From the Bob Larson Tennis International Newsletter:
Women's Look Forward: Warsaw, Bol
It looks like Venus Williams wants the #2 ranking back.
Venus has been almost in hibernation this year, having played only three events. That compares to six at this time last year -- and even that was the lightest schedule for any healthy player. The effect of her failure to play, and relative failure to win when she does play (since she has only one title in those three events) has been to drop her to #3 in the world behind Kim Clijsters. It's very strange: Even if one assumes that Venus wants to cut back her schedule, why did she cut back on her favorite surface (hardcourts) but stoke up on her worst surface (clay)? All right, maybe she is going all-out to win Roland Garros -- but playing three straight weeks of clay doesn't really seem like the answer.
Still, there is a good chance it will get her the #2 ranking back. Very possibly this week. Because, last year, Kim Clijsters won Hamburg in this week, beating Venus in the final. The only way Clijsters can stay #2 is if she can do the same thing this week: Last longer than Venus.
What's more, Venus can build up a pretty good lead here. That's because Hamburg, last year, was an ordinary Tier II. But Warsaw -- which last year was a Tier III, and before that had actually had to shut down for lack of a sponsor -- is not merely a Tier II, it's a bonus Tier II, with extra prize money and extra points to match.
Plus, Clijsters isn't playing. That means that Venus is guaranteed to take back the #2 sport. The only question is, how large will her margin be?
Though Venus is by no means assured of winning the title. There is at least one other very good clay player here (Amelie Mauresmo, arguably the best clay player on the WTA two years ago). The next three of seeds -- Daniela Hantuchova, Jelena Dokic, Magdalena Maleeva -- aren't as fond of clay, but Elena Daniilidou and Anna Pistolesi both like it well, and Elena Likhovtseva (who earned the #9 seed after Conchita Martinez withdrew) is an all-surface player, though very streaky. It's a bit odd to see Monica Seles skip the event, since it's a clay tournament outside Germany, but it is the offspring of Hamburg.
Good unseeded clay players in the draw include Francesca Schiavone, Magui Serna, Fabiola Zuluaga, and perhaps Barbara Schett (we say "perhaps" because Schett has been way off this year, and also missed Fed Cup). There is also one highly promising youngster, Myriam Casanova.
Bol, of course, is much weaker, being a Tier III. But it features Patty Schnyder, whose favorite surface is clay, as the #1 seed. Silvia Farina Elia, the #2 seed, is just coming back from a long layoff, but she too likes clay. #3 Vera Zvonareva is perhaps the best of the young Russians on clay, and her draw is fairly nice. #4 seed Nicole Pratt is no fan of dirt, but #5 Rita Grande won Casablanca on it about a month ago, Henrieta Nagyova has a lot of clay titles if she can ever get her game together, #7 Flavia Pennetta is a rising clay player, and Petra Mandula also prefers dirt.
As far as the rankings go, other than Venus's retaking of the #2 ranking, we aren't likely to see many changes at the top. Venus can't threaten Serena, and Justine Henin-Hardenne can't threaten Clijsters. Lindsay Davenport is safe at #5. Amelie Mauresmo might be able to boot Jennifer Capriati out of the #6 spot, but only by winning the title. Daniela Hantuchova might grab the #8 spot from Chanda Rubin, or possibly even get to #7, but only if she does very well.
Jelena Dokic was last year's semifinalist, so she might once again lost the #10 spot to Anastasia Myskina (whom she beat in the first round last year). The other 2002 semifinalist, Martina Hingis, will of course also be taking a fall.
Iva Majoli for some reason signed up for Warsaw rather than Bol, where she was finalist last year. She is likely to be hit hard. As will Asa Svensson, last year's Bol winner, who isn't even playing.
At 3.10 pm Venus Williams, a superstar of J&S Cup 2003 arrived at Warsaw Okêcie airport.
Venus and her mother Oracene, were welcomed with two bouquetes of flowers: tulips (from airport service) and lilacs (from J&S organizers). Plush elephant was also given: I'm a lucky girl! - was Venus comment. Williams was placed in apartment of luxury Hyatt hotel. Her only wish was to get a book about Poland, before she meets press. This wish was realized - she received a photographic album, and guide-book about Poland. First practise was scheduled for tomorrow morning. As we were unofficially informed - the first match Venus will play on Thursday.
Venus Williams, switching to the clay courts of Europe to prepare for next month's French Open, hopes to find the right balance between power and patience to wrestle the number one spot from younger sister Serena.
"I think this year I'll be a little better. Last year it was difficult, every time I practised I was tired," Williams told reporters on Tuesday before the Warsaw Cup tournament.
"Serena had motivation because she had a couple of years, in 2000 and 2001, when she didn't do really well. (Last year) I became tired and she became motivated so we flip-flopped."
Venus lost to Serena in the final of three of the season's four Grand Slams.
"Every time I played her, she was just better and I was not ready for all of it. She hits with such power and hits the ball so early that unless you faced it, it's hard to explain," Venus said.
Asked what she needed to bring her game to another level, Venus said: "A combination of power and patience."
Venus's world ranking has dropped to three behind Belgium's Kim Clijsters largely because of her light schedule. France's Amelie Mauresmo, Slovak Daniela Hantuchova and Yugoslavian Jelena Dokic are also playing in the $700,000 Warsaw Open.
"Now I want to play slow clay courts, enjoy the rhythm," Venus said. She will play one more warm-up in Europe before resting in the United States ahead of Roland Garros.
The hard-hitting American said she was already looking beyond the slow red clay of Warsaw and Paris to playing on the grass of Wimbledon, where she lifted the winner's trophy in 2000 and 2001.
"I love Wimbledon so much. It's almost unfair for both Serena and me, just serve, serve, serve. It's so wonderful on the fast grass - hit with reckless abandon and play hard," Venus said of the surface which favours power players.
But British fans will not catch a glimpse of Venus before Wimbledon as she will again skip the grasscourt events leading up to the London leg of the Grand Slam.