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Women's Look Forward: Week of May 19
Posted on 5/18/2003 at 5:58 PM


Women's Look Forward: Madrid, Strasbourg


The love/hate relationship with clay continues. Once again, Lindsay Davenport will be going into Roland Garros with no red clay warmups at all.

Davenport was supposed to be one of the biggest names at Madrid. But she withdrew on Friday, citing a strained right hamstring. Though we can't help but think that Davenport, who hasn't played a tournament since getting married, doesn't mind a slightly extended honeymoon. But it's a familiar pattern for Davenport, whose last withdrawal, at Miami, was also due to a hamstring injury.

Still, Madrid isn't bad for a Tier III, with four Top 100 players (two of them Top 80!) in the qualifying draw. And the week's other Tier III, Strasbourg, approaches the status of powerhouse for its level. It's not overly-rich in Top Ten players (only Jelena Dokic), but every seed is Top 30. At the top are those poster girls for playing one's self into the ground, Jelena Dokic and Anastasia Myskina. Two Russians who have been out for a while make their returns here: Elena Dementieva is the #3 seed and Elena Bovina is #5. In fact, five of the eight seeds are Russian: Vera Zvonareva is the #6 seed and Elena Likhovtseva is #8. The #4 seed is Eleni Daniilidou, probably the purest clay player among the seeds; defending champion Silvia Farina Elia, who is trying to break a long slump, is seeded #7.

That strong field naturally produces quite a few interesting early round matches. In the top quarter, we'll see Elena Bovina start against Maja Matevzic. Bovina hasn't played for weeks, and she's mostly a power player. Matevzic has a lot of slices and spins. Will Bovina be ready for that? The winner will face Laura Granville or a qualifier. Granville hasn't had much luck on clay, but she too plays a big game. If Bovina comes through, she'll have to adjust quickly. In addition, that top quarter is headed by Jelena Dokic. She's been struggling this year. Can someone take advantage?

The next quarter is Eleni Daniilidou's, and the Russian influence will make it interesting. Daniilidou herself opens against Lina Krasnoroutskaya, who seems to be just about back in form even though she doesn't much like clay. The other seed is Zvonareva, who starts against a Frenchwoman, Virginie Razzano, then against Tina Pisnik, who is coming off a good results at Rome. If both seeds hold, we could see quite a contest in the quarterfinal: Two young players, both rising, both of whom like clay. Daniilidou beat Zvonareva at Scottsdale this year, but that was on hardcourt; Zvonareva had the last word (so far) by beating Daniilidou at Berlin.

The third quarter is headed by Dementieva and Likhovtseva. Dementieva is making a comeback from a strained muscle, and she'll face an interesting challenge in Emilie Loit. Loit is French, and beat Chanda Rubin last week at Rome. But she did it as a Lucky Loser. It's hard to predict her results; she's too up-and-down. Dementieva also faces a tough second-rounder against Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian. Likhovtseva would seem to have it easier, since her opening opponent is Joanette Kruger, who hasn't won a WTA match since Gold Coast 2002. After that, it's either veteran Els Callens or young Ashley Harkleroad, trying to prove that her recent clay results have been no fluke.

#2 seed Anastasia Myskina looked pretty bad against Kim Clijsters at Rome, but this time she'll be facing lesser opposition. Her quarter is perhaps most noteworthy for the fact that Corina Morariu is in it, playing her first singles match since Bali last year. Morariu faces Iveta Benesova, with the winner meeting Myskina (who gets a first round bye). #7 seed Farina Elia, if she is back in form, is likely to be Myskina's first real test. But Farina Elia has been struggling; she hasn't won a match since Indian Wells, and apparently hurt herself slightly around Miami. The good news for the Italian is that she opens against Yoon Jeong Cho, who is very much a hardcourt specialist, then Anca Barna or Stephanie Cohen Aloro (the latter being the lower-ranked, but she's French). This may be the tournament where Farina Elia breaks her slump. We wouldn't bet on her winning her third straight title here.

Madrid, minus Davenport, is stronger than Strasbourg at the top but weaker at the bottom: While it has the highest-ranked player in action this week (Chanda Rubin, ranked #8, is the #1 seed), there isn't another Top 20 player in the draw; the second-highest ranked player, Conchita Martinez, is ranked #24 -- and seeded #3, behind Alexandra Stevenson, who isn't likely to do much on clay. The rest of the seeds are almost all clay-lovers: Clarisa Fernandez is the #4 seed, Paola Suarez #5, Magui Serna #6, Iroda Tulyaganova #7, and Virginia Ruano Pascual #8. (Note that the last four seeds on that list would all have been unseeded at Strasbourg.)

It's going to be interesting to see how top seed Rubin performs here. She hasn't been having any fun at all on clay this year. As one of the top two seeds, she gets a first round bye. After that, she faces either Jill Craybas or a qualifier. But then things get tricky. The seed she would face in the quarterfinal is #5 Paola Suarez -- a very good clay player, though she's struggling right now. But Suarez would face Fabiola Zuluaga in the second round, and Zuluaga seems to have Suarez's number. And Zuluaga is very hot indeed right now, having beaten Hantuchova and Suarez and Shaughnessy and Stevenson in the past month.

As for Stevenson, she at least won't lose in the first round, because she has a bye. She might even get past the second round, since she'll face either Alicia Molik (who has a game like Stevenson's) or a qualifier -- though even Molik has probably been better than Stevenson this year; if we had to bet, we'd bet on Molik to make the quarterfinal. But whoever gets there will have a tough time in the quarterfinal, since it's all clay-lovers from then on. The seed is Magui Serna, who will have to beat Patricia Wartusch and probably Maria Sanchez Lorenzo to make the quarterfinal. We'd pick any of those three (or even Nicole Pratt) over Stevenson on clay. And Serna beat Molik in the Budapest final.

It's just Conchita Martinez's luck to be in Rubin's half of the draw; she should have been the #2 seed and safe from that. But she's certainly the best clay player here; it may not matter. Certainly she should be able to make the quarterfinal, since she starts against Cara Black, then Angelique Widjaja or a qualifier. The quarterfinal has much more potential. The seed is Iroda Tulyganova. But Tulyaganova will face a tough clay opponent in Flavia Pennetta. The second round should be easier for the winner, since the players she could face are Amy Frazier (playing her first match of the year in Europe) or Akiko Morigami (another player more used to hardcourts). The Tulyagnova/Martinez quarterfinal may be one of the best matches of the tournament.

The last quarter is Clarisa Fernandez's, and it's wide open. Fernandez herself is one week away from having to defend her Roland Garros semifinal -- which, given her results since then, probably translates as "one week away from leaving the Top 50." And though she opens against a qualifier, she would then face tough Spaniard Marta Marrero. And worse waits after that: The other seed in the second is #8 Virginia Ruano Pascual, who is Spanish and fairly good at upsets and a player with a decade's extra experience over Fernandez. If it isn't Ruano Pascual, it could be Barbara Schett or Rita Grande, both of whom have had better career results than Fernandez if you exclude that one two-week span last June.

The Rankings. Here we go again: Jelena Dokic and Anastasia Myskina are fighting for the #10 ranking. Dokic has 134 points to defend, Myskina nothing. Dokic comes in with a 72 point lead in the rankings -- but both players have significant points in their "tails," making it hard for them to move. It looks roughly as if Myskina will pass Dokic if she can do better -- but it's going to be close. And, for these two, it matters; these are the rankings that will seed Birmingham -- and, last year, Dokic beat Myskina in the Birmingham final.

We might also see a change in the #8 spot. Chanda Rubin has a very slight lead over Daniela Hantuchova, and has over a hundred points to defend. Another early loss could drop the American to #9.

Few other players will care all that much; that's why most of the Top Ten will skip this week to focus on Roland Garros. They won't be playing the week after the French Open anyway. But defending Strasbourg champion Silvia Farina Elia desperately needs a good result about now; a first round loss might dump her out of the Top 30. (Amazing how much effect a minor injury can have.) Monica Seles may also feel the effects this week; her loss of points combined with good results by Elena Dementieva might allow the Russian to move up to the #12 spot.
 

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WTF? molik 'probably' has been better this year? of course she has she's won a hardcourt title and reached 2 clay finals. and she has a much safer game than stevenson's.
 

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Go Stevenson! :p :p!

And Iroda ;)
 

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Women's Look forward this week

Jelena Dokic
Vera Zvonareva
Elena Bovina
Magui Serna
Fabiola Zuluaga
Elena Likhovtseva
Alicia Molik
Clarisa Fernandez
Angelique Widjaja
Anastasia Myskina
 
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