Masters Cup a big deal but not equal to majors
Masters Cup a big deal but not equal to majors
By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
It's not Wimbledon, nor is it the U.S. Open. For the clay-court crowd, it's definitely not Roland Garros. Even the Australian Open has a much weightier cachet.
The Tennis Masters Cup is a cool event with the fattest first prize in tennis, as much as $1.4 million. You bring the eight best players for the calendar year together, as is happening at Westside Tennis Club this week, and the tennis is sure to sizzle. But is it or will it ever be as important as a Grand Slam? No chance.
On this the golfers leaving town and the tennis players just cranking up surely will agree. If their season-ending "championships" are hardly the funny-money exhibitions some cynics accuse them of being, they don't matter nearly as much as the majors, which possess that special something only decades of history and tradition provide.
Andre Agassi was as polite and diplomatic as he could be in answering the question about the Cup's place in the grand (Slam) scheme of things, but he wouldn't dream of swapping any of his eight majors for a second Masters Cup. Nor would Andy Roddick give a nanosecond's thought to exchanging his recently claimed breakthrough U.S. Open for a breakthrough Masters Cup.
Moot point, I suppose. Nobody's asking either of them to do any such thing. But both appreciate being here, and both intend to do what they can to reprise their April U.S. Clay Courts final on the same patch of now-paved-over real estate come Sunday afternoon. For Roddick, the consequences of winning are in a way greater than they were at Flushing Meadow.
There, his thumping Juan Carlos Ferrero wasn't enough to wrest the No. 1 ranking from the Spaniard. But he has seized it, and over the next seven days Roddick can lock up top-dog status for 2003, a smashing feat for a 21-year-old.
"You're celebrating the best players of the year with one final shootout," A-Rod said. "I look at this like it's a spectacular, and in my particular case, there's a lot to play for. It's especially meaningful for me. They were making a big deal of me becoming No. 1 in Paris (two weeks ago), and it is a great 'stat.' I can always say I was No. 1 at one point. But the way I look at it, I was just holding the ranking, renting it, until I got to Houston.
"I'd probably say it's the next best thing (to a Slam)," Roddick concluded, and he got no argument from Agassi, who ranks the Masters Cup "just slightly behind" the majors.
Agassi's aspirations here are of a more esoteric, less concrete nature than Roddick's, but first prize carries a singular significance for him, too, because it has proved an elusive accomplishment. Further, the clock tick-tocks a lot faster for him than for the others, whose average age is 10 years less than his.
Defiantly grinding on at 33, Andre left Houston in the spring as by far the oldest No. 1 of the Open era. But he got beat up a bit over the latter part of the year by the emergent youngsters in his midst, and you know he would love a spot of redemption at their expense. In Houston, he starts anew on fresh -- or at least fresher -- legs after a two-month break.
"There are a few things that are going to have to come together in a short period of time," he says, conceding it's comforting to realize he can't be knocked out of the tournament with one rusty effort. In the round-robin format, mulligans are possible, if not guaranteed.
"I wouldn't trade my Wimbledon for anything," Agassi said, laughing. "I only have one of them. But this is the best tournament you can possibly be involved with outside the Slams for personal achievement. For crowd enjoyment, for the avid tennis fans who love the game, I'd probably say this is the best event to watch.
"You get matchups. Somebody does one thing great, (but maybe) it plays into someone else's strength. There are just a lot of different aspects that make it fun."
Agassi's complimentary tone runs counter to his underwhelming record in the tournament, which was born in 1970 and has been twice renamed. He last won in his third try in 1990, defeating Stefan Edberg. But since then he has participated nine times and reached the final only twice, losing to Pete Sampras in 1999 and Gustavo Kuerten in 2000.
"In a major," Agassi said, "you always get the luxury of potentially working yourself into the tournament. Maybe you start with a guy that's ranked 90 in the world, as opposed to starting with a guy that's ranked two in the world."
As will be the case tonight, when Andre opens against Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. But Federer was griping about the recently finished court Sunday, complaining of bad bounces and what he called its excessive "downhill sideways" slant. Agassi shrugged off the snippy criticism, calmly noting how the bounces figure to be similarly capricious for all.
Such an assessment speaks to his vast experience, his having long ago learned to keep unsettling variables to a minimum. No matter how big the Masters Cup might be, it's not that big to Andre.