Hard to believe that only three months ago Martina Hingis was affronted by the suggestion that there might be challengers to her No. 1 ranking in women's tennis. "Rivalries?" she scoffed. "I'm up like 3,000 points. There are no rivalries for me." Since then, Hingis has been one big Swiss mis-hit. She has failed to win a singles event since the Italian Open in May, and her points lead has all but vaporized. What's more, with opponents—no, rivals—increasingly hip to her tendencies, Hingis's winless streak isn't likely to end in New York.
Who does that leave as the U.S. Open favorite on the female side? The people's choice, Monica Seles, won a tune-up event in Montreal but lacks the stamina to grind out seven straight matches. The other sentimental choice, five-time champ Steffi Graf, is struggling with her timing and consistency. Chest-bumpee Venus Williams made her breakthrough at last year's Open, but a nagging knee injury will preclude her return to the finals. That leaves the door ajar for the two hottest players, Lindsay Davenport and Jana Novotna. Having slain her personal dragon at Wimbledon, Novotna will try to serve-and-volley her way to a second straight Grand Slam title. If she keeps her wits about her, she may well succeed. But it says here that the affable Davenport will become the first American-born woman to win the U.S. Open since Chris Evert in 1982.
The men's draw is suffused with less drama, particularly since so many top players are struggling. Pete Sampras (above) has been in hibernation since winning Wimbledon, his tendency to fatigue more pronounced than ever lately. After briefly achieving the No. 1 ranking last month, Marcelo R�os lost three of four matches, none to a player ranked in the top 25. Resilient Andre Agassi won two events in July but has since reverted to his erratic ways. If he gets hot, he could tear through a soft draw, but don't be surprised if he falls to crafty Karol Kucera in the fourth round.
Defending champ Patrick Rafter is playing as well as anyone and has a chance to be No. 1 if he runs the table. Still, it's hard to bet against Sampras. With the meter running in his quest to eclipse Roy Emerson's Holy Grail of 12 career Grand Slam titles, he has plenty of motivation to overcome his lassitude. If his body doesn't betray him, he'll find a way to become the King of Queens for the fifth time.