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Between The Lines
November 2, 2002 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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Previewing November

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Ray Bowers

November brings the traditional late-season events--the ATP and WTA individual championships, which bring together the top-achieving players of the year to date, along with the finals of Davis and Fed Cups. Winning one of the individual championships is somewhat less prestigious than winning a Slam, but the rewards are excellent both financially and in points toward the full-year races now concluding.

LOS ANGELES

The season-ending event in women's tennis goes back to 1972, when Chris Evert as an amateur won the Virginia Slims Championships in Boca Raton. Doubles was added the next year. The event under various names moved to other locations but starting in 1979 remained many years in New York, most recently as the Chase Championships. Its best performer over the years has been Martina Navratilova, probably reflecting the effectiveness indoors of her net-attacking tactics. Martina won the singles eight times, the doubles eleven times. Last year, the event moved to Munich as the Sanex WTA Championships. Serena Williams won the singles, Raymond-Stubbs the doubles.

This year, November 4-11, the top 16 singles players and the top eight doubles pairs in the points races to date will qualify to compete at the Staples Center, Los Angeles. The prize money is excellent--$3 million. The event will be called the Home Depot Championships Presented by Porsche.

Injuries will of course affect matters. Last year when Serena won the event, both Hingis and Venus Williams were absent. Lindsay Davenport had to withdraw after reaching the final, though her point total remained the year's highest. This year Hingis and Mauresmo are not entering because of injuries, while feelings of uncertainty remain about Seles and Serena, who have withdrawn from events in recent weeks, and about Venus, who has played only one match since U.S. Open. Davenport, who returned to the wars at mid-summer after surgery, should be present.

Results in recent weeks have broken the long pattern of invulnerability among the game's superstars. Magdalena Maleeva defeated Venus, Mauresmo, and Davenport in Moscow, and Patty Schnyder defeated Hantuchova and Davenport in Zurich. Also during October Alexandra Stevenson upset Capriati (twice), Hantuchova, and Dokic, while Casanova upset Henin.

Serena Williams will be the strong favorite in L.A. if she competes, followed by Venus and young superstars Henin and Clijsters, both of whom won indoor events in late October. Davenport has been improving in her comeback though she has not won a tournament, while Capriati, Hantuchova, and Dokic have shown poor results lately. Capable of beating one or, conceivably, two superstars are Maleeva, Schnyder, Rubin, Dementieva, and Stevenson. (Stevenson is the first alternate to play in case of further withdrawals.) But none of these stars seem ready to defeat three or four of the top group consecutively, as would be necessary to win the event. Of early interest will be where Davenport falls in the draw, as she lacks the points for high seeding.

Regardless of outcome in Los Angeles, first place in the year's points race is already settled. Serena, who won three Slams this year, is too far ahead to be superseded. Meanwhile Raymond-Stubbs remain the top doubles pair in my opinion, though their present ranking is behind the pair of Ruano-Pascual and Stubbs, who won Garros and U.S. Open this year. The Williams sisters, who won the 2002 Wimbledon doubles, have not competed enough to qualify for L.A.

MEN'S DOUBLES

The men's doubles race this year has been, unexpectedly, a one-sided success for a veteran North American pair. Canadian Daniel Nestor is regarded among the very top doubles warriors, with superb serving and left-court returning skills. This year he partnered with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, thereby reuniting the 1998 Garros and U.S. Open champions. Knowles-Nestor won Australian Open 2002 and were runners-up at Garros and Wimbledon. They are far ahead in the year's points race to date.

The season-ending championships were originally scheduled to be played on the week of November 4, at Bangalore, India. But as of today, October 31, the scheduling and location remained up in the air. Sadly, it seems possible that the year's final event will not be played. The possibility of playing some doubles amid the singles championship has been heard.

There has been talk of cutting down the role of doubles on the tour. ATP recently announced changes for 2003, reducing the percentage of prize money for doubles and reducing the doubles draws in certain tournaments. Also the entry system will be slightly revised to encourage more singles players to play doubles. Not to be expanded, one hopes, is the limited experiment using ten-point tiebreak games in lieu of third sets.

SHANGHAI--MASTERS CUP Throughout the 1990's, the season-ending ATP World event in singles was held annually in Germany. It moved to Lisbon in 2000 with a new name, Masters Cup, and to Sydney in 2001. The change in name accompanied a merger with Grand Slam Cup, which had been played annually during the 1990's, also in Germany. This year's Masters Cup will be played during the week of November 11, indoors in Shanghai. Following the event's customary pattern, eight singles stars will compete in round-robin play in two groups. Four survivors will earn places in the semi-finals.

Two players remain in contention to win the overall points crown for the year. Either Andre Agassi or last year's winner Lleyton Hewitt will be the #1 player for 2002. Who wins will depend on their performances at the Paris Indoors, now in progress, and in Shanghai. Agassi and Hewitt are also the main favorites to win at Shanghai. Of the year's four Slams and eight Masters Series tournaments to date, only these players have won more than one. (Hewitt won Wimbledon and Indian Wells, and Agassi won Key Biscayne, Italian Open, and Madrid Indoors.) Both have reached the quarters in Paris.

With Hewitt and Agassi in Shanghai will be French Open champion Albert Costa. Also qualifying are Europeans Safin, Ferrero, and Federer. Two of the following three--Novak, Moya, and Roddick--will also qualify, depending on what happens in the late rounds in Paris. Though it is not yet announced, by my reckoning Tim Henman has narrowly missed out. U.S. Open champion Sampras and Australian champion Johansson will not qualify.

The plan for next year is that the season-ending singles and doubles will both be played outdoors in Houston, home base of Tennis Server.

DAVIS AND FED CUPS

Fed Cup final week is now in progress in the Canaries, originally involving four nations. The preliminary favorites were the Slovak Republic team, with Hantuchova and Husarova. Spain offered veteran Fed Cup warriors Martinez and Sanchez-Vicario. Both advanced in the first two days by defeating semi-final opponents--Spain over Austria in a wonderfully close meeting, Slovakia over Italy with Husarova winning both her singles. Spain has a fine history of success in Fed Cup, but in my opinion the Slovak team is stronger. Various misfortunes have plagued Fed Cup in recent years, so that a trouble-free conclusion this year is needed for the good of the competition.

Davis Cup final round will commence November 29 on indoor clay in Paris. The Russian team brings Kafelnikov and Safin, both of whom have been disappointing this fall. Favored will be the French, whose depth allows choosing the best player of the moment from among Grosjean, Mathieu, Santoro, and Clement, while several excellent doubles combinations should be available from these players as well as Llodra and Pioline. A Russian triumph would be surprising.

A total of 117 nations participated in Davis Cup competition this year. From zonal-group play, Belgium and Romania advanced to membership in next year's 16-nation World Group. Last year, a French star--Nicolas Escude--won our Player of the Year award for his Cup heroics. The French road in cup play this year has again been tortuous. Might this year's award honor an achievement similar to Escude's?

Pro tennis remains a force for good will amid a time of world uncertainty and fear. Davis and Fed Cups should be centerpieces of the sport, as Davis Cup was in times past. Players, promoters, and fans should heed their responsibilities to the game's history and sporting ethic. In Cup play, as at all levels of our game, the competing is more important than the winning.

--Ray Bowers

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Between The Lines Archives:
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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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