Tennis Year 2000 now enters its final months. The four Slams are history,
having produced their customary drama. The Olympics in tennis have just
ended, slightly stained by the absence of several superstars. Ahead lies the
home stretch, where a handful of warriors male and female remain in
contention to win the year-end official points races.
Three superstars--Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and Venus Williams--have
dominated this year's WTA race and are now positioned well ahead of all
others. It is now impossible for any player outside the Big Three to capture
the year's championship.
Hingis and Davenport started fast. The familiar rivals met in the finals of
three early-year events--Davenport defeated Hingis in the Australian Open and
at Indian Wells, while Hingis defeated Davenport at the Ericsson in Miami.
Davenport then missed much of the spring season with a back injury, while
Hingis captured the clay event in Hamburg and reached the semis at the French
Meanwhile Venus Williams began the year sidelined with wrist trouble. She
returned to competition on the European clay and attained the quarters at
Roland Garros, where she lost to Sanchez-Vicario. Then Venus began perhaps
the most remarkable run in recent tennis history. She captured her first
career Slam, at Wimbledon, defeating both Davenport and Hingis. She then won
two hard-court tournaments in California, won New Haven, and finally capped
her summer by winning the U.S. Open, defeating both Hingis and Davenport in
classic meetings. She then captured the Olympics gold medal, extending her
winning streak to 32 matches.
But even as Venus swept all comers, Hingis and Davenport were themselves
adding to their point totals. Hingis won s'Hertogenbosch on grass and then
the Canadian Open, and she became the year's only player to reach the
quarters of all four Slams. Davenport was runner-up at both Wimbledon and
U.S. Open. Meanwhile Venus's triumph at the Olympics brought no reward in
official points. Thus despite her success since spring, Venus remains in
third place, well behind the leaders. Here are the current standings in
--Venus Williams, 3489
All others are clearly out of range, including French Open champion Mary
Pierce and Monica Seles, the only player outside the Big Three to have
reached the quarters of at least three Slams. Also in the first eight are
Spanish stars Martinez and Sanchez-Vicario, along with Serena Williams, who
is often strong indoors and, this year, reached the semis at Wimbledon,
defeated both Hingis and Davenport in capturing Los Angeles, and was finalist
at the Canadian.
A half-dozen or so indoor tournaments remain to be contested, including Tier
One events in Zurich and Moscow. Ending the individual race will be the Chase
Championships in November, which will assemble the top sixteen players for a
showdown in Madison Square Garden. The conclusion of Fed Cup, which does not
count in the individual standings, will come the following week.
The current momentum plainly lies with Venus Williams, whose won-lost record
against Hingis and Davenport this year is 5-0. Davenport's foot injury at the
Olympics, perhaps a stress fracture, clouds Lindsay's championship chances.
All are expected to compete at the Chase if able. Could it be that a final
head-to-head showdown there will determine the year's champion?
Sadly, this delicious possibility seems remote, given Davenport's current
physical difficulties and Hingis's big lead in points over Venus and all
others. Could it happen that a player who wins Wimbledon, U.S. Open, the
Olympics, and, ahead, the Chase and, ahead, leads her nation to Fed Cup
victory (i.e., Williams) will finish behind a player who wins no Slams and
loses all head-to-head meetings between the pair (i.e., Hingis)? This
possibility suggests that something is wrong with the official points scheme.
Meanwhile the women's doubles race merits only passing attention, as few top
partnerships have stayed together throughout the year. Four different pairs
won the four Slams, and three of them also won a Tier One (Hingis-Pierce,
Raymond-Stubbs, and Halard Decugis-Sugiyama). The sisters Williams won
Wimbledon but missed Australia and Garros, and withdrew from U.S. Open after
reaching the semis. The Williamses also won the Olympics, taking the final by
a score of 6-1, 6-1. The success of the sisters in doubles despite Serena's
disinclination to attack net underlines the superiority of their powerful
serving and shotmaking.
SAFIN IN A CLOSE FINISH?
The men's race has been easier to follow, as ATP in its publicity emphasized
the current-year standings over the running 12-month data. Unlike among the
women, points were awarded for success in the Olympics. (The men's scheme
also gives very different points for given achievements and awards no points
for quality of opponents.)
Closely bunched atop the current standings are Kuerten, Safin, and
Sampras--the champions of Roland Garros, U.S. Open, and Wimbledon,
respectively. In fourth place, not far behind, is Italian Open champion
Magnus Norman. Next is Olympics-winner Kafelnikov, who is too far back for
realistic hope of the year-end crown barring complete failure by all members
of the Top Four.
Several indoor tournaments in Europe lie ahead, including Masters Series
events in Stuttgart and Paris (formerly called Super Nines). Each Masters
yields 100 points for the winner, 70 for the runner-up. Then the final event,
the Masters Cup (formerly the ATP World), will bring the Top Eight to indoor
hard courts in Lisbon, offering a maximum of 150 points to the winner. (The
Davis Cup final round, not counted in the individual rankings, will follow in
It's not hard to favor Marat Safin in the battles ahead, given the
20-year-old's perfection in defeating Sampras at U.S. Open. Safin was the
clearly superior player in mobility, power ground-stroking, serve-returning,
and stamina. The former great champion could call only on his magnificent
serve, and that weapon provided only a slight advantage amid Safin's superb
returning and Pete's seeming tiredness. Meanwhile when Safin served,
Sampras's net attacks against Safin's second serve were beaten off by the
younger man's court quickness and accurate artillery off the ground. Safin
hit more aces than Sampras.
But Safin remains a puzzle, seemingly unable to solve the varied and accurate
shotmaking of his nemesis, Fabrice Santoro. The veteran French star defeated
Safin for the fifth straight time in the first round of the Olympics. Defying
plausibility, Safin's powerful serve proved less effective than that of
Santoro, who recorded 4 aces to Safin's 6 and 17 service winners to Safin's
7. Santoro was the net attacker in the deciding third set, winning 15 of 26
points at net. Safin won 6 of 14 at net in that set.
Safin, Norman, and Kuerten are all heavy-hitters with powerful serves, more
comfortable at baseline than at net. All had successes on both clay and hard
courts this year, though Safin's most important wins were on hard courts,
Norman's and Kuerten's on clay. Of the three, none has previously excelled
in the late-year indoor events, though last year Safin defeated Kuerten to
reach the final of the Paris Indoors. Kuerten, whose sweeping ground strokes
seem poorly suited to fast-court play, lost in straight sets to both Agassi
and Sampras in the ATP World. Norman's shotmaking, which is more compact than
Kuerten's, produced an early-round win over Safin last year at Stuttgart.
Pete Sampras missed the Olympics and has expressed little interest in this
year's overall crown. Still, Sampras has often done well in the late-year
indoor events, having won the ATP World five times, including last year.
Could a yen to collect another year-end championship, meanwhile squaring
things with young Safin, again stir this fighter? If he is healthy and
determined, Sampras will find the European arenas in his favor. He has said
that his late-1998 surge of effort, which won for him the year-end crown, was
extremely demanding. But his opportunity now, perhaps his last chance to be
Number One, seems irresistible.
Thus, in my opinion, the year-end crown will be Safin's, perhaps following a
classic showdown with Sampras at Lisbon. All members of the Top Four,
however, have excellent chances, and the final margins dividing them could be
The men's doubles race this year, like the women's, has been less
interesting than usual albeit for a different reason. Far ahead in the
standings are the magnificent Woodys, who this year won two Slams (Garros and
Wimbledon) and three Masters Series tournaments, making a total of five such
triumphs. No other pair achieved more than one. Last year's doubles
champions, Bhupathi and Paes, rarely played together this year. A brand-new
pairing, Lleyton Hewitt and Max Mirnyi, won the U.S. Open in superb fashion,
in turn defeating Woodforde-Woodbridge, Lareau-Nestor, O'Brien-Palmer, and
Ellis Ferreira-Rick Leach. Lareau-Nestor won the Olympics, spoiling the
farewell appearance of the Woodys in their homeland, who played below par in
the final. I hope that this fine all-Canada pair, Lareau-Nestor, will stay
together for the full year in 2001. Meanwhile, the overall crown for 2000 now
appears locked up for the Woodys, whose final chance to shine will be in
Finally, the mind turns ahead to year's end when we close our calendar's
2000th year, 200th decade, and 20th century A.D. Accordingly we will choose
our Player of the Year, Player of the Decade, and Player of the Century. I
hope Tennis Server readers will offer thoughts on these important matters via
e-mail to me using this form.