, Sharapova and Golovin, have byes (of course, the top four at Filderstadt have byes, but that still leaves plenty of other names!). Vaidisova will open against Yoon Jeong Cho, who at last is showing signs of life again; in addition, #3 seed Asagoe will face Tamarine Tanasugarn, who two years ago would have been one of the top seeds here.

There is one funny item in the Tokyo doubles draw: Jill Craybas is supposed to be playing doubles with Marlene Weingartner (they're the #3 seeds, in fact), opening against Karatancheva and Vaidisova. But Weingartner is playing singles at Filderstadt. Presumably there will be some changes there....

The Rankings

The time has come. Over the next several weeks, Lindsay Davenport (assuming she doesn't get hurt again) will be making a run for the #1 ranking. Her last event of 2003 was Filderstadt, where she made the quarterfinal. Amelie Mauresmo also made the quarterfinal, and with slightly better quality points. After that, the Frenchwoman has nothing to defend until her title at Philadelphia comes off -- but Davenport has historically played more, and done better, indoors.

And that means that there is a real chance that Davenport can take #1 this week. She came in about 200 points behind Mauresmo. If we subtract off points to be defended, here are how the top six stand in safe points:
1..Mauresmo........4141
2..Davenport.......3967
3..Henin-Hardenne..3598
4..Myskina.........3396
5..Kuznetsova......3313.25
6..Dementieva......2977

Very roughly speaking, that means that if Mauresmo loses her opener and Davenport makes the final, Davenport is #1; if Davenport wins, she will certainly be #1 if Mauresmo loses by the quarterfinal, and probably even if Mauresmo reaches the semifinal. We also see that Myskina could overtake Henin-Hardenne with a title (maybe even a final), and Kuznetsova can overtake Henin-Hardenne with a title. Kuznetsova can pass Myskina by lasting a couple of rounds longer. Even Dementieva has a chance for the #4 ranking if she wins the title. Things have been pretty stable in the rankings since Bali. Not any more.

In the long term, the genuine question is whether anyone else can make an impression in the contest for year-end #1. Davenport's lead over Mauresmo in the Race is nearly 600 points, and she has fewer events. That's a very big gap at this time of year. It appears Justine Henin-Hardenne is out of it; she's far off the pace and still not healthy, and as last year's Filderstadt finalist, she'll be losing some ground. Based on her Race score, Anastasia Myskina could still do some damage, but only if she gets her game together -- fast. That leaves Kuznetsova. She is #3 in the Race. The next few weeks should tell us if she has a chance to end the year higher than that.

Since Kim Clijsters isn't playing, she will take yet another rankings hit. Last year, she earned 292 points at Filderstadt. The loss of those will drop her to no better than #10. And Vera Zvonareva could boot her out of the Top Ten if she can win Filderstadt.

Further down the rankings, Filderstadt semifinalists Mary Pierce and Elena Bovina (who beat Davenport last year) have a lot on the line. So does Virginia Ruano Pascual, who at this time last year was winning Tashkent. The Spaniard's results at Hasselt brought her close to the Top 50 again, but she could well lose all that ground and more. Tashkent finalist Saori Obata is also likely to slip.

Key Matches

One odd effect of the strength of Filderstadt is that the value of matches varies greatly. If, say, Vera Zvonareva wins the event, she could pick up close to 500 points; the tournament is that strong. But if the upsets break just the right way, and Davenport or Mauresmo wins it, she might earn as little as 350 points or so. A big haul, but not that big. Besides, there are so many tough players in the draw that if we predict two players to meet in a particular round, odds are fairly high that it won't happen.

But the closest thing to a sure bet for a key match is the Filderstadt semifinal, Mauresmo vs. Kuznetsova or somebody. If Mauresmo wins this, odds are that she stays #1 (though even in that case, it could depend on quality points).

Elena Bovina could fall out of the Top 20 with an early enough loss. She faces Kuznetsova in the second round. Win that and she should be safe.

At the Japan Open, watch for the quarterfinal, Sharapova vs. Shaughnessy (or someone). If Sharapova wins that, she's back up to #7 in the world, though that's as high as she can hope to rise at this time.

Men's Look Forward: Tokyo, Lyon
When the qualifying draw for Lyon came out, headed as it was by Thomas Enqvist, the natural thought was, "This is going to be quite a tournament." When the main draw came out, that turned into "What are all those clay-courters doing on carpet?"

That's not to imply that Lyon is a weak event; it's not, though it isn't as strong as that qualifying field would lead you to think. But there are a lot of Spaniards (Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Albert Costa, Tommy Robredo, Feliciano Lopez, Rafael Nadal), and quite a few other players you'd think more likely to want to play on something slower (Agustin Calleri, trying once again to come back, plus Luis Horna, Juan Monaco, Hicham Arazi, and others).

The flip side of that is, it's a nicely balanced draw, with no clear and overwhelming favorite. The #1 seed is Nicolas Massu, who of course likes his courts slower. Defending champion Rainer Schuettler is #2 (this week's schedule gave Schuettler the choice of defending his title here or defending his title in Tokyo, and he picked here). Juan Carlos Ferrero, who actually had pretty good indoor results before he started getting injured all the time, is #3. Joachim Johansson is #4, and you know he loves fast courts. Tommy Robredo is #5, and Dominik Hrbaty #6 -- more guys who like things slower. #7 seed Vincent Spadea is probably happy enough with the surface, and of course Mario Ancic is another guy who had the serve to do well here. Others who look like they might have good chances of success are Paul-Henri Mathieu (who is French and who won both his career titles indoors), Jonas Bjorkman, and Robin Soderling, plus the other two French wildcards, Arnaud Clement (who won his first title here five years ago) and Michael Llodra.

Tokyo was more of an enduring mystery. The ATP apparently couldn't get through the Japanese of the web site to figure out the draw; as of this writing, it still isn't on their web site. (We found it by accident: Click on everything until something works. It wasn't filed under draws.) It turned out that, despite having twice the prize money and a third more points than Lyon, it has only a mid-level field. Lleyton Hewitt is the only Top Ten player, but #2 seed David Nalbandian, #3 Andrei Pavel, and #4 Paradorn Srichaphan are all Top 20. Nicolas Kiefer withdrew, leaving Jiri Novak as the #5 seed. Guillermo Canas brings in his five match winning streak as the #6 seed. Slumping Taylor Dent is #7, Thomas Johansson is #8, and that's about it for Top 50 players.

Lower seeds are #9 Cyril Saulnier, #10 Hyung-Taik Lee, #11 Ricardo Mello, #12 Jarkko Nieminen, #13 Jan-Michael Gambill, #14 Dennis van Scheppingen, #15 Jan Hernych, and #16 Gilles Muller.

It will tell you how far Mark Philippoussis has fallen this year that he didn't even get a seed or a first round bye in this field. He heads a strong contingent of unseeded Australians (Todd Reid, Wayne Arthurs). Other than that, there aren't many big names floaters.

Noteworthy First Round Matches

Lyon, being as strong as it is, has quite a few of these:

(1) Massu vs. Calleri. Coming back on carpet can hardly be what Calleri was hoping for, but then, it's not a great surface for Massu either.

Horna vs. Youzhny. Horna is having his best year ever, and Youzhny is a bit below his form, but the Russian likes the surface better.

(3) Ferrero vs. Sargsian. Ferrero is the better player, of course, but can he actually stay out there long enough to beat Sargsian?

(5) Robredo vs. Soderling. The Spaniard is ranked higher, but it's Soderling's surface, and he's been improving all year.

F. Lopez vs. Davydenko. No other Spaniard likes fast surfaces as well as Lopez, but if he gets into a long rally, can he win against Davydenko?

(7) Spadea vs. Ginepri. The only two Americans in the main draw face each other in the first round. At least the surface should be OK for both.

Ljubicic vs. Clement. Clement likes the surface better, but he's having a poor year, and of course Ljubicic has that serve....

Melzer vs. Llodra. Both players have been making big strides this year. On the whole, Llodra probably likes faster courts better. But Melzer may be the better player.

Arazi vs. (2) Schuettler. Can either of these guys actually come to life?

At Tokyo, by contrast, the fact that the 16 seeds all have byes eliminates most of the early drama. The best matches might be Philippoussis vs. Zib and Gimelstob vs. Christophe Rochus. But, really, there ought to be a rule against giving byes to players ranked below #50....

The Rankings

Right now, the story of Rainer Schuettler's life seems to be, "How low can you go?" With Tokyo already off and Lyon about to drop, we can emphatically say, "Out of the Top 20." The news is nearly as bad for Arnaud Clement, last year's Lyon finalist (we told you he liked this place); if he doesn't have as much to defend, he doesn't have as many points on his record, either.

The other tournament that comes off this week, Vienna, is much less significant to those involved. Roger Federer won it last year, but his ranking is under no threat; even though Andy Roddick will close the gap a little, Federer's lead will remain nearly two to one. Lleyton Hewitt is safe at #3, but can't move up for a few more weeks yet, though he has the chance to gain some ground on Roddick here. It's hard, though; he has too many optional titles for another to do him much good, even though he's the obvious favorite to win Tokyo; he really needs more required results.

Carlos Moya was last year's Vienna finalist, but his lead over Andre Agassi is too big to surmount. Tim Henman, with semifinalist points from Vienna, has enough optional events that the loss of those shouldn't matter much. The one change we could see in the Top Ten is that David Nalbandian has a real chance to move up here.

Max Mirnyi, who ended up playing qualifying at Lyon this year, after struggling all summer, will be taking a hit; he was a semifinalist at Vienna last year. Lyon semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny could also suffer a little.

Key Matches

We got the Tokyo draw too late to do much with it (hence the shortness of the rankings analysis, too). At Lyon, though, the key match is surely the potential quarterfinal between Schuettler and Clement -- assuming Schuettler can beat first Arazi and then Melzer or Llodra, and that Clement can beat Ljubicic and then Ginepri or Spadea. Since those two both have big points on the line, their meeting guarantees that at least one of them will fall.

We'd also watch how Paul-Henri Mathieu does here. He won his second career title here two years ago, and seems finally to be getting back to that level again; this could be his chance to really put things together. He opens against a qualifier, then Dominik Hrbaty (who likes his courts slower), then Nicolas Massu (ditto, though perhaps to a lesser extent).

At Tokyo, the Player to Watch may be Nalbandian. Can he get his game together? His first strong opponent would be Dent in the quarterfinal, and it only gets worse in the semifinal, where he would face Pavel or Canas.

The most interesting match of the Round of Sixteen is probably #5 Novak vs. #11 Mello; just how much progress has Mello made? At Shanghai, he did better against Canas than Novak did.

The Hewitt/Thomas Johansson quarterfinal could also be fun.

bandabou
Oct 5th, 2004, 11:10 AM
Filderstadt: Higher League
One of the difficulties of tennis journalism is that there is no official and recognized system for determining how tough a tournament is. (If there were, we could probably use it to make the ranking system better.) But we at Daily Tennis have several systems of our own. And, to give a little perspective, under one of these systems, Filderstadt qualifying is stronger than nine tournaments played on the WTA so far this year; another system says that there have been fully twelve tournaments weaker than the qualifying at this toughest of tough events.

Witness the fact that world #32 Eleni Daniilidou lost in the second round of qualifying (to Tatiana Panova), and #37 Iveta Benesova and #39 Emilie Loit had lost in the first round (to Stephanie Gehrlein and Lilia Osterloh, respectively). And that still left us with four Top 40 players in the qualifying final round.

And they didn't make it all through, either. It would seem Jelena Jankovic is finally over her foot injury; she edged #30 Lisa Raymond 6-4 1-6 7-6. Raymond will still make the main draw as a Lucky Loser -- but how often do you see a Lucky Loser ranked #30?

The top qualifying seed did make it through: #25 Fabiola Zuluaga eliminated Els Callens 6-0 7-5. That means that Filderstadt features 18 of the Top 25 in the main draw; the only Top 25 players not present are Justine Henin-Hardenne (sick), Kim Clijsters (injured), Jennifer Capriati, Serena Williams (bad knee?), Maria Sharapova (defending the Japan Open), Venus Williams (this is a Serena tournament), and Amy Frazier (hurt?). Pretty good for a Tier II!

Our other qualifiers are Lilia Osterloh, who kept up her hot streak by beating Tatiana Panova 6-7 6-2 6-2, and Jelena Kostanic, who blew away Denisa Chladkova 6-0 6-1. Chladkova would be next in if someone else withdraws.

Only three main draw singles matches were played, and two of them resulted in upsets, at least on paper. Karolina Sprem continues to struggle on indoor surfaces; Silvia Farina Elia has a real chance to return to the Top 20 after beating the Croat 3-6 6-3 6-3. Even more amazing, Anna Smashnova took out #8 seed Ai Sugiyama 6-3 7-6. Alicia Molik, meanwhile, scored the biggest indoor win of her career, beating Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-3. That just about guarantees that Molik will stay Top 20; she might move as high as #18. She will also get the chance to influence the contest for #1, since she faces Lindsay Davenport next.

In the doubles, Daniela Hantuchova's reunion with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was not a success; #4 seeds Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva took them out 6-3 7-5. Lindsay Davenport's return to doubles was probably less successful than she had hoped, but she and Corina Morariu finally advanced, beating Iveta Benesova and Claudine Schaul 7-6 6-4.

Japan Open: Double Trouble
It was a long day, Monday. The whole schedule had been set back a day, so that both the second and third rounds of qualifying had to be played on Monday. We'll try to sum it up fast. We have, of course, four qualifiers. Top qualifying seed Samantha Stosur beat first Akiko Yonemura in straight sets, then eliminated #8 seed Catalina Castano 6-1 6-2. Emmanuelle Gagliardi, the #2 seed, needed three sets to beat Yuka Yoshida in the second round, and that didn't leave much energy to take on Sesil Karatancheva, who had easily handled #7 seed Anne Kremer 6-2 6-1. Karatancheva made her fourth WTA main draw by upsetting Gagliardi 6-4 6-2. Shahar Peer made her third main draw, and second in a row, with a 4-6 6-2 6-1 win over Bryanne Stewart (who, given her recent results, has to feel good about just winning two qualifying matches; we were thinking she had retired from singles, and she got into the qualifying draw as an alternate). And Youlia Fedossova (who, despite her name, is listed as being French) will be making her WTA debut after beating first Lioudmila Skavronskaia in three sets and then Adriana Serra Zanetti (who had upset #5 seed Jennifer Hopkins) in straights.

Only one main draw match was played; wildcard Rika Fujiwara, playing only her second WTA event of the year, earned only her second win since last year's Japan Open; she upset countrywoman Saori Obata 6-4 6-4. We also had one doubles match; Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik, the top seeds, beat Hisamatsu and Takase 6-2 6-3.

Lyon: More Speed, Less Haste
One of the Roman Emperor Augustus's favorite maxims was, "More haste, less speed." It's certainly true in a lot of areas of endeavor, including tennis journalism, as articles full of hurried errors attest.

For a clay-loving player, though, it's the other way around: If the court is faster, he has less chance of getting ahead. It was quite a surprise, therefore, to see Dominik Hrbaty sign up for the fast indoor courts of Lyon when he could have played in Tokyo.

The result may have taught him his lesson. Xavier Malisse eliminated him 6-4 7-6. Not that it will hurt him; Hrbaty did reach the second round last year, but he has plenty of spare optional events!

If you want to talk about guys who hate the fall indoor season, though, Hrbaty is nothing to Nikolay Davydenko, who didn't win a match after the U. S. Open last year and posting first round indoor losses at Moscow, Vienna, Madrid, St. Petersburg, and Paris. You can add another carpet loss this year; big-serving Feliciano Lopez eliminated him 6-3 6-7 6-3.

The most painful loss of all, though, was suffered by Arnaud Clement. Last year's finalist needed a wildcard to get in here, and failed to justify it; Ivan Ljubicic beat him 6-4 7-6.

The day's final match also went against the slowcourt player, though he made it amazingly close. Jonas Bjorkman barely edged Albert Costa 6-7 7-6 6-4, saving two match points along the way.

Qualifiers in this strong draw are Julien Benneteau, Max Mirnyi, Raemon Sluiter, and Radek Stepanek. But top qualifying seed Thomas Enqvist is out; he lost the qualifying final to Sluiter in a third set tiebreak.

The doubles draw here is exceptionally strong, which meant that Martin Damm and Cyril Suk went unseeded. Which was bad luck for them; they lost in three sets to #2 seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett. But #3 seeds Julian Knowle and Michael Llodra were first time unlucky; they fell in a third set tiebreak to Cermak and Friedl.

Tokyo: An Object In Motion Tends To Remain In Motion
We knew Mark Philippoussis was unseeded at Tokyo. What we hadn't expected was that he would play like it.

The ugly story continues. Philippoussis last won a match (three of them, in fact) at Wimbledon -- and before that he had a five match losing streak. Since then, he's equalled that bad stretch. He lost first round at Los Angeles to Benneteau. Olympics to Olivier Rochus. U. S. Open to Davydenko. Shanghai to Weiner. And, on Monday, he made it six in a row. Tomas Zib beat him 6-3 6-4.

Given how many matches they have to play here, it was not a very busy day -- only four main draw matches played. (That was mostly a case of catch-up; there was a big backlog from Sunday.) Though the others were all much closer than the Philippoussis/Zib non-contest. Janko Tipsarevic is up to #107 in the world; a good result here would have made him Top 100. But Alex Bogomolov took him out in a third set tiebreak. And the other two matches both ended in two tiebreaks: Wildcard Takao Suzuki eliminated Adrian Garcia and Harel Levy took out Yen-Hsun Lu.

Qualifiers are Marco Chiudinelli, Satoshi Iwabuchi (who makes only his second main draw appearance of the year), Michael Kohlmann, Bjorn Phau, Kristian Pless, and Yeu-Tzuoo Wang.

Women's Match of the Day

Filderstadt - First Round
Anna Smashnova def. Ai Sugiyama (8) 6-3 7-6(7-3)

If you've been following the soap opera that is Anna Smashnova's name, the official history is this. First she was Anna Smashnova. Then Anna Pistolesi. Then Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi. Two weeks ago, she reverted to just plain Smashnova.

It seems to have worked. Because this is very nearly the best indoor result of her life. Smashnova, of course, is short and speedy and doesn't have much in the way of offensive weaponry; fast courts don't suit her at all. Over the past four years, she has played only 17 indoor events, with only ten wins in those 17 events; in 2001, she had no indoor wins at all, and this is her first of 2004. And yet, when she does win, she tends to win big. At Filderstadt 2002, she beat then-#17 Schnyder. At Zurich 2002, she beat then-#13 Rubin. At Linz 2002, she beat #28 Shaughnessy and #18 Dementieva. She then lost four indoor matches in a row, through Moscow 2003, where she beat #13 Petrova, #35 Kuznetsova, and #32 Bovina. In Russia. Her last indoor win came at Zurich last year, where she beat #21 Farina Elia.

And now she can add another Top 15 win. It's certainly good timing. When that big Moscow result came off last week, Smashnova fell out of the Top 30. This will certainly put her back -- and, by an incredible stroke of luck, she's at the only place in the draw where there was no possibility of facing a Top 20 player in the next round. So she just might have a chance to go even a little higher.

Sugiyama came in at #14, and even though this costs her a few points, she still has more than a 200 point lead over #15 Patty Schnyder, so she will probably stay there. But she has Linz to defend in a few weeks. This was one of her few chances for what should have been easy indoor points, and it's wasted.

Men's Match of the Day

Lyon - First Round
Ivan Ljubicic def. Arnaud Clement (WC) 6-4 7-6(7-1)

Earlier this year, Arnaud Clement was talking about raising his sights for the year. He wanted to do better than just end up in the Top Fifty.

Maybe he should have been happy as he was. Since the grass season, he's been a wreck. He lost first round at Wimbledon, first round at Cincinnati, second round at the Olympics, first round at the U. S. Open, first round at Bucharest, and was blown out in Davis Cup.

And it was already a lousy month. Last week, his title at Metz came off, causing him to drop from #62 to #82. Now he loses finalist points from Lyon last year. And that means -- he can bid the Top 100 goodbye.

If there is any good news at all, it's that he came in at #91 in the Race. He has only one more win to defend from last year, and that was an optional one, at Basel. His ranking is low enough that he can count more optional events. So if he can actually win some matches, he has a chance to climb. But there isn't much indication that he can start winning....

Last year, Ljubicic reached the second round of Lyon also. Not that second round points would matter anyway. There is one interesting point: Last year, he lost to Rainer Schuettler. This year, they could meet in the quarterfinal -- if Schuettler lasts that long. Not a great bet, these days. .

This Week's Movers -- Women
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Li Na -- Moved 53 places, from #145 to #92.
Li, who had already been a rather spectacular mover in September, topped it all off by winning her first title at GuangZhou -- as a qualifier!

Runner-Up: Martina Sucha -- Moved 26 places, from #91 to #65
Sucha lost the GuangZhou final to Li, but it was still a final....
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Li -- cut ranking 37%

Runner-Up: Sucha, 28%
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Aniko Kapros -- Dropped 30 places, from #65 to #95
Last year, Kapros made the Japan Open final with a win over Sugiyama. This year, she has hardly been able to play (only one win since Budapest), and lost in the GuangZhou first round to run her losing streak to five.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Kapros, ranking increased 46%.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

You could make a case that Li (and Sucha) shouldn't have moved as much as they did; that GuangZhou had a Tier IV field. But Li would have been the biggest absolute and percentage mover even had the points been adjusted downward. So: Li.

Rankings Notes

In light of the ongoing question of "Who should be #1," we thought we would list the Top Ten under the divisor this week. Note that Justine Henin-Hardenne is still tops. She will lose the top spot this week, though, to Davenport or just possibly Mauresmo, depending on the results at Filderstadt.
1 Henin-Hardenne......274.6
2 Davenport...........270.5
3 Mauresmo............249.5
4 Clijsters...........198.4
5 Capriati............185.5
6 SWilliams...........185.4
7 Myskina.............181.2
8 Kuznetsova..........161.0
9 VWilliams...........153.2
10 Dementieva..........147.3

This Week's Movers -- Men
Biggest Upward Mover -- Most Places Moved (Top 100)
Leader: Lars Burgsmuller -- Moved 34 places, from #133 to #99.
After being demolished in the Shanghai final by Guillermo Canas, Burgsmuller said he needed to forget the whole day -- but it still put him back in the Top 100.

Runner-Up: Tomas Berdych -- Moved 31 places, from #55 to #34
Berdych, who had never made an ATP quarterfinal before, won his first title at Palermo and reaches a career high.
Biggest Percentage Mover -- Cut Ranking By Highest Percent (Top 100)
Leader: Berdych -- cut ranking 38%

Runner-Up: Burgsmuller, 26%
Biggest Loser -- Most Places Lost (Top 100)
Loser: Taylor Dent -- Dropped 21 places, from #34 to #55
This time last year had been the best few weeks of Dent's career as he won Bangkok and Moscow. Now all that is coming off.
Biggest Percentage Loser -- Worst Percentage Increase in Ranking (Top 100)
Loser: Dent, ranking increased 62%.
Our Personal Picks for "Best Mover of the Week"
These are subjective picks!

Not much doubt about this one. Berdych had the best percentage move, and he won his first career title, and he's at a career high.

bandabou
Oct 6th, 2004, 10:07 AM
Filderstadt: Not This Time
Filderstadt, because it's so strong, always gives "good statistic." You'll see examples below of the odd footnotes it yields. It also tends to produce rankings oddities. Consider, for example, the fact that we already know with near certainty who will be Top Ten -- but we don't know who will be Top Five.

That's because Vera Zvonareva is once again out of the Top Ten sweepstakes. She took on Elena Likhovtseva in an all-Russian contest, and Likhovtseva -- the veteran and forerunner of this entire generation -- knows Zvonareva too well. Add to that the fact that Zvonareva was not playing at all well (apart from one brief stretch in the second set) and you have a big upset: Likhovtseva eliminated the #6 seed 6-3 7-5. That means that the best Zvonareva, who suffers only her fifth loss this year to a non-Top-20 player, can hope for is to retain her current #11 ranking. But Likhovtseva, who came in at #27, may well hit the Top 25 if she can win her next match.

If she does, she'll have to do it against Mary Pierce. Pierce finally had a chance to face Paola Suarez on an indoor court, and ended a half a decade of frustration against the Argentine by winning 6-2 6-3. Pierce, we note with interest, had no Top 20 wins in her first 11 events this year, but has had at least one in all three events since.

We came surprisingly close to another upset as Daniela Hantuchova took on Lilia Osterloh. In the first set, Hantuchova -- despite going up a break early -- was having a horrible time on her serve, sending balls all over the court. Osterloh, with much less power, managed to win six of the last seven games of the set. But that seemed to settle Hantuchova down. She finally advanced 3-6 6-2 6-1.

There was no upset as qualifier Fabiola Zuluaga took on wildcard Marlene Weingartner, though. Weingartner fell into one of her bad moods, and was double bageled.

In the day's last singles match, Nathalie Dechy eliminated 2003 quarterfinalist Magdalena Maleeva 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Current plans are for Alicia Molik and Ai Sugiyama to play doubles together next year. They got off to a nice start; the #3 seeds beat the tough Italian team of Farina Elia and Schiavone 6-2 7-5. The day's other doubles match produced a big surprise: wildcards Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Julia Schruff (the latter in particular not noted for doubles) eliminated U. S. Open semifinalists Barbara Schett and Patty Schnyder 6-2 6-2.

Japan Open: Weather Permitting

Once again, the weather made a mess of things in Tokyo; they weren't able to complete even one doubles match. But the organizers did manage to complete the first round singles. All 13 matches.

Most of the seeds probably wish they hadn't. Four of the six in action lost. It appears that #5 Meghann Shaughnessy really wasn't ready to come back; French qualifier Youlia Fedossova, ranked #448, handed her her seventh straight loss 7-5 7-6. It was Fedossova's first WTA win, in her eighth event, and she's nearly doubled her point total; she should gain more than 100 places. But Shaughnessy sets a record of sorts: She suffers the worst loss experienced by any Top 50 player this year, apart from the special cases of Magui Serna's loss to Sandrine Testud and Tina Pisnik's loss to Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie; the next worst losses were Krasnoroutskaya's and Smashnova's defeat at the hands of #354 Golovin at the Australian Open, and there were only three other instances of Top 50 players losing to non-Top-300 opponents this year.

Evgenia Linetskaya has a few more tournaments than Fedossova under her belt, but hardly more WTA experience; this was her second main draw (the U. S. Open being her first), and she has only one win. She made it two with a 6-0 1-6 6-4 victory over #6 seed Nicole Pratt.

By that standard, qualifier Sesil Karatancheva is experienced: She had three prior WTA events, and four wins. She can increase those totals to four and five, respectively; she beat #8 Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2 6-4 -- a loss which will knock the Spaniard out of the Top 60.

Not everyone who posted an upset was a babe in tennis racquets. Tamarine Tanasugarn, after a dreadful year, seems at last to be showing life this fall; she upset #3 seed Shinobu Asagoe 6-0 6-4.

Two seeds did survive: #4 Kristina Brandi edged Sandra Kleinova 4-6 6-3 6-4, while #7 Klara Koukalova handed Milagros Sequera her sixth straight loss 6-2 6-2.

The other whiz kid in the draw, Nicole Vaidisova, wasn't in position to upset a seed, because she didn't face one. But the Vancouver winner did pick up her eighth WTA win, beating Yoon Jeong Cho 6-3 6-4.

Aniko Kapros had a five match losing streak going back to Wimbledon. She snapped it with a 2-6 6-0 6-2 victory over qualifier Shahar Peer.

It was a mixed day for the Japanese hosts. Akiko Morigami broke a three match losing streak with a 7-5 6-0 win over Katarina Srebotnik. But of course Asagoe lost, costing them their top player in the draw; in addition, qualifier Samantha Stosur beat Aiko Nakamura 6-3 7-5. That means that Stosur, for the second straight week, will be facing top seed Maria Sharapova.

After a great summer, Mashona Washington had struggled a bit, losing first round at the U. S. Open and Seoul. She finally snapped out of it with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Maria Sanchez Lorenzo; that will put her in the Top 60.

The day's other two matches featured players ranked one place apart, and both were won by the lower-ranked. #73 Lubomira Kurhajcova beat #72 Alina Jidkova 7-6 6-2; #59 Jill Craybas eliminated #58 Barbora Strycova 7-5 4-6 6-4.

Lyon: Rug Burns
They don't call it "carpet" for nothing. The big story of Tuesday was how many clay-courters got swept under the rug.

Perhaps the most disturbing was Mario Ancic. He's your standard Croat: Big serve, but otherwise he acts a lot like a clay-courter. But because he serves so big, people expect him to do well indoors.

There were two problems. One was his shoulder; the other was Max Mirnyi, who qualified here and seems at last to be showing faint signs of life. He was crawling all over Ancic when the #8 seed decided to retire with a shoulder problem -- right shoulder, worse luck. The score was 6-3 6-1. Mirnyi would also return to life in doubles; he and Mahesh Bhupathi would eliminate Malisse and Spadea 6-3 6-4. It wasn't all good news for doubles seeds, though, as #4 Etlis and Rodriguez lost to unseeded Erlich and Ram (a team that would have been seeded at most events, but not here).

Meanwhile, Robin Soderling was serving his way past #5 seed Tommy Robredo 6-1 6-4. And Agustin Calleri made it three seeds down as he eliminated top seed Nicolas Massu 6-3 6-4.

That meant that, of the first four seeds in action, only one came through. The non-clay-courter, naturally: #7 seed Vince Spadea eliminated countryman Robby Ginepri 6-4 6-3.

One clay-courter did manage to go against form: David Ferrer eliminated qualifier Raemon Sluiter, who definitely has had better fastcourt results than the young Spaniard, 6-3 6-4. But Mikhail Youzhny, who is an all-surface type, won the other early match between unseeded players, eliminating clay-bred Luis Horna 6-4 7-6.

The French aren't having much luck at this event; in a late match, qualifier Radek Stepanek edged wildcard Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6 7-5 6-2.

That left one seed to play in the evening: Juan Carlos Ferrero was to take on Sargis Sargsian. The result was at least vaguely promising for Ferrero after his struggles this year: He advanced 6-4 7-6.

Tokyo: Extra Help
Expect to see a lot of seeds advance on Wednesday and Thursday in Tokyo.

That's not because there is something special about the seeds here; in fact, they're a rather weak lot. But they'll be rested, and their opponents will generally be exhausted.

Rain once again messed up play in Tokyo; only five men's singles matches were completed, meaning that nearly half the first round matches remain to be played on a day when they were supposed to be completing the second round. And even one of the completed matches ended in a retirement: Justin Gimelstob and Christophe Rochus were going into a first set tiebreak when Rochus abandoned the match.

Tiebreaks were also the mark of the match between Nicolas Thomann and Kristian Pless; Thomann won in two of them -- his first win of the year after three losses.

Jean-Rene Lisnard has quietly started to improve his results slightly after a very bad start to the year; he's back up to #123 after falling to the #160 range. But it was only a slight recovery; he lost to Wayne Arthurs 6-4 7-5.

At least Thomann and Lisnard have been able to play ATP events in 2004. Gouichi Motomura had none, and of course needed a wildcard to get into the draw. But he did take advantage, beating Glenn Weiner 6-4 6-3.

As a matter of fact, every match involving a player who lived in a time zone close to Tokyo's was won by the relative local: In the day's other match, Taiwanese qualifier Yeu-Tzuoo Wang beat Jeff Morrison 6-3 7-6.

Women's Match of the Day

Filderstadt - First Round
Nathalie Dechy (WC) def. Magdalena Maleeva 4-6 6-3 6-3

So is it an upset if the winner of the match came in ranked lower than her opponent, but comes out ranked higher?

On any surface except indoors, Nathalie Dechy would probably be the favorite here, despite being ranked #24 to Maleeva's #19. But this is Maleeva's best surface by far. Here, she was the clear favorite. Particularly since Dechy is physically fragile, and has been struggling with her body since reaching the New Haven final; she withdrew from the U. S. Open third round and hadn't played since.

Certainly it was a match Maleeva wanted to win. Last year, she made the Filderstadt quarterfinal, beating #25 Jelena Dokic and #10 Chanda Rubin before losing to Mary Pierce. That earned her 121 points -- and, with the players from #19 to #30 all within 300 points of each other, that's a lot. Maleeva came in at #19. The loss means that she will fall to no better than #25 -- and it will be #26 if Elena Likhovtseva wins her next match.

Because there are so many players clumped together, we can't yet tell how much good this will do Dechy. It's certain that she will stay Top 25, and ahead of Maleeva, but we can't tell how much, or whether, she will move up.

Even if she doesn't climb in the rankings, Dechy has nothing to defend for the rest of the year. This, by itself, is a relatively small result, and Dechy has to face Anastasia Myskina next. But it could well be a step toward a year-end Top 20 ranking.

Men's Match of the Day

Lyon - First Round
Agustin Calleri def. Nicolas Massu (1) 6-3 6-4

Injuries being what they are this year, every time a player comes back, we have a sort of bet with ourselves: "Is he ready?"

Agustin Calleri started the year pretty well. A semifinal at Doha. A final at Costa do Sauipe. Fourth round at Indian Wells. Quarterfinal at Miami. Quarterfinal at Barcelona. But then he pulled out of Rome, skipped Hamburg, and retired from his opening round match at Roland Garros. He tried to come back at Bastad, and lost first round (though it was a close contest against Tommy Robredo). He won a match at the Olympics, but withdrew from the second round. And hasn't played since.

By the looks of things, he's finally right. This is his first convincing win over a top player since Barcelona. Which, of course, he needed; with all those false comeback attempts, he wasn't going to be getting any sort of injury protection.

Unfortunately for him, this does him no good, points-wise. Last year at this time, he reached the second round at Vienna -- a bigger tournament, so his point total slips again. But the flip side of the coin is, he didn't win another match after that one last year. Assuming he can play at all, he has nowhere to go but up. Which would be nice, considering that his ranking more than twice what it was at this time last year.

Massu, for the moment, isn't hurt by the loss; he went down first round at Vienna last year. But the week after Vienna was Madrid -- and he made the final there. Madrid won't be played for another week this year -- but Massu now guaranteed to fall dramatically next week, even if he does something solid in his next tournament.

The Test of Time
A few weeks ago, the ATP made it official: Roger Federer was the year-end #1. Of course, everyone was convinced he would be #1 well before that. But we pointed out, at the time, that Federer's clinching was an artifact of the ranking system: It's easier to clinch under Required and Optional than most other ranking systems.

But how much easier?

Let's take a look, comparing Federer and Andy Roddick. (In fact, in some systems, we should include Lleyton Hewitt too; depending on the system, he might be more of a threat to Federer than is Roddick. But you probably don't want us to go into that; we'll be slinging enough numbers as it is.) For starters, here are Federer's and Roddick's results this year (through the U. S. Open, since that's when Federer clinched; the rest we will analyze later). We'll show the Race points earned after each event.

FEDERER:
Australian Open Win (200)
Rotterdam QF (12)
Dubai Win (60)
Indian Wells Win (100)
Miami 3R (7)
Rome 2R (7)
Hamburg W (100)
Roland Garros 3R (15)
Halle Win (45)
Wimbledon Win (200)
Gstaad Win (35)
Canadian Open Win (100)
Cincinnati 1R (1)
Olympics 2R (5)
U. S. Open Win (200)

RODDICK:
Doha 2R (5)
Australian Open QF (50)
San Jose Win (35)
Memphis QF (5)
Scottsdale SF (15)
Indian Wells QF (25)
Miami Win (100)
Houston F (24)
Rome 1R (1)
Roland Garros 2R (7)
Queen's Win (45)
Wimbledon F (140)
Indianapolis Win (40)
Canadian Open F (70)
Cincinnati SF (45)
Olympics 3R (10)
U. S. Open QF (50)

That's a total of 1087 points for Federer, in 15 events; Roddick had 667 points in 16 events, but 20 of those points (Olympics, Doha, Memphis) were outside his Optional Five; hence his Race total of 647 after the Olympics.

Now after the U. S. Open, there are three required events:
Madrid (100)
Paris (100)
Masters Cup (150 if undefeated in Round Robin)

The biggest optional events of the remainder of the year, week by week, are
Beijing (35)
Bangkok (35)
Tokyo (50)
Moscow (50)
St. Petersburg (50)

But Roddick already has optional events with points of 45 40 35 24 15 (total of 159). The best he could come up with, were he to play and win Tokyo, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, would be 50 50 50 45 40, a total of 235. That's 76 more optional points than he had after the U. S. Open. So, following the Open, the most points he could gain on Federer, assuming Federer didn't play another match, were 100 (Madrid) + 100 (Paris) + 150 (Masters Cup, undefeated) + 76 (optional events). Grand total: 426 points. Federer's lead was "only" 420 points, so actually, there was a chance still (eliminated at Bangkok). But it wasn't possible in practice.

But that's Required and Optional. There is no particular magic about that ranking system; apart from the fact that it is discontinuous (not all players are ranked in the same way, which is not mathematically elegant to say the least), it lacks bonus points for beating good players, meaning that it's possible for some players to fatten their rankings by playing very weak events. Suppose we looked at the situation under, say, the old Best 14 ranking system.

We aren't going to go all-out and recalculate the bonus points. It's just too much work, and overall, Federer and Roddick played roughly equal schedules in terms of difficulties. So we'll just treat Race points as points. It's close enough for a rough cut. In that case, Federer's Best 14 were:

Australian Open Win (200)
Wimbledon Win (200)