Tuesday, July 26, 2005

U.S. Open Series begins

Yesterday kicked off the beginning of the U.S. Open Series--ten hardcourt tournments that lead up to the Open. Of the five WTA events--Bank of the West (Stanford), Acura Classic (San Diego), JPMorgan Chase Open (Los Angeles), Rogers Cup (Toronto), Pilot Pen Tennis (New Haven)--the three California events are being defended by world number one Lindsay Davenport. Amelie Mauresmo defends the Rogers Cup, and Elena Bovina, Pilot Pen Tennis.

Davenport may find it a little more difficult to go on a hardcourt tear the way she did last year because Belgian Kim Clijsters is likely to get in her way. Clijsters, whose injuries have healed, has made an impressive return to the tour, and should shine on the "true bounce" hard courts. Davenport will also have to face her old nemesis, Venus Williams, who recently defeated her in the longest women's Wimbledon final in history, and a heartbreaker for those of us who want Lindsay to win another Grand Slam.

Some commentator recently said that Davenport has overachieved in her career in general, but has underachieved in the slams department. How true. She has won 47 WTA singles titles, 35 doubles titles, and an Olympic gold medal, and has been ranked number one for 79 non-consecutive weeks. Last year, she looked good to win Wimbledon, but after a rain break in her semi-final with Maria Sharapova, she slumped and was defeated. After her U.S. Open series hardcourt victories, she looked like a shoo-in to win the U.S. Open, but during her semi-final with Svetlana Kuznetsova (who went on to win the Open), she sustained a foot injury and lost. This year, she made it to the final of the Australian Open and appeared to be yet another victim of the heat as she gave out in the middle of the match, which Serena Williams then won handily. And just recently, of course, she lost the Wimbledon final in that thriller with Venus Williams. The defeat must have been especially hard to bear because she held a match point during the third set.

If Davenport does not win another Grand Slam, she will go down in Hall of Fame history as probably the most gifted player to not win multiple slams, though three slams is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Martina Hingis, in her brief but brilliant career, won five. Monica Seles, during her first five years of tour play--before the stabbing that would rob her of her major championship status--won nine.

Other players to watch in the hardcourt season are Mauresmo, Sharapova, Serena Williams, Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova (who has yet to win a title), and Justine Henin-Hardenne, arguably the best player on the tour. If you want to start watching women's tennis, now is a good time because most of the hardcourt season is played in the U.S., so you can see some of the matches in real time on ESPN and ESPN2.

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