No. 17 Dokic, 2 others gain wild cards; Daniilidou out
Karen Tucker , Register Staff 08/15/2003
NEW HAVEN — Pilot Pen Tournament Director Anne Worcester had a couple of difficult phone calls to make Thursday. Putting those behind her, however, it is now time to play tennis in the city.
After hearing news of a late withdrawal, debating the issue of who would receive the three wild cards and then notifying those who would not, Worcester was able to breathe a sigh of relief Thursday night.
"Finally," Worcester said. "It’s been a roller coaster."
With qualifying starting today and the main draw set to begin Sunday, the Pilot Pen boasts a field comprised of 17 of the top 25 and 21 of the top 30 players in the world.
But there were plenty of anxious moments and last-minute decisions.
In fact, as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the tournament was faced with the difficult decision of how to distribute its three main draw wild cards. With no withdrawals out of the 19-player entry list and four top 20 players anxiously waiting on the next-in main draw list, at least one person was going to be left out of the draw.
Then everything finally fell into place.
Word hit the Connecticut Tennis Center late Wednesday that 25th-ranked Eleni Daniilidou was going to have to withdraw after suffering a concussion at the Rogers AT&T tournament in Toronto.
That pushed No. 7 Jennifer Capriati into the main draw as the highest ranked player on the next-in list.
The United States Tennis Association then made the push for filling out the rest of the draw with some young up-and-coming Americans.
The end result was wild cards to No. 17 Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, No. 46 Ashley Harkleroad and 85th-ranked Sarah Taylor.
It also meant Worcester had to make difficult phone calls to No. 18 Patty Schnyder and 20th-ranked Silvia Farina Elia.
"The USTA always wants to give opportunities to young Americans because that’s their mission," Worcester said. "They felt very strongly about giving Harkleroad, who’s coming off an injury, a wild card into the main draw. They agreed that Dokic is a marquis name and then they made a push for Taylor."
Unfortunately, that left Worcester with the job of notifying Schnyder and Farina Elia.
"I just explained to them that it’s very difficult for the tournament because, of course, the tournament would like the higher ranked players to be participating, but we respect the wishes and the mission of the USTA," Worcester said. "They were disappointed, but they were OK."
According to Worcester, Farina Elia has agreed to join the qualifying field because she still needs some match play.
She will join the other 47 qualifiers with opening matches today as they begin a road through qualifying with the hopes of making it into the main draw. Six qualifiers will advance into the main draw of 22 — 19 entries and three wild cards. The bracket for the main draw will be set today at noon.
Dokic, who has won five career WTA titles, will be making her third appearance in New Haven. She reached the quarterfinals in 2001. An early entry last year, she was forced to withdraw because of injury.
The other two wild-card recipients will be making their first appearances in the Pilot Pen’s main draw.
Harkleroad, 18, reached the semifinals of a Tier I event in Charleston, S.C., in April and jumped 45 spots in the rankings.
Taylor, 21, also has turned heads this year with wins over Anastasia Myskina and Ai Sugiyama in May.
She lost in the second round of qualifying at the 2002 Pilot Pen.
This year’s qualifying field also was finalized Thursday with the addition of wild cards Corina Morariu and Amber Liu.
While the withdrawal of Daniilidou may have come as a surprise to the Pilot Pen, which has habitually been free of such changes in the draw, Worcester knew it was only a matter of time based on the way this summer has gone with injuries. The WTA’s current top 10 players have withdrawn or retired from a combined 27 tournaments this year.
"I feel like the tour has a withdrawal bug this summer, and I was concerned that we were going to catch it," Worcester said. "So far, we’ve escaped it, with the exception of Daniilidou."
According to Worcester, Daniilidou suffered a concussion when she was hit in the back of the head with a ball in Toronto. She was back on the court a few days later, but she was forced to cut the match short when she was overcome by dizziness.
"Poor thing, she just needs to rest," Worcester said.
Four-time defending champion Venus Williams also will not be in the field. The tournament will be without a defending champion for the first time.
"When I got the call last week that Venus was really struggling, it was a very sobering moment," Worcester said. "All year long, despite whatever she said, I really and truly always thought she’d wind up playing."
A reinjured abdominal strain, however, has sidelined Williams since Wimbledon.
Injuries also ended any wild-card hopes for former No. 1s Serena Williams and Monica Seles.
"I have to say that it’s definitely different not to have Venus here, because as I’ve said for many years, she’s really become the icon of this event," Worcester said. "But having said that, she’s injured, so she can’t physically be here and it makes the field much more unpredictable and therefore exciting."
Get well soon, Eleni!