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Tennis 2001: Hewitt Becomes World's Youngest Ever Number 1


The Williams sisters finally faced off for a major tournament title, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf proved tennis is not a game where love means nothing, and two new number-one players emerged in men's and women's play. David Byrd takes a look at these and other highlights from the year in tennis.

Pete Sampras seemed to have nothing left. After a tough two weeks, Sampras had finally succumbed to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the U.S. Open in September, 7-6, 6-1, 6-1. Sampras, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, had lost in his last attempt to win a major tournament in 2001. But two days later, the American's loss would be forgotten when terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, forever altering the skyline visible from the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center.

For Hewitt, the victory was one the 19-year-old Australian had prepared for his entire life. Hewitt would end 2001 with six titles, including his U.S. Open win over Sampras. Hewitt also ended the year as the youngest-ever number one in the world. He beat out Gustavo Kuerten after defeating the Brazilian in the Masters Series final in Australia. However, Hewitt and his Australian teammates were not able to win the Davis Cup title on home soil, that honor went to France, 3-2.

American Andre Agassi started the year by winning his third Australian Open title and his seventh major tournament by beating Arnaud Clement of France in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

"I came into this week, this tournament, feeling like my game was solid," he said. "I was in a good position physically and winning it felt special. Defending it again is certainly a good feeling as well."

The Australian Open also saw the continuing comeback of American Jennifer Capriati. The 24-year-old scored victories over compatriots Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles, and in the final over Martina Hingis of Switzerland, (6-4, 6-3). It was Capriati's first ever Grand Slam tournament win.

Capriati would capture her second major title of the year four months later on the red clay of Roland Garros. Again she had to fight her way past the top players in the world, scoring wins over Hingis, Davenport, Seles and Serena Williams.

Some thought Capriati might be too tired to take the French Open, and she lost the first set of the title match to Kim Clijsters of Belgium (1-6). However, the American came back to capture the title in three sets 1-6, 6-4, 12-10. Afterwards, Capriati struggled to believe she had won.

"I really never thought I would be standing here, 11 years later after playing my first time here when I was 14 years old," she said. "So really I am just waiting to wake up from this dream. It doesn't seem like a reality right now."

The men's champion was a familiar name, Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil. The 1997 and 2000 winner and a crowd favorite, Kuerten beat 1998 finalist Alex Corretja of Spain in four sets 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-love.

"Every time I come here I really give it all. It is like a magic place for me. All of my dreams coming true," he said. "So for me it is the place I am always going to enjoy more playing and so far it is the place where I have better emotions in my tennis."

Kuerten became the sixth man to win three French Open championships and the first to accomplish the feat since Sweden's Mats Wilander won his third title at Roland Garros in 1988.

Kuerten decided to skip Wimbledon and another crowd hero emerged on the grass of the All-England Club - Goran Ivanisevic. The tall Croatian with the powerful serve had come close to winning Wimbledon before - losing in the finals twice to Pete Sampras and once to Andre Agassi. He needed a wild-card invitation to this year's tournament, but he made the best of the opportunity.

After surviving a three-hour, five-set semifinal match against England's Tim Henman -- a match that took two days to complete because of rain -- Ivanisevic battled Australian Patrick Rafter.

Rain delays forced the final to be played on a Monday and it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Ivanisevic rallied from two match points down to beat Rafter in five sets 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7.

"This was my dream all of my life and you know to serve for the match suddenly I have a match point out of nowhere," he said. "I came here and nobody even talked about me and now I am holding this trophy. This is too good."

American Venus Williams had a much easier time defending her Wimbledon ladies' title. Though Belgium's Justine Henin took her to three sets, Williams overpowered her smaller foe 6-1, 3-6, 6-0.

"This year was a lot more difficult to win. Last year I was kind of like a deer in the headlights, I just kept going. This year it was a lot harder," she said. "I thought a lot more and you now I just think that I am really happy to be here."

It was Williams' third major title since taking home her first Wimbledon crown in 2000. But it was at the U.S. Open in September that Venus would face an opponent she had wanted to face in a major tournament for most of her career - her younger sister Serena.

After not losing a single set during the two weeks at the National Tennis Center, Venus beat Serena in straight sets 6-2, 6-4 in the first-ever night time final. The 21-year-old Venus said winning her second Wimbledon title and the U.S. Open made for a memorable year.

"2001 was really exciting for me. I had a slow start but toward the end of the year I was really motivated," she said. "Every time I get to Wimbledon, really I am a new person. I am kind of reborn. But it was a great year."

Because Venus missed a number of other tournaments with injuries, it was Lindsay Davenport who overtook Martina Hingis to finish the year as the top ranked player.

The September 11 terrorist attacks would impact the tennis world. A Davis Cup qualifying match featuring the United States and India was moved to late October because of security concerns. The reigning champion U.S. team pulled out of the Fed Cup women's competition because of security fears. The title went to Belgium, a 2-1 winner over Russia in Madrid, Spain.

And off the courts, Andre Agassi and now-retired German star Steffi Graf got married in a private ceremony and Graf gave birth to their first child.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001