Year-End Races Heat Up, Blake Cooled by Illness
by Richard Vach | October 23rd, 2006, 1:22 pm

There are two more weeks of tournaments before the year-end WTA Tour Championships, but the eight-woman field is essentially set.

The first six positions have been clinched by Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, and Elena Dementieva. That looks like half the year-end field will be Russian, for thoe concerned that the lack of Russian Slam winners was impacting their time at the top of the game.

Virtually a lock for the last two positions are fan favorites Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters, who will likely maintain their order at No. 7 and No. 8 unless Patty Schnyder goes on a two-tournament tear this week and next, winning titles in both weeks.

While Mauresmo remains No. 1 atop the WTA tour Rankings, that is a towering fascade that will come crashing down after the year-end championships. Mauresmo is currently third in the 2006-only standings, last week passed by Sharapova at No. 2 after the Russian won the Zurich title.

Out with a shoulder injury, the winner of two Slam titles this year, Mauresmo’s year end has become a giant anti-climax, watching as her rightful year-end No. 1 ranking is either stolen by Sharapova, or handed by default to Henin-Hardenne, who has been sidelined since the US Open. A sad yet somehow just ending to the WTA’s season, as women’s tennis has lost control of its top players who pull out of events randomly to try and avoid overplaying — when they’re not sitting out with injury.

There was also clinching news concerning the year-end WTA doubles race — but does anyone care with their four-team single-elimination joke format?

Even if you can’t name any of the four teams in the doubles qualifying race, make no mistake — the tension to see who will qualify is on par with possibly World Cup soccer.

“The fourth and final doubles berth is going down to the wire, with two teams still in contention,” writes a WTA media release. “The singles Race to the Sony Ericsson Championships is equally enthralling, with three players vying for the final two berths.”

At least the singles is on equally-entralling footing.

If women’s doubles is so truly enthralling, how about the WTA giving it an eight-team round robin field like the singles, and the men’s doubles? The current format is more akin to the ’70s and ’80s when doubles at the year-end events was many times not much more than an exhibition spectacle.

Then again, without any players speaking out, perhaps it is where the WTA and players think it deserves to be.

Blake Tonsillitis Puts Masters Cup Qualification in Jeopardy

American James Blake, in the midst of his best season ever, has mysteriously and repeatedly claimed that qualifying for the Elite Eight at the Masters Cup is not a high priority. That apparently changed after an early-round loss last week in Madrid, and is now compounded by a withdrawal by the American from Basel with tonsillitis.

Blake tentatively says he will compete during the last regular-season event next week at the Masters Series-Paris. If he pulls from Paris, his Shanghai hopes will almost certainly end.

Both Blake at No. 7 and Tommy Robredo at No. 8 are separated by only one point from each other on the 2006-only standings, and they are a mere 30 points roughly ahead of Fernando Gonzalez and Marcos Baghdatis. While Blake sits idle, Robredo contests St. Petersburg this week, Gonzalez in Basel and Baghdatis in Lyon.

Missing the Masters Cup would be a rankings blow for Blake if the American hopes to rise to challenge the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in 2007, or at least climb to No. 3.

Federer and Nadal are still the only players clinched for Shanghai with two weeks left, but Ivan Ljubicic, Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko are virtual locks. Next in line is David Nalbandian, looking good and clamoring for a spot this week in Basel. Four players vie for the last two spots which are totally up for grabs.

“My tennis is getting better and better. I feel that I can still improve it,” said Gonzo, who picked up a nice chunk of points after getting steamrolled in the Madrid final by Federer. “That’s given me a lot of motivation to continue working. I’m fighting to go to the Masters now.”

Gonzo last year qualified as the alternate No. 9 man.

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4 Comments for Year-End Races Heat Up, Blake Cooled by Illness

Rob Says:

Sharapova is not #2. Please get your facts correct. She is still at #3 on the WTA rankings, and Race to the Championships standings.

cyandream Says:

Hey, Rob. Maybe you want to check again. Maria is now 2nd in the race by 80 points.

Sitting Pretty Says:

James Blake actually stands to gain nothing by playing this week. He has already won 5 non-Grand Slam/non-Masters Series events which is the maximum number he can have counted in the race. It is best that he rests this week and be fresh for the Masters Series event in Paris.

Fans cry foul: World Cup trophy that visited Boston was replica - 2006 FIFA World Cup Soccer News and Blog Says:

[...] Year-End Races Heat Up, Blake Cooled by, MI - Oct 23, 2006… t name any of the four teams in the doubles qualifying race, make no mistake the tension to see who will qualify is on par with possibly World Cup soccer. … [...]

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