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U.S. Open Women's Draw Calls Out For Belgians

By Andre Christopher

There are at least a half dozen Belgian social clubs in the New York metropolitan area for Belgian nationals who have immigrated to the United States. That will be important to know for both CBS and the United States Tennis Association as the U.S. Open gets under way on Monday.

After the women’s singles draw was made Wednesday at the United Nations in midtown Manhattan, reaching out to those Belgian clubs to attend and support the U.S. Open might be helpful because it sure looks like CBS will have an all-Belgian final to broadcast in primetime on Sept. 6.

Based on likely matchups throughout the 128-player draw and with defending champion Serena Williams sidelined while recuperating from knee surgery, Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, the top two seeds in the U.S. Open women’s singles, appear to have a strong chance of meeting in their second Grand Slam tournament final of the year, having first done so in June at Roland Garros. The question then becomes whether Henin-Hardenne wins her second Grand Slam tournament championship or Clijsters her first.

”Clijsters is ready to win,” CBS tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe said, prognosticating the women’s field. “She feels like she has something to prove, being No. 1 and not having won a (Grand Slam) tournament.”

Henin-Hardenne, without question, has what should be an easy path to the semifinals in the bottom half of the draw. If form holds, she would face No. 32 seed Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian in the third round, No. 16 Elena Bovina in the fourth round and No. 7 Anastasia Myskina in the quarterfinals. Henin-Hardenne, who has never advanced beyond the fourth round at the U.S. Open, has a combined 8-1 win-loss record against those players. Perhaps the worse thing that could happen for Henin-Hardenne is No. 30 seed Magui Serna advancing to the quarterfinals. Serna is 2-0 against her, though the last encounter was two years ago in Scottsdale.

More questionable is whom Henin-Hardenne would face in the semifinals. Seeding would suggest it be the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between No. 4 Venus Williams, the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Open champion, and No. 6 Jennifer Capriati. In four head-to-head meetings, Capriati has never beaten Williams, but neither Williams nor Capriati is a sure bet to reach the quarters.

There is still serious doubt about Williams’s fitness for the Open. She has not played since Wimbledon because of an abdominal strain she originally suffered in May. While it would be terrible for the tournament, it would not surprise many if she pulled out altogether. In fact, USTA Chief Executive, Professional Tennis Arlen Kantarian might have given away more than intended when he said during the prelude to the draw ceremony that “there are two finalists that you may not see in the Open this year.” Men’s defending champion Pete Sampras hasn’t been a consideration for quite some time, and Serena Williams’s rehab is well known.

But if Venus Williams plays, most likely No. 29 seed Francesca Schiavone awaits in the third round and, if she survives that challenge, No. 15 Ai Sugiyama would probably be waiting in the fourth round.

Capriati, who is nursing a pectoral muscle injury, could face a couple of tests before a possible meeting with Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Maria Sharapova, one of the many Russian upstarts making waves in women’s tennis, is a possible third round opponent. No. 11 seed Elena Dementieva, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2000, could meet Capriati in the fourth round.

A more likely all-American women’s quarterfinal looms in the top half of the draw. Lindsay Davenport, the No. 3 seed and 1998 U.S. Open champion, could be tested in a third round match against good friend and doubles partner Lisa Raymond, the No. 28 seed. But in 12 career encounters, Raymond has never beaten Davenport and has won only two sets from her, making Davenport a favorite to reach her sixth consecutive U.S. Open quarterfinal, unless No. 14 Amanda Coetzer, No. 19 Nadia Petrova or Davenport’s foot injury…well, trip her up.

She would then be expected to play long-time friend Chanda Rubin in the quarterfinals. While Rubin has been bothered by a shoulder injury lately, she still has a fairly unremarkable path to the quarters, with all due respect to No. 25 Eleni Daniilidou (Rubin’s likely third round opponent) and No. 12 Conchita Martinez (a likely fourth round foe). Rubin and Davenport started on the tour around the same time after coming up through USTA Player Development together and their paths paralleled until 1996 when a right hand injury derailed Rubin. Thereafter, Rubin had two knee surgeries. She is just returning to the form that got her to No. 6 in the world in ’96, and this might be hers and Davenport’s last best chance of winning a Grand Slam singles title. Davenport leads their head-to-head, however, 9-3.

Clijsters, on the other hand, has the best chance of her young career to become a Grand Slam tournament champion. With no Serena Williams; at best an ailing Venus Williams, who would have to get past Capriati and Henin-Hardenne anyway; and a strong summer that has seen her win 16 of 18 matches and two titles (one over Capriati, one over Davenport). No. 5 seed Amelie Mauresmo, a semifinalist in the U.S. Open last year, having beaten Clijsters in the fourth round en route, will certainly pose a threat and should not be discounted. In fact, their impending quarterfinal matchup will be a test of mental fortitude for both players. Really, after her consistently strong play all year, the mental side is all anyone questions about Clijsters.”

”I don’t know if she’s mean enough, if she wants it enough,” McEnroe said. “But she might be mad enough and tired of hearing people say that about her that now she’s ready.”

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I don't understand. They make it seem like Venus is out of the picture entirely (injury or no injury--a player of Venus's hard court results can't be worried about 'surviving' a matchup with Francesca Schiavone) and that Capriati and Davenport are non factors.

Contrast this to other 'experts' who have Jen as one of the favourites and/or see Venus cruising in her half of the draw.

The press can't seem to make up its mind :p
Tell me what to think, please
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