Petrova, Wozniacki Go Green at PVB
Published April 05, 2009 12:00
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL, USA - After a fortnight in Miami, the tennis carnival heads to northeast Florida this week, where the International-series MPS Group Championships are to be contested on the green clay of the Sawgrass Country Club at Ponte Vedra Beach. With prizemoney of $220,000 and a 32-strong draw, the tournament replaces the longstanding Tour stop at Amelia Island - and with Nadia Petrova, the champion at that event in 2006, as top seed.
Now ranked No.9 in the world - but as high as No.3 in 2006 - the 26-year-old Russian made a superb return to the Top 10 in 2008. But after recovering from a bout of off-season viral meningitis to make the last 16 at the Australian Open, a right foot injury forced her withdrawal from events at Pattaya City, Dubai and Indian Wells. On her comeback in Miami she fell to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, so will be looking to get back on track this week. With a title win on the green clay at Charleston also on her record, the change of surface promises to help her cause.
The Ponte Vedra Beach field is packed with young talent, though, starting with Caroline Wozniacki, the No.2 seed. The Danish teen captured three titles last year and, sitting at No.12 in the rankings, is knocking on the door of the Top 10. Boosted by her quarterfinal runs at both Indian Wells and Miami, where she beat world No.4 Elena Dementieva, the 18-year-old will be a real contender this week. However, first she'll have to get past Australia's Samantha Stosur, who scored the best win of her career against Dinara Safina at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Threatening, too, is 19-year-old Dominika Cibulkova, who has been granted a wildcard and is the No.3 seed. The diminutive Slovak reached her maiden Tour final at Amelia Island 12 months ago, but is still looking for her first trophy; with a clutch of Top 10 wins to her name and a current career-high ranking of No.16, she is due a breakthrough.
The fourth seed at Ponte Vedra Beach is Tour veteran Patty Schnyder, the Swiss star who turned 30 in December, and won her 11th title at Bali last season. Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak is seeded No.5, and faces a tough opener against US veteran Jill Craybas; China's Peng Shuai is the No.6 seed; Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko, the No.7 seed, kickstarts her campaign against India's Sania Mirza; while Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the highest-ranked American after the Williams sisters, is the No.8 seed.
Former world No.5 Daniela Hantuchova has accepted a wildcard into the MPS Group Championships but, having dropped out of the Top 40, is unseeded. The main draw could be further illuminated by the presence of 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, who missed the official entry deadline but has decided to play qualifying to gain extra match practice after an early exit in Miami. As the world No.13, the Frenchwoman could have been the No.3 seed, so will be a highly dangerous floater.
Aside from Cibulkova and Hantuchova, a wildcard has been awarded to 14-year-old Madison Keys, a protégé of the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, where she sometimes trades strokes with the legendary Chrissie. A winner of U-12 titles at the prestigious Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr International events, Keys made her professional debut at the $25,000 Challenger at Fort Walton Beach earlier this month, taking eighth seed Ekaterina Bychova, ranked No.141, to three sets. She plays another Russian, Alla Kudryavtseva, in the first round this week.