From the Bob Larson Tennis International Newsletter:
Women's Look Forward: Rome, Prague
It's last call for Roland Garros seeds, and for once, just about everyone is here. Rome is a 56-draw, and the highest-ranked player in qualifying is Viriginia Ruano Pascual, #64 last week; #65 Zheng Jie also found herself having to play preliminary matches. Almost everyone who is healthy is here.
Oh, there are some missing names. Lindsay Davenport will once again let Maria Sharapova's quest for the #1 ranking go uncontested. Anastasia Myskina, after her loss last week, pulled out of Rome to rest her injured shoulder and, it is rumored, to deal with some personal problems. It's possible that she won't even try to defend her Roland Garros title. Kim Clijsters is resting her injured knee. Venus Williams is resting -- well, something. Injured psyche? Jennifer Capriati is still out, and probably will be through Wimbledon. Plus Justine Henin-Hardenne has apparently decided that 17 matches in a bit more than a month is enough; initial word was that she would play, but not any more.
But Maria Sharapova is here, which means she has another chance for the #1 ranking. Amelie Mauresmo is back to defend her title -- and Serena Williams is here to see if she can grab the #3 spot. Elena Dementieva, who has had all sorts of nagging problems this spring, returns to action as the #4 seed. Svetlana Kuznetsova, still seeking her first singles title of the year, is #5. Vera Zvonareva, despite being badly messed up, still gets the #6 seed. Nadia Petrova, seeded #7, gives us seven Top Ten players in the draw (the only ones missing are Davenport, Myskina, and Alicia Molik, who is sick). Patty Schnyder, fresh off beating Kuznetsova at Berlin, takes the #8 seed and the last bye.
The #9 seed is Elena Bovina, who could face countrywoman Kuznetsova in the Round of Sixteen. Nathalie Dechy, who hasn't been able to follow up her Australian Open semifinal, is #10 and in Zvonareva's eighth (that section looks very wise-open; Jelena Jankovic is probably at least as good a bet to reach the quarterfinal as either of the seeds). Elena Likhovtseva makes one last bid for a Top 16 Roland Garros seed as the #11 seed here; she's in Petrova's eighth. Tatiana Golovin is #12 and in Schnyder's part of the draw. Italy's top player Silvia Farina Elia is seeded #13 and drawn to face Mauresmo in the third round. Shinobu Asagoe will make one more (probably one last) attempt to hit the Top 20 as the #14 seed; she's in Dementieva's part of the draw. The other top Japanese player, Ai Sugiyama, is #15 and in Serena's section. And #16 seed Daniela Hantuchova is in Sharapova's eighth.
There are plenty of noteworthy floaters, too. Mary Pierce is back in the Top 25 and looking solid and healthy. Karolina Sprem is a mess, but we know she has the game. Paola Suarez is attempting to come back after her latest injury. So is Evgenia Linetskaya. Flavia Pennetta has been recovering from a foot injury. Ana Ivanovic is, well, Ana Ivanovic, and looking for her first seed at a Slam. Jelena Jankovic is next in line for a seed here, and would be seeded if this week's rankings were used. Francesca Schiavone was Top 20 until a couple of weeks ago, and she's Italian. Magdalena Maleeva doesn't like clay much, but she is very much the veteran. Virginie Razzano has been having the best month of her entire career. Fabiola Zuluaga and Conchita Martinez and Anna Smashnova are veterans who like clay a lot. And Maria Kirilenko is a strong prospect who has been doing almost as well as Ivanovic lately.
Compared to that, Prague doesn't seem like much: No Top 30 players, and only a handful of Top 50 players. Still, it does have Dinara Safina as its top seed, and #2 seed Klara Koukalova is a very solid clay player. #3 seed Jelena Kostanic has been falling, and is no longer Top 50, but she has a game with a lot of variety that works well on clay. #4 Nuria Llagostera Vives has been having the best year of her career, including a her first title at Rabat. #5 Iveta Benesova has been slumping, but she showed her clay skills last year with the Acapulco title and some other results. #6 Tamarine Tanasugarn has a notable lack of clay results in her career, but she is a former Top 20 player. Speedy Marlene Weingartner is the #7 seed, and Martina Sucha is #8.
Even more interesting are some of the unseeded players. Jelena Dokic apparently decided that one time in qualifying satisfied her need for more matches; she took a wildcard this week. Eleni Daniilidou will be trying once again to rediscover the game that once made her Top 20, as will Henrieta Nagyova. And, in a piece of good news for those who prefer touch to power, Maja Matevzic (who, except for a brief stint around the time of the Olympics last year, has been out for a couple of years) will be making her return to action here.
Noteworthy First Round Matches
There is no question about which match is the prize of the bunch at Rome: Tatiana Golovin, the #12 seed, will face Ana Ivanovic. For Ivanovic, it's probably a must-win if she wants a Roland Garros seed.
The contest between Paola Suarez and Karolina Sprem probably won't be as good; Suarez, who is just back from a neck injury, still hasn't won a singles match this year, and Sprem is hardly better off. But they both like clay, and both are looking to establish some momentum as they head for Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Mary Pierce knows clay. Peng Shuai doesn't, but the young Chinese has shown real potential this year, and she is improving fast.
A month and a half ago, Evgenia Linetskaya seemed bound for the Top 30. Then she hurt her wrist. Is she recovered? We'll find out against Tathiana Garbin.
Shinobu Asagoe is the #14 seed, but her best results have been on grass; this will be her first red clay event of 2005. Flavia Pennetta is unseeded, but she's a pure clay lover.
Randriantefy vs. Jankovic. Expect some very long rallies. Both players are having the best years of their careers. Jankovic is better, but she's also more tired.
Sugiyama vs. Maleeva. Two veterans; neither likes clay much....
Smashnova vs. (11) Likhovtseva. Smashnova seems finally to be getting over her troubles of last year, but she's running out of chances on clay....
(13) Farina Elia vs. Kirilenko. A veteran Italian, used to clay, against a youngster with more game but less experience.
At Prague, the list of noteworthy matches is naturally rather shorter. There is an interesting contest between Tamarine Tanasugarn, who hates clay and is in a slump, and Henrieta Nagyova, who likes clay just fine but is in an even worse slump. We'll also see Dokic face Zuzana Ondraskova, a weaker player at her best but one who is comfortable on clay, as well as Daniilidou taking on Yoon Jeong Cho, a player whose body is built for clay though her game seems built for hardcourt.
As far as Maria Sharapova is concerned, Berlin might almost not have happened. She didn't earn enough points to make any difference in her quest for #1. Which puts her right back where she started: She needs a title this week to take the top spot. And, of course, recent results have reinforced the feeling (which some of her fans have denied) that she is mostly a fast-surface player: Her **** is sloppy for clay, and her all-power-all-the-time approach leads to a lot of errors when confronted with a steady opponent.
But it is possible for her to take the top spot here, and it's also possible that she could back into #1 if she can reach the final: Lindsay Davenport will lose some points when Strasbourg comes off, so if Sharapova can reach the final, and earn 84 quality points, she would be #1 going into Roland Garros though not next week. There are certainly enough points available for her to do that, though she will have to beat either Kuznetsova or Dementieva to do it.
And, of course, we have lots of movement below the Top Two. Amelie Mauresmo, last year's Rome champion, has 451 points to defend, while Serena Williams has 184. That means that Mauresmo has only about a 60 point lead over Serena in safe points. And Serena, for the first time on red clay this year, is playing. And Mauresmo is hurting. The competition for #3 could prove very intriguing.
And, if either Mauresmo or Serena does badly, Elena Dementieva is only about 100 points off the pace. It's unlikely that Dementieva can get to #3, but her chances of reaching #4 aren't bad at all; she has nothing to defend. Win the title, and it's effectively certain.
Anastasia Myskina isn't defending anything, and Svetlana Kuznetsova has 128 points on the line, so Myskina might stay #6 for yet another week, but Kuznetsova needs only a little more than 200 points to take the #6 spot. A final would certainly do it.
Alicia Molik is currently #8, but she won't be playing until Eastbourne. That means someone else -- Nadia Petrova or Vera Zvonareva -- will take the #8 Roland Garros seed, and possibly the #8 ranking. Zvonareva is defending almost 200 points, and playing very badly; her chances of moving up don't look good. But Petrova has a real chance, though her loss at Berlin makes it much harder.
Zvonareva in fact faces a real risk of falling out of the Top Ten; Justine Henin-Hardenne now leads her in safe points. Zvonareva needs to win at least a couple of matches to stay Top Ten.
Jennifer Capriati will lose over 300 points, and meaning that she will fall behind Patty Schnyder and Venus Williams. With Molik not playing Roland Garros, that means that those three plus Zvonareva are our likely #9-#12 Roland Garros seeds, though there is a chance that Elena Bovina or Nathalie Dechy could pass them.
Likely to get seeds #13-#16 are Bovina, Dechy, Kim Clijsters if she plays, and one other. Elena Likhovtseva is currently in line for the spot, but she has 107 points to defend, putting her behind (though nearly tied with) Jelena Jankovic and Tatiana Golovin in safe points. Silvia Farina Elia, with 116 points to defend, is also vaguely in the hunt, and a few others (Asagoe, Hantuchova, Pierce, Sugiyama) could still earn the seed with a very good result here.
We won't try to analyze #17-#32 at this time; we will of course cover those races as the week progresses.
Under the circumstances, just about everything is key for Sharapova; even if she doesn't take #1 this week, there is still Roland Garros to think about. Her first opponent is likely to be Anabel Medina Garrigues, a good clay player but not endowed with many weapons. Pierce or Hantuchova or Peng in the third round would be tougher. Kuznetsova in the quarterfinal, and Dementieva or Schnyder in the semifinal, are bigger still.
#2 seed Mauresmo and #3 seed Serena are drawn to meet in the semifinal; the winner will probably be #3 in the world. Assuming they get there. Serena's chances look better; she opens against probably Schiavone (who is in a bit of a slump), then perhaps #15 Sugiyama (slumping and no fan of clay; right now, Virginie Razzano might be a better bet), then Zvonareva or Dechy (slumping both; Jelena Jankovic looks like a possibility there). Mauresmo has an easy opening round -- Samantha Stosur or a qualifier -- but then Farina Elia or Maria Kirilenko, then a rematch against Nadia Petrova.
And bad results for either of them spell chances for Elena Dementieva, whose draw is fair, though it remains to be seen how healthy she is. Gisela Dulko is a tough opening round match on clay. #14 seed Asagoe in the second round isn't bad, but Pennetta or Linetskaya might pose a bigger problem. Then Schnyder or Golovin, then Sharapova. That semifinal, if it happens, is very big; if Sharapova wins it, she would probably be #1 the week after; if Dementieva wins it, she would have the chance for the #4 Roland Garros seed.
Vera Zvonareva's attempt to take the #8 Roland Garros seed from Petrova will open against Jankovic, then Dechy, then Serena. That doesn't look good at all.
We mentioned that Likhovtseva, Jankovic, Golovin, and Farina Elia are all gunning for the #16 Roland Garros seed. Golovin definitely looks to be in the most trouble, since she opens against Ivanovic. Then probably Ana Chakvetadze, then Patty Schnyder.
Jankovic, on the other hand, is unseeded -- but her draw is pretty good, considering: Randriantefy, then Zvonareva, then Dechy or someone. She might well have the inside track if she isn't too tired after Berlin.
Likhovtseva has it tough from the start: She opens against Anna Smashnova, then Conchita Martinez, then Petrova. That doesn't look like it spells success.
Farina Elia has to open against Maria Kirilenko. Win that, and she really ought to win her second round match. Then she would face Mauresmo. A lot depends on how well the Frenchwoman is recovering. If she is still having trouble serving, then obviously Farina Elia will have a chance -- and those quality points for beating #3 would be very helpful....
Day 1 at Rome saw quite a few seeds go out, not always by actually losing. #2 seed Zheng, who reached the Rabat final, naturally had to withdraw (her place was taken by Els Callens, who promptly lost). Adriana Serra Zanetti needed a wildcard to get into even the qualifying draw, but she used it to advantage, knocking off #3 seed Abigail Spears -- though she would lose the qualifying final. #5 seed Claudine Schaul lost her next-to-last chance to pick up some points before her Strasbourg title comes off; a wildcard named Guilia Gabba, ranked below #400, took her out 6-2 6-3. And #10 Tatiana Panova went down 7-5 6-0 to Lubomira Kurhajcova.
Sunday's qualifying final cost us our #1 seed; in a real surprise, Virginia Ruano Pascual went down 3-6 6-2 7-5 to Stephanie Cohen-Aloro. She will still make the main draw as a Lucky Loser; a draw spot opened up when Li Na withdrew as a result of her injury at Rabat. Only three other matches in the qualifying final saw seeds face each other: Tatiana Perebiynis came from behind to beat Emmanuelle Gagliardi, Yuliana **** had a relatively easy time with Alyona Bondarenko, and Sanda Mamic beat Stepanie Foretz.
The field at Rome (a 28-draw: Top four seeded teams have byes) definitely features some surprises. Not at the very top; Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez are the top seeds. But then things get interesting. Nadia Petrova is not playing doubles, leaving Meghann Shaughnessy at loose ends; she hooked up with Anna-Lena Groenefeld to earn the #4 seeds. With Alicia Molik unavailable, Svetlana Kuznetsova is playing with Mary Pierce; they're unseeded. That leaves the way open for Cara Black and Liezel Huber to play take the #2 seeds. Elena Likhovtseva did well enough with Vera Zvonareva at Berlin that they're staying together at #3.
So strange are the pairings here that Bryanne Stewart and Samantha Stosur are seeded #5. It looks like we can officially and formally write off the partnership between Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Navratilova; Hantuchova is again playing with Ai Sugiyama, and they're #6. Navratilova returns to action with Francesca Schiavone; they have the #7 seeds. Gisela Dulko and Maria Vento-Kabchi are #8, barely ahead of Kuznetsova/Pierce, who will be promoted if any seeds withdraw.
With Dinara Safina playing at Prague (where she teams with Iveta Benesova to take the top seeds), Anabel Medina Garrigues is playing with Maria Kirilenko. Sandrine Testud and Roberta Vinci are together again; they will face Hantuchova and Sugiyama in the first round. Shinobu Asagoe, who usually plays with Katarina Srebotnik, is playing this time with Marta Marrero. Janette Husarova isn't in the field, and Elena Bovina isn't playing doubles, so Conchita Martinez and Nathalie Dechy have made a temporary alliance. Li Ting and Sun Tiantian, who won six straight matches before losing at Rabat, draw the interesting first round assignment of playing Janet Lee of Taiwan and Peng Shuai of China.
Rome was won last year by Petrova and Shaughnessy, beating Ruano Pascual and Suarez in the final. It's beginning to look as if Petrova might fall out of the Top Ten. But with Rennae Stubbs not playing, Ruano Pascual and Suarez are safe at the top.
Given the uncertainty over teams, it's going to be hard to guess the Roland Garros seeds. We'll do what we can about it later in the week. But we'll probably make at least a few wrong guesses.
There isn't much to say about the doubles at Prague. It's full of Czechs, of course, which on the men's side would mean a very strong field -- but, somehow, the doubles skills found in Czech players like Navratilova and Novotna has not carried on to the current generation. We mentioned that Benesova and Safina are the top seeds, and Benesova is Czech, but she's never done much in doubles until this year. The #2 seeds are the reunited team of Emilie Loit and Nicole Pratt. Eleni Daniilidou and Tamarine Tanasugarn are #3. Our first all-Czech team is #4 seeds Gabriela Navratilova and Michaela Pastikova -- who, despite an Australian Open semifinal, have a combined ranking barely on the good side of the Top 100, which will tell you what their other results are like! The most interesting unseeded team is Jelena Kostanic and Barbora Strycova; Strycova comes in having won two straight doubles events, with two different partners; can she make it three with three?
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