Weak week benefits unknowns

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

On the week the big names stayed home, along came a no-name to steal whatever life may be left in the Rogers Cup tennis tournament.

Hands up, both of you, who know anything about Yan Zi of China, suddenly a semi-finalist in the tournament that should still be called the Canadian Open?

How long a shot is this? Well, put it this way, when the week began, before the Williams Sisters phoned in sick, Yan was so far down the WTA rankings she didn't qualify to attempt to qualify for the Rogers Cup.

And only after one of the qualifiers was moved into the main draw -- making her the 48th and final qualifier, or officially in tennis terms, an alternate -- did she have any chance to get into the main draw of the $1.34 million tournament.

And still, she needed a tiebreaker in her final qualifying match to even find her way into the main draw.

In other words, this is the week she will never forget and the rest of us won't remember. A second-round victory over No. 4 seed Ana Ivanovic and yesterday a quarter-final win over No. 7 seed Marion Bartoli, who retired in the second set after trailing 6-2, 3-0 and could barely keep her eyes open long enough to get through a post-match press conference.

But that's another story for a tournament that has had players pulling out, not showing up, retiring, and even winners complaining of injuries, just not Yan Zi.

This is her career highlight reel week.

Today, she plays in the semi-final against Justine Henin, the world's No. 1 player according to a computer, which should mean that Henin has a comfortable path to tomorrow's final. That is the assumption.

But then, the assumption was the Yan wouldn't be in the tournament, and that she would have lost second round to Ivanovic, or third round to Eleni Daniilidou, or yesterday to Bartoli, who actually stunned Henin in the semi-finals at Wimbledon to basically ruin that final. This time, all we have is a semi-final slightly injured. Bartoli is out, and one side of the draw matches No. 1 vs. No. 166, which for Yan is an improvement on past performances.

She has, depending on the year, finished 642nd in the world, 468th, 299th, and 179th on the tour: Those were her first four years.

In fairness to her, she's a doubles player. One of the world's better doubles players. The Daniel Nestor of China from the female side. She won Wimbledon with partner, Zie Jheng, in 2006. She is probably, knowing how her country operates, and knowing that the Olympics are a year away, being told to concentrate on the area in which she can have international success. She won't be on the podium in Beijing for her singles play: She might have a shot at doubles.

But for now, there is the Henin match today as half of the Rogers Cup crawls to a rather unfortunate end. At least on the other side of the draw, with second seed Jelena Jankovic of both Serbia Montenegro and Florida, will play the confident French player, Tatiana Golovin. The tournament can be salvaged, as much as it can be, with a Henin-Jankovic final.

Unless Yan has other ideas. This week, with the wind, injuries and upsets playing havoc with the tennis, not to mention generally uninspiring play, at least the unknown Yan has given people something to talk about.

"It's nice to see some other players do well...not like just in the men's game," said Jankovic.

"Always (Roger) Federer, Federer, Federer winning everything. Maybe let somebody else win some tournament, too, would be fun.

"But with the women's game, it's more close. You cannot just pick one winner. It's always a chance, you know, depending on a certain day, who can perform better. that's how it is."

That's how the week has been for Yan Zi. At least somebody can say that this tournament has been great.


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