An outside observer contends that safe passage of the stars into the later rounds is a good thing. Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, which matches athletes with companies for endorsements, believes the lack of great depth gives women's tennis an edge over men's tennis and, for that matter, golf.
"There [are] five or six players that can win at any time," he said. "I think it's improved dramatically. There's some great rivalries building--Martina and Jennifer Capriati the last two years in the Australian, Venus vs. Jennifer, and Jennifer vs. Serena. There are a lot of permutations that are good for the sport.
"In particular, that's why I think it's much more popular than the men's game right now."
For Williams, a new winner each week is a negative.
"Golf is a great example of that," he said. "They normally have six to 12 first-time winners on the PGA Tour. You're rarely seeing anyone outside of Tiger Woods win more than one tournament a year."
The depth issue cut the other way for the men at the Australian Open. The players in the quarterfinals were completely different from those in the final eight last year. Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten, the top two seeded players, lost in the first round and No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov lost to 234th-ranked Alex Kim in the first round.
"In some sense, men's tennis is actually helped and, at the same time, hurt by how much depth there is," McEnroe said. "What I always tell people, when you are talking about a Grand Slam, the first week, you get to see the best matches in men's tennis. You are guaranteed that you're going to see great matches. In the women's game, you're not guaranteed. You're maybe going to see a couple of good matches in the opening week. But people still want to see Venus Williams go out and win, 6-1, 6-1."
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Pacific Life Open
Where: Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
When: Women's main-draw action, starting today. (Men's main draw begins Monday.)
Prize money: $2.1 million (total purse). Winner receives $332,000.
Surface: Hard court.
Draw: 96 players.
Last year's final: Serena Williams def. Kim Clijsters, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Top players entered: Clijsters, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Monica Seles, Jelena Dokic, Meghann Shaughnessy, Silvia Farina Elia, Elena Dementieva.
Today's featured matches: (starting at 10 a.m.) Marissa Irvin vs. Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain; Lilia Osterloh vs. Anna Kournikova, Russia; Maria Sharapova, Russia vs. Brie Rippner; Maja Matevzic, Slovenia vs. Mirjana Lucic, Croatia
On the Net: www.champions-cup.com
Tickets: (800) 999-1585