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Women's Look Forward: Berlin


Last-minute Note: This was written before Venus Williams withdrew from Berlin, and modified. Please forgive any evidence of last-minute patching.

German tennis is under a lot of pressure. The Stuttgart Masters moved in 2002. So did the women's year-end championships, and the men's event left well before that. The women's event at Hamburg disappeared this year, and the men's event is having sponsorship problems. There are rumors the Berlin -- one of the oldest women's events in existence -- is on the chopping block. But, for this year at least, it's a Tier I, and the first tier I on red clay. The dirtballers are out in force.

It was rather a shock to open the draw and see Kim Clijsters at the top. "What happened to Venus," we thought. Theoretically, we knew she had lost the #2 ranking to Kim Clijsters -- but it's one thing to know it, another to see a non-Williams at the top of the draw. It proved an omen. Venus Williams, of course, was the #2 seed when the field was first published on Saturday, which put her down at the bottom of the draw even though she's back up to #2 in the world. But then she did withdraw -- and a tough withdrawal it was, since Clijsters and Venus would have battled for the #2 ranking here. Though Venus might have been in trouble anyway; it was -- and is -- a tough field; of the Top Ten, all were originally scheduled to be except Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport, and we have 12 of the Top 15 in the field (Monica Seles, of course, isn't here). Apparently everyone wants to play Berlin one last time while they know it retains its Tier I status.

And Venus would have paid a price for her brief spell at #3. Because her half was clearly the nasty half, with Justine Henin-Hardenne (arguably the best clay player on the WTA right now) her scheduled semifinal opponent, Amelie Mauresmo waiting in the quarterfinal for a rematch of the Warsaw final, and Patty Schnyder lined up for a Round of Sixteen meeting. Clay players, all, even if Schnyder is way off right now. Whereas Clijsters has non-clay opponents at every round: Meghann Shaughnessy, then Daniela Hantuchova, then Jennifer Capriati.

Venus's withdrawal changed that, making the halves rather more balanced. Henin-Hardenne moved up to the de facto #2 seed, with Mauresmo becoming the de facto #4 (though still in Henin-Hardenne's half). And Anastasia Myskina also moved up a seeding tier, so that she is no longer ranked a level behind Jelena Dokic (which is only just, since Myskina is higher-ranked this week). Also promoted were Ai Sugiyama (to the equivalent of the #12 seed) and Nathalie Dechy, who is now the #17 and last seed (though that isn't the best of news, since she's now stuck facing Clarisa Fernandez).

And even without Venus, there are plenty of fine matches in the draw. Let's look down the draw to see what we mean.

First Round

Suarez vs. Zuluaga (Q). Fabiola Zuluaga has never fully recovered from her injury of a few years ago, but she remains a solid clay player, and Suarez is among the best unknown clay players out there.

(13) Sugiyama vs. Mikaelian. A tough assignment for the #13 seed, who doesn't like clay at all.

Ruano Pascual vs. Pierce. Touch vs. power. How healthy is Pierce, and how much practice has she gotten in?

Granville vs. Schett. Schett is slumping, but knows clay. Granville is higher-ranked, but this is her first year really playing on clay. Will experience overcome a big difference in current form?

Fernandez vs. (17) Dechy. It's starting to look like Fernandez won't make the Top 25 before Roland Garros kills her ranking -- but her chances here aren't bad. And Dechy wasn't expecting such a tough opening match.

(11) Maleeva vs. Chladkova. Chladkova just made the Warsaw semifinal. Maleeva lost first round. Clay makes this a very interesting match indeed....

Serna vs. Farina Elia. Serna is just off the longest winning streak of her career; Farina Elia is just off injury. A contest of rest plus rust versus exhaustion, with no clear favorite.

Zvonareva vs. Casanova. Zvonareva is the hottest prospect on the Tour, at least on clay, but she's tired after winning her first title. Casanova is also a prospect, though she isn't as clay-dependent.

Second Round

Suarez (or Zuluaga) vs. (14) Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy might face some trouble even in the first round, when she's up against Iva Majoli. But Majoli is a mess right now. Not so Suarez. She loves clay, and she knows she can beat almost anyone here. Shaughnessy practiced on clay a lot as she grew up, but it hasn't really transferred to her game.

Mikaelian or (13) Sugiyama vs. Ruano Pascual or Pierce. This section is wide open, and every player brings something slightly different to the table.

Granville or Schett vs. (7) Hantuchova. Just how messed up is Hantuchova?

Serna or Farina Elia vs. (6) Rubin. It's now exactly a year since Rubin came back, so she finally has to start defending points in the coming months. And while she's had good clay results in her career, Serna and Farina Elia both like the surface much better.

(8) Dokic vs. Martinez. Martinez has been hurt, Dokic has been inconsistent, both seem to be improving.

Tulyaganova vs. (10) Dementieva. How will Dementieva react to being an actual title-holder?

(5) Mauresmo vs. Zvonareva or Casanova. Both Mauresmo and Zvonareva were in action through Sunday (a new experience for Zvonareva). Who has more energy left?

Petrova vs. (12) Daniilidou. Given the surface and the rankings, this should be all Daniilidou. But Petrova is gradually recovering her form, and Daniilidou looked bad at Warsaw.

(15) Schnyder vs. Kuznetsova. Schnyder is in poor form, but she has the experience. Kuznetsova is yet another strong prospect, though.

The Rankings. You probably don't need to be told that Serena Williams is safe at #1, even though she's allowing almost 250 points to drop. The #2 ranking is more interesting. Venus Williams built a pretty good lead over Kim Clijsters at Warsaw, but this is a Tier I, and neither has anything to defend, so a final should put Clijsters past Venus. And Clijsters will have another shot (though not a good one, since she has a lot to defend) at Rome.

Justine Henin-Hardenne is the defending champion, and Lindsay Davenport could perhaps have made her life interesting had she played. But Davenport isn't playing, and Henin-Hardenne is safe at #4.

Davenport doesn't really have a huge lead over #6 Mauresmo or #7 Capriati, but they both have points to defend, so she's probably safe at #5. The #6 ranking, though, is open to either Mauresmo or Capriati, with Mauresmo having the inside track.

Chanda Rubin has a theoretical shot at the #7 ranking, but she also faces a risk of falling behind Daniela Hantuchova -- though Hantuchova has more to defend and doesn't look good to defend right now.

As usual, Anastasia Myskina and Jelena Dokic are fighting for the #10 ranking. Myskina just got it back when Dokic lost some quality points at Warsaw, but the two are effectively tied. But both have a lot of seventeenth tournament points. It's a tough race to call.

The other player with the most on the line is Anna Pistolesi. She just made it back into the Top 20, but a really bad result could drop her below #25. Nathalie Dechy also has a lot to defend (167 points), and could take a big hit.
 

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Now with "the problem " out , i'm REALLY looking forward to the next week . Hopefully there is some great tennis in store for us with fewer "no shows" or "pull outs" . * keeping my fingers crossed*

Thanks for that article :)
 

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Why do people insist that Vera is only good on clay? You dont make QF of a Tier 1, 2 Orange Bowls, and 3rd round of US Open taking a set off Kim Clijsters without being good on hard.
 

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oh look its "Rational Diya"

thanks for the article mate :) unfortunately, the problem aint been getting no RICHARD recently and is a bit bitter

but then again, i guess you would have to be drunk to hit YOU right dirty?
 

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Sounds to me like Berlin may be the event that gets bumped down a level or eliminated all together next yr...
 

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Don't you just love those articles?
 
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