|Jill Craybas 225 w|
CARSON, California (Ticker) - The JPMorgan Chase Open may be missing the winners of the year's first three Grand Slams and its defending champion, but there should be plenty of intrigue at the $600,000 Tier II hardcourt tournament.
Reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, the world's top-ranked player, and French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne are not playing here this week. Neither is defending champion Kim Clijsters, who lost in the final of the Tier 1 Acura Classic on Sunday.
Still, the field has plenty of big names. The top seed is Russian Maria Sharapova, who is coming off a straight-sets triumph over Clijsters at the Acura Classic, her second title of the year.
One of eight seeds to receive a first-round bye, Sharapova will begin with Russian qualifier Anastassia Rodionova.
Sharapova's countrywomen Nadia Petrova and Elena Dementieva are the next two seeds, while American Lindsay Davenport is seeded fourth.
A resident of nearby Laguna Beach, the 30-year-old Davenport has had marvelous success here, winning the hardcourt title four times and finishing runner-up four times as well. However, the former world No. 1 is playing her first event since the Pacific Life Open in March because of a back injury.
"Back injuries are never good," Davenport said on Monday during a media availability session of seeded players. "I definitely probably played too long with the injury."
Davenport begins with either Australian Samantha Stosur or American qualifier Alexandra Stevenson.
In her first tournament in five months, Davenport is unsure what to expect following rehabilitation and just 3 1/2 weeks of practice.
"I have no expectations to put on myself when I don't know where I'm at," she said. "I feel excited, I feel a certain amount of fear though, not playing much lately. I know what to do, I just hope it clicks back into focus earlier rather than later."
Still, well-rested and relaxed, Davenport is ready to give it a go.
"This has more of a feel like I'm winging it a little bit," she added. "I wanted to get some matches, I wanted to see where I'm at. I certainly don't think I'm going to make a fool of myself and I know I've been hitting the ball well. It's a matter of learning to play points, playing the matches and seeing how it goes."
The most dangerous unseeded player is Serena Williams, who won here in 1999 and 2000 but has played in just two events this year because of a left knee injury. She reached the semifinals at Cincinnati three weeks ago, but was forced to withdraw from the Acura Classic last week on advice from her doctor.
A seven-time Grand Slam champion, Williams was handed a wild card and begins with Russian Maria Kirilenko on Tuesday night.
Williams admits the knee is fine and physically she feels close to 100 percent. But her expectations here are more about preparing for the U.S. Open later this month.
"It's just about being here, playing and doing the best I can do," she said. "It's about always thinking positive and taking it one match at a time."
However, the local product from nearby Compton, admits being sidelined for so long has tested her patience.
"It definitely has been very frustrating, but it's been cool that I've been able to come back, and that I've been able to train without pain," Williams said. "That's been the most promising."
When asked if she feels she can regain her world class form, Williams, replied, "I'm really confident or else I wouldn't be out here. I don't feel any problems as for me to get back to the top at all."
Winners on Monday included Paola Suarez, Akiko Morigami, Ashley Harkleroad and Lucie Safarova. Morigami will face sixth seed Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the second round.
Amy Frazier, the 1994 champion, was ousted by fellow American Jill Craybas, 6-2, 6-4.