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Between The Lines
May 5, 2002 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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Spring 2002 Update

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Ray Bowers

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 Ten.

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 change this.

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.

--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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