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April 12, 1999
State of Men's TennisWhere Are the Stars?
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April 12, 1999


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State of Men's Tennis
Where Are the Stars?

Here's hoping that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras found time to check the results of the eight Davis Cup ties played last weekend. The only two players ranked among the ATP tour's top 20 who chose not to represent their country in this, the competition's centennial year, Sampras and Agassi would have noticed that the U.S. earned a dramatic upset over Great Britain, a victory made all the sweeter by their absence. And that Slovakia stunned Sweden, the defending champ. And that Brazil knocked off Spain, a team that featured two of the world's top six players. In short, they might have grasped that the joke is on them and that the Davis Cup still carries plenty of prestige. "This is as good as it gets," said Jim Courier after beating Greg Rusedski 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 1-6, 8-6 in a gripping match to clinch the U.S. win.

Alas, the sort of inspired, fight-to-the-death play seen last weekend has been all too rare in men's tennis lately. A time-honored complaint on the ATP tour is that there's no off-season, and this year the male players apparently decided to take action. Or inaction. Of the top five players at the end of 1998, none have won a tournament this year. Consider Sampras: His long-avowed career goal has been to eclipse the alltime record for Grand Slam titles, but he launched the work slowdown by skipping the Australian Open. Instead of participating in the first major of the year, he played in a celebrity golf tournament. In the three months since, he has won seven matches, as many as he usually wins in two weeks at Wimbledon.

As of Monday, Sampras was still ranked No.1, however, because the somnambulant players' movement has such solidarity. Pat Rafter, winner of last year's U.S. Open, had a match record of 7-6 this year. Agassi, his body hair waxed and his confidence waned, had beaten just one top 40 player in 1999. Marcelo Rios, ranked No. 1 only a year ago, was down to No. 13. He may be losing stature, but after getting blitzed by an unseeded foe, Dominik Hrbaty, at the Lipton Championships two weeks ago, Rios was holding fast to his Exxon Valdez-like reputation as a tanker. Alex Corretja, last year's most consistent player, had dropped seven of his last 10 matches.

The malaise among the top men comes at a time when women's tennis is hotter than it's been in years. The WTA tour is flush with a deep field and—get this—top players who regularly bring their A game. We may have glimpsed the sport's future at the Lipton when, after the usual spate of top-seed flameouts, the men's final pitted Richard Krajicek against Sebastien Grosjean in a match that drew ratings comparable to those for the Yule log. The women served up the epochal Venus Williams-Serena Williams title match. Before men's tennis gets blown off the court by its female counterpart, the top male players would be well served to make the passion and intensity evinced in the Davis Cup the rule, not the exception.

Millennium Plans
The NFL on Y2K

Economies may crumble, nations may collapse, but the NFL will play on after the millennium. The league's task force on the year 2000 computer glitch is set to warn teams playing on the road in the last week of next season—Sunday, Jan. 2, and Monday, Jan. 3—that they need to get to their destinations by Dec. 31 to avoid possible disruptions in air service caused by the Y2K problem.

"We're continuing to plod through all the information we're gathering and making contingency plans to prepare for the worst," says Jodi Balsam, NFL counsel for operations and litigation. As if millennial chaos weren't bad enough, the Arizona Cardinals now face the daunting task of finding hotel space in that New Year's Eve hot spot, Green Bay.

NCAA Eligibility Mess
Fear of Commitment

It would seem that college football coaches would be angry that a federal appeals court in Philadelphia issued a stay in the Proposition 16 case (SCORECARD, March 22) last week, restoring for now the NCAA's academic requirements for incoming freshmen. In fact, a lot of coaches are breathing a little easier. The NCAA limits schools to 25 football scholarships a year, but many coaches sign more recruits than that on the assumption that some won't qualify under the Prop 16 guidelines. The sudden eligibility of all recruits would put schools on the hook for those scholarships—and their athletic departments in possible violation of NCAA scholarship limits.

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