Women's Look Forward: Week of May 3
Posted on 5/2/2004 at 1:50 PM
Women's Look Forward: Berlin
Suddenly, life is looking very interesting again. After weeks of watching player after player disappear with injuries, personal problems, exhaustion, or who-knows-what, we're seeing players come back. And the place they're coming back is Berlin.
That translates into a field with seven of the Top Ten. Justine Henin-Hardenne is still recovering, and Lindsay Davenport is on her annual unofficial protest against red clay, and Serena Williams is still resting her knee, but Kim Clijsters is making her return to WTA action here as the #1 seed. Amelie Mauresmo is #2, Venus Williams is seeded #3 as a result of her special seeding (which, admittedly, is looking more and more justified -- but is Venus really going to play after Charleston, Fed Cup, and Warsaw?), Anastasia Myskina makes her return to WTA action as the #4 seed, Nadia Petrova makes her return at #5, Jennifer Capriati arrives at #6, Elena Dementieva is back in action at #7, and Ai Sugiyama takes the #8 seed. Those eight are the only players with first round byes, too, so the players ranked from #11 on down will be very busy.
Interestingly, with so many top players in action, the tournament is only mildly strong in the mid-ranked players. Vera Zvonareva will make yet another attempt to hit the Top Ten as the #9 seed (barring withdrawals). Chanda Rubin is still out, so Svetlana Kuznetsova (who, on recent form, seems much more like a real Top Ten threat) is seeded #10, Paula Suarez #11, Silvia Farina Elia #12, Patty Schnyder #13, Conchita Martinez #14, Jelena Dokic #15, and Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi #16. Francesca Schiavone, who made it into the Top 20 last week, goes unseeded.
There are quite a few other noteworthy unseeded players. Karolina Sprem will be trying to hit the Top 25 here. Fabiola Zuluaga is the next unseeded player behind Schiavone. Mary Pierce will be playing her first red clay match of the year. So will Dinara Safina and Nathalie Dechy. Maria Sharapova will be playing her first clay match of the year of any kind. Petra Mandula will again be looking for a career high. Other noteworthy players in the draw include Eleni Daniilidou, Magdalena Maleeva, Elena Bovina, Meghann Shaughnessy, and Daniela Hantuchova.
Plus one name playing her first clay match since Roland Garros 2002: Sandrine Testud is here based on her special ranking of #11 (note that that's not a special ranking such as Venus has, which confers seeding; it's just a normal "injury" ranking, though in Testud's case, the "injury" was motherhood).
That leaves surprisingly little room for clay specialists to sneak into a big draw. The only two we would count are Mandula and Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, and they're both Top 40, so they hardly count.
What that all spells is quite a few big early round matches. Looking down the draw, Testud will play that first clay match against Zuluaga, so her odds don't look good. #16 seed Smashnova-Pistolesi takes on Maleeva, who had a surprisingly good clay run at Warsaw. Sharapova will play that first clay match of hers against Barbara Schett, who likes clay (Sharapova much prefers faster surfaces) and who seems finally to be coming back to life. There won't be much press coverage of the contest between Mandula and Schiavone, but it should be a good one, and the winner would face either #12 Farina Elia or Safina. #13 Schnyder opens against Daniela Hantuchova -- though that's hardly the threat it would have been two years ago, and the clay only helps Schnyder. Plus Martinez will have to take on her countrywoman Sanchez Lorenzo.
The Rankings. Last year, Justine Henin-Hardenne won this event. Obviously she won't be repeating that this year. It isn't going to matter, though. Her lead is too big, and in any case Kim Clijsters was last year's finalist.
Of course, Clijsters herself remains set at #2.
It appears Amelie Mauresmo is probably safe at #3 for another week -- but barely. She has 161 points from last year's semifinal to defend, and leads Lindsay Davenport by 171 points. An early loss will leave them nearly tied. And there is Anastasia Myskina to worry about. Myskina is about 350 points behind Mauresmo, with nothing to defend (though she has points in her seventeenth tournament). If Myskina can make the final, she has a shot at overtaking both Davenport and Mauresmo.
Below Myskina is a very large gap, so we know that the same five players will remain at the top of the rankings. The #6 position, though, is up for grabs. Right now it's Petrova's, but she leads Serena by only about 60 points and has 27 to defend. Jennifer Capriati is about 180 points back, with 177 to defend; Elena Dementieva is 200 points back, with nothing to defend; Ai Sugiyama is barely in the equation, about 350 points back with nothing to defend. Capriati and Sugiyama need titles to pass Petrova, and that's if Petrova loses early. Dementieva could pass her with a final. Beyond that, there are just too many possibilities to outline; we have no idea what order these players will end up in.
And we have three players currently at #11 or below with Top Ten chances: Zvonareva (though she really seems to clutch up when the #10 ranking is on the line, and besides, she has 157 points to defend), Venus (who is of course as hot as a player can be these days), and Kuznetsova. Venus has nothing to defend (had Warsaw not been so pitifully weak, she might have made it last week), and Sugiyama, though she lost her opener at Berlin last year, has 178 points on the line at Rome. Venus might not need much more than a quarterfinal, or might be able to back in next week if she's too tired to play this week.
Looking sure to take a fall is Magui Serna, who lost in the third round last year but who beat Farina Elia and Rubin before she did; she has 104 points on the line and isn't playing. She'll be left barely in the Top 40; whatever is wrong with her left (serving) shoulder, it's going to cost her a Roland Garros seed. Daniela Hantuchova, who finally made a rankings move last week, looks likely to go the other direction this time; she made the quarterfinal last year (her next-to-last quarterfinal of 2003) and has 87 points on the line. Other surprise quarterfinalists last year were Iroda Tulyaganova (still injured; she'll be going off the rankings entirely before Wimbledon) and Elena Likhovtseva; the latter is barely Top 50 now and looks likely to fall below that mark; if she loses her opener, she'll end up at her lowest ranking since 1995.
Key Matches. Given that it's a semifinal, we wouldn't bet much on the match between #2 seed Mauresmo and #3 seed Myskina actually happening -- but if it does, Myskina can clinch a career high by winning it.
We'd also play particular attention to the third round match between Kim Clijsters and Jelena Dokic or Karolina Sprem. Clijsters of course beat Sprem at Fed Cup, but Dokic always bothers her, and Sprem probably won't be so nervous here. It will be a good test of how Clijsters is recovering. (Her first match will not be much of a test; she'll face a qualifier, and except for Jelena Kostanic, there isn't much to really fear in the qualifying draw). Clijsters also has an interesting semifinal against Venus Williams.
Since Mary Pierce is in Ai Sugiyama's sixteenth, and Fabiola Zuluaga is in Vera Zvonareva's, we wouldn't bet all that much on Sugiyama and Zvonareva meeting in the Round of Sixteen -- but that's the way they're drawn, and if they do meet, there is a real chance that it will decide who is Top Ten next week.
A second round match between Paola Suarez and Maria Sharapova is interesting for what it will say about Suarez's back and about Sharapova's improvement: Can Sharapova translate her fastcourt improvement to clay? If Suarez is healthy and Sharapova wins anyway, that could be the final proof that Sharapova is headed for the Top Fifteen. If she loses, well, the Russian will have to start actually defending serious points soon.
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