Since Andy Roddick has dropped the "Next" from the label of Next Great Player, American tennis can feel free to look to its future.
Cincinnati fans won't have to look far. This weekend's qualifier for the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters has added two of the top four junior players in the world, plus the sport's most buzzworthy youngster.
That's Donald Young - emphasis on young. Signed by sports marketing giant IMG, profiled by ESPN the Magazine, he turned 15 just a week ago.
The Chicago native, coached by his parents, last December became the first American since Jim Courier to win the prestigious Orange Bowl under-16 tournament, and the first African-American to win it in its 57-year history. In April, he became the youngest player to win the Easter Bowl boys' 18 singles title - topping the feat of Pete Sampras, who won it at 15, and John McEnroe, who was 17.
Said veteran tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who occasionally assists Young's parents: "He has talent beyond the description of words."
Young was given a wild card into the qualifier, his fourth professional event. The other teens given wild cards Thursday are Americans Brendan Evans, 18, and Alex Kuznetsov, 17, the second- and fourth-ranked juniors in the world, respectively.
Young, who is 5 feet 10 and 155 pounds, first drew notice four years ago when McEnroe played a Seniors event in Chicago. Young was a ball boy, but McEnroe was encouraged to hit with him.
McEnroe said afterward, "He's the first guy I've ever seen who has hands like somebody else I know: me."
Young is ambidextrous and played two-handed until three years ago, when he went lefty. He moved to Atlanta in January when his parents relocated their tennis academy there. He turned pro to take advantage of a new rule allowing professionals to play in USTA juniors events.
"This year was about trying a couple (pro tourneys), seeing how I enjoy them," Young said. "This tourney is big. I was surprised I got in."
Young lost his first pro match in May in a Futures event in Tampa, Fla. He won two rounds of qualifying this month in Los Angeles, coming within one match of the main draw. This week, he lost his first match in a Challenger event in Lexington.
"When you get up on them in juniors, they give up," Young said of his competition. "They keep playing in the pros. Plus, they're bigger and stronger."
Young would have to win two matches to reach the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters main draw.
As he continues to focus on juniors, the next goal is to win the United States Tennis Association boys' 18 nationals next month in Kalamazoo, Mich. The winner gets a wild card into the U.S. Open's main draw.
Evans, of Key Biscayne, Fla., won juniors doubles titles this year at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Kuznetsov, of Richboro, Pa., was singles runner-up in French Open juniors.
MARTIN OUT: Todd Martin, who had been given a wild card into the main draw, has pulled out with an unspecified injury.
His wild card has been given to West Virginia native Jeff Morrison, a former NCAA singles champion for Florida.
Morrison, who played here in 2001 and '02, is coached by former Cincinnatian Craig Boynton.
W & S SeniorsMark Woodforde, here for the Western & Southern Financial Group Senior Championship, is proud to be remembered as half of the "Woodies."
07-30-2004, 10:22 PM
Tennis world turns all eyes on Cincinnati
Everyone should know by now that the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters Tennis Tournament is an elite international sporting event featuring the world's top 51 players from the men's tour (barring injury), plus an additional nine qualifiers and four wild cards who fill out the draw and add a bit of "underdog" interest to the weeklong championship.
Everyone should also know that the Seniors tournament is played on Friday and Saturday evening and day-session qualifying rounds are played Saturday and Sunday ahead of the main draw (Monday-Aug. 8).
But you might not know that Cincinnati will host a women's tour event this year as well, Aug. 14-22. This tier III tournament, the only WTA anywhere in the Midwest, will be the first women's event held here since 1988 and should include some familiar names in the as-yet to-be-finalized draw.
In other words, there's a ton of first-class tennis coming to the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, but that's barely the beginning.
In addition to being one of the finest tennis facilities in the world -- a 10-court complex featuring three permanent bowl stadiums and 70 acres of parking -- the grounds around the courts are transformed into a virtual village each year -- one designed to cater to every want, wish and whim of those who attend.
New this year is a reconfiguration of parking on the south side of the complex and a redesign of what was formerly a serviceable but somewhat uninspired fan entrance on that end of the grounds.
Also new is an open-to-the-public Saturday evening Summer Soiree. Folks can "Mingle with the Masters," sip some wine, enjoy the hors d'oeuvres, do a little dancing and maybe even win a Mercedes-Benz. (Proceeds go to the American Heart Association; Saturday 7 p.m.-midnight, $30 at door, $20 in advance. Chances on the car are $50 each or five for $200.)
Of course, charity is nothing new to the tournament. Nearly $6 million has been given out during the past 30 years, not to mention the priceless donation of time invested by the players who visit the hospital each year. Longtime beneficiaries include Children's Hospital Medical Center (men) and Tennis for City Youth (Seniors). The Barrett Cancer Center at University Hospital was chosen for the women's tournament.
The induction of the Cincinnati Tennis Hall of Fame's third class (J. Howard "Bumpy" Frazer, Bill Lofgren, Marty Wolf and Clara Louise Zinke) also shares its proceeds -- benefiting the Greater Cincinnati Tennis Association. The prestigious ceremony is Saturday from 5-7 p.m. ($45 per person, which includes a ticket to the Seniors final, $30 if you already have a ticket).
The point is, you don't have to be passionate about tennis to have a great time at the tournament.
"Something magical happens when you're here," said tournament director Bruce Flory. "It's like an oasis -- a place where it's possible to leave everything behind and completely escape your regular life.
"It's a given that fans will see some incredible matches every day," he continued. "But there is so much more. We've tried to make the tournament as fan-friendly as we possibly can."
Yearly increases in attendance (and player earnings) prove that they've succeeded. The tournament pays $2.45 million in prize money, tying Cincinnati with Indian Wells as the third-richest event in the United States (behind only the Miami Masters event and the U.S. Open).
"We've made a big effort the past few years to broaden the off-court activities and non-tennis offerings," Flory said. "If you've never come up, I think you'll be surprised at what all you'll find."
Fans will find a food court, concession stands, ice cream booth and snack kiosks representing more than a dozen restaurants and vendors. An expansive covered eating area will provide welcome relief from the midday sun. Bands will entertain diners between sessions.
In addition, a retail tent will feature men's and women's tennis-wear, as well as souvenir caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters featuring 2004 tournament designs. Add to that dozens of individual booths selling everything from basketball-sized tennis balls (perfect for autographs) to battery-powered water spritzers (perfect for those hot August days) to elegant jeweled tennis bracelets (just plain perfect).
For fans that want interaction during the sessions, no other tournament offers the kind of up-close opportunities that Cincinnati does.
"World-class players walk through the crowd each time they enter the grounds, Flory said. "It's up to the individual athletes, but many of them take time to sign a few autographs or stop for a photo or two as they're passing through."
"This isn't a small undertaking," said Flory, who coordinates nearly 1,300 staff members, ground crews, outside vendors and volunteers, not to mention the print and electronic media from around the world. "But I am extremely proud of what we have here and I think Cincinnati is too.
07-30-2004, 10:24 PM
Half of 'Woodies' duo working toward title
Even though he's retired, the name "Woodie" still means something to Mark Woodforde, who plays tonight in the Western & Southern Financial Group Senior Championship.
Woodforde and former doubles partner Todd Woodbridge were one of the most successful doubles teams in history. Before Woodforde retired in 2000, the duo won 11 Grand Slam titles and 12 Tennis Masters Series titles, including four in Cincinnati, which made them the winningest team in the Open Era in Cincinnati.
The Australians were known as "the Woodies," an obvious play on their last names, and a term Woodforde still hears on occasion.
"I guess around Wimbledon time (fans) certainly remember me as one half of the Woodies," Woodforde said. "So hopefully they remember me in a positive way."
Woodforde and Woodbridge won at Wimbledon six times, more than at any other Grand Slam event. And although doubles tennis is far less popular than singles, a nickname like "the Woodies," tends to stick.
"I'm shocked by it," Woodforde said. "I take it as a huge compliment. It's always nice if you're able to set an achievement for which you're remembered. That certainly was something that once we got going, we wanted to create that name for ourselves and set an extremely high standard."
Woodforde is playing in the mixed doubles senior tournament with Beth Herr, who was a doubles champion the last time women played professionally in Cincinnati. In 1988, Herr teamed with Candy Reynolds to win the Pringles Light Classic Doubles title. The WTA is returning to Cincinnati this year, Aug. 16-22, for the first time since then.
Herr and Woodforde will play Tom Gullikson and Tami Whitlinger at 7 tonight at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Following that match will be the team of Luke Jensen and Gigi Fernandez playing against Mansour Bahrami and Hana Mandlikova.
The winners of each match play in Saturday's final.
07-30-2004, 11:16 PM
Wow, a Williams for the ATP tour.
Alex Kuznetsov :D
07-31-2004, 12:29 PM
W&S field provides hard draw
The Western & Southern Financial Group Masters draw might have dealt the toughest hand to 2003's finalists.
Mardy Fish, the runner-up here last year, will face No. 11 seed Andre Agassi in an All-American matchup that is the first round's most compelling.
Fish is ranked 18th. Agassi, a two-time winner here whose hip has slowed him lately, ceased speculation he might not play by practicing here Friday.
Defending champion Andy Roddick, seeded second, will have to beat two top-35 players to reach the third round. He'll first face 34th-ranked Max Mirnyi in a rematch of last year's semifinal, which Roddick won 7-6 (5), 6-4. If he wins, Roddick will face either 25th-ranked Nicolas Kiefer or 33rd-ranked Joachim Johansson.
Kiefer is one of the ATP Tour's hottest players, having reached four U.S. hard-court finals this year; he was in the Tennis Masters Canada quarterfinals late Friday. Johansson also reached the quarters in Canada.
Top seed Roger Federer also got a difficult draw, opening with Dominik Hrbaty, who is ranked No. 20 and has won two hard-court tournaments this year.
Overall, it's perhaps this event's deepest field. All but one of the top 44 players in this week's world rankings are entered. That exception is No. 28 Mario Ancic, who pulled out of the qualifier. Ancic's ranking wasn't high enough at the cutoff date to get into the main draw.
James Blake and Agustin Calleri pulled out of the main draw with injuries, joining Mark Philippoussis as those among the original 51 direct entries to withdraw. Fabrice Santoro, David Sanchez and Thomas Enqvist were added by virtue of their rankings. So the tourney awarded Enqvist's wild card to American Alex Bogomolov Jr.
Thomas Johansson got in with a special exemption since he is playing today in the Canada semis.
The Seniors championship session scheduled for Friday was rained out. The two-day qualifier begins at 10 a.m. today; the seniors semifinals will be the third and fourth matches played on Center Court.
07-31-2004, 03:38 PM
Budding rivalry fun for friends Fish, Roddick
Before Pete Sampras retired in 2002 after winning the U.S. Open, most tournament directors used to salivate at the thought of a potential All-American final pitting gritty baseliner Andre Agassi against the smooth serve-and-volleying Sampras.
You could always count on the longtime rivals for a riveting match that would easily be a sellout.
Though not at the same level, every time two young American friends, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, are on opposite sides of the net, something special happens.
"I don't know for some reason we've always had tough close matches every time we played," Fish said. "I don't know if we know each other's game inside out."
Fish and Roddick staged a classic battle in the finals of last year's $2.45 million Western & Southern Financial Group Masters that starts Monday in Mason, Ohio.
Roddick topped Fish, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), giving tournament director Bruce Flory something to smile about.
"All things being equal, people like people from their own country, someone to root for," Flory said. "If you have someone to other than Andy to root for, it's certainly great for tennis in the U.S."
Roddick, the No. 2 seed, and Fish are both back this year. They will have some tough competition as the top 50 players in the ATP Tour rankings race are entered including 12th-seed Andre Agassi, who plays Fish in the first round, and No. 1 seed Roger Federer, who faces Dominik Hrbaty in the first round.
Americans Todd Martin and James Blake and Australian Mark Philippoussis were the only three players of note to withdraw from the event.
Wildcards for the qualifying rounds that started this morning were given to Ohio State All-American Jeremy Wurtzman, 15-year-old American phenom Donald Young and French Open junior finalist Alex Kuznetsov.
For Fish, playing in the final last year was rewarding because he got to face his good buddy while proving that he could play with the best on a grand stage.
"It was a storybook tournament for me playing Andy in the finals in such a big tournament," Fish said. "It kind of catapulted me and got people to know my name and to see that I can play a little tennis.
"Playing in the finals of Cincinnati was very special for both of us."
That week in the Queen's City Fish did more than just a little to solidify his position as a rising young American.
He reached three finals last year, won the first singles title of his career and finished the season ranked a career-high No. 20.
"I served really well last year and it seems like some of the tournaments where I madeit to the finals or won the tournament I played well," Fish said.
And although Roddick has a 3-1 edge against Fish, he has never gone down without a struggle.
In their latest encounter, Roddick eked out a 6-7 (13), 4-6 in the finals at San Jose earlier this season.
Their personal relationship tends to add to the intrigue of this budding rivalry. During their senior year in high school, the two attended Boca Prep (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Fish lived with Roddick's family.
"Growing up with him, living with him I realize his goals and our goals are the same," Fish said. "To see him achieving most of his goals, already, being No. 1 and playing Davis Cup, both of us playing Davis Cup was one of the most exciting things for me.
"It's hard to play him period just because he's an unbelievable tennis player."
Fish has participated in Davis Cup three times and will represent the U.S. at the Olympics in August. Representing his country is an honor he takes very seriously.
He once said that it would mean more to him to win an Olympic gold medal than to win a Grand Slam, but recently amended that statement.
"That's going to be special, to be able to walk out in the opening ceremonies, it's going to be great," Fish said. "You can't really go wrong with either one (winning a Slam or gold medal)."
A strained lower back prevented Fish from competing in the Tennis Masters Canada tournament that wraps up Sunday. But it would take a lot more than that to stop him from returning to Cincinnati, a place he enjoys visiting.
Fish said he would throw out the first pitch during the Reds game Sunday.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and playing Cincinnati, a tournament I love, one of my favorites," Fish said.
08-01-2004, 10:18 PM
Agassi fishing for form at Cincinnati Masters
Andre Agassi, struggling to recover from a series of depressing defeats and extend the most charismatic career in the modern game, has been delivered a sly blow by the draw for the Cincinnati Masters.
Agassi, who suffered one of his most emotional losses this year to Mardy Fish in the semifinal of the Siebel Open in February, will again be tested by his fellow American when he takes the court at the $2.45 million Ohio event.
That defeat offered the first conspicuous signs that all is not well with the 34-year-old former winner of all four Grand Slams.
Since their previous meeting, Agassi has suffered problems with a hip injury and has endured repeated speculation that he will retire after 15 years on the tour, possibly during the U.S. Open in September.
The man whose sharp-eyed counter-hitting brilliance once made the perfect antidote to all the big servers has won only three matches in the past four months.
He lost in the first round of the French Open, which was one of three first-round defeats in a row, and missed Wimbledon altogether.
Among Agassi’s conquerors, Nenad Zimonjic, Jerome Haehnel and Igor Andreev are hardly household names.
Following a 6-3, 6-3 loss to world No. 62 Jurgen Melzer of Austria in the second round of the Toronto Masters this week Agassi was almost comically evasive about retirement.
“Well, it’s a question mark for me,” he said. “So I certainly understand it being a question mark for others.
“You know I don’t know if I’m going to be back.
“So if I have that question, I can only imagine somebody else having that question.”
Agassi may need to find some other unusual answers in Cincinnati, for it was here last year that Fish produced the best performance of his career, coming close to a Masters title when he held match points against his friend and former roommate, Andy Roddick.
Roddick is seeded second in defense of his title, with world No. 1 and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer officially the favorite. Swiss Federer beat Roddick 7-5, 6-3 to win the Toronto Masters on Sunday.
Roddick starts against Max Mirnyi, the 6-5 serve-and-volley specialist from Belarus, while Federer begins with Slovakia’s Dominik Hrbaty.