Welcome to the last week of regular-season play on the ATP and WTA tours. Doesn’t it seem like yesterday was January and you were anticipating the return of Martina Hingis after her three-year hiatus? Or are you thinking ‘Thank (fill in your god or preferred deity)! Let’s get Tommy Robredo eliminated and get on with the year-end championships!’
The women have events in Hasselt (Belgium) and Quebec City (Canada) this week, but they are meaningless in reference to the eight-woman year-end championship field in Madrid, which has already been set.
And Hingis? Not a bad season for the Swiss Miss, who began the year ranked No. 9,999 (according to the WTA website) and ends the season by qualifying in the elite-eight field. Hingis and Kim Clijsters were the final two to clinch berths in the field over the weekend, joining Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, and Elena Dementieva.
The year-end event will have a number of storylines, a few of which will be the race for the year-end No. 1 ranking between H-H, Mauresmo and Sharapova; whether Clijsters can mentally/physically compete (or will even play) after her layoff due to another wrist injury; and whether Hingis, who at times this year has questioned her ability to compete with the big girls, can keep from getting hit off the court.
The men’s Masters Cup field is still wide open, and four of the eight spots are up for grabs this week at the Masters Series-Paris.
Already with booked flights to Shanghai are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Ivan Ljubicic and Andy Roddick. Next up, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian, have likely already clinched the No. 5 and 6 spots.
Remaining are the No. 7 and 8 positions, up for grabs between James Blake, Tommy Robredo, Fernando Gonzalez and Mario Ancic.
Here’s a quick look at the MS-Paris draw and how things could play out:
With a week off after Paris before the festivities start in Shanghai, Rog Fed has no reason not to go all-out in Paris to further tune his game (if that is possible) and strike more fear (if that is possible) into the rest of the tour.
The Swiss’ road to the semis and an exit out of the quarter will likely have to go through former Slam winner Thomas Johansson, No. 14 seed Jarkko Nieminen, and No. 12 Novak Djokovic. The No. 6 seed Robredo, who has thus far almost choked himself out of Masters cup contention, will be hard-pressed to beat the Serb future-star Djokovic.
The “money quarter” regarding Masters Cup qualifying. Davydenko is the top seed in the quarter but he is already in. Gonzalez and Ancic are looking at a third round meeting — and depending on what happens this Sunday before Paris, Gonzo could possibly take a loss at Paris and still qualify for Shanghai, but an Ancic loss would most certainly take him out of Masters Cup contention.
No Masters Cup contenders in this section, but tip Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray to meet in the quarters to see who exits into the semis.
Berdych’s road will likely be comprised of Ollie Rochus, David Ferrer or Robby Ginepri, then the Brit to reach the semis. Murray will open against Juan Ignacio Chela or Paradorn Srichaphan, and will then likely face either Gael “Force” Monfils or Dominik “The Dominator” Hrbaty before battling the Czech.
Can Rafael Nadal get a little extra shot of indoor-carpet confidence before the Masters Cup? Not likely if facing the former No. 1 Marat Safin in the second round.
James Blake is on the Shanghai chopping block, and has a tough road to picking up points against likely foes Arnaud Clement, Tommy Haas, then either Nadal, Safin, or Richard Gasquet to reach the semifinals. Coming off “tonsilitis” that kept him out of play last week, good luck there.
Berdych won the MS-Paris title last year as an un-seed, outlasting the No. 6-seeded Ljubicic in five sets.
Former champs in the field are Berdych (2005), Safin (2004,’02,’00), and Sebastien Grosjean (2001). Tim Henman (2003) was denied a wildcard in favor of Frenchmen Florent Serra, Marc Gicquel, and Nicolas Mahut. Ouch.
No player has won the Paris title in back-to-back years since the event’s beginning in 1986.
The Bryans won their first Paris title last year, and will try and match Dutchmen Paul Haarhuis/Jacco Eltingh (1996-97) as the only team to win back-to-back Paris doubles crowns.
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