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Women's Look Forward: New Haven

One Tier II is just like another, right?

Not when it's New Haven, it's not. New Haven is the last tournament before the U. S. Open. That has interesting implications.

One of the implications used to be that nobody played it. The U. S. Open seeds are set; the outcome here doesn't affect the rankings much. And the top players don't want to go into the Open feeling tired. But, for whatever reason, that's changed in recent years as players like Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport have become regulars. The tournament has also managed to raise a little extra prize money this year ($625,000), though not enough to get it a bump up to the next level of points. If it weren't for the fact that everyone is injured, it would probably offer a stellar field.

Another reason for players to turn out is that a lot of them still want that one last tune-up. That puts New Haven under a certain amount of pressure. Every other Slam has at least two events played the week before; the Australian Open has three. But New Haven, with a 28-draw, stands alone. That means a lot of players trying to get into the main draw -- or at least into qualifying.

The WTA accommodates them. This tournament, quite unusually, allows six qualifiers into its 28-draw.

That's historically produced some strong qualifying draws. This year, it even put a Top 20 player (based on last week's rankings) in qualifying: Silvia Farina Elia is the #1 qualifying seed. That's not without precedent -- but the last time the author can remember it happening was at Filderstadt (the strongest of the strong among Tier II events), where Ruxandra Dragomir lost in qualifying (the players who came through qualifying there includes Elena Dementieva, Silvia Farina, Lisa Raymond, Sabine Appelmans, and Magui Serna; Anke Huber needed a wildcard!) No one else in qualifying is ranked that high (the #2 seed is Tamarine Tanasugarn), but it's still a tough field, both in main draw and in qualifying.

Even with Venus Williams and Serena Williams and Monica Seles and Chanda Rubin out, and Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne taking the week off, the main draw is also strong. Lindsay Davenport is the #1 seed, and Amelie Mauresmo #2 and looking to make up for her loss in Toronto. Jennifer Capriati returns to action as the #3 seed. #4 -- well, that's Daniela Hantuchova, who if this week's rankings were used would be seeded behind #5 seed Anastasia Myskina. Still, that's five Top Ten players in the field.

Rounding out the seeds are #6 Magalena Maleeva, #7 Conchita Martinez, and #8 Ai Sugiyama. That leaves an impressive list of unseeded players: Meghann Shaughnessy, Jelena Dokic, Magui Serna, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva (who would have been seeded based on this week's rankings), Vera Zvonareva (ditto), Anna Pistolesi (finally playing on hardcourt after winning back-to-back clay titles), Elena Bovina, Lisa Raymond, Alexandra Stevenson, Laura Granville. Ashley Harkleroad -- another player just back from injury -- needed a wildcard; also taking wildcards were Sarah Taylor and Jelena Dokic.

That strong field plus all those qualifiers (there are actually seven indeterminate spots in the draw; Farina Elia is now guaranteed to get in as either qualifier or Lucky Loser, and we may see more openings emerge) yields a some strange match-ups. The Hantuchova/Martinez quarter has the two seeds, Elena Dementieva, and four qualifiers. But nearly every other match is tough. In the top quarter, Shaughnessy and Dokic, both slumping, play a first round contest for the right to play Davenport (who gets a first round bye). Also in that quarter, #6 seed Maleeva opens against Petrova (who, on a per-tournament basis and taking surfaces into account, may be actually the better player right now); the winner will face upset artist Serna (who beat Maleeva at Toronto) or a qualifier.

#4 Hantuchova may have just what she needs: An easy match; she's guaranteed to play a qualifier. After that, she'll have to play Dementieva or Martinez, each of whom opens against a qualifier.

#3 seed Capriati has a first round bye, but then will face Elena Bovina or a qualifier -- and Bovina seems finally to be getting back in form. There is almost no telling whom she will face in the quarterfinal; the seed is Myskina, but she opens against Pistolesi, then has to face Zvonareva (who opens against Taylor). Based on recent results, Zvonareva may be in the best form, but it's a talented bunch.

#2 seed Mauresmo, after her bye, will face the slumping Granville or a qualifier, but she too will have a tougher test in the quarterfinal. If the seeds held, she would face #8 seed Sugiyama. But Sugiyama starts against Lisa Raymond, a frequent adversary this year; while surface tends to favor Sugiyama, Raymond won their last hardcourt meeting. The winner of that match will face Harkleroad or Stevenson -- the latter a very interesting match not just because of the difference in tools (Stevenson hits very hard and is slow; Harkleroad doesn't hit hard at all but moves well) but because both have been injured for so long. Things look good for the Raymond/Sugiyama winner, but on the flip side, Harkleroad and Stevenson are both well rested.

The Rankings. Nobody really cares much about this week's rankings, since the only tournament they will seed is Bali, and after that, the U. S. Open is going to have much greater influence. It's perhaps just as well, because we aren't going to see much change at the top. Kim Clijsters will stay #1, Serena Williams #3, Justine Henin-Hardenne #3. Lindsay Davenport has finalist points to defend -- but Venus Williams has winner's points to defend, so Davenport will stay #4 and Venus #5.

It's just possible that we could see a change at #6, since Mauresmo has a few points to defend. But that can only happen if Jennifer Capriati wins the event, and isn't likely even then.

About the same is true of #7. Anastasia Myskina could grab the spot from Capriati if she wins, but only if Capriati does badly. And, frankly, Myskina looks more likely to fall than rise. She's only three points ahead of Chanda Rubin, and Myskina has 182 points to defend as compared to Rubin's zero. It's likely that Rubin will move back up to #8, and Myskina will fall to #9 -- or lower.

That "or lower" depends mostly on Magdalena Maleeva. #10 Daniela Hantuchova could move up, but she has 138 points to defend, and we all know how she's been playing lately. Adding that all up and we find Maleeva effectively tied with Hantuchova in safe points and only about 100 behind Myskina. They could end up in an order -- or Dementieva could sneak her way into the Top 10 with a very good result.

Other players with 80 or more points on the line are Martina Hingis (87 points), who obviously doesn't care much (she will fall off the rankings after the U. S. Open); Angelika Roesch, who lost first round in qualifying and won't get another chance at Elena Dementieva and so will be falling fast; and Laura Granville, already down to #37 and with over 100 points to defend; she could lose ten or so places if she loses her opener.
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