Publication Date: Wednesday Jul 28, 1999
WOMEN'S TENNIS: Serving upsetsChallenge to field in Bank of the West is to prevent another Davenport-Williams meeting in Sunday's finale
by Mikael Reboh
The challenge to the field in the 29th annual Bank of the West Classis is simple: make the predictable unpredictable. In other words, someone needs to break up the expected showdown between defending champion Lindsay Davenport and 1998 runnerup Venus Williams in Sunday's singles final at noon in Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
With the top-seeded Davenport in one bracket and the No. 2-seeded Williams in the other, both are on a collision course to meet again.
Davenport is expected to begin her title defense Wednesday, against the winner of Monday night's first-round match between Irina Spirlea of Romania and Chanda Rubin of the U.S. A potential quarterfinal matchup on Friday could pit Davenport against Conchita Martinez, who lost in the 1997 Bank of the West finals to Martina Hingis.
Should Davenport reach the semifinals, as expected, she'll likely breeze into the finals.
In the other half of the bracket, No. 4 seed Amanda Coetzer or No. 6 Anna Kournikova appear to be possible roadblocks for Williams. Kournikova, the Russian teen sensation who's still looking for her first win on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour since turning pro in 1995, could meet Williams on Friday in one quarterfinal. Coezter wouldn't meet Williams until the semifinals, should either reach that point Saturday.
Kournikova, who perhaps best exemplifies Andre Agassi's well-known slogan that "image is everything", turned 18 on June 7. While her name and face are known world-wide in tennis circles and beyond, Kournikova hasn't broken into the world's top 10 since her two-week stint at No. 10 in 1995.
She can only hope that her talent reaches the level of her sex appeal, which is prominently displayed on one of her many web sites. Last year, Kournikova was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People."
Her entrance into the Bank of the West, in fact, has caused quite a commotion. Photo requests have doubled from about 25 last year to about 50 this year. The deeper she goes into the tournament, the more interest the week-long event will attract.
Kournikova has played Williams before, losing in the 1998 Lipton final in Florida, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. To reach that point, Kournikova knocked off Monica Seles, Martinez, Davenport and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario. The road this week won't be that difficult.
For those who are just now becoming aware of the Bank of the West, time is running out on obtaining good seats for Sunday's noon final. There are, however, plenty of seats available in the huge bleachers wheeled in for the tournament, which continues to grow during its five-year run at Stanford.
Without a doubt, the best decision ever made by this tournament was its move from the Oakland Coliseum to Stanford. Once a lazy November tournament in a large but mostly empty indoor stadium, the Bank of the West has been given new life as a trendy outdoor summer event in Palo Alto. It takes a small-town atmosphere like Palo Alto to embrace a cozy tournament like the Bank of the West.
The event is especially easy to latch onto this year, as the tournament has one of its best fields ever. Like every year, it features its headliners--this year consisting of Davenport, Williams, and Kournikova. What makes this year different from the rest is the amount of depth in the draw outside these three. Twenty-one in the 28-player field are ranked inside the top 50, and six are in the top 15.
Glancing at the draw, it is apparent that there are virtually no pushover matches for even the top players.
Just look at some of these first-round matchups scheduled early this week: Irina Spirlea vs. Chanda Rubin, a matchup of former top 10 players trying to get back to familiar ground; Jennifer Capriati vs. Conchita Martinez. While Capriati's comeback is picking up steam, she faced a stern test in the former Wimbledon champ; Kournikova vs. Mirjana Lucic. Perhaps the most intriguing first-rounder, this matched two charismatic teens with unfulfilled potential. Kournikova was a semifinalist at Wimbledon two years ago, while Lucic was a semifinalist there this year. Making the tournament even more attractive is its intimate, interactive atmosphere. If you're going for a brisk jog on the Stanford track, don't be surprised if you see Kournikova whizzing past you. If you're getting in a quick hit on the courts outside the tennis stadium, don't be surprised if Davenport comes along and starts blasting winners on the court next to you.
And prior to each evening session, musicians will be performing on the lawn next of Arrillaga Plaza from 6-7:30 p.m. Music ranges from swing to jazz fusion.
One former Stanford player advanced past Monday's first round while one current Cardinal was ousted in the final round of qualifying.
Anne Kremer, who left school a year early to turn pro, advanced past No. 7 seed Dominique Van Roost, 6-0, 1-0 (retired), while Stanford sophomore Gabriela Lastra missed out on qualifying for the main draw following her 7-5, 6-3 loss to Anne Gaelle Sidot.
For updated scores each day, check out the tournament's web site at BankoftheWest.Bayinsider.com.f,31