American hopes rest on Craybas at Nasdaq

It's lonely in the round of 16. There's only one American woman left in the Nasdaq-100 Open, and she'd forgive you if you didn't pick her in your office pool.

Updated: March 26, 2006, 10:57 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- It's lonely in the round of 16. There's only one American woman left in the Nasdaq-100 Open, and she'd forgive you if you didn't pick her in your office pool.

Jill Craybas has been called many things -- Crayfish and Crayon were among the nicknames she revealed Sunday -- but never a household word.

"If I'm the last one standing, I'll do my best to stay in there," said the 31-year-old, 54th-ranked Craybas, who breezed through her third round match with No. 29 Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic Sunday, 6-1, 6-2, thereby assuming the unofficial position of flagbearer for the host country.

Jill Craybas
FotoSports/WireImage.comCraybas beat Serena Williams last summer at Wimbledon and ended 2005 ranked in the top 50 in the world.

It was Craybas' second victory over a seeded player in as many days, coming less than 24 hours after she knocked off No. 2 Kim Clijsters. Craybas will face China's 65th-ranked Jie Zheng in the fourth round.

"We play a little bit similar, run a lot of balls down, get a lot of balls on the court, so it should be a good match," said Craybas of Zheng, whom she defeated in their only previous meeting.

U.S. women -- specifically, U.S. women named Serena and Venus Williams -- have won the Nasdaq-100 in six of the last eight years, but both former champions begged off this edition with injuries. Fifth-ranked Lindsay Davenport stayed home to nurse a bad back. No. 49 Laura Granville withdrew with a right ankle strain.

That left an interesting hodgepodge of youth and experience in Miami. Three of those U.S. players -- Craybas, Amy Frazier and Lisa Raymond -- are over 31 years old; Mashona Washington is 29. Five more players are 21 and under, with 20-year-old Ashley Harkleroad ranked highest of that group at No. 75. Meghann Shaughnessy, 26, was the only representative of the tweeners.

By Sunday, only Craybas, Shaughnessy and Jackson remained alive. No. 87 Shaughnessy lost to Sweden's No. 34 Sofia Arvidsson in a close match, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Jackson surprised No. 7 Nadia Petrova of Russia by winning the first set 6-3, but could not regain her momentum after a trainer's break for a hurt toe early in the second set and succumbed 6-0, 6-0 in the final two sets.

"In every other sport, you go through phases where one country is dominating and then another country steps up," said Jackson, currently ranked 94th. "We've got a lot of young Americans, myself, Ashley, Shenay [Perry], Vania [King] starting to make a little dent in it. Ashley and Shenay were injured for a while and that's kind of why they haven't really stepped up yet.

"We're there, we're coming, it's just taking us a little bit longer. We'll be there. Don't worry about it."

Craybas never imagined she would still be swatting balls this long. She had serious culture shock in her first couple of seasons on the women's tour after graduating from the University of Florida and considered quitting, but coach Raj Chaudhuri infused her with a new love of the game, she said.

Better to bloom late than never. When Craybas won her lone WTA singles title in 2002 in Tokyo three months past her 28th birthday, she became the tour's oldest first-time winner. She beat then-No. 4 Serena Williams in the third round at Wimbledon last year and finished the season in the top 50 for the first time.

On Sunday, Craybas' Gators advanced to college basketball's Final Four. With the women's draw so wide-open, seeing Craybas get to the semis this week is no croc.

Notes from the baseline
Double vision: Martina Hingis called for a second set of eyes -- Hawk-Eyes -- after her forehand shot was called wide on Svetlana Kuznetsova's fourth match point of the evening during their third-set tiebreak. Hingis lost the challenge, and she's in good company. Through 26 matches on Stadium Court, players had challenged 86 line calls and succeeded in having 25 of them reversed. … Hingis' loss marked only the second time this season that she has not reached the quarterfinals of a tournament. Both her early-round losses have come to top-15 players.

Game, corset, match: No. 4 Maria Sharapova unveiled a new midriff-revealing outfit in this tournament, but it may need a few tweaks judging from her tugging and twisting. Sharapova said the torso-hugging top (which she called a "corset") and flared skirt were inspired by her love of dance. She's 2-0 so far in the new duds but struggled in her three-set third-round win over qualifier Maria Elena Camerin of Italy on Sunday. She will take on her friend and fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in the round of 16. "It's always tough playing a friend, but that's tennis," Sharapova said. "You're gonna play your buddies once in a while." They played twice last year. Sharapova won in Los Angeles and retired in the second set of their match in Beijing.

Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.