Day One, Monday
Wow. Three members of the current Big Six in women's tennis are already out
of the tournament! Lindsay Davenport withdrew because of injury before play
began. But today's straight-set losses by Venus Williams and Mauresmo seem
The women's talent is thus oddly split. The lower half now offers the new
generation--Henin, Dokic, Clijsters, and the young Russians. The upper half
has the familiar Hingis, Capriati, Serena, and Sanchez-Vicario.
Day Two, Tuesday
Sampras today showed his old ability to turn near-defeat into victory. It was
sad for Cedric Kauffmann, who has never won an ATP main-tour match but today
held several match points against Pete. Kauffmann's calm shotmaking deserted
him when he served for the match in the fifth set.
It was good to receive E-mails today from friends who had read my Preview
column. Basil Stafford in Australia picks Agassi and Hingis to win the
tournament. Norm Bowers in Colorado chooses Kuerten and Capriati.
With round one of both men's and women's singles complete, Spain leads the
tennis nations. Twelve Spanish men achieved first-round wins, two more than
last year. France is second with seven wins. Among the women, Spain shows
nine wins against USA's seven. The early departures of Davenport and Venus
alter the certainty of a one-sided triumph by the American women.
Day Three, Wednesday
Andy Roddick overcame cramping in the fifth set to defeat Michael Chang. The
teenager's main assets--superior serving ability and very good power
groundstrokes from both sides--narrowly outweighed Chang's experience and
Disappointingly, the defending doubles champions--the Williams sisters--pulled
out of the doubles tournament. Are the sisters insensitive to a professional
code of sport or are they prone to interminable health problems?
Day Four, Thursday
Sampras lost in straight sets to veteran clay-courter Blanco. Meanwhile
Agassi advanced nicely, adding to the suspicion that Agassi's career may
eventually surpass Pete's. The five-set win of Safin over clay artist
Calatrava was a noteworthy success.
With 64 players (32 pairs) surviving in the men's doubles, the nation with
the most men's doubles players remaining is, surprisingly, Czech Republic,
Day Five, Friday
Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt exchanged bullets from the corners for over
two sets, but their meeting ended when Roddick was lamed by a pulled
hamstring. The score was even when the injury occurred. The two seemed
essentially equal in baseline power and consistency, though Roddick seemed
able to generate equal penetration with lesser backswing. The advantage in
aces went, surprisingly and one-sidedly, to Hewitt, probably reflecting
Roddick's inferiority in reacting to opponent's serves. The future should
bring many meetings of these two.
Kuerten's win today was difficult, while Kafelnikov and Ferrero won
comfortably. With Hewitt, these are the four high-seeds of the upper half of
the draw, and all seem on solid ground. The lower half's high-seeds Sampras
and Rafter are gone, while Safin seems in jeopardy next against old-nemesis
Santoro. The draw seems to favor Agassi.
In the amazing lower half of the women's draw, Dokic exited today but
Clijsters and Henin remain. All eight survivors in this half are Europeans.
The expected strength in doubles of the U.S. and Australian contingents is
beginning to take effect in the competition among nations. Doubles success
today lifted the U.S. women slightly ahead of Spain's in the count of match
Day Six. Saturday
Agassi's four-set win over Brazilian Meligeni showed the North American's
ability to break down the game of a classic clay-court retriever-hitter.
Agassi moved his opponent around mercilessly, while the crowd was enthralled
by the South American's ability to retrieve and counter. Early-on,
Meligeni's one-handed sliced backhand offered Agassi a feast. Later Meligeni
began ripping overspin backhands, but it was too late, as Agassi was by then
in perfect groove.
Day Seven, Sunday
American Michael Russell nearly defeated tournament favorite Kuerten,
achieving and nearly winning a match point late in the third set. Kuerten
seemed clearly off his game, playing tentatively to avoid errors and
frequently missing when he tried to open up a point. Meanwhile Russell
displayed excellent court speed, fine consistency, and an ability to exploit
the occasional opening. But as the day's strong wind diminished, Kuerten's
top game simultaneously returned, and by the end of the fifth set the
Brazilian was nailing the corners with his accustomed flair.
Day Eight, Monday
Though his situation was scarcely as dire as was Kuerten's yesterday, Agassi
today seemed in trouble. Argentine left-hander Squillari equalized matters at
two sets all by sweeping the fourth set 6-1 behind an astonishing barrage of
forehand and backhand baseline power. Again and again Agassi found himself in
an unaccustomed and ineffective defensive situation. Squillari closed out the
set with three brilliant aces. But when the fifth set began, as if on signal,
the veteran American found reserves not evident just before, raising his
level of play to earn a prompt break of serve. Squillari, who now seemed
tired, could not answer, and his shots began to ride over the lines. Agassi
closed out matters, 6-0.
Day Nine, Tuesday
The featured women's match, Serena Williams against Jennifer Capriati, proved
disappointing, as neither player showed the consistency expected at this
point in the tournament. By the time both players began approaching their
best late in the match, the audience seemed too numbed to notice. Capriati
had the advantage of regular competition in recent months, and it seemed to
me that this made the difference in her victory.
The Kuerten-Kafelnikov quarter-final was less flawed. The outcome was in
doubt well into the third set, as Kafelnikov appeared to perform at a higher
level than seen in recent months. Kuerten's play was also better than in his
last outing, and his ability to sustain his heavy hitting and accuracy
Day Ten, Wednesday
Early-on, Andre Agassi was in total command against Grosjean, who was tight
and error-prone. Agassi took the first set 6-1, while the total of his
unforced errors in that set was zero. But as former U.S. president Clinton
moved into a front-row seat just behind Agassi's baseline, Agassi's
quickness and control abruptly vanished. Grosjean began hitting harder and
avoiding errors. Except for an occasional superb moment, Agassi from then on
was badly outclassed. At the end, Grosjean had recorded ten aces and zero
double-faults, against Agassi's zero aces and five double-faults.
What explained the abrupt change of events after set one? Probably it was
mainly the transformation in Grosjean's play into that of a champion. But
there was also deterioration on Agassi's part. Could a factor have been the
strong wind, which picked up just as the match turned? Or was it a creeping
tiredness resulting from the American's hard battles in recent days? Or was
it somehow related to the presence of Clinton?
I had seen something like this happen once before, several years ago, when a
powerful Agassi overhead felled Agassi's opponent. Agassi had been well ahead
prior to the episode, but his game thereafter evaporated and he lost badly.
It seemed clear that the concentration and resolve upon which Agassi's
magnificent play depends had been broken.
Day Eleven, Thursday
Capriati's convincing semi-final win over Hingis today confirmed that the
times of Swiss Miss dominance are ended. Hingis fought hard, much of the time
summoning baseline power nearly equal to that of the larger American. But
Hingis could not match Capriati's remarkable ability to deliver severely
angled, flattish bullets just over the net tape, which again and again
nibbled the sideline. These sizzlers moved Hingis outside her comfort area,
and often elicited a less-than-forcing reply, meanwhile opening Hingis's
court to Capriati's next rocket. Capriati's mobility and stamina assuredly
matched and perhaps exceeded Hingis's.
In the earlier semi, Clijsters, who was at one time behind by a set and a
break, managed to turn matters against Henin. Clijsters gets her body weight
into her power deliveries better than does Henin, while her two-handed
backhand seems better designed for sustained hard work in the trenches than
Henin's brilliant, higher-velocity one-hander.
Day Twelve, Friday
Kuerten seemed the stronger throughout in the first men's semi, though
Ferrero regularly threatened to break serve and turn sets to his favor. But
when these moments arose, the Brazilian always mustered his array of weaponry
to save matters. Kuerten showed a variety of talents including powerful
swinging volleys, excellent touch in conventional volleying, and superb first
serves when most needed. But his most devastating asset was his marvelous
one-handed backhand, which regularly neutralized Ferrero's bullets into the
deep corner and, even more frequently, produced spectacular power winners to
either deep sideline. In executing the stroke, the Brazilian takes a large
backswing, often turning his shoulders away from the net to increase the
backswing extent. The shoulders then uncoil to the fore-and-aft position as
the power stroke is launched, and they usually remain parallel to the
sidelines until late in the follow-through. He meets the ball off the front
shoulder with racquet horizontal and with slight upward spin. Fullest power
comes when he steps forward firmly. Again and again he opened up or finished
points with the shot.
Later, Corretja overcame Grosjean by playing generally from well behind the
baseline and delivering heavily overspun, high-bouncing strokes. Probably
troubled by Corretja's defensive skills and by the high bounces, Grosjean
seemed never able to unlimber the artillery he showed against Agassi.
Meanwhile Corretja displayed his excellent ability to shift to the attack at
any opportunity, closing out many points with effective net and overhead play.
Day Thirteen, Final Saturday
In the women's final, it was difficult for Capriati to produce the heights
attained against Hingis two days earlier, probably because of the greater
shot-making power of her opponent, Kim Clijsters. The Belgian teen-ager swept
set one 6-1 before the American veteran rallied to equalize, 6-2. With the
tiebreak rule not in effect, set three became an extended marathon. Three
times Capriati served to win the match, and twice the prize proved elusive.
Clijsters toward the end seemed to be playing tentatively, yielding Capriati
the initiative during points. Finally, with Capriati ahead and serving at
11-10 Clijsters tried to return to her aggressive game but things went
against her and the American claimed her victory, 12-10 in the third.
Will we soon be adding Clijsters, and perhaps also Henin and Dokic, to our
Big Six of elites?
Day Fourteen, Final Sunday
For nearly two sets of their men's final, Corretja seemed the master of the
tall defending champion. Corretja generally operated from well behind the
baseline, thereby easily returning most of Kuerten's rockets. His own
shot-making was sometimes aggressive and, as in the past, he showed an
ability abuptly to attack the deep corners and finish off points effectively
from forward. The wind was very strong (Kuerten later called it a hurricane),
favoring the more-controlled game of Corretja over Guga's more-aggressive
style. Clearly, the wind and Corretja's consistency combined to bring
Kuerten's game well below the heights seen two days earlier.
But as set two approached its climax and with the wind diminishing somewhat,
Kuerten's power game fell into place, just in time to avoid a two-set
Corretja lead. Perhaps slightly injured in the leg area, perhaps tiring, and
perhaps discouraged by narrowly losing his chance to take command in the
score, Corretja began producing errors especially when drawn wide on his
forehand side. Gradually Kuerten's play rose to approach that seen against
Grosjean. In the fourth and final set, Corretja won only six points, four of
them in the last game.
In the mythical competition among the nations, Spain won in the men's result,
USA in the women's, and Spain in the combined men's + women's. Here are the
leading nations in matches won:
Czech Republic, 20.0
Combined men's + women's
My predictions were well short of perfection, especially on the women's side.
Four of my eight favorites succeeded in reaching the quarter-finals among the
men, but only two among the women. I correctly chose Kuerten to win the
tournament but was wrong in picking Mauresmo, who in my scheme would reach
the final and there defeat Capriati. Congratulations are owed to Norm Bowers
in Colorado, who correctly picked both Kuerten and Capriati to win.