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The WTA's startin' to show some depth

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The WTA Tour is starting to show the type of depth that has been evident on the men's circuit for some time now.

Two of the last four "big" tournaments on the women's circuit have been won by somebody other than Venus and Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, or Lindsay Davenport.

Yes, Venus did capture the lucrative Bausch & Lomb Championships two weeks ago...and yes, Serena did beat Capriati to hoist the hardware at the huge Key Biscayne event last month, but rising Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova stunned Hingis at the gainful Pacific Life Open last month, and as recently as this week, former French Open champion Iva Majoli stopped talented Swiss Patty Schnyder to secure the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Majoli-Schnyder final marked the first-ever top-tier title match to feature a pair of non-seeds, as the world No. 58 Majoli stopped the world No. 30 Schnyder to claim her first singles title since the 1997 French Open.

Patty Schnyder
Patty Schnyder stunned Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati on successive days in Charleston.
Majoli was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world by the end of 1997, while Schnyder, who has overcome a number of personal problems in the past few years, is also a former top-10 performer, achieving such status in 1998.

Schnyder shocked a world No. 1 Capriati in the Charleston semis, and the Swiss' run in Carolina also included stunning victories over tough Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, two-time Grand Slam event champion Mary Pierce and the former U.S. Open titlist Serena. As a matter of fact, the 23-year-old Schnyder handled Serena and Capriati on successive days.

With the surprising setback against Schnyder, Capriati learned that she would lose her coveted world No. 1 position to Venus, as the ladies continue to play musical chairs atop the ledger with their fifth different No. 1 in the first four months of the 2002 season (Davenport, Capriati, Venus, Capriati, Venus).

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Majoli titled in Charleston, as her once-formidable game has been picking up steam over the last two seasons and her best surface is certainly clay, which lines the courts at the Family Circle tournament.

The 24-year-old Majoli finally beat the lefthanded Schnyder, who is also very solid on the dirt, for the first time in five career meetings.

The aforementioned Hantuchova sent a breath of fresh air into women's tennis with last month's colossal hardcourt victory over Hingis at Indian Wells, an event which featured the likes of Belgian stalwarts Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, as well as Hingis and Seles. The Williams sisters (indifference) and Davenport (injured) were not part of the somewhat-watered- down field in the California desert.

In Charleston, the tour's new depth became apparent when only four seeded players reached the quarterfinals -- a stat that is commonplace on the ATP tour. Three of Schnyder's victims were top-10 players, including the powerful Capriati, who was seeing her first clay-court action since winning her first- ever French Open championship a year ago.

Majoli's run was all the more impressive since she became the lowest-ranked player ever to win a top-tier event and became the first unseeded player to capture the Family Circle Cup. The resurgent Croatian missed almost a year on the tour after undergoing shoulder surgery in 1999.

Capriati had been the lowest-ranked player to reach a top-tier final, as she was unranked when she battled the legendary Martina Navratilova in the Family Circle final in 1990.

The tour was restructured in 1980 to feature a series of top-level events with bigger names and bigger purses. There are currently nine Tier I events on the circuit.

Before Majoli's success in Charleston, the lowest-ranked player to capture a top-tier event was American Lisa Bonder, who was 54th when she ran the table at the Tokyo Queen's Classic 19 years ago.

With the recent success of the Majolis, Schnyders and Hantuchovas on tour, maybe the upcoming French Open will be a wide-open affair in south Paris. Maybe it isn't a foregone conclusion that only four of five women will have a shot at the Roland Garros fortnight.

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