WTA Indian Wells Arrives with a Whimper

Posted on March 9, 2006

The "Tier I" events on the WTA Tour are expected to be the best-of-the-best outside the slams, but don't remind Indian Wells Tournament Director Steve Simon or event owner Charlie Pasarell, who can't be happy that only nine of the Top 20 players are posting this week at their dual-gender event, the Pacific Life Open.

World No. 1 Kim Clijsters, and Australian Open winner Amelie Mauresmo who will take over No. 1 again in two Mondays' time, are only two of top cats choosing to nap during the week-and-half-event in the California desert, primarily due to the reason that the WTA this year made the NASDAQ-100 in Miami, which follows IW, a mandatory event for players. Thus Miami is going to look like the fifth slam in a couple weeks, while Indian Wells (only on the women's side, as the men's side is star-packed) resembles a Tier II stop at best.

Indian Wells has been in headlines since Pete Sampras and a cabal of investors had to sweep in to stop the tournament from being sold to wealthy buyers in the Middle East and China.

"I can tell you that I've had maybe one of the toughest years I've ever had in my life, just the anxiety of not being able to know whether we're going to be able to keep this event here," said Pasarell after the U.S. partnership swept in to buy out management firm IMG for the rights.

The rights battle subsequently took the fight out of attracting top players, with tournament organizers' fears realized as to how the WTA's mandatory Miami ruling would effect their draw power.

Clijsters for one showed where her priorities were when she returned too early from an ankle injury to play at her homecountry event in Antwerp, then announced she would take a pass on Indian Wells.

"I am very disappointed to have to withdraw from Indian Wells," Clijsters said in a statement at the time. "I re-aggravated the right ankle that I injured in Australia, and now require some time off to get back to 100 percent. Indian Wells has always been one of my favorite tournaments, and I am very much looking forward to playing there next year."

That's little consolation to tournament organizers and WTA officials, who now look to put a happy spin on things, already hyping Martina Hingis' participation, and that of three other former No. 1s in Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately it's likely the first four rounds on the women's side will go by with a memorable-name match-up.

"They haven't said so publicly, but the women players involved here are known to feel that once the men start taking their cuts on Friday, the women are pretty much forgotten," says Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Not a problem this year. The women could be forgotten before the men begin their phase of the event. The circumstances relate as much to the compelling possibilities contained in the men's draw as to the lack of them on the women's side."

Play began Wednesday for the women, where the unseeded American hosts went 5-1 with winners Lisa Raymond (d. (Q) Bohmova 7-6 in the third), (WC) Ashley Harkleroad (d. Y.Zi), Jamea Jackson (d. (WC) Tatishvili), Mashona Washington (d. Sanchez Lorenzo in three), and Meghann Shaughnessy (d. Kanepi), with American wildcard teen Alexa Glatch getting stomped 0-and-1 by Slovak Martina Sucha.

Other winners on the seedless day of play were Russian Ekaterina Bychkova (d. Nagyova, bagel in the second), Estonia's Maret Ani (d. Ant. Serra Zanetti, bagel in the third), Austria's Sybille Bammer (d. Zheng in three), German Julia Schruff (d. Sun), Greek Eleni Daniilidou (d. (LL) Camerin in three), Swiss Emmanuelle Gagliardi (d. Brandi), French qualifier Camille Pin (d. Obata), Aussie Sam Stosur (d. (Q) Fedak, bagel in the third), Chinese qualifier Yuan Meng (d. Morigami), and Italian Tathiana Garbin (d. A.Bondarenko).

Scheduled for Thursday are Pratt vs. Mattek, Kloesel vs. Kirkland, Diaz-Oliva vs. Perry, Sprem vs. Asagoe, Rodionova vs. King, Stevenson vs. Lisjak, Schultz-McCarthy vs. Nakamura, Bremond vs. Ondraskova, Peng vs. Foretz, N.Li vs. Kremer, Vento-Kabchi vs. Dominguez Lino, Cohen-Aloro vs. Parra Santonja, Pironkova vs. Ruano Pascual, Yakimova vs. Poutchek, Vesnina vs. Kutuzova, and Laine vs. Sromova.