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2000 Tennis Masters Series — Cincinnati
by Vince Barr

In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote a song that inspired a generation called "The Times, They Are A Changin’." Among other things, that song called attention to the "Baby Boomer" generation and emphasized an epochal change in population demographics between those "over 30" and the millions of teenagers then entering mainstream society. During the 2000 Tennis Masters Series — Cincinnati tournament, the ATP Tour unveiled a new advertising campaign called "New Balls Please" which featured a few of the Tour’s brightest stars aged 19-24. This included Gustavo Kuerten and Magnus Norman (both 24) as well as 19-year-old Australian sensation Lleyton Hewitt. Kuerten and Norman were ranked 1 & 2, respectively in the 2000 Champions race while Hewitt was 8th. You certainly can’t blame the Tour for wanting to promote it’s "new blood" especially considering the recent retirement of Jim Courier as well as the simple fact that neither Andre Agassi (30) nor Pete Sampras (29) will be playing tennis forever.

Hewitt was especially pleased to be in the new advertising campaign. "It’s fantastic to be put in a group of such elite players. You’ve got the Kuertens, the Philippoussis’…it’s fantastic to be (in a group labeled as the future of tennis) but you’ve still got to go out there and prove it as well," Hewitt said. "I think it’s a good idea of the ATP Tour. You have the high guys up there, the Rafters, Agassi’s, the Sampras’ and then the newer guys 23-and-under sort of coming up biting at their heels." And how did Mr. Agassi feel about the ad campaign? "I think it’s always good to introduce the players to the public or the public to the players," said Agassi. "Especially if they’re young and they’re going to be around for awhile. The earlier you get to know them, the better it is for the game."

Of that particular group (Kuerten, Norman and Hewitt), Kuerten has been the most successful this year, having compiled a 37-12 record in overall match play this year in addition to getting his second Slam title at the French Open. Kuerten has been very successful on clay, posting a 28-6 record on the dirt and winning titles at Santiago, Hamburg and being the runner-up at Rome. However, to think of Kuerten as just another clay court player would be to severely underestimate his prowess on hard courts. Kuerten reached the finals of the Ericsson Open on Key Biscayne earlier this year, where he narrowly lost to Pete Sampras 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (10). After his run to the semifinals in Cincinnati this year, he captured the title at the RCA Championships over Marat Safin. Magnus Norman made his first-ever appearance in Cincinnati sporting a 49-15 record in match play including 27-7 on clay. Norman’s three titles came at Auckland, Rome and Bastad while dropping a 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-7 (6) match to Kuerten at the French Open finals. Hewitt also came to Cincinnati for the first time leading the ATP Tour in number of tournaments won (4 — Adelaide, Sydney, Scottsdale & Queen’s Club) which is a remarkable accomplishment for a 19-year-old.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes the tournament has ever had to deal with was a color change on the courts. Instead of the familiar green and white, the courts were painted a deep purple just prior to the start of the event. The change was made for two primary reasons: (1) to enhance the visibility of the tennis ball on television and (2) to better distinguish the Tennis Masters Series events, which are the highest level of competition currently staged on the ATP Tour. The color change was intended to help establish a "brand name" identity in the minds of the channel-surfing casual tennis fan as well as to promote its biggest "mandatory" events. When Tennis Masters Series — Cincinnati tournament director Paul Flory heard about the color change, he had two questions. "My first concern was of course for the players. How would the new color absorb the heat from the sun and second, would the players like it?" As for the latter issue, Agassi commented that "I like the purple courts, it’s a nice color. I haven’t seen it on TV yet, but in person, it’s nice play on."

Ph.D. Associates in Toronto conducted heat absorption tests on the new color before the start of the Masters Series event there and the results were a bit surprising. Apparently, there was only a two-to-three degree Fahrenheit variation between the heat reflected from a traditional dark green and white court vs. the newer purple ones. This result made temperature variations a non-issue. The Tour emphasized that the color change was simply an experiment; so it does not necessarily mean that next spring, for example, you will see purple-colored clay court events in Monte Carlo, Hamburg & Rome. The Tour also experimented with orange lines on a purple practice court along with the name "Tennis Masters Series" actually worked into the weave of the netting! Of course, all of these changes were not met with complete acceptance and enthusiasm. Some of the most strident criticism has come from the media. There are those who think that the Tour’s "branding strategy" has gone a bit overboard. One writer in Tennis Week acidly observed that it would not surprise him if the Tour attempted to rename Wimbledon the Tennis Masters Series — London event. Obviously, that won’t happen since it is the most prestigious Slam in the game of professional tennis but who knows where things will go next?

The 2000 Tennis Masters Series — Cincinnati event turned out to be riddled with upsets of established players and the ones doing the upsetting were not necessarily the "new guard" that the Tour wanted to promote. Some of the losses came before even one ball was struck in competition. Patrick Rafter had to withdraw from the event due to a recurrence of shoulder tendonitis. He had appeared in the last two Cincinnati finals, winning in 1998 over Pete Sampras and losing to the same player last year. In that particular final, Rafter’s shoulder took a ferocious beating, especially on one of Sampras’ blistering 133 mph serves that destroyed the stringbed of Rafter’s racquet. Because of Rafter’s personal feelings towards this particular tournament, he took the very unusual step of personally informing tournament director Paul Flory of his decision not to play.

Rafter explained that "…(the problem) has been there since Davis Cup. I took a week off and it was just a lot of fatigue…The shoulder did its job during Wimbledon and Davis Cup. I really did not feel it that much. Then after that, it just --- I started hitting balls before I went to Toronto and I knew then it was a bit sore, but I thought I could get through it. (Unfortunately) it has gotten progressively worse and worse as the tournament has gone on with a lot of treatment."

Rafter thought that his unexpected quantity of recent play was to blame for his withdrawal. "I won the tournament before Wimbledon (the Heineken Trophy in Maastricht, Netherlands) which I was not going to play, but I felt like I needed matches before Wimbledon. I played Wimbledon and all of a sudden, I had 12 matches in three weeks. And they were not easy matches. And then back for Davis Cup straight-a-way again." Rafter said that "My muscles and everything are strong, (whereas) last year, they weren’t; they got weak. Then it put pressure on the tendon. This year, the muscles are strong but it is fatigue…on a different part of my rotator cuff. It’s just pain pretty well on the impact of a serve and on a lot of the forehands. So every time you go to hit those shots in the back of your mind, maybe it is going to be a bit of pain coming with it…It’s just not worth it. In the long run, if I keep going like this then I will keep myself out for a few more months."

The tournament field was one of the toughest on Tour (as usual) even without the likes of Rafter, Goran Ivanisevic, Cedric Pioline, Greg Rusedski and Jan-Michael Gambill. Ivanisevic was apparently miffed at the fact that he did not receive a wild card into the draw since his ranking had dropped to # 79. The four players who received wildcards were Jonas Bjorkman, Vince Spadea, Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick. The lowest-ranked player who received direct entry into the tournament was Davis Cup hero Chris Woodruff, ranked 65th. Woodruff saved the tie in Zimbabwe earlier this year for the U.S. The fact that Goran had a 7-6 career record in Cincinnati probably had a little bit to do with the fact that he did not get a wild card. Pioline was absent due to a fractured hand he apparently suffered in a recent volleyball match and Jan-Michael Gambill was still recovering from the ankle sprain he suffered in the finals of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles two weeks prior to the start of the Cincinnati event.

The first quarter of the draw featured the No. 1 seed, Andre Agassi, along with No. 7 seed Thomas Enqvist, No. 10 seed Nicolas Lapenti as well as No. 16 seed Mark Philippoussis. The second quarter was headlined by the aforementioned Magnus Norman, who was seeded 3rd followed by the Argentinean, Franco Squillari, who received the 13th seed. Juan Carlos Ferraro and Yvgeny Kafelnikov rounded out the second quarter with the moody Russian getting the No. 5 seed. Alex Corretja, who created substantial controversy in London last month by pulling out of Wimbledon in a huff because the tournament committee did not give him a seed, received the 6th seed in Cincinnati. He had to contend with Nicolas Kiefer and Gustavo Kuerten in his quarter. The last section of the draw was headlined by Pete Sampras, who had Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Tim Henman in his part of the draw.

The toughest first round matchup was between Richard Krajicek and Yvgeny Kafelnikov. Those two fought to a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 Kafelnikov victory, which took over two hours. For some reason, that match was played on grandstand court rather than Centre Court where it belonged. The most entertaining match of the first round occurred between Andre Agassi and Wayne Ferreira. Agassi had an unblemished 8-0 record in previous career head to head meetings with the wily South African player. Things got a bit out of hand in the tightly contested first set which Agassi won in a tiebreaker, 7-4. Agassi hit one ball that looked to be a bit long (television replays were inconclusive) and Ferreira argued that the ball should have been called out. When chair umpire Norm Foster patiently explained that he could not overrule the call, Ferreira snapped his racquet in two over his head and glared at the umpire, who simply shook his head and rolled his eyes at the stupidity of Ferreira’s action.

Alex Corretja and Jonas Bjorkman locked horns in the first round, which provided some very interesting tennis. The match started out with neither player enjoying a clear-cut advantage over the other. In some respects, it was a tale of two completely different matches. In the first set, the only break of serve came in the last game as Bjorkman finally converted on one of his seven opportunities to break Corretja. In the second set, it seemed as if neither player could hold serve. Bjorkman broke early and got out to a 3-0 lead only to lose his next two service games for the short end of a 4-3 deficit. Then it was Alex’s turn to lose his next two service games and that was basically the match. In the second set alone, there were five breaks of serve between both players. Corretja said "He was trying to put pressure on my second serve. He was trying to come into the net and he was serving pretty well and making good volleys. And I felt a little tired on the court and my movement was not too good. It was difficult for me to find any rhythm on the court."

The shocker of the tournament was Agassi losing to unheralded Fernando Vicente, 6-3, 3-6, 0-1 (retired). Andre’s return game was completely non-existent as he managed to win only 19 of 51 points (37.5%). That Agassi’s return game is not up to it’s usual effectiveness is borne out by the fact that he is not even in the top 10 in the statistics for return of serve leaders (i.e., points won returning 1st & 2nd serves, break points converted and return games won). Since his car accident at the Las Vegas airport upon returning home from Wimbledon, he has had numerous tests done on his back that have revealed strained muscles. He has had sound stimulation and ice massages to speed the healing of his back but "…Today, I was a little stiff waking up, but that’s somewhat normal at 30 (laughter). It felt considerably weaker than it was yesterday (in his match with Wayne Ferreira) and then I felt it starting to get tight again. It was limiting my execution and my movement and it was starting to play with my concentration and was getting worse."

The second round was partially interrupted by rain and resulted in some players, notably Thomas Enqvist, having to play twice on the same day. He started out on August 10th playing the 11 AM match with Harel Levy, which he won easily 6-4, 6-4. Then he had about a 4-5 hour rest and defeated Max Miryni, 6-4, 6-3. This accomplishment is even more astounding when you consider that he has been playing with a floating broken bone in his foot! Kafelnikov was also affected by playing on short time; having disposed of Chris Woodruff 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that didn’t end until nearly 1 AM on August 10th. Then he had to play the third match on the afternoon session the same day against Frenchman Arnauld Clement. Kafelnikov lost that match in straight sets 6-4, 6-1.

Defending titleist Pete Sampras played rising young American Taylor Dent in the feature match on August 9th and won despite not playing well in two consecutive tiebreakers 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3). Pete’s match was interrupted for over an hour due to the threat of lightning, which accompanied a nearby thunderstorm. Dent had dismissed the perpetually mercurial Jeff Tarango 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to earn his first-ever meeting with Sampras. Dent was not intimidated by Pete as he out-aced him 15-6; for his part, Pete played rather poorly and tossed in 11 double faults for the match. Certainly, Dent is a player to watch in the very near future.

The next night, Pete played poorly again and lost to Britain’s Tim Henman by a count of 6-3, 6-4. It was Pete’s first loss to his frequent practice partner in 8 previous career head-to-head matchups. Pete was broken three times on the night and won less than 43% of all points. Pete was complimentary of Henman’s play against him after the match. "He really served well and was hitting unbelievable passing shots. He played a great match; I wasn’t at my best, but I think he had a lot to do with that. He definitely outplayed me in just about every area." Pete was asked a question about his serve being far less effective than it usually is and he conceded that "…I just didn’t really find a rhythm on it. You know, he was on top of it early, and I wasn’t picking the corners; it wasn’t the best serving day." Henman’s victory was a page one sports feature in the London Daily Telegraph, which blared the headline "Henman Ends Sampras Jinx" and was accompanied by a half-page article and picture of Tim in action. Henman was quite pleased with himself and noted that "…it’s been a long time coming. I’ve felt like I’ve had some pretty close matches against him in the times that we have played…I was getting looks at his second serve, I was standing in closer, trying to take the ball earlier, giving him a little less time to get to the net. I did return really well and kept the ball low. But I think it was the overall sort of consistency of the number of returns that I made."

With both Sampras & Agassi gone from the main draw as well as a number of seeded players, the event went from a virtual "Who's Who" to a "Who’s THAT?" Vicente upset Mark Philippoussis 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) to earn his berth in the quarterfinals against eventual tournament winner Thomas Enqvist. Franco Squillari of Argentina beat Slava Dosedel to set up his quarterfinal matchup with Arnauld Clement. Todd Martin was the last American in the tournament and he had to play Gustavo Kuerten, who has been having a terrific year. The last quarterfinal featured Fabrice Santoro against Tim Henman. Enqvist dispatched Vicente and Clement in straight sets to earn his first finals berth in Cincinnati against Tim Henman. The No. 1 British player held a slight 2-1 edge in career head to head meetings including a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory in their only previous hard court match at the Sydney Outdoor event in 1998. But Enqvist was able to elevate his game at crucial moments and captured his first title of the year and 17th overall, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

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