Early April brought Round Two of Davis Cup play. The U.S. survived against
Spain on grass in Houston after an unexpected first-day victory by Corretja
over Sampras. Watching Pete twice yield service breaks by double-faulting, I
remembered how in other years Sampras often survived critical moments by
bringing extra penetration and placement with his second serve. But this day,
when Sampras raised the energy of his second serve the results were critical
faults. For Corretja, the price of his fine victory was a hand injury that
probably doomed Spain's chances for winning the overall tie.
Russians Safin and Kafelnikov defeated a strong Swedish team in Moscow, while
Argentina prevailed on Buenos Aires clay over Croatia. Gaudio's two singles
wins were the difference. The French team won the critical doubles over the
Czech pair Novak-Rikl and finally prevailed when Santoro defeated Ulihrach in
five sets. Novak won two singles matches in the lost cause.
Four nations remain. In September France will host U.S. and Russia will host
Argentina. The U.S.-France meeting at Roland Garros should be a classic
especially if Agassi enlists to join Andy Roddick, whose clay credentials are
growing. Home-court advantage prevailed in all second-round meetings, and if
it continues France will host Russia in December.
FED CUP 2002
The endless changing of formats and rules suggest that Fed Cup is not in
robust health. Matters were not helped last year when the U.S. women withdrew
from the eight-nation final competition in Spain because of security concerns
following September 11. The Americans were already unhappy because of a rules
change denying the defending-champion Yanks home-court advantage.
Embarrassment continued this year in the clash of wills between two
strong-minded U.S. women, player Capriati and captain King. The result was
the defeat of the heavily favored American team on April 27-28 by the
visiting Austrians, who lacked their top player, Schett. Vast credit is owed
to Barbara Schwartz, who achieved singles victories over Seles and Raymond.
Meanwhile the French team won its meeting with host Argentina when Mauresmo
and Dechy contributed three singles victories. In July, Spain will be favored
at home against Germany, while visitors Croatia, France, and Belgium will be
tested by hosts Austria, Slovakia, and Italy, respectively. The four
survivors will meet in the semis and final the week of October 28.
THE WOMEN'S TOUR
The world's top eight or ten women have been almost immune to defeat by
lower-ranking stars in recent years. Breaking the pattern were Daniela
Hantuchova's triumph at Indian Wells early this year and Iva Majoli's in the
Tier One clay-court event at Charleston recently. A comparable surprise at
Charleston was the success of Patty Schnyder, whose lefty shotmaking and
mobility produced wins over Mauresmo, Serena Williams, and Capriati. In
losing to Majoli in two close sets, Schnyder seemed faster and her shots
produced sharper angles than in 1998 when she temporarily reached the Top
But two weeks later the superstars again dominated, on clay in Hamburg.
Clijsters won the tournament, taking a three-set final over Venus Williams.
In the semis, Clijsters defeated Dokic, who retired with a thigh injury, and
Venus defeated Hingis, who afterwards withdrew from the forthcoming German
Open in Berlin with an ankle sprain. Henin lost in the quarters.
With Serena, Capriati, Mauresmo, and Seles also joining the forthcoming clay
wars, it seems certain that terrific tennis lies ahead. The superior
consistency of Capriati over the other big hitters could prevail.
THE MEN'S TOUR
Following Davis Cup week in early April, the men's tour moved onto clay,
performing at Estoril and Casablanca (first week), at Monte Carlo (second
week), at Barcelona and Houston (third week), and at Munich and Mallorca
(fourth week). Two players--Gaudio and El Aynaoui--each won two of these
events, while Ferrero, Roddick, and Nalbandian each took one.
Monte Carlo's was the strongest entry field, so that the triumph of Juan
Carlos Ferrero there reinforced his claim as first among the near-equals. The
Spanish star's six match wins came over top clay players Portas, Mantilla,
Rios, Haas, Grosjean, and Moya. Ferrero, however, lost early at Estoril and
Barcelona. Meanwhile last year's clay champion, Gustavo Kuerten, returned
from hip surgery sooner than expected, reaching the third round at Mallorca.
I recently chose to become one of the "Media Experts" featured in the fantasy
tennis game at the ATPtennis.com site. I based my fantasy team selections
primarily on the thinking offered in the April column here, choosing Hewitt,
Roddick, Novak, El Aynaoui, and several others. A fortunate selection was
Gaston Gaudio, who had starred in the recent Davis Cup play. With a run of
good luck, my team, "Tennisserver-Ray," stands momentarily in first place
among the 21 teams chosen by media persons (as of May 5).
Meanwhile I've continued to explore correlations across major tournament
outcomes, a method first applied in previewing this year's Australian Open. I
recently measured how well the preceding Slams and Masters Series tournaments
predicted results of Garros 2001, and I'll use the results later this month
here in trying to predict Garros 2002.
THE DOUBLES RACES
Except for a loss in Australian Open to Hingis-Kournikova, Lisa Raymond and
Rennae Stubbs have dominated women's doubles. The American-Australian pair
play an aggressive and exciting style, and have this year earned nearly
double the points of their closest rivals. Remarkably, there are no pairs in
2002's Top Eight where both members are from the same nation, a trend
probably weakening fandom's interest in doubles. The Williams sisters could
Leading in the men's 2002 race is the North American pair Knowles and Nestor,
who won in Australia as well as at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. They lost
to Bjorkman-Woodbridge at Monte Carlo, where single, extended-tiebreak games
took the place of third sets. I join the chorus of tennis purists in
lamenting this arrangement, which seems just another step weakening pro
doubles. I continue to believe that pro doubles can succeed, especially if
the extreme advantage of the serving pair can be reduced and the points made
longer. A few doubles-only events, in my opinion, can succeed either within
or outside the present tour structure.