Women's Look Forward: San Diego, Sopot
by Bob Larson.
Last week, the WTA announced that San Diego was being upgraded to a Tier I (meaning that the WTA now has more Tier I events than the ATP has Masters Series). This week, we get to see why.
There are several Tier II events which average stronger than the Tier I tournaments: Sydney, Filderstadt, Philadelphia (at least in its former existence). But no Tier II tournament has been as strong, year-in and year-out, as San Diego.
This year is no exception. Seven of the top ten are here; the only absentees are Venus Williams (the defending champion, but she swapped with Serena, and is probably too injured to play anyway), Amelie Mauresmo (who plays a limited hardcourt schedule to preserve her back), and Anastasia Myskina (playing at Sopot). We have fifteen of the Top 20. Even though San Diego is a 48-draw (16 seeds, all of whom receive byes), and there are only four qualifiers, there are only five players below #50 who received direct entry, and we were supposed to have a Top 50 player (Cara Black) in qualifying (though she ended up in the Stanford doubles final). Even with sixteen seeds, players like Eleni Daniilidou, Nathalie Dechy, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, Lisa Raymond, Magui Serna, and Alexandra Stevenson (all of them Top 30; Daniilidou, Dechy, and Petrova are Top 25) are unseeded. A very strong case could be made that winning San Diego is the single toughest physical feat on the WTA -- since the player who wins it must win five matches in no more than six days, with quite possibly all of them being against Top 30 players.
That's what #1 seed Serena Williams faces, for instance. After her bye, she will almost certainly face #29 Svetlana Kuznetsova (who opens against a wildcard). Then she would face #16 seed Elena Bovina -- or, if Bovina falls, then Tamarine Tanasugarn. Then #5 Jennifer Capriati. Then, theoretically, #3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, who is making her first summer hardcourt appearance. And then #2 seed Kim Clijsters. Even Serena can't be looking forward to that draw.
The truth is, the #1 seeding did Serena (who pulled out of Stanford last week with knee pain) no favors. Hers is surely the toughest quarter, with Capriati, Magdalena Maleeva, and Bovina as the other seeds. Though #2 seed Kim Clijsters doesn't have it too much better; she'll probably have to face Dechy (who opens against Virginia Ruano Pascual) in the second round. But after that, it's slumping Meghann Shaughnessy, then doubles partner Ai Sugiyama, then limping Lindsay Davenport.
#3 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne isn't nearly the hardcourt player that Serena or Clijsters is, but her quarter isn't nearly the hardcourt quarter, either. She'll open against probably Eleni Daniilidou (the other possibility is Rita Grande), but Daniilidou, like Henin-Hardenne a one-hander, isn't overly fond of hardcourts either. (For that matter, that exact description fits Grande too. This might almost be the one-hander's ghetto.) Then comes #13 seed Elena Dementieva, who has been up and down since winning Amelia Island, then theoretically #7 Daniela Hantuchova, who has been just plain down; we'd expect someone else (maybe Petrova) to come through there. After that, whoever reaches the semifinal can expect to be flattened by Serena.
#4 seed Davenport is likely to start with the last thing she wants: Another very solid hardcourt player, Amy Frazier. Then Silvia Farina Elia, who beat her at Eastbourne (though Farina Elia is just off surgery, and the hardcourt surface helps Davenport anyway). Then comes Chanda Rubin, who right now seems to be in better shape than Davenport. And then Clijsters, who has owned Davenport lately.
Despite everything, it looks likes a Serena/Clijsters final if Serena is healthy and Clijsters isn't too tired after Stanford. But there will be quite a few fine matches first. Let's look down the list:
Molik vs. Haynes (WC). Chances are that Molik will make mincemeat of the young American. But Molik is no great fan of hardcourts, and Haynes put on a very nice show at Stanford last week. And Molik's best weapon is her serve, and watching Haynes in Challengers, it looked like it was her best weapon, too.
Grande vs. Daniilidou. A one-hander with touch vs. a one-hander with power. Neither likes the surface much. Who will elevate her game?
Petrova vs. Mikaelian. Two solid players who are getting to the age where it's time to really put up.
Serna vs. Granville. Upset artist who prefers traditional surfaces against a mildly slumping hardcourt player.
Krasnoroutskaya vs. Stevenson. Stevenson is ranked higher, but the surface definitely favors Krasnoroutskaya, and Stevenson isn't playing that well right now anyway.
Schett vs. Raymond. Raymond is playing better, and ranked higher, but the surface speed is probably more to Schett's liking.
(1) S. Williams vs. Kuznetsova. If Serena really is hurting, this could be trouble. Kuznetsova is thinking about a spot in the Top 25. A win would probably do it.
Tanasugarn vs. (16) Bovina. If the court is fast, this could be very interesting.
Likhovtseva vs. (5) Capriati. Likhovtseva is at her worst ranking in years -- but her history is one of good spells and bad spells. She's due for a good spell, though beating Capriati is an awfully tough way to have to start.
(3) Henin-Hardenne vs. Daniilidou. Two of the best one-handers on the tour do battle on their second-worst surface.
Schiavone vs. (13) Dementieva. The surface favors Dementieva. But Schiavone seems to be playing at her best right at the moment.
(12) Coetzer vs. Petrova. Can Coetzer fend off Petrova's much greater power?
Cho vs. (7) Hantuchova. Given how messed up Hantuchova is right now, the hardcourt-loving Cho might well give her big trouble.
Serna or Granville vs. (9) Dokic. Dokic is another player who is struggling badly; this too has real upset potential. Though Dokic seems to lose only to non-Top 50 players these days, and Serna and Granville are well above that level.
Krasnoroutskaya or Stevenson vs. (15) Farina Elia. If the Italian is healthy, she can drive either of her opponents to errors by her steadiness. But this will be her first match after wrist surgery.
Frazier vs. (4) Davenport. Davenport's the better player, but Frazier is healthy and they both love this surface.
(8) Sugiyama vs. Raymond (or Schett). Raymond and Sugiyama are fairly close in absolute ability, but Raymond's game is tuned for faster surfaces. On hardcourts, the edge is to Sugiyama -- but not by much.
Pierce (WC) vs. (11) Martinez. Pierce is finally looking alive again. But so is Martinez.
Dechy vs. (2) Clijsters. Clijsters should win, but Dechy is rested....
Round of Sixteen:
(1) S. Williams vs. (16) Bovina. Bovina has been struggling in the aftermath of injury, but she seemed to pick herself up a bit at Fed Cup. And she has the power to play with Serena. On a really good day, it might be interesting.
(10) Maleeva vs. (5) Capriati. Normally a big edge to Capriati. But she'll be a bit tired.
(3) Henin-Hardenne vs. (13) Dementieva. The hardcourt may be an equalizer here. Maybe.
(12) Coetzer vs. (7) Hantuchova. No bets on this coming off. If it does, it will be very hard to predict.
(13) Farina Elia vs. (4) Davenport. Davenport looks to avenge Eastbourne.
All that strength at San Diego doesn't leave much for Sopot. It is, naturally, the place of clay fanatics; there isn't a single North American in the draw (man or woman). Almost the only players in the field who don't specialize in clay are the Russians: #1 seed Anastasia Myskina (who may be here in obedience to the Gold Exempt rules, but who also will doubtless appreciate that chance to pick up points against a fairly weak field) and defending champion Dinara Safina.
There are some pretty good players here, though; in addition to Myskina, the #2 seed is Patty Schnyder. Anna Pistolesi, still looking to recover her form of last year, is #3; Denisa Chladkova, who once again is looking for a Top 30 spot, is #4; Iroda Tulyaganova, who is again playing fairly well, is #5; spinmaster Maja Matevzic is #6; Safina is #7; and tough clay expert Petra Mandula is #8. A number of solid clay players are unseeded: Karolina Sprem, with two clay finals around Roland Garros; the rising Italian star Flavia Pennetta; last year's Roland Garros semifinalist Clarisa Fernandez; solid young Myriam Casanova, who seemed to snap out of her **** at Fed Cup; Anabel Medina Garrigues, who still hasn't recovered her pre-injury form but is getting closer; and past champion Henrieta Nagyova.
Interesting first round matches include Casanova against her countrywoman Emmanuelle Gagliardi; Pennetta against Fernandez in a matchup of players who just missed seeding; and Nagyova versus Pistolesi. Still better awaits in the second round: Medina Garrigues vs. Mandula; Tulyaganova vs. Casanova or Gagliardi; Safina against Pennetta or Fernandez; Sprem vs. Nagyova or Pistolesi. There will be no shortage or reasons to watch.
The Rankings. It's all wild and crazy this week. The #3 ranking is set. Except for that, all is chaos.
This statement requires some caution. There is a theoretical chance that Kim Clijsters can pass Serena Williams. In practice, it's not likely. Clijsters, since she has so many points in her seventeenth tournament, would have to win San Diego, and Serena lose fairly early, and even then, Clijsters needs good quality points. But this is a bonus Tier II, and the quality points are there. It might happen. (But don't bet on it.)
As mentioned above, Justine Henin-Hardenne is safe at #3. Not so Venus Williams at #4. She leads Lindsay Davenport by 396 points -- but has 389 points to defend. Davenport has 145 points to defend. If Davenport reaches the final, she will take over the #4 ranking. She might even do it by reaching the semifinal, if she gets the right quality points.
Jennifer Capriati is very close to taking the #6 ranking, though it looks like she'll have to reach the semifinal (i.e. beat Serena) to do it. That would drop Amelie Mauresmo to #7. Chanda Rubin could perhaps grab the #7 ranking, but only if Capriati loses early. Daniela Hantuchova can only move above her current #9 if she wins and Rubin loses fairly early; the odds seem slight. Myskina could easily bump Hantuchova down to #10, though the Russian has no chance of overtaking Rubin. There is a chance that Ai Sugiyama could hit the Top Ten, but only if she can beat Kim Clijsters.
The finalist last year was Jelena Dokic. Given her current form, but she and her ranking are in trouble. She could possibly fall out of the Top 15 if she loses early and several lower-ranked players do well. It seems nearly certain that she will lose her #12 ranking.
Anna Kournikova is also going to suffer; she has 153 points to defend, which means she'll be falling well below #100.
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