Top 5 rivalries to watch (according to atp)
Andre Agassi vs Lleyton Hewitt
In January, all eyes will turn to the Australian Open and no two players will be more eager to make an impression than defending champion Andre Agassi and local hero Lleyton Hewitt. The Australian has consistently struggled at his home Grand Slam event, having failed to advance beyond the fourth round in seven appearances. In marked contrast to Hewitt, Agassi has thrived at the Australian Open, claiming the title in four out of seven appearances. Hewitt struggled throughout much of 2003, finishing the year in 16th place of the ATP Champions Race. In 2004, the Australian will be eager to stamp his authority back on a sport in which many of his critics have been quick to write him off.
Hewitt and Agassi have had some blockbuster encounters in the past, with Hewitt leading their head-to-head series 4-3. However, Agassi claimed their last match, putting an end to the Australian's US Open title defense at the semifinal stage in 2002. With Hewitt looking to reclaim his spot at the top of the rankings, and an ageing Agassi eager to make every match count in the twilight of his career, theirs is a rivalry that could come to an enthralling climax in 2004.
Juan Carlos Ferrero vs Guillermo Coria
Ferrero and Coria ruled the clay courts of 2003, with Ferrero claiming his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros, while Coria won three successive tournaments in Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel and Sopot, as well as claiming his first Tennis Masters Series title in Hamburg. The Spaniard won their only meeting of 2003 with considerable ease in the Monte Carlo final. The Argentine has come a long way since then though, gaining vital big-match experience with his run to the Roland Garros semifinals as well as competing in the Tennis Masters Cup season-finale in Houston. And while Martin Verkerk's stunning form at this year's Roland Garros ended hopes of a blockbuster final match-up between these two, players will be hard pushed to stop Ferrero and Coria battling it out in 2004. These two clay court giants are now poised to duel for the title of 'Clay Court King' for years to come.
Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick
Roddick and Federer both had outstanding seasons in 2003 and have made themselves the men to watch in 2004. While Roddick finished the year as World No. 1, it was Federer who stole the show at the Tennis Masters Cup Houston, making his intentions clear for 2004. These two young guns have the makings for a classic rivalry for years to come, with Roddick's high-tempo aggressive play coming in strong contrast to Federer's silky smooth stroke play and calm demeanor. And while it may be too soon for comparisons with Borg and McEnroe's legendary rivalry, the ingredients are certainly there.
So far in their young careers, it is Federer who was come out strongest. The Swiss leads 5-1 in their head-to-head series with the standout match undoubtedly coming with Federer's straight sets defeat of Roddick in the Wimbledon semifinals. Roddick, however, got the measure of the Swiss a few weeks later, defeating him in the Montreal semifinals in three tight sets. The scene is now set for these two to battle it out in their quest for tennis world supremacy.
Rainer Schuettler vs David Nalbandian
Schuettler and Nalbandian are regarded as two of the toughest nuts to crack on the ATP circuit. While Nalbandian failed to win a title in 2003, it was a testament to his consistency throughout the year that he still qualified for the year-end season finale in Houston. Meanwhile, Schuettler continues to defy the odds as he improved his year-end ranking for the ninth consecutive year. These two have had some grueling encounters, meeting a total of seven times in the past two years, with Nalbandian edging their head-to-head 4-3. Look out in 2004 as these two fighters extend their on-going series at the highest level on the ATP circuit.
Rafael Nadal vs Richard Gasquet
While Federer and Roddick may be the leading lights of men's tennis today, Nadal and Gasquet have displayed enough precocious talent to suggest that they are more than ready to challenge the "New Balls Please" generation in years to come. Having collected four Challenger titles, 17-year-old Gasquet finished 2003 as the youngest player in the Top 100. And in a year in which he broke into the Top 50 for the first time, Nadal claimed two Challenger titles of his own and reached the semifinals of Umag. The two young stars have both had prolific careers at Challenger level and are now set to make their presence felt at the higher echelons of the ATP
I dont think Nalbandian-Schuettler is a rivalry.
I miss: Ivan Lendl, Korda, Novak, Bruguera, Rios, Kucera, Courier, Mantilla, Costa, Santoro and Ferreira.
Good luck to:
Gaudio, Murray, Florian Mayer, Chela, Nalbandian, Radek Stepanek, Volandri, Youzhny and Verdasco.
NICOLAS ALMAGRO IS AN EXOTIC BEAUTY