Jon Wertheim's 2003 Tennis Ups and Downs -
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Jon Wertheim's 2003 Tennis Ups and Downs

My Top 5 Performers*
Justine Henin-Hardenne
Serena Williams
Andy Roddick
Roger Federer
Juan Carlos Ferrero
*In no particular order

overrated:Technology’s ill effects
Enough with the trope that technology is destroying tennis. The upper echelon of the ATP is littered with welterweights who will go an entire set without hitting an ace. Justine Henin-Hardenne, arguably the best player in the women’s game, stands 5-foot-5 and rarely overpowers her opponent. Pete Sampras, who officially called it curtains on his peerless career this year, played with a truncheon that had the sweet spot of a nine-iron. Go ahead and curb the space-age technology; but whining that it is "ruining the sport"? Please.

underrated: Rainer Schuettler
Be it because a) his game relies on quickness and consistency, not sleek power b) he speaks English with an accent or c) he didn’t win a big-ticket tournament it was all too easy to overlook Schuettler. The Germanator reached at least the fourth round at all four Majors, won 71 matches (only one fewer than Andy Roddick), and finished the year at No. 6. A wunderbar year for a guy who went unrecognized as he walked around the grounds of the U.S. Open.

annoying: American arrogance
Seventeen of the Top 20 men and 14 of the Top 20 women have the bad manners to hail from countries other than the U.S. This, likely, is startling news if you attended the U.S. Open or watched tennis on American television. According second-class status to the foreigners is not just ugly and arrogant, it’s incredibly short-sighted. A great way to ensure lousy ratings and dwindling interest is to perpetuate the myth that all those Fernandos and Guillermos and Anastasias aren't worth watching.

breakthrough performance of 2003: Roger Federer
After a series of brutal Grand Slam losses, the dandies in the salon wrote off the Swiss-born Federer as an ubertalented player with the mental fortitude of a fruit fly. Then, for two weeks at Wimbledon he played sublime tennis, his racket less a ball-striking implement than a graphite wand. He put on another magic show at the Masters Cup in Houston, winning five matches against the sport’s best and brightest. Runner up: Andy Roddick. In winning the U.S. Open, he showed that the exuberance wasn’t irrational after all.

uplifting: Martina Navratilova
At the ripe old age of 47, she struck a grace note for "veterans" everywhere, winning seven doubles titles and two mixed doubles Majors.

mvp: Justine Henin-Hardenne
A tough call given that no male won multiple Majors, Serena Williams played just seven tournaments and top-ranked Kim Clijsters failed to meet the moment at any of the Majors. If only by process of elimination, the vote here goes to Henin-Hardenne. An also-ran when the year began, the diminutive Belgian won the French and U.S. Opens, a half-dozen lesser titles, and finished ranked No. 1. Alone among her colleagues, she played fearless tennis against Serena Williams. Plus, she gets style points for that liquid backhand.

storyline to follow in 2004: Questions galore
Will the Williams sisters overcome family tragedy and return full-force to a tour that desperately needs them? Will Roddick build on his U.S. Open triumph, or get swallowed whole by the hype? Will Federer build on his sublime Masters Cup performance? Will any of a half-dozen Russian women step up to challenge the Belgians-Williams axis? Can Clijsters exorcise her mental demons and win her first Major? How much longer will the Good Ship Agassi stay afloat? Can Taylor Dent revive serve-and-volley tennis? What will the ATP’s ongoing investigation into match-fixing reveal? Will any of the fairly radical proposals on the table (creating a USTA-run "summer circuit," combining the WTA and ATP’s year-end events, rejiggering the calendar) finally take hold?

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