There are a number of “storylines,” as the TV people like to say, this week at the Zurich Open. Foremost is the fact the WTA Tour has a week where one of its top-level Tier I events is showcased without a couple Top 20-less (or Top 50-less) Tier III or Tier IV events being contested at the same time — and the women’s tour has a Tier I event with it’s minimum six of the Top 10 players, albeit most of them injured, in attendance.
Earlier this week the tour released a statement finally admitting (after years of calling the injuries “flukes”) that women’s tennis was being decimated by injuries. Top 10 player withdrawals from top-tier events have increased by 72 percent over the past five years, and “2006 will mark the first year ever that not a single one of the Tour’s 10 top-level tournaments received promised “Player Commitment” (the Tour’s commitment that a minimum of six of the Top 10 players will compete in each Tier I event).”
Perhaps premature, as this week at the Zurich Open you have six Top 10ers in Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetova, Elena Dementieva, Martina Hingis and Patty Schnyder in a rare grouping as of last week’s rankings.
Of course Mauresmo is coming off a shoulder injury, Sharapova pulled from Moscow last week with a foot injury, and Dementieva pulled from Stuttgart with a thigh injury just a couple weeks ago.
“Women’s professional tennis needs to enact bold reforms in the name of player health and the continued global growth of the game,” said WTA CEO Larry Scott.
Unfortunately the “bold” plan as of now consists only of adding a couple week’s rest during the year and cutting the top players’ required tournaments by one or two — failing to address the technology issues that have radically changed how players must explosively react to shots off the super-racquets, how that effects training and practicing, and the subsequently increased stresses from super-racquet-launched balls on shoulders, wrists, knees and joints.
But at least the WTA now has an “out,” and can now say they’re addressing the issue in some respect rather than shrugging it off as they have done over the last three years.
Zurich is a big, big week for Mauresmo her quest for the year-end No. 1 ranking. The Frenchwoman is the top player on the WTA Rankings, but trails Justine Henin-Hardenne by a hefty 2,872 to 3,473 points in the 2006-only standings. Mauresmo’s biggest opponent this week will be her dodgy shoulder, with little draw resistance until the semifinals where she should face the winner of Kuznetsova and Hingis, and then Sharapova, Dementieva or Vaidisova in the final.
The US Open winner Sharapova is also an outside shot for the year-end No. 1 ranking, needing a runner-up or title run in Zurich to truly step into the fray, with only a couple smaller-point events remaining until the WTA Tour Championships in Madrid.
Sharapova’s draw this week is considerably tougher, with the winner of Alicia Molik and Shahar Peer in her opener, then the No. 8-seeded Francesca Schiavone or the unseeded Anastasia Myskina in the quarters, and likely Dementieva, Vaidisova, or even Tatiana Golovin in the semis.
The unseeded Frenchwoman Golovin opens against No. 7 Vaidisova, the No. 5 Hingis against German Anna-Lena Groenefeld, No. 6 Schnyder against former Top 10er Daniela Hantuchova, and No. 4 Dementieva with a potential opener after a bye with former Slam champ Mary Pierce.
Mauresmo has won two Slams this year and Sharapova one, and their main competitor right now is injury. Ironically it is Henin-Hardenne, sidelined with a knee injury for approximately the last month, whose losing effort in three of four slam finals this year could be enough to see her through her planned next three weeks of inactivity — and a return at the year-end championships in Madrid to possibly steal the day from Mauresmo and Sharapova.
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