'Sania' speculations, hover over Sunfeast

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Kolkata, Sep 16: The Sunfeast Open '07 commencing here tomorrow at the Netaji Indoor Stadium will signpost the directions for the last quarter for the two top seeds Marion Bartoli and Daniela Hantuchova, even as a cloud of doubt remains on the participation of the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza.

The fact that she is not in the city till this afternoon has fuelled further speculations with the organizers tightlipped about her participation except the fact that she is eager to participate in the meet she is yet to conquer.

If she plays, third seed Sania Mirza will take on wild card entrant Sunita Rao in the first round of the Sunfeast Open 07, while top seed and world no 10 Marion Bartoli will take on American Vania King in her opening tie.

Rao ranked 208 in the world will definitely consider herself unlucky as Sania is in sublime form this season having reached her career high of 27 in the world ranking, but in their only previous meeting at the Mumbai Hard Court in 2002, Rao had beaten Sania 6-3, 6-3.

However, Rao can't blame anyone as she is the one who picked herself against Sania. On the flip side, if Sania pulls out she will have the pleasure of playing the lucky-loser in the Qualifiers, whop would then find a spot in the main draw.

The fact remains that Sania is nursing a wrist injury that has put a doubt about her participation in the tournament, though the organizers are hopeful of her recovering in time for the meet.

For top seed World No 10 Marion Bartoli, the tournament could set some self-confidence and good form for the tough European circuit before the WTA title meet in Madrid Open.

Second seed Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, who recently swapped places with Bartoli to be 12th in world ranking, would like to continue with the purple patch hit in Bali Open after the nightmarish first round ouster in the US Open.

Madrid Open is the women's tennis version of the Masters in the ATP tour and the top eight point accumulators for the current year gets to play in the tournament. On the points ladder Marion is now ranked ninth 388 points behind Serena Williams who she needs to overtake in the remaining 75 days to make it to the Madrid Open.

Talking to the media, the number one French tennis star said, ''I want to play Sunfeast Open in order get some valuable points and then go on and play some stronger tournaments in Europe and collect as many points as I can.

''Besides I have come to India once before when I played in Hyderabad. I love to see different cities and countries and want to enjoy my stay in Calcutta (now called Kolkata),'' the Wimbledon finalist added.

She has the prospects of meeting Sania in the semi-finals if the player recovers in time from her wrist injury to take part in the tournament. On her experience of playing Sania Mirza, she said, ''I played her once before and she was quite cozy in beating me. However, if we meet here it will be a tough match.'' The duo have met once before and Mirza came on top in US Open in 2005.

The duo is in the top half of the draw along with top seed Marion Bartoli and fifth seed Alla Kudryatseva of Russia . The French girl will meet Vania King of the USA in round 1. Vania who had partnered Sania to win the Morocco Open early this year, is an accomplished doubles player and is ranked 88 th in the world. She had a dismal year at the Grand Slams and went out in the first round of all the four majors making her an easy prey for the world number 10.

Before making it to a possible semifinals showdown with Sania, Bartoli may have a tricky quarterfinal match up against Kudryatseva, but the Russian is predominantly a clay court player, reaching the fourth round of the French Open but had little success at the hard court circuit in the later half of the year.

In the bottom half of the draw, second seed Daniela Hantuchova faces last year's Bangalore Open winner Yaroslava Shvedova. Fourth seed Maria Kirilenko also features in the bottom half and has a relatively easy round one, taking on a qualifier.

Wild card entrant, Kyra Shroff of India who will turn 15 this October faces eight seed Chan Yung-jan of Chinese Taipei, while the other Indian on the fray, Tara Iyer takes on Italian girl and seventh seed Flavia Pennetta.

Tara ranked 308 in the world has a remote chance against Flavia who is sitting high up at the ranking ladder in the 69th spot.

The tournament will not feature too many Indians as most of the qualifiers have been brushed aside. Rushmi Chakraverty or Neha Oberoi could be the only qualifier into the main draw. The rest of the field consisting the Bhambri sisters and Shivika Burman and Aiswayra Srivastav have lost their match.

UNI

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