No. 1 Within Grasp This Week for Sharapova at WTA Berlin

Posted on May 2, 2005

Lots of storylines this week at the German Open in Berlin.

Front and center is this year's sad state of sponsorship: the locals call it the German Open, but the tournament is officially titled the Qatar Total German Open. Yes, Qatar, another "Oil Open" added to the calendar. And it is only a one-year reprieve for Berlin before the event gets carted off to Doha, added to the list of past German event failures such as Hamburg and Munich on the women's side, and Stuttgart on the men's.

Second storyline is the top-seeded Maria Sharapova. The Russian beauty has never reached so much as a semifinal on the red dirt, yet finds herself in the position of elevating to the No. 1 spot on the WTA Rankings if she can win this week in Berlin.

Third storyline: How come the No. 11 and 12 seeds are among the favored to win in Berlin? Both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne have been tearing it up since returning to the tour from their respective injuries and illnesses, with H-H coming off her second consecutive 2005 claycourt title last week at Warsaw. Clijsters, stay tuned, may be hampered this week by a sore shoulder.

Fourth storyline: How about those Williams sisters? -- who aren't in Berlin this week, even with the German Open a major Roland Garros warm-up? Serena is reportedly still struggling with an ongoing ankle injury, while Venus is simply sick of losing and will likely sit out until the French. Nice preparation plan.

Amelie Mauresmo withdrew from the event with an ongoing abdominal injury.

Sharapova is joined among the Top 8 seeds in Berlin by the Russian Revolution of Anastasia Myskina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova and Elena Bovina, with a couple non-Russians thrown in for spice in Swiss Patty Schnyder and Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy.

The Top 8 seeds receive opening-round byes in typical WTA early-round momentum-killing fashion, but a few openers of interest exist in Japan's (14) Ai Sugiyama vs. Chinese comer Shuai Peng, former mover-and-shaker (15) Daniela Hantuchova vs. Top 40 member Gisela Dulko, Dinara Safina vs. Ana Ivanovic in an all-teen all-future meeting, and (16) Karolina Sprem vs. confident French Top 40-ranked Virginie Razzano.

Sharapova's road to the final gets difficult early with fellow Russian Evgenia Linetskaya possibly in the second round, and Henin-Hardenne or Zvonareva in the quarterfinals if she can survive that long employing her one-dimensional baseline bashing.

In last year's final the No. 2-seeded Mauresmo received a walkover against the No. 3-seeded Venus who was unable to compete due to an ankle sprain.