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Women's Look Forward: Canadian Open/Toronto

This injury business is getting to be a bit much. When not one of the top three Gold Exempts is available for the last Tier I of the year to be played on hardcourts, you know you've got problems.

The #1 Gold Exempt is Serena Williams, and she's out. #2 is Venus Williams, and she has withdrawn from Toronto. And the #3 Gold Exempt, Jennifer Capriati, isn't here either. All injured.

That leaves us with the usual suspects we've been seeing for most of the year: Kim Clijsters as the #1 seed and Justine Henin-Hardenne at #2. They're the only Top Five players; the #3 seed is defending champion Amelie Mauresmo, making her first hardcourt appearance of the summer. The #4 seed is Daniela Hantuchova, ranked #9. Anastasia Myskina is the #5 seed, meaning that only five of the Top Ten are in the field. Magdalena Maleeva is #6, Amanda Coetzer #7 (meaning that not even Ai Sugiyama is playing, which is rather shocking), Jelena Dokic #8, Elena Dementieva #9, Vera Zvonareva (another player just coming to hardcourts ) is #10, Silvia Farina Elia #11 (meaning that only eleven of the top 20 are here), Elena Bovina #12, Eleni Daniilidou #13, Nadia Petrova #14, Nathalie Dechy (playing again after being out for several weeks) #15, and Svetlana Kuznetsova #16.

Despite that relatively low number of top players, there are some pretty good floaters -- Francesca Schiavone, who has had two semifinals in her last three tournaments and looks ready to break into the Top 25; young Russians Lina Krasnoroutskaya, Dinara Safina, and Maria Sharapova; hardcourt-loving Laura Granville; upset artist Magui Serna; and the resurgent Mary Pierce. But we also have eleven players below #50 who earned direct entry. That's despite a 56-draw with twelve spots for qualifiers and four spots for wildcards, meaning that only 40 players earned direct entry. It's not often that we see a Tier I with that weak a field. (That extends even to qualifying, incidentally. It looks like the parable about sweeping the streets and still having room left over. In a field that should theoretically hold 48, there were -- last time we looked -- sixteen byes, and seven players ranked below #500. For a Tier I event! Either people haven't heard that SARS is gone, or this injury problem is even worse than we thought.)

It's also an inexperienced field, with exactly one Canadian Open title to its credit: Mauresmo, last year's winner, is the only past champion in the field. 2001 winner Serena is injured. 1999 and 2000 champion Martina Hingis is gone. Monica Seles, who won four straight Canadian Opens from 1995 to 1998, is injured. The only pre-Seles champion who is still playing (apart from Martina Navratilova) is Jennifer Capriati, who won in 1991, and she's injured.

Still, there is a surprisingly large number of good matches. Our list of high-quality first-rounders:

Krasnoroutskaya vs. (13) Daniilidou. Krasnoroutskaya still doesn't seem quite to be up to her level of two years ago -- but Daniilidou isn't up to her level of last year, and the surface is probably better for Krasnoroutskaya.

Suarez vs. (16) Kuznetsova. Suarez just missed being seeded, Kuznetsova barely earned it. Kuznetsova is rising fairly steadily, but Suarez is good at dealing with young and impatient (or old and impatient, for that matter) opponents.

(10) Zvonareva vs. Schett. Schett is in terrible form, but at least she's had some hardcourt warmups.

Molik vs. (9) Dementieva. Molik has been inconsistent this year, but her best has been better than Dementieva's worst.

(15) Dechy vs. Tanasugarn. Tanasugarn has been struggling, but she's played. Dechy hasn't.

Likhovtseva vs. Sharapova. Experienced Russian vs. Inexperienced Russian. Likhovtseva is coming out of her funk. Sharapova is rising. Hard to call.

In the second round, we can look forward to a Clijsters/Schiavone rematch; #6 seed Maleeva could face upset artist Serna; Kuznetsova could face Mary Pierce; Dementieva could face Safina, Mauresmo would face the Likhovtseva/Sharapova winner; and Petrova could face Granville.

The Rankings. With Kim Clijsters finally up to #1, there won't be all that much excitement at the top. Clijsters is set at #1 for weeks to come. Serena Williams will stay at #2. Justine Henin-Hardenne is #3. Lindsay Davenport is safe at #4 until the U. S. Open. Venus Williams is safe at #5 for the moment.

Had Jennifer Capriati been able to play, we might have seen a change at #6. But with Amelie Mauresmo in and Capriati out, Mauresmo is guaranteed to stay #6.

That means the first possible move would be at #7; Capriati has finalist points to defend, meaning that Daniela Hantuchova has a shot at her. But Hantuchova has 177 points of her own to defend. Best bet is that Capriati stays #7, Chanda Rubin rises to #8, and Hantuchova slips back to #9. (Which is still good for the #8 U. S. Open seed, with Serena out.)

#10 Anastasia Myskina has a shot at moving up, perhaps as high as #8; she has nothing to defend. But she also could see someone such as Magdalena Maleeva overtake her.

Myskina is at least guaranteed of being seeded in the #9-#12 range. So is Maleeva. The other two spots in that seeding tier are wide open, with Conchita Martinez less than 20 points ahead of Ai Sugiyama, and Amanda Coetzer only eight points behind Sugiyama. Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva, and Jelena Dokic are also within 150 points. We may not know who gets the #12 seed until the weekend.

Other players who have a shot at being seeded in the Top 16 include Patty Schnyder (who would have a shot at #12 had she played, but she isn't playing), Meghann Shaughnessy, Silvia Farina Elia, Elena Bovina, and Nadia Petrova.
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