Tennis in 2002 was dominated by familiar names, a pair of sisters and the return of one of the most successful men's players. VOA's Jim Stevenson reviews the season, which also produced first time winners in team tennis.
American sisters Venus and Serena Williams left no doubt that they are the top two players on the women's tennis tour. And younger sister Serena left little doubt who is number one, as she won three major tournaments in 2002: the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. She had to withdraw from the fourth major, the Australian Open, because of an ankle injury. The Melbourne event was won by American compatriot Jennifer Capriati.
But Serena clearly finished 2002 as the top ranked woman player in the world. If Serena wins the Australian Open this January, she would become just the fifth female player ever to hold all four major titles at the same time.
In each of her grand slam finals this past year, Serena defeated her older sister Venus. At Wimbledon, Serena said the sibling rivalry on the court will change little in their lives away from tennis.
"Thirty years from now we are both going to be retired and we both are just going to live normal lives. Even 10 years from now. We are just here playing tennis and having fun," she said. "We enjoyed it and had a great match today. And I am Wimbledon champ and Venus is a two-time Wimbledon champ and we are just really happy."
Older sister Venus Williams says she has learned to accept the outcome, especially in matches against Serena.
"I do not take it so seriously any more. I realize this is just a game," she said. "And when I walk off the court, that part of my life is over. So I just try to keep it on the court."
Off the court is former world number one Martina Hingis of Switzerland, who is recovering from ankle surgery.
In team tennis play, the Slovak Republic won the women's Fed Cup title for the first time in its history after Janette Husarova clinched the vital third point with a stunning 6-0, 6-2 victory over Spain's Fed Cup veteran Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Playing in her 100th Fed Cup match and 58th tie (series), both records, the 30-year-old Spaniard was completely outplayed by her less experienced opponent.
The Slovak Republic became only the ninth nation in the 40-year history of the Fed Cup to win the coveted trophy and is the second first-time champion in two years after Belgium won it in 2001.
The 30-year-old Sanchez Vicario, the most successful Spanish tennis player of all time, announced her retirement following the Fed Cup. Fans affectionately knew her as the "Barcelona Bumblebee," who won 29 singles titles on all four surfaces during the course of a 17-year career, including four Grand Slams: French Open in 1989, 1994, 1998, U.S. Open in 1994. She appeared in the final of each Grand Slam at least twice, and she was World Number One for 12 weeks over three periods in 1995.
Among the men, Australian Lleyton Hewitt finished as the top player for the second straight year. The 21-year-old Hewitt won the 2002 Wimbledon single's crown, and says the win was very special.
"Growing up as a kid back in Australia, I always dreamt someday maybe playing for this trophy," he said. "And I saw [compatriot] Pat Cash do it 15 years ago. To finally get a chance out here, it means so much to me. I can not believe how I played these two weeks."
Hewitt capped his season by winning the year-end Masters Cup tournament in Shanghai. He says he is number one because he tries as hard as he can to play well.
"I come out here and I play my best, my game. I try not to change my game. If other guys are good enough to beat me against my strengths, then that is too good," he said. "I go out there and give 100 percent every time I step on the court."
American veteran Andre Agassi made a valiant run at the number one ranking, but fell short with an early defeat in Shanghai. Agassi says he is always trying to get the most out of his talent.
"I still believe I can improve," he said. "To finish number one is an accumulation of a hard, long year. And I am never quite sure if I have that in me. But I know I have better tennis all the time. And that is my motivation."
But Agassi, who is now 32-years-old, says he is finding the race against the younger players a difficult task.
"I challenge myself every day, whether I am on the tennis court or off the court," he said. "And I certainly have a lot more to be challenged about. Every year gets tougher and these guys get better. So it is definitely getting more difficult, which steps up my intensity and my desire."
Agassi reached the final of the U.S. Open in New York, seeking to claim his third U.S. Open championship and his eighth Grand Slam title. But long-time American rival Pete Sampras, who had not won a tournament of any kind since Wimbledon in 2000, also reached the final. Many tennis fans were beginning to feel Sampras had come to the end of his long, illustrious career. But at the U.S. Open, Sampras was able to forge an inspirational four-set victory, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
"I played so well today," he said. "Andre brings out the best in me every time I step out with (play against) him. The guy is so good. Really, I deserve to have won here because I kind of got into a zone there for a little bit. It feels good, so it was a good win.
Pete Sampras's fifth U.S. Open title extended his record of Grand Slam men's singles to 14. And the win was his 20th against Andre Agassi in 34 meetings. With the victory, Sampras joined Jimmy Connors as the only five-time U.S. Open winners in the Open era, and at 31 years, 28 days, he became the oldest since Ken Rosewall in 1970 (35 years, 10 months). The victory also marked Sampras's 71st match win at the U.S. Open, which ties Bill Tilden in fourth place on the all-time singles list at the tournament. In the other two men's grand slam tournaments, Thomas Johansson of Sweden captured the Australian Open, while the French Open went to Spain's Albert Costa.
"I was just playing, trying to win the whole matches. And today, I do not know what happened. But I was playing very, very good today. In the final, I just played great," he said.
Playing great in team tennis were France and Russia in the Davis Cup tournament. France was the defending champion while Russia was looking to win its first Davis Cup title. France took a 2-1 lead after the first two days of the final in Paris.
Then former U.S. Open champion Marat Safin defeated the top French player, Sebastien Grosjean, to even the series at two-all and force a decisive fifth match. Former world number one Yevgeny Kafelnikov had struggled in earlier matches and was replaced by 20-year-old Mikhail Youzhny, ranked 56th in the world at the end of 2001.
He quickly fell behind Paul Henri Mathieu and on the verge of losing the Davis Cup to France. But three hours later, Youzhny was the first man in the 102 years of the competition to win the deciding fifth match in the final from two sets down. Youzhny was an instant Russian hero with the 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory in 4:26 hours.
The thrilling Davis Cup result concluded a tennis season that will be difficult to top in 2003.
Part of VOA's Year End series