Rome is Burning for Roger and Andy
Venus Ascendant but Berlin field will test her
By Matthew Cronin
Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Sjeng and his wife had to leap a balcony.
When in Roma, make sure to bring your own hook and ladder. About 30 ATP players escaped unharmed but scared from a fire at the Parco dei
Principi ai Parioli Saturday morning, which claimed the lives of three guests.
According to the ATP, Sjeng Schalken and his wife Ricky were forced to jump from their seventh-floor balcony to the sixth-floor balcony
outside Andy Roddick’s room, which had become a refuge for more than 20 people. A Canadian couple died from smoke inhalation and an American died when he fell to his death trying to escape. News reports said that Roddick helped to evacuate guest from the hotel roof. Other players to be evacuated included Marat Safin, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Massu, Max Mirnyi and Mariano Zabaleta.
Barcelona champ Tommy Robredo headed to Roma with a load of confidence after beating No. 13 seed Gaston Gaudio 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the Barcelona final, which lasted 3 hours, 46 minutes. Why this non-Masters Series tournament is allowed to play a five-set final is beyond us, but suffice to say that it’s a giant event for the Spaniards. "Winning at home is very important to me," said Robredo, who cracked the top 20. "My childhood dream has come true." It was also a fine run by Gaudio, who until Sunday had been considered a second string Argentine in ‘04.
Perhaps more surprising than Tommy’s triumph was the revelation that Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko captured his third ATP title by defeating Martin Verkerk 6-4, 7-5 in the final of the BMW Open in Munich. Where has this young Russian been all year?
After an extended rest, No. 1 Roger Federer takes a 113-point advantage with him at the top of going into Roma. Federer, who reached the final last year, will be joined by No. 2 Andy Roddick, Safin
, Carlos Moya, Tim Henman, Hrbaty and Lleyton Hewitt. Believe it or no, the hazy apparition that is Felix Mantilla won the title here last year.
Another stunner: the only other former champ in the draw is Alex Corretja. Fed could meet Corretja or ‘98 finalist Albert Costa, best friends who will scrimmage in round one. Fed’s draw is brutal, with a potential date with No. 14 Martin Verkerk in the third round, No. 7 seed Sebastien Grosjean in the quarters and the potential likes of David Nalbandian, Fernando Gonzalez, Hrbaty or Davydenko in the semis.
In the bottom half of the draw, Roddick merely hopes to survive. How’s this for a gladiator-like section: Guillermo Canas in the first round, maybe David Sanchez in round two, Hewitt (if he survives Andrei Pavel in the second round) next; and possibly No. 6 Carlos Moya or Robredo in the quarters. The semis will likely feature a South American like Nico Massu, J-I Chela, Gaudio or Mariano Zabaleta. That’s assuming that Safin doesn’t kick butt all week.
The most notably absent player from the draw is the sickly JC Ferrero, who at this point has about as much chance of defending his Roland Garros title as the ambulatory Justine Henin-Hardenne does.
Venus Shines Brightly
Kuzy tried to play powerball with Venus.
It’s semi-official: Venus Williams is back and in a pretty big way. If her run through the Family Circle Cup draw and two wipeout wins in Slovenia weren’t convincing, her pair of grind-‘em-out, straight-set wins over Russians Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the J&S Cup in Warsaw on red clay should be.
It was Vera her made Venus torn abdominal muscle ache in her upset victory over the American in Paris last year and it was Kuzy who outstroked her in Dubai two months ago. But now Venus has found her rhythm and long stride once again and was able to outlast the spirited Russians in rallies.
"I wanted to show today that the girl in Dubai was not Venus Williams," she said of the Kuzy encounter. "I really wanted to take the title. We had strong points and long points. The longer the point the more, I enjoyed it."
That’s truly the point with the elder Williams, who’s a very powerful player but can credit much of her success to her standout defense. In winning her 31st title, she also took down dirtball notable Fabiola Zuluaga and veteran Magdalena Maleeva "I feel normal now," said Venus, who has won 11 matches in a row.. "When I am not winning it's just abnormal for me. I tried not to be hard on myself with the matches I did not win at the start of the year."
No. 11-ranked Venus will likely crack the top 10 again this week in Berlin, which features the strongest field she’s faced since Miami. Kim Clijsters and her recovering wrist in the No. 1 seed, Anastasia Myskina will test her sore shoulder and Jennifer Capriati will attempt to test her sea legs. Fresh off her outstanding play in Fed Cup, Amelie Mauresmo is the looming No. 2 seed.
If Venus wins Berlin, it won’t really matter what happens in Rome next week. With Serena and her aching knee declining to play Berlin (she was offered a wild card) and Henin still struggling to recover from a mono-like virus, V will be the hands-down the Roland Garros favorite. Vera Z. certainly hasn’t shown any indication that she’s ready to become a top-five player, but Kuzy could be a fearsome factor in Paris.
Props to 19-year-old Serb Jelena Jankovic, who won her first career title at the Budapest Grand Prix with a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory over Slovakia's Martina Sucha. Watching Jankovic hit a backhand reminds one of one-time Serb Monica Seles. If she only has her forehand….