Noted tennis philosopher Maria Sharapova summed up the year-end WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles last week when she said, "This is the kind of tournament where all the soldiers are down, and it's just whoever can get up." The words of Sharapova, 18, well described an event diminished by injured players and late-season fatigue.
Favourite Kim Clijsters arrived three days before her first match after a 13-hour flight from Belgium and talked about jet lag. "I feel really tired," she said after losing her first round-robin match to Mary Pierce. "The only thing I want to do is go to the hotel and go to sleep."
Sharapova said after her opening win over Patty Schnyder, "I'm absolutely exhausted." Elena Dementieva, who wound up 0-3 in the round robin, claimed, "I don't feel fresh enough to play my best tennis here."
Pierce, who was 3-0 in the round robin and beat No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) in Saturday's semi-finals, was more tactful. "What really made me happy and motivated is that next week at this time I'll be on vacation," she said.
In January, Sony Ericsson signed on as the WTA Tour sponsor to the tune of $88-million (all figures U.S.) over six years, with the idea that the $3-million Tour Championships would be the season's crowning jewel.
One wonders how the company feels about the less than gung-ho attitude of the players.
Since Serena and Venus Williams began breaking down physically after finishing 2002 at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, there have been huge openings for other players.
From mid-2003 until early 2004, Justine Henin-Hardenne won three Grand Slam titles. Over the remainder of 2004, Russians Anastasia Myskina, Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova became Grand Slam winners.
This year, it was been a smorgasbord, as Serena won in Australia before virtually disappearing (because of injury), Henin-Hardenne won the French Open before virtually disappearing (injury) and Venus won Wimbledon before virtually disappearing (mainly because of injury). That cleared the way for Clijsters, who won nine tournaments, including a breakthrough Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. The Tour Championships looked to be a coronation for her, but the spotlight changed one last time with Frenchwomen Pierce and Amélie Mauresmo making the final.
Only two years ago at this time, Pierce lost 6-4, 6-0 to unheralded Milagros Sequera of Venezuela in the semi-finals of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City.
Even her 2005 success began inauspiciously, with a 6-2, 6-2 first-round loss to her compatriot Stephanie Cohen-Aloro at the Australian Open.
Since then, she has reached the French and U.S. Open finals, won top-tier tournaments in San Diego and Moscow and earned $2,983,403 in prize money. In the four years between 2001 and 2004, an injury-riddled period, Pierce made only $927,427 and saw her ranking plunge to No. 295 in 2002.
Hers is an inspiring story of good health and religious faith, which has made her more serene, combining for an unexpected career resurrection at age 30.
Last evening, Mauresmo avenged a Friday round-robin loss by defeating Pierce 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to win $1-million and earn the most prestigious title of her career.
In the semi-finals, Mauresmo ousted weary Sharapova 7-6 (1), 6-3.
Mauresmo, 26, was floundering in such a serious post-U.S. Open doldrum that she had considered not even playing the Tour Championships.
But she won the tour stop in Philadelphia the week before Los Angeles to regain her confidence and now gets to head into the off-season on a high.
Closer to home, Aleksandra Wozniak, 18, of Blainville, Que., won the $25,000 Tevlin Challenger at the Rexall Centre in Toronto yesterday, defeating Olena Antypina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-3 to raise her WTA Tour ranking to about 160 from 190.