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Women's Look Forward: Moscow, Japan Open

Jelena Dokic, this is your last warning. Snap out of it, or else.

Dokic has been massively over-ranked all year, the result of playing more events than any other Top Ten player. This week, it's likely to come home to roost. Dokic is the Moscow champion, but she has not been playing like a player capable of winning a Tier I.

Especially a Tier I expected to be notably tougher than in the past. Last year, Dokic earned a mere 339 points for winning Moscow. This year, she will either do a lot better -- or she won't defend.

How much tougher is Moscow than in years past? Well, how about this: Barbara Schett was a finalist in Moscow in 1999. This year, she's playing in qualifying. And she lost. First round. And there are so many strong Russians hanging around the draw that one of their top prospects, Vera Zvonareva, didn't get a wildcard; she had to play qualifying. And Svetlana Kuznetsova had to play the Japan Open.

Or look at it this way: In 2001, Moscow had four Top Ten players: #1 Martina Hingis, #6 Amelie Mauresmo, #8 Justine Henin, and #10 Nathalie Tauziat. This year, there are five: Venus Williams, defending champion Dokic, Mauresmo, Lindsay Davenport, and 2000 champion Hingis. Jennifer Capriati was supposed to play, but has withdrawn, leaving a gap (Lindsay Davenport is the #3 seed but in the #2 seed's position, and Mauresmo is #5 seed but in the #3 seed's position). Anastasia Myskina is the #7 seed, and Silvia Farina Elia is #8, meaning that local favorite Elena Dementieva would have been unseeded had Capriati not withdrawn, and Anna Kournikova and Elena Bovina needed wildcards.

Clearly, after years of being the weak little sister of the other eight Tier I events, Moscow has arrived.

It is, of course, a very Russian draw -- though Elena Likhovtseva finds herself blocked from playing, and she couldn't play qualifying because she was at Leipzig. (Talk about a scheduling mess!) Still, the locals are represented by #7 seed Myskina (last year's semifinalist), #9 Dementieva (last year's finalist), Tatiana Panova, wildcard Dinara Safina, Nadia Petrova, Kournikova, and Bovina.

In addition, there are quite a few solid unseeded players: Magdalena Maleeva, a champion back before this was a Tier I and now looking to get her Top Twenty ranking back; Elena Daniilidou, also looking to hit the Top Twenty; Nathalie Dechy; Meghann Shaughnessy; Ann Kremer; Amanda Coetzer; Iva Majoli; Anna Smashnova. Not here is former champion Mary Pierce, who probably couldn't get a wildcard into this field.

Great matches are everywhere. Marching down the draw:

First Round

Maleeva vs. Smashnova. Given that this is indoors, Maleeva should trounce the tiny Israeli. But Maleeva has been having a lot of trouble lately.

Daniilidou vs. Dechy. Daniilidou might need only one win to hit the Top Twenty. But Dechy probably is more comfortable indoors.

Shaughnessy vs. (7) Myskina. Myskina won their match at Leipzig. But Shaughnessy had a lot more rest, and she seems at last to be in form again.

Kremer vs. Panova. Panova is Russian. Kremer is a bit taller and likes indoors better. A tough match to predict.

Safina vs. (8) Farina Elia. Farina Elia made the semifinal last year. She has about twelve times Safina's experience. But Safina is Russian, and strong, and Farina Elia prefers slower courts.

Hingis vs. Petrova. Two players coming back from long injury. Petrova at last showed some life last week. Hingis is probably rusty. Can Petrova work an upset? It's a crummy draw for both players. Perhaps especially for Hingis, since she'll have to play doubles partner Kournikova in the second round.

(9) Dementieva vs. Majoli. Dementieva is struggling. Majoli is inconsistent. Dementieva is Russian. Majoli has had better indoor results in her career. And Majoli has won tournaments. Strange match....

Second Round

(1) V. Williams vs. Maleeva. Don't forget that Maleeva beat Venus last year indoors (though not here).

Daniilidou vs. (7) Myskina. A rematch of the Bahia final. This time, Daniilidou won't be suffering heat exhaustion. Will it make a difference?

(6) Hingis vs. Kournikova. Please, don't bring flowers. Cameras, yes, but not flowers.

Coetzer vs. (3) Dokic. Coetzer hates indoors. But Dokic is way off this year. And it's easy to get into her head.

(9) Dementieva vs. Bovina. Two young Russians. Bovina should eat Dementieva's serve for lunch. Will that be enough?

Thoughts on the overall draw: Lindsay Davenport reached #1 last year by being effectively perfect indoors. Hers is clearly the easiest quarter, now that Mauresmo is out of it (though Dementieva has beaten her in the past). She should at least reach the semifinal. But, of course, the big points are beyond that. Still, Davenport is hungry -- and due.

Theoretically, Venus too should reach the semifinal. But her heart doesn't seem to be in the game just now, given her withdrawal from Zurich and her failure to play doubles with Serena lately. Will that matter?

Hingis could face a quarterfinal rematch with Dokic. That could bring fireworks. It will also be interesting to see how she and Kournikova react to playing each other. When they met in the 2000 singles final here, it caused Kournikova to fall apart in the doubles final. Also, this is the first tournament Hingis has played in which she's been fully healthy. Will that make a difference?

Amelie Mauresmo has been coming into her own on faster surfaces. Can she earn her second Tier I title of the year?

Looking at the Japan Open draw makes us think of the Asian hardcourt season as a sort of a marathon with runners gradually dropping out. First was the Princess Cup, which was weak for a Tier II. Then Bali, which was weaker. Now Tokyo, which overall is weaker still. It's added one significant player -- Ai Sugiyama, Japan's #1 and the only Top 20 player in the field. The next two seeds are the top two from Bali: Tamarine Tanasugarn and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. But Clarisa Fernandez, Nicole Pratt, Adriana Serra Zanetti, and Conchita Martinez are all elsewhere, meaning that Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Cara Black, #7 and #6 at Bali, are here the #4 and #5 seeds. Three players unseeded at Bali -- Virginia Ruano Pascual, Svetlana Kuznetsova (who, admittedly, has been rising fast and should have been seeded at Bali) and Jelena Kostanic -- round out the seeds.

If this tournament were held somewhere else, it wouldn't attract much attention. But in Japan, the field is rather attractive: In addition to Sugiyama, who should qualify as the favorite, there are six Japanese in the main draw: Akiko Morigami, Shinobu Asagoe, Yuka Yoshida, Saori Obata, Miho Saeki, and Rika Fujiwara. And -- all the better for the Japanese fans -- none of them will meet in the first round, and the only pair that can meet in the second are Sugiyama and Morigami. Admittedly none of the Japanese, except perhaps Asagoe who was on the edge of the Top Fifty a couple of years ago, constitutes a major threat. But then, few in this draw do. Kuznetsova is a youngster with promise. Black just won her first singles title at Big Island. Tanasugarn has been Top 20 this year, though she's slipped. Sanchez-Vicario is Sanchez-Vicario, but she's also slumping badly. Other than that, the top threat in the draw may be Maria Sharapova, the much-praised (and much-stared-at) but little-tested young Russian.

Put it another way: There are only four Top Fifty players in the draw (Sugiyama, Tanasugarn, Sanchez-Vicario, and Kuznetsova, and Kuznetsova just broke into the Top Fifty at Bali), and #8 seed Kostanic was ranked #76 last week, and of the 26 players with direct entry, 12 were ranked below #100 on that last ranking list, though Sarah Taylor and Saori Obata and perhaps some others have moved up since. In such a draw, we can't predict the results; we can't even say which matches will be good.

A few matches are interesting for other reasons. One is the contest between Kelly Liggan and Rika Fujiwara. Liggan has managed to qualify for three straight events -- the best run of her career. This time, she got direct entry (though we're not sure how). Can she get that first WTA win?

Maria Sharapova has a win this year; she beat Brie Rippner at Indian Wells before losing to Monica Seles. But that's it. Here, she'll have a much easier field, though she starts against #4 seed Gagliardi. Can she make an impression?

Shinobu Asagoe looked like a really hot property starting 2001, and then fell apart. She's slowly pulling things together. She plays another coming-back-from-disaster player, Silvija Talaja, on a court perhaps better suited to her game. Can she finally really rediscover her form?

And, of course, just how good is #6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who now has two titles this year?

The Rankings. It looks like it's going to be another quiet week in this department. Once again, there will be no change in the players in the Top Ten. We had thought Martina Hingis would be under threat by now, and indeed she would have been had Daniela Hantuchova played Moscow. But because Hantuchova lost in the Leipzig quarterfinal, and isn't playing Moscow, Hingis is safe at #10 for at least one more week, even if she loses first round.

And there won't be any changes at the top; Serena Williams is guaranteed the #1 ranking, Venus Williams is #2, and Jennifer Capriati #3.

There is some interest below that, though. Monica Seles is the Japan Open champion, and she isn't defending -- and that means that she will fall at least behind Justine Henin. Jelena Dokic, at #5, has still more to defend; she needs to reach at least the semifinal, and probably the final, to stay ahead of Henin and Seles and Amelie Mauresmo. And Lindsay Davenport, with nothing to defend, is also in the mix. The way things stand now, every position from #4 to #10 is up for grabs. If we did all this right, Henin, Mauresmo, Dokic, or Davenport could be #4; Henin, Mauresmo, Dokic, Davenport, or Seles could be #5 or #6 or #7; Dokic, Davenport, Mauresmo, or Martina Hingis could be #8, Hingis or Davenport or Kim Clijsters could be #9, and Hingis or Clijsters could be #10. Whew!

Below that, things get more stable. Daniela Hantuchova will stay #11, Anastasia Myskina is pretty safe (though not quite guaranteed, since she has a tone of points to defend) at #12; Chanda Rubin will be #13, Silvia Farina Elia is probably going to remain #14; Sandrine Testud, despite being retired, should stay at #15. The biggest move among players ranked #11-#20 will probably be posted by Elena Dementieva, currently #16 but with finalist points, and points for a win over then-#1 Martina Hingis, to defend. An early loss could leave her just barely clinging to the Top Twenty.

Other players with a lot to defend include Barbara Schett -- who has already lost, and will be falling out of the Top 40; Daja Bedanova, who isn't playing and risks falling out of the Top 30; Francesca Schiavone, who also sees her Top 40 status under threat (though Schett's fall will probably save her), Tamarine Tanasugarn, who risks falling out of the Top 30 if she does poorly in Japan, and Alexandra Stevenson, who is barely top 30 anyway and isn't defending her points.
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