Twenty players vying for final three spots in Shanghai

Twenty players remain mathematically eligible for the last three spots in the ATP's year-end championships in Shanghai, all the way down to No. 25 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, who has proved there's some eagle in that albatross frame this season. That lends a little pizzazz to the last two weeks of the regular circuit, but it also made us wonder:

Will art imitate life?

Back in early August at the Montreal Masters Series event, French sculptor Laury Dizengremel took calipers to the faces of top ATP players and began casting their images to put atop terra cotta warrior statues to be displayed at the Masters Cup. Sixteen players were measured for the larger-than-life clay figures. Five have qualified for eight places. That means some guys who are still in the hunt aren't in the warrior assembly line yet.

ATP spokesman Simon Higson said the artist can scramble after dark horse qualifiers if need be, especially because there's a week between the final Masters Series event in Paris and the start of the championships in China. The statues take three to four days to complete.

Only 78 points separate eighth-place Tommy Haas of Germany through Karlovic, and there's a theoretical maximum of 150 points out there for the taking between this week's and next week's events.

Titles at the concurrent tournaments in Basel, Switzerland, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Lyon, France, are worth 50, 50 and 45 points, respectively; the winner in Paris would earn 100 points. The only American in play is James Blake, who's in the 10th position just two points shy of Haas.

There's some confusing algebra related to points earned this week -- which could be affected by previous results this season -- but we'll let stat-heads do their own research on that.

The WTA picture hasn't quite cleared yet, but it's not as crowded. With just two smallish tournaments left to play, only two women have a chance to jump up into the top eight. Venus Williams looks to be in good shape in eighth place, but either Daniela Hantuchova or Marion Bartoli could bump Maria Sharapova from eighth place with stellar performances in Linz, Austria and Quebec City this week and next. Williams and the injury-plagued Sharapova are idle this week and neither is entered next week.

If Sharapova doesn't make the final eight, it'll be the first time since 2003 that the championships will proceed without her.

Indoor, what is it good for? This part of the season is often disparaged because it seems like an anticlimactic -- as well as climate-controlled -- grind that can produce fluky results when top players aren't really focused on it.

Yet there's something to be said for players who try to take advantage of that vacuum and go at it with the goal of salvaging a poor season, improving or maintaining their ranking to make sure they're in the main draw of big tournaments next season, or simply building confidence with wins. Starring in this part of the schedule may not be glitzy, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Our four-walls award winner thus far is Golovin, who dusted herself off after a shocking first-round ouster at the U.S. Open and has made the final of three of the four tournaments she's played, winning a small event and losing two bigger ones to No. 1 Justine Henin. Golovin has beaten three top-10 players the past two weeks and is up to a career-high No. 15.

Speaking of indoor streaks, No. 18 David Nalbandian of Argentina bookended one for Roger Federer when he beat the world No. 1 in the final of the Madrid Masters Series last Sunday. Federer hadn't lost an indoor match since the 2005 Masters Cup final, when he also fell to Nalbandian. One other notable match stat: Federer was 54-0 this season after winning the first set until Nalbandian toppled him.

We're just saying: The home page of the Web site for the WTA tournament in Linz, Austria, this week features a prominent ad for bet-at-home.com.

Silver lining: Recently deposed Yankees manager Joe Torre has made it clear he'd like to stay in baseball. But if he has free time on his hands next summer, he said he and his wife want to make a pilgrimage to Wimbledon and take in a different kind of Grand Slam.

In Torre's honor, we've come up with a list of reasons he might prefer Wimbledon to late-June, early-July baseball:

1. No Steinbrenners in the Royal Box

2. Players named Roger and A-Rod are someone else's responsibility

3. Rain delays always blamed on Met(eorological) office

4. Spittle-free seating areas

5. "Fortnight"' sounds better than "10-game road trip"

6. Scones with clotted cream and jam beat kosher dogs any day

7. British tabloids poised to link you to Manchester United manager's job

8. Last name guarantees honorary membership in Tory party

9. Matches end at dusk -- more time for clubbing!

10. Two words: Red knickers

Joe, stop by our desks at the press center any time.

Reaching adult height: With some time on our hands this indoor season, we noticed Sergei Bubka, Jr.'s name in the qualifying draw in St. Petersburg. The 20-year-old son of the legendary pole vaulter made a bit of a splash when he surfaced in the junior Slams a few years ago but we have to confess we'd lost track (and field) of him since. Bubka the younger lost in the final round of qualifying over the weekend, but he may be finding his legs in doubles. He and partner Jan Hernych of the Czech Republic won their first-round match -- Bubka's first ATP main draw win of any kind -- beating Nicolas Massu and Nicolas Lapentti. Bubka has won two doubles titles at the Challenger level and also has several Davis Cup wins with the Ukrainian team.

OK, we'll take the bait: "The" has been dropped from Tennis Channel's formal name, sending ripples through the sports-entertainment community, according to a press release issued by network executives Tuesday. " 'The' based the decision to step down now on a number of factors, most notably a successful career as part of the network's name and the need to spend more time with its family of other articles, auxiliary verbs and subordinate conjunctions," the release explained. Spokesman Doug Drotman confirmed the announcement was not a grammatical hoax. "We have tried to make the change in a subtle way and it does not seem to be sticking with the media," Drotman said by e-mail.

Bonnie D. Ford is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.