I don’t know why they don’t just call this the Russian Championships and hold it in Moscow.


I’m shocked to report that all of the top eight players are in Madrid. Injuries and pullouts have been such an epidemic that the WTA is doing something about the schedule, or at least announcing they’re going to do something about the schedule – not exactly the same thing. Their plan, Roadmap 2010, calls for the season to end in October, reduce the required number of tournaments played from thirteen to eleven, and take breaks after grand slams.

I don’t think it’s necessary to reduce the number of required tournaments, turning up at thirteen tournaments is not too much to ask, but it is necessary to reduce the number of tournaments and it’ll be fun to see how the WTA pulls that off since they represent both the players and the tournament directors.

This is not a new situation, the number of withdrawals by top ten players at big tournaments has gone up 72% in the past five years, but the number of withdrawals jumped more than 50% from 2005 to 2006 so Roadmap 2010 is now Roadmap 2009. The new plan will go into effect a year early.

Yes it’s true, for the first time since this championship tournament began in 1972, there are no U.S. players in the field. Therefore, it’s entirely appropriate that the tournament is in Madrid instead of Los Angeles where it had been for the past four years. The top U.S. player is Lindsay Davenport at number nineteen and she’s now a part-timer at the end of her career. There are, by the way, seven Russian players in front of her. I don’t know why they don’t just call this the Russian Championships and hold it in Moscow.

Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva are two of those Russians and they played each other today in their second matches in round-robin play.

I love Kuznetsova. She looks pudgy next to the other tall blonde Russians. Maybe it’s because she’s closer to the ground but there isn’t the imperial air that precedes Sharapova or the dignity that accompanies Dementieva. It’s not that Kuznetsova is undignified, she just seems a bit goofier and more endearing.

Elena Dementieva has to be a carefree player else she would have changed her service motion by now. If she were a worrier, all of those double faults would affect her other strokes but they don’t seem to. Her record for the past three years at the Championships is 1-8 but she isn’t showing any sense of urgency and not much has changed in her game.

Short of Hingis, the top eight players are hard hitters and big servers, that’s a losing equation for Dementieva because she has trouble holding serve. The last thing she can afford to do is to let her opponent set the tempo but that’s what she did. Kuznetsova was the player going for the lines and though it meant piling up a lot of errors, it worked. If Kuznetsova hadn’t given a game away while serving for the first set at 5-3, the match wouldn’t have been over much sooner.

Kuznetsova won the match, 7-5, 6-3, but it wasn’t that close. Dementieva is now the only player with and 0-2 record and this year is looking a lot like past years.

Dementieva lost to Maria Sharapova yesterday and after the match there were a few media questions about her serve but what more can you say? Most of the media focused on Sharapova’s seventeen game winning streak – her last loss was to Dementieva before the U.S. Open. And though I said all of the top players are here, that’s not entirely true. They’re here alright but Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne have taken significant time off for injury – sound familiar? – and Amelie Mauresmo recently injured her shoulder. They may be here in body and mind but they’re not here in good tennis form.

Dementieva and Martina Hingis are not likely to get out of round-robin play. Clijsters is not really prepared and Mauresmo is not game tough either. Henin-Hardenne has a lot of motivation because she can end up number one for the year if she reaches the final but she hasn’t played since September. Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova need a bit more experience to win this tournament.

That leaves Sharapova. Last one standing.

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