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Between The Lines
October 1, 2000 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
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The Number Ones for 2000

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Ray Bowers

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 Open.

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 year-2000 points:

--Hingis, 4565
--Davenport, 4015
--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.


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.

--Kuerten, 643
--Safin, 640
--Sampras, 637
--Norman, 596
--Kafelnikov, 472

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 December.)

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 small.

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 Davis Cup.

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.

--Ray Bowers

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.


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