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October 5, 2008

The Upsets and the Not-So-Upsets

It's easy to forget about the smaller tournaments in tennis. Outside of the Grand Slams and the Tier I matches, I have to admit that even I find it difficult to keep up with the draws at the Cachantun Cup and the Pattaya Open.

That's not to say they're any less crucial to the sport or the players. While the majors obviously offer the most points to the winners and therefore have the biggest impact on their place in the standings, the majority of the season is played in smaller venues. And rankings can just as easily be won -- and lost -- at the lesser-known tourneys.

Take, for example, the Tier II Porsche Grand Prix fought this week, not on a racetrack, but on the hard courts of Stuttgart, Germany. The draws had Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva as the top four seeds, but also featured qualifiers like Sandra Zahlavova and Tsvetana Pironkova (who actually won her first round match against nineteenth-ranked Alize Cornet).

And while Stuttgart only offers $100K in prize money and 300 ranking points to the winner (I know, I know, we're in a recession and that's a lot of money -- but compare it to the $1.5M and thousand points awarded to Serena after she won the U.S. Open), by just the second round we saw a sea change: China's Na Li beat world #1 Williams and paved the way for Jelena Jankovic to reclaim the top spot in the new rankings coming out on Monday, continuing the musical chairs that is women's tennis this year.



But that wasn't the only upset.

In the quarterfinals Venus Williams dropped Safina before losing in the semis to Jankovic -- who was obviously eager to prove she'd truly earned back her ranking -- and Victoria Azarenka, who'd already beaten world #10 Aggie Radwanska, went on to oust Olympic Champion Dementieva; she eventually lost in the next round to Nadia Petrova.

By the time the tournament ended on Sunday, Jelena had taken the title, her second in a row after winning in China last week.

Summary: Serena's sad, Jelena's happy, and I'm frustrated that Elena never seems to win a match I want her to.

Clear across the globe in Tokyo, the stakes were not quite as high -- the AIG Open is a Tier II tournament with just enough prize money to buy a mid-range Toyota. But for top seed Caroline Wozniacki it held the opportunity to put a cherry on top of what's already been a pretty good year.



The teenager from Denmark started the year ranked 60th in the world, but claimed her first two Tour titles with decisive wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova in Stockholm and Anna Chakvetadze in New Haven to boost herself to #16.

She took number three when she beat Kaia Kanepi this weekend.

Winning the title in Japan doesn't quite take Wozniacki into the top ten, but it certainly pushes her to her highest career ranking, and I'm willing to bet there are plenty of smiles in her circle these days.

Congratulations to all this week's winners, and to the rest, see you next time! You never know when the next upset will benefit you!

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