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Tennis - "Hitters and Missers" of 2003

By Mert Ertunga
Thursday, October 30th, 2003
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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!

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