View Full Version : Women's Look Forward: Sarasota, Casablanca (c/p)

Mar 30th, 2003, 06:33 PM
The WTA probably hoped that a move would do Casablanca good. The tournament has been one of the weakest on the WTA Tour from its first year until now. (As a look at the winners reveals: Last year, Patricia Wartusch took home the title; in 2001, it was Zsofia Gubacsi). It has never had a particularly great spot in the schedule -- after Wimbledon, during the period when all the top players are playing West Coast hardcourts, and last year there were two other events scheduled against it. This year, it's being moved forward as far as it can go, to make it the very first red clay event of the Old World season. It's also the week before the men's event. That may well help bring in more spectators. But first event after a surface-and-time-zone shift rarely does well. Casablanca, as we'll see, is no exception.

If Casablanca has always been weaker than its tier, Sarasota has always been absurdly stronger. Even though it's a Tier IV, the field is usually toward the upper end of the Tier III scale. It's not hard to guess why: It's close to Miami, it's close to the players' homes, it's a chance to warm up on green clay for Charleston and Amelia Island.

How strong? Strong enough that there are players in qualifying who will be getting direct entry into Charleston and Amelia Island -- players such as Jill Craybas, Lina Krasnoroutskaya, and Stephanie Foretz. Players with big results at Miami, such as Alicia Molik (not likely to be a threat on clay, though) and Marion Bartoli and Marlene Weingartner (and she could be a clay threat). Nadia Petrova is a former Top 30 player who is stuck in qualifying. Mirjana Lucic made the qualifying draw only after several players pulled out. Lilia Osterloh needed a wildcard into qualifying, and got it only because another wildcard withdrew. It really does look like the qualifying for a Tier II, not a Tier IV.

Strong enough that Paola Suarez, one of the best clay players in the field, is unseeded and opens against Jelena Dokic. Also unseeded is Iva Majoli. And Tamarine Tanasugarn (thought that's only reasonable on clay). And Daja Bedanova. And Mary Pierce. And Elena Likhovtseva. And Roland Garros semifinalist Clarisa Fernandez. And -- drumroll, please -- Conchita Martinez. On clay. This is a Tier IV, and if features eight Top 25 players!

Or try it another way: The #1 seed at Sarasota qualifying is Jill Craybas, #58 as of last week. The #1 seed in the main draw at Casablanca is Virginie Razzano, #57 last week. In other words, not one player at Casablanca would have earned direct entry into Sarasota (assuming this week's rankings were used -- there might be one or two who would have qualified based on the rankings at the time entries closed, e.g. Henrieta Nagyova).

Still, Casablanca has one thing Sarasota doesn't have: Ruxandra Dragomir Ilie. It's been so long since Dragomir Ilie played that nearly everyone assumed she was retired (her last WTA match was at Basel 2001, and her last win was at 's-Hertogenbosch 2001). But she's here, with an injury ranking (#111) and a better career record (four titles) than almost anyone here, especially on clay.

There are also a couple of reclamation projects: Henrieta Nagyova has almost as many titles as the rest of the draw combined, but she's been slumping badly. Still, she likes clay, and she likes small events; if she's healthy and otherwise ready to play, she could do real damage. (It's really unfortunate that she and Dragomir Ilie have to face each other in the first round.) Also trying to get back on track is Rita Grande, who was Top 25 at the end of 2001 but has fallen out of the Top 50 since; she too opens against a fast-sliding player, Adriana Serra Zanetti, who has fallen nearly 100 ranking places so far this year.

Cristina Torrens Valero, who was close to the Top 30 last year, also fits the "what happened to me?" category, and she too opens against a former top 30 player, Silvia Talaja. (It's almost spooky how this draw managed to group the biggest names in first round matches.) The other first round match of note pits Iveta Benesova, perhaps the fastest-rising player here though she seems to like indoors, against Marta Marrero, who made the Roland Garros quarterfinal a few years back.

Relatively significant players who don't have such noteworthy opening matches include #1 seed Virginie Razzano, who opens against Rossana Neffa-de los Rios and who has slowly but steadily been improving her results over the past year; Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, who made a fair splash as a qualifier at Miami; and Flavia Pennetta, who seems to be turning into a very solid clay-courter.

That may not sound like much. But it does represent a real improvement from 2002, when the top player in the draw was ranked #68 (there are four players ranked above that this year) and the #2 was ranked #90 (all eight seeds are ranked above that this year). It's a modest gain. But a significant one.

Still, turning from Casablanca to Sarasota is like moving to a different world. We're going to do something we don't often do and analyze every first round match at Sarasota.

(1) Dokic vs. Suarez. When Jelena Dokic first came up, she had most of her success on clay, probably because it was the surface she grew up on. But it really isn't the natural surface for her game; hers is a hardcourt style, and she's had increasing success there in recent years. Paola Suarez is a pure slow-courter. This is the match of the first round. Dokic is the defending champion, but she didn't really face a challenge like this last year.

Hopkins vs. Matevzic. Jennifer Hopkins doesn't look like a clay-courter, and Maja Matevzic does. And yet, Hopkins had her last WTA win (almost a year ago) on green clay, and Matevzic had her best result indoors. Still, Matevzic -- left-handed, with very little power but a tremendous variety of shot -- is much higher-ranked and will pose a difficult challenge for the slumping Hopkins.

Majoli vs. Kournikova. This match-up will certainly get a lot of press coverage. But it's a pretty depressing contest. Both players have exactly one WTA win this year (Majoli at the Pan Pacific, in six events; Kournikova at the Australian Open, though her record is better as she at least has played only three events). The clay helps Majoli. So does the fact that she's been playing, even if losing; Kournikova has played one singles and one doubles match since the Australian Open. Slight edge, in context, to Majoli.

Tulyaganova vs. (8) Panova. Panova is last year's finalist, but she's been slipping in the rankings lately, and, strangely enough, has never had much success on clay. (Since the start of 2001, Panova's clay record is 14-14, and other than at Sarasota last year, she never won more than two matches at a clay event.) Tulyaganova slumped badly in 2002, but she seems to be coming out of it, and she likes clay a lot -- in that same period of time, she's been 21-10 on clay with two titles and a final.

(4) Sugiyama vs. Martinez. Sugiyama is having the best year of her life, but clay isn't her surface. Martinez loves clay, and while she's been off-form for ages, she seems to be recovering. This looks like another fine contest, and one with great upset potential.

Qualifier vs. Schett. Barbara Schett has been in terrible form recently, possibly because she doesn't seem as fast as she once was. But most of her best results recently have been on clay. Maybe playing a qualifier on the slow stuff can help her get on track.

Drake vs. C. Fernandez. Since reaching the Roland Garros semifinal, Clarisa Fernandez has done a good approximation of nothing. But, looking at her record, the reason is clear: She hasn't been playing clay. Now she'll at last get back to where she wants to be. Expect her to make the most of it.

Qualifier vs. (6) Pistolesi. Pistolesi is another player having a frustrating year. But she's another player who likes slow surfaces. If she's going to get things on track, now is the time.

Dechy vs. Chladkova. Two players who don't get much attention or TV coverage; Dechy has been Top 20, but has always stood in the shadow of higher-ranked French players like Testud and Tauziat and Mauresmo. But she's now the #2 Frenchwoman, and doing well in singles and doubles. Opponent Chladkova is tough when she's healthy -- but she likes faster surfaces.

Mikaelian vs. Bedanova. Two talented youngsters. Bedanova is better-known, but her recent slump has let Mikaelian pass her in the rankings. And while Bedanova is at last showing signs of life, the slow court seems (based on limited results for each) to help Mikaelian more.

Perry vs. Tanasugarn. Shenay Perry is a new player, who will be making her main draw debut. She did win the Minnesota Challenger at the start of this month -- but watching her, she looked more like an indoor player. She isn't big, and moves reasonably well, but her sneaky-fast serve seems to require a quick court. (We'll find out if we're right about that.) She has a good draw, though; there probably isn't anyone in this draw who hates slow courts more than Tanasugarn.

Cargill vs. (3) Schnyder. Clay is Schnyder's best surface, and she's looking for a chance to bounce back after some disappointing losses. It may be a short day for Cargill.

(5) Dementieva vs. Pisnik. Pisnik won her only title on clay, and it suits her game. Dementieva is a far better player, but if you had set out to design a game not suited for clay, it would probably be Dementieva's. She's never made a clay final (admittedly she hasn't made many finals at all), and her only semifinal was at a Tier III. She lost her only clay match this year, and to a player who is no fan of clay either. There may be some upset potential here.

Qualifier vs. Pierce. Every Pierce match, these days, involves questions. Is she healthy? Has she had enough practice to be ready? Obviously we'll know soon enough.

Qualifier vs. Likhovtseva. Likhovtseva is almost as much of a question mark player as Pierce; she's healthier, but she's streaky. For her, a change of surface is often good news. It hardly even matters if she likes the surface or not.

Loit vs. (2) Myskina. Myskina won her first career title on clay (at Palermo, that hotbed of first time winners). But over all she seems to like more modern surfaces. Loit is very fit, and has a good slowcourt game. Myskina lost early at Miami. Certainly Myskina at her best is better than Loit -- but she has a lot of days when she isn't even close to her best.

The Rankings. Despite all that strength of field, Sarasota is only a Tier IV. That means it can't affect the rankings much. All the more so since the top two seeds, Dokic and Myskina, are the overplayingest top players on the circuit, and have significant eighteenth tournament scores. Dokic is defending champion, so she can't move up. It's possible -- barely -- that she could swap the #10 ranking with Myskina if she loses early and Myskina wins the whole thing. But it's not likely. The strong chance is that the Top Ten will remain unchanged. We might see Patty Schnyder move past Monica Seles to take the #12 ranking if she can win here. And there is lots of room for movement below #15.

Casablanca, because it's been moved forward, doesn't see anyone defending anything. It's a wide-open chance for somebody; it's nearly certain that the winner will jump 20 or so places. Last year, the tournament in this spot was Porto, won by Angeles Montolio -- who has fallen off the map since; we haven't even heard when she'll be coming back. The other players we'd regard as being in trouble are Tatiana Panova, who just might fall out of the Top 30, and Magui Serna, who isn't playing could fall to barely above #50, and that's with Estoril to defend next week!

Mar 30th, 2003, 06:43 PM
I hope Patty Schnyder doesnt win it!

Mar 30th, 2003, 06:44 PM
but if you had set out to design a game not suited for clay, it would probably be Dementieva's. She's never made a clay final

Strange mistake by usually very knowledgeble author..

Mar 30th, 2003, 06:55 PM
what's the mistake about Dementieva? :confused:

i can't believe that he gave Anna and Iva equal chances. :eek: Majoli won Roland Garros so she knows how to play on clay. Anna has never won anything last time i checked.

Venus Forever
Mar 30th, 2003, 06:56 PM
Dementieva made the Acapulco final (clay) in 2001.

Mar 30th, 2003, 07:02 PM
I think that the field is pretty open in Sarsota there is a lot of good players in the top 20 there, as well as others, I wish it had TV coverage. The money from this event should be good, I would not be suprised to see it raise to tier 2 or 3 status.

As for Casablanca my only interest is in Sprem.

Mar 31st, 2003, 04:44 AM
I think that the field is pretty open in Sarsota there is a lot of good players in the top 20 there, as well as others, I wish it had TV coverage. The money from this event should be good, I would not be suprised to see it raise to tier 2 or 3 status.

As for Casablanca my only interest is in Sprem.

I was thinking the same thing, since the tournment attracts a lot of top players they should consider raising it to a tier 2 or 3 next year. :)

Mar 31st, 2003, 05:50 AM
I was thinking the same thing, since the tournment attracts a lot of top players they should consider raising it to a tier 2 or 3 next year. :)

They said the same thing last year, when they had a great field.

You could have Williams, Williams, Clijsters, Henin, and Davenport playing it every year, but if the money isn't there, the Tier doesn't change. As long as it can only afford to pay out $140,000, the Tier stays.

King Aaron
Mar 31st, 2003, 01:55 PM
Thanks Eggy. :)