Thursday, October 30th, 2003
The 2003 season is approaching the finish line. On the men's side, the last
tournament of the calendar season is taking place in Paris. Women have only
one more week than the men. Players then will have almost two months to rest,
evaluate their season, and get ready for the next. It has been a "hit" year
for some, a "miss" year for others.
Amongst the women, Venus Williams was a definite "misser". Without a Grand
Slam title in two years, in 2002, the excuse was Serena. But this season,
with only seven tournament appearances, one title, extended injury-related
layoffs, some early exits including the French Open, Venus no longer has
the aura that her sister enjoys on the tour. Of course, this "miss" is determined
according to Venus' standards. Obviously, for any other player, two Grand
Slam finals appearances would not be too shabby.
Okay, okay, since we are talking about strictly tennis performance, Anna
Kournikova has to be a "miss." Does anyone even know if she is still top-100?
However, by her pocketbook standards, she is nothing but a "hitter" as her
popularity grows, defying her on-court success in a bizarre manner. But again,
tennis is the issue here, not looks and finances. No doubt about it, Anna
is a "misser."
Jelena Dokic finishes the year outside the top-10. How can she turn this
"miss" year into a "hit" in 2004? Heck, she can't even decide what country's
passport to use!
Picking "hitters" on the women's side? Look no further than two European
countries: Belgium and Russia. Either Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin-Hardenne
has shared the No. 1 spot along with Serena. Henin-Hardenne took half of
the Grand Slam titles, and they share the top-two spots in the rankings going
into the year-ending WTA Championships.
"Russian armada" has also arrived in full force. Four of the world's top-15
hail from Russia, led by Elena Dementieva and the multi-talented Anastasia
Myskina. There are four more in the next 25 players.
On the men's side, it's slightly harder to pick the "hitters" and "missers,"
as the rankings have been much deeper, leading to wider array of expectations
amongst the players.
Nevertheless, the last two seasons' "ace" player, Lleyton Hewitt, is destined
to be a "misser" this season. Having gone through multiple coaching changes
and no Grand Slam semifinals appearance, he will finish the year outside
top-10, as a spectator through the Masters Cup.
Ex-No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten finally had a full-year on the circuit following
a long-term hip-related injury. Despite two titles, strangely, none on clay,
surely, this is not the comeback he was hoping for -- one where he was "just
one of the guys" on clay-courts and never a major force in Grand Slams.
We could always find other "missers" such as the Spaniard Albert Costa who
won French Open last year, but finishes outside top-20 with no titles this
year. Other mentionable players are James Blake, Juan Ignacio Chela, and
Gaston Gaudio, who experienced the infamous "sophomore jinx" after having
career seasons in 2002.
The top-three "hitters" of this season by far are also ranked No. 1, No.
2, and No. 3. respectively. in the Champions Race, far ahead of everyone
else. 2003 was not only "hit" year for Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick,
and Roger Federer, but also a "coming-of-age" type of year where all three
men won their first Grand Slam titles, lived up to their previous hypes,
and dominated on their favorite surfaces. All in their early 20s, we as tennis
fans hope that a Jimmy Connors/John McEnroe/Bjorn Borg or Ivan Lendl/Boris
Becker/Stefan Edberg type of rivalry is staring us right in the face.
Other honorable mention "hitters" are Guillermo Coria with five titles and
a top-five finish as well as Rainer Schuettler, who relentlessly seems to
grind it on the tour every week at the highest-level, yet somehow remain
under the radar.
The year-ending WTA Championships and the ATP Masters Cup should determine
the biggest "hitter" on both sides, though. Don't miss it!