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When Greatness Called 10/03/2008 - 3:15 PM


by Pete Bodo

We've talked about the points race and the year-end no. 1 ranking quite a bit this week, and today I'd like to focus on an incredible achievement relevant to both discussions - and one which has largely been overshadowed by that historic Pete Sampras vs. Marcelo Rios race for no.1 in 1998. That was Gustavo Kuerten's effort at the end of the year in 2000, when, for the only time in the history of the Open era, the no. 1 ranking for the year was decided by the very last match of the year, in Lisbon, Portugal (btw, where is Miguel "Mikey" Seabra when we need him?).

Much earlier that year, Kuerten ("Guga" to his legion of fans) won his second Roland Garros title, to shed the "One Slam Wonder" label applied to him by some commentators. I was never part of that chorus, partly because I felt it was wrong to judge someone so sweepingly so early in his career (Kuerten was just 20 when he won his first French Open, and while he experienced a sophomore slump at the majors in 1998, he made the quarterfinals in every major after the Australian Open in 1999).

I also felt that Kuerten had a great game that traveled well on the two main surfaces, clay and hard. During the course of one interview, Kuerten told me that the "clay" he grew up playing on in Brazil was much more like a hard court than Paris's terre battu. It's valuable to understand that, in order to make sense of what would transpire later. As for Kuerten's game, I'll let Pete Sampras analyze it:

"Kuerten was a great athlete with a pretty big serve and a great forehand. But he had two big disadvantages on fast surfaces - his long backswing and how far back he liked to play. I always had good luck with guys who stayed well back of the baseline, even great shotmakers and counter-punchers like Kuerten. I had plenty of time to play my shots, and I could attack at leisure. I always felt I could attack and pressure Guga, especially on the backhand side, hence my positive head-to-head (2-1)."

Those predispositions help explain why Kuerten never matched that '98 quarterfinal performance at Wimbledon, and skipped the event altogether every year but one starting in 2001. Like the rest of the planet, Sampras also liked Kuerten: "He had a great attitude. He was easygoing and always seemed to be in a good mood, with a big smile on his face."

In fact, Kuerten was so easygoing that what he accomplished in 2000 was, even for Kuerten KADs, improbable. This was, after all, the year when Marat Safin emerged as a force in the men's game. At the US Open, at age 20, he bombarded Sampras in the final, burying him in an avalanche of aces. (Pause for a moment of silence, please, and then let's all go to Marat's place and drink vodka and party with his delicious bevy of Muscovite beauties and his cool hip-hugger jean wearing buddies - to hail with what might have been!). Sampras said of Safin's performance: "He reminded me of me when I was 19 and won here for the first time. He passed and returned my serve as well as anyone I've seen."

And Safin's statement at the US Open was no isolated incident. Let's remember that Safin won seven tournaments that year, nearly half of his entire career output (thus far). The last of those seven events was an epic, 7-6 in the fifth (and 10-8 in the fifth-set tiebreaker!) victory over Mark Philippoussis in the Paris Indoors (Pause for a moment of silence, please, and then let's all go to Marks's place and drink vodka and party with his delicious bevy of South Beach beauties and his cool ski-cap wearing buddies - to hail with what might have been!). The win in Paris seemed to lock up the year-end no. 1 for Safin.

Safin was the master of his own destiny at the Tennis Master's Cup, and on track to meet Kuerten in the final. Each man lost a match in the round robin portion: Safin was blown out by Sampras, 3-and-2, while Guga lost a tough three-setter to Andre Agassi. The way the semifinals worked out, Safin was matched with Agassi, while Kuerten got Sampras. It was, ultimately, Safin who blinked: he won just three game against Agassi, and relinquished control of his own destiny. in the semis, while Guga lost the first-set tiebreaker, but then roared back to beat Sampras 6-4 in the third.

Marat Now, all Safin could do was hope that Agassi would beat Kuerten for the second time in a few days in order to earn the year-end no. 1 ranking.  But when greatness called, Kuerten answered. He played a superb match to throttle Agassi,  6-4,6-4,6-4. He thereby secured the year-end ranking via the last official match of the tennis year.

That effort, to my mind, represents one of the most courageous and bold performances of the Open era. Just look at the quality of the competition: Magnus Norman was the only player Kuerten had to play in Lisbon who had not won at least one major. And beating Sampras and Agassi in back to back matches, for the no. 1 ranking? Can you say, "pressure?" As it turned out a player who was often accused of being too blithe and easygoing - too "laid back" - emerged the hero. Ironically, it may have been Kuerten's relaxed temperament and attitude that enabled him to write his name in the history books. Cue that famous Alanis Morrisette pop song.

As Sampras would tell me, years later: "Guga had to beat me in that event, and then take down Andre Agassi in the final in order to clinch the Number One position. It was spelled out in black-and-white.  He did it, and it's one of the all-time great efforts, in a situation that couldn’t have contained more pressure. And he did it on a pretty fast indoor court, where he had only mediocre results for most of his career. Hats off to him. It was unforgettable."

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Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:22 PM

Pete: Thanks for this post. To me, winning that YEC the way he did was even more impressive than any of his FO wins.

Posted by greenhopper 10/03/2008 at 03:27 PM

Great choice of photos Pete! ;-)
Now off to read the rest of the post.

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:27 PM

Also, do I get a prize for being first on back to back posts? ;-)

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 03:28 PM

*joins Pete for a moment of silence*

I agree - Guga's victory in TMC'00 was one of the most momentous achievements and a great way to grab the YE #1!

Posted by Pete 10/03/2008 at 03:30 PM

yeah, Sam, you get to have a beer with Rafter instead of Jelena. . .;-)

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 03:33 PM

Sam: Seems like you did on two entirely different surfaces today. Doesn't it count as a TW 'Channel Slam' in the true sense? :D

Posted by Master Ace 10/03/2008 at 03:33 PM

Indeed for the great drama in 2000. Will the WTA YEC be similar this year? Before this week, I would have said yes that number 1 would be decided with the last match b/w a combination of Jelena, Serena, and Dinara. However, after a Serena loss to Li and then withdrawing from Moscow, I doubt number 1 will be decided on Sunday.

Tennis Fan,
Do JJ have a shot to clinch YEC number 1 before Doha?

Posted by avid sports fan (still smiling and believing in miracles) 10/03/2008 at 03:33 PM

Pete - Nice post. I was not following tennis that much at this point. But it really was a monumental effort by Guga to perform and get the desired result under pressure. It's always best when you can control your own destiny ;-)

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:34 PM

LOL Pete

Posted by Master Ace 10/03/2008 at 03:34 PM

Channel Slams are nothing when you do the Olympic Slam(twice).

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:35 PM

Arun: Yeah, it should!

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 03:37 PM

Sure, Master Ace.. I think we should start a GOAT debate - 'Sam vs Master Ace'!

Posted by avid sports fan (still smiling and believing in miracles) 10/03/2008 at 03:38 PM

Arun - Sam is already GOAT in the relaxation category ;-)

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 03:40 PM

ASF: I thought you stole that honor from him! ;-)

Posted by avid sports fan (still smiling and believing in miracles) 10/03/2008 at 03:42 PM

Arun - well I decided to relinquish it back to him, I cannot allow Sam not to be a GOAT not with aussiemarg's 5-line sentence description of accolades ;-)

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 10/03/2008 at 03:43 PM

Pete ...

Excellent piece.

You have Sampras' head-to-head record as 12-1 against Guga, but I think you meant to say 2-1.

Sampras and Guga played great matches together, and it's a shame they didn't get to face each other more often.

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:45 PM

avid: Aww, that's very sweet of you. I'll raise my glass to your while I'm relaxing tonight. ;-)

Posted by greenhopper 10/03/2008 at 03:46 PM

12-1, with the 1 that counted the most. Guga is the best!

Posted by greenhopper 10/03/2008 at 03:46 PM

I mean 2-1, as ATP would point out.

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 03:48 PM

Gosh, ASF! You decided become soooo magnanimous. I was trying to put together this relation..

ASF:'GOAT Stealer' :: JJ:'Massage Stealer'

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 03:48 PM

Quadruple Bagel: In addition to that YEC match in 2000, they had a tough battle at Miami (I think it was the same year).

Posted by avid sports fan (still smiling and believing in miracles) 10/03/2008 at 03:50 PM

Sam - cheers! *glasses clinking* ;-)

Arun - LOL!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 10/03/2008 at 03:51 PM

Ah, the perfect complement to Tignor's piece on Paul Newman and courage. It's a great day for the writers at, I'd say.

And yes, hats off to Guga--a fine human being himself!

Posted by Tennis Fan 10/03/2008 at 03:52 PM

"Do JJ have a shot to clinch YEC number 1 before Doha?"

Master Ace:

It could happen if JJ wins Stuttgart, Moscow and Zurich and everyone else in contention faulters. What is the likelihood of that?

"yeah, Sam, you get to have a beer with Rafter instead of Jelena. . .;-)"

There are many people that would relish an opportunity to have a beer with Jelena. But does she want to have one with you, that is the question.

Posted by ND 10/03/2008 at 03:52 PM

Nice one, Pete. Guga will always be one of my faves.

Posted by Pete 10/03/2008 at 03:59 PM

QB - hat tip on catching that typo - sorry, Greenhopper!

Posted by CL 10/03/2008 at 03:59 PM

Oh for Pete's sake Pete...can't a person relax at the keyboard without having images of excessive cuteness/hotness jump out at them. I can't figure out if I need a blankie or a cold shower.

Posted by greenhopper 10/03/2008 at 04:02 PM

LOL Pete. I thought, for a minute ATP was wrong, went over to wiki to check confirm the stats.

Posted by CL 10/03/2008 at 04:02 PM

Oh, BTW... that WAS a great run by Guga. It is such a shame that his body couldn't hold up under the unusual, even for a tennis player, amount of tourque he applied. I think the fact that he was so very slender helped him in some way but hurt him in others. He needed a lot of muscle (obliques?) to protect his frame and he just didn't have them.

Posted by VE 10/03/2008 at 04:36 PM

It's always funny that when greatness is brought up, I never think Kuerten. I'm more likely, in all honesty, to think of a Hewitt or a Safin who won 1 major fewer than Guga. Thanks for the reminder of an achievement that sits nicely alongside his three titles at RG.

Posted by Argiedude 10/03/2008 at 04:41 PM

"Kuerten was a great athlete with a pretty big serve and a great forehand. But he had two big disadvantages on fast surfaces - his long backswing and how far back he liked to play. I always had good luck with guys who stayed well back of the baseline, even great shotmakers and counter-punchers like Kuerten. I had plenty of time to play my shots, and I could attack at leisure. I always felt I could attack and pressure Guga, especially on the backhand side, hence my positive head-to-head (2-1)."

I'm not going to argue with the great Pistol Pete, but everybody here in southamerica thinks that Kuerten had a better backhand that forehand. Including Guga himself.

Posted by marcela 10/03/2008 at 04:48 PM

Thank you for this wonderful post on Guga, Pete. I especially liked this line: But when greatness called, Kuerten answered.

His run in Lisboa was truly amazing and he will always remain one of my favorites players.

Posted by Maplesugar at work 10/03/2008 at 04:48 PM

OMGawd! That picture of Marat!! He is sooooooooooooooo beautiful.

Thank you, thank you!

Posted by Rosangel 10/03/2008 at 04:59 PM

OK - I have dug out, from under many dusty tapes, my recording of that Kuerten win over Agassi. Encouragingly, it doesn't seem to take up too much tape space, so I should be able to watch it back in under two hours:) A great achievement, but I need to refresh my memory on this one.

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 05:01 PM

*hands Mapes a bib to help with the drooling*

Posted by marie j vamos rafa numero 1 ! 10/03/2008 at 05:09 PM

hey pete, good stuff, allways a pleasure to read you :)
you should post more often ! lol

we allways take greatness for granted, specially these days when fed and rafa make it look like routine... but, i know this is an historic decade, probably one of the greatest ever played.

it doesn't undermine other greatest achievments of the past.
guga had it in him, i'm sure he consider it was one shot in his career, because he wasn't competitive on all surfaces consistenly enough, but that year at the MC, he was simply due to be one great player carrying the number one.
without it his career wouldn't have been just the same, no ?
i'm glad he end his career having reach it.

Posted by bluesunflower 10/03/2008 at 05:10 PM

Thank you for this article I found very inspiring. I must confess I didnt/dont know a lot about Gustavo Kuerten.

Posted by 10/03/2008 at 05:13 PM

"OMGawd! That picture of Marat!! He is sooooooooooooooo beautiful."

I second that!

Posted by Tari 10/03/2008 at 05:24 PM

Pete - Aww. How could anyone *not* love Guga?? Really enjoyed this. Great pic, too!!!

And on the Marat pic. Well, I still don't get the fuss over him. Marat makes me smile because he's such a character, and he had a beautiful game at his best, but...that's it. :)

Posted by Tari 10/03/2008 at 05:30 PM

Uh...should clarify and say that I'm not slamming anyone's taste!!! :))

*cough* Lendl *cough*

Posted by marie j vamos rafa numero 1 ! 10/03/2008 at 05:40 PM

tari, i can understand why rafa is not your type, but marat ??? really ? oh well... even in that pic ???
you're a tough woman :) lol

btw, pete loved that part :
Pause for a moment of silence, please, and then let's all go to Marat's place and drink vodka and party with his delicious bevy of Muscovite beauties and his cool hip-hugger jean wearing buddies - to hail with what might have been!

yeah, that's marat, the tennis guy who could have been mighty...
whatever happens to him, he'll surprise us, no doubt.

Posted by Sam 10/03/2008 at 05:40 PM

Tari: Good cover. ;-)

Ros: I think you'll be very impressed with the way Kuerten played in that match against Agassi.

Posted by Tari 10/03/2008 at 05:55 PM

mariej: Don't mind me! ;-) Chalk it up to my quirky taste. Brad Pitt doesn't turn my head either!

But nope. Not even in that pic. :))

Posted by skip1515 10/03/2008 at 06:01 PM

Pete wrote about Pete's saying about Kuerten:

"he had two big disadvantages on fast surfaces - his long backswing and how far back he liked to play."

Well, given the opportunity I might change that to "how far back he HAD to play with his long backswing," but if I did I could be legitimately charged with picking nits.

Guga deserves another accolade: the only player who could pull off that color yellow.

Posted by sonya 10/03/2008 at 06:35 PM

tari, ohmygod, i thought i had a problem, i tried many times but i can't understand what exactly is sexy about that guy. but then again i find jessica alba merely pretty and angelina jolie striking but not much more than that. i prefer the likes of charlize theron, nicole kidman, the elegance and coolness, aristocratic beauty.
i also like guga even though i haven't seen him play a lot. he just seems so nice and easy-going.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeee!!!) 10/03/2008 at 06:42 PM

"Safin won seven tournaments that year, nearly half of his entire career output."

*weeps* Oh, Marat. *sigh*

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/03/2008 at 06:44 PM

pete again great post, also may i join you in saying that was a masterclass performance by guga,wow,vamos and all that,i was a huge fan,but hey,i just love the greatness of the clay courters, i would love you to do a piece one day of my all time idol Borg,mm faints,of what you would have to say there Pete ?

I think guga answered everyone in that match,the pressure etc,he was a beautiful ground stroker,gee Pete, i am showing my age,methinks thats a number anyway,also he did possess a great f/hand.

also stop it Pete,what a way to get anyones blood pressure up,and others things for that matter,that picture of Marat, shirtless, stop teasing the females here at TW,wow you certainly know our weak points,dont you,methinks Pete,you lurk,know exactly what we think of the major tennis god, eye candy,also not a bad player either!

Posted by Eric 10/03/2008 at 06:48 PM

Guga also had a more devastating hairstyle than anyone on the tour. That afro-mullet was probably good for 2-3 break points per match. Awesome guy. Really enjoyed seeing him presented with a piece of the terre batue at Roland Garros this year.

Easily one of the half-dozen best clay courters ever. Nadal, Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Bruguera, Kuerten. Not necessarily in that order.

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 06:57 PM

[but then again i find jessica alba merely pretty and angelina jolie striking but not much more than that. i prefer the likes of charlize theron, nicole kidman, the elegance and coolness, aristocratic beauty.]


Eric: Though he didn't win as many big ones as the others, I think Vilas also belongs to that category (46 clay-court titles)

Posted by Chiconinja 10/03/2008 at 07:03 PM

That point late in the 3rd set when Guga broke Sampras almost touching the net.

One of my favorite points ever.

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/03/2008 at 07:10 PM

aurn ooops thank you for reminding of the vilas,you know still to this day,he really has given rafa the praise he duly deserves,oh well,good luck to him i say., a bit of the you know what there, i believe,though it amazes me,when i hear these so called tennis critics say theat rafa, will end up,burnt out like vilas,will go the same way,even here in oz,i have heard the same thing,gee i wish i had their magic vision, as i say we goona see.......?.

Posted by Chiconinja 10/03/2008 at 07:10 PM


I went back and saw the point.

It was facing a break point serving 5-4.

Still, awesome shot.

Posted by Paul 10/03/2008 at 07:12 PM

Pete - I think you mean Marcelo Rios challenged Sampras in 1998, not 1988.

Posted by Emma (murray's mint, but he's not rafalicious!) 10/03/2008 at 07:20 PM

that was really interesting pete.
"Safin won seven tournaments that year, nearly half of his entire career output", aww Marat, you are your own worst enemy..
loved your choice of pics also, even if they were very distracting!!!

Posted by Grant 10/03/2008 at 07:27 PM

Paul - what's interesting is that Pete made the exact same mistake in his 'Marcelo and Jelena' entry. Perhaps he can no longer hide his obsession with the late eighties.

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 07:29 PM

AM: Yes - I've seen some Youtube videos of Vilas; I thought he played aggressive clay-court Tennis.

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!) 10/03/2008 at 07:32 PM

oh geez - now i'm all "i miss guga" again. thanks for the article on him Pete, I loved guga. i'll admit, I was still in my 'i will NOT follow tennis, I do not find it fascinating' for much of guga's career, but I know I loved watching him on hard courts. He was one of the first 'clay specialists' that translated well to the faster courts. I just loved watching him.

I didn't see this particular match, but what an amazing accomplishment, to keep his nerve and get through both Pete and Andre to take the championship. Why is it that some players have that heart, and some don't? What is it about their makeup that allows them to steel themselves and NOT to falter?

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/03/2008 at 07:32 PM

arun ok,i love the way you said i say youtube videos of vilas,me too arun,as you know,being 25 yrs old,i am also in awe of these players,hey i say that,with a lot of tongue in cheek, lol!

Posted by beth 10/03/2008 at 07:41 PM

great post , Pete
an article about Guga , who was always a favorite of mine
and a totally great photo of Marat
who could ask for more ?
what a great Friday !
I remember those matches - watched them very intently
some really pressure tennis and Guga delivered

Posted by Arun 10/03/2008 at 07:48 PM

Aussiemarg: You always crack me up with that '25' and "Sam's Mantra"! :-)

Posted by beth 10/03/2008 at 07:52 PM

jb- I do not know what it is
but I wish I had just a little bit of it when I play
It would make closing out a match so much easier

of course , it would also help if I had a 100 mph serve - but I don't see that happening any time soon :)

Posted by Andrea 10/03/2008 at 08:32 PM

Great post. Guga is missed.

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!) 10/03/2008 at 08:41 PM

lol beth - a 100 mph serve would definately help.

But really, I do watch these players and just have to admire them. I try to not throw around the dreaded 'choke' word and pfft a player who manages to lose, as for me, its not a wonder that a player chokes, its more an amazing feat when one doesn't!

God knows I'd be a blithering idiot, asking if i could have some cream cheese w/ my bagels...

Posted by ncot 10/03/2008 at 08:47 PM

pete, thanks very much for this wonderful tribute to my all-time favorite player, guga. :)

Posted by Marian...wtg Rafa! 10/03/2008 at 09:24 PM

Well, at least I'm happy for Safin's discipline to keep playing tennis and enjoying it. Hope for more of the same in 2009!

Posted by Ja 10/03/2008 at 10:32 PM

ahhh, i love guga, such a beautiful smile,
and i agree with Argiedude, his backhand is more remembered than his forehand.

Posted by 10/03/2008 at 11:32 PM

Argiedude - that was a very nicely put comment, and I agree with you. I know Kuerten's bh was a thing of great beauty. So I think I'm going to go back to Pete on that and just re-confirm with him (when I get a chance), which I should have done in the first place but you know how things fall between the cracks sometimes and you get a little cross-eyed. Maybe Pete just mispoke. I'm kind of intrigued by this now because a little alarm bell did go off when I reproduced that quote today and I just chose to shrug and say, "Well Pete said it. .." I'll keep you posted. . .

Posted by jewell 10/03/2008 at 11:38 PM

Nice post. I loved Guga but in the UK I didn't get to see very much of him, except at FO final.

Tari at 5.24, can I join the "I don't get the Marat appeal even though I like him" club?

Posted by Syd 10/03/2008 at 11:53 PM

Nice post on Guga Pete, thanks.

He was one of my favs at the time. Kafelnikov called Guga "Picasso" due to his beautiful topspin groundstrokes...I think the name stuck for a bit. Anyway, he is sorely missed and it is just a tragedy that he had to go out the way he did.

Posted by DMan 10/04/2008 at 02:25 AM

Pete - Nice reminder of what Kuerten did back in 2000.

One of those years that the ATP loves when their YEC final match determines the year end #1 raking. So rare that it happens that way.

To go back to your post from the other day, and the whole WTA ranking system debacle. I long for the days when you and your Tennis Mag cohorts used to compile your year end top 1o ranking lists, they would then combine them all and average out to determine Tennis Magazine's (and when they were around World Tennis Magazine) #1 and top 10 lists. I always felt the magazines got it right, as opposed to the computer rankings. I wish Tennis would do that again. Unfortunately, the computer is seen as infallible these days. I know the ITF also announces a year end #1 player (if anyone pays attention to that... and should they after the ITF named Anastasia Myskina #1 in 2004?). But kind of like the college football amalgam of experts ranking all the players, and taking into account head-to-head, overall performance in majors and big events, etc, I feel the so called experts would do a better job of ranking players. The way both the WTA and ATP ranking system works now, they reward players based on quantity, not quality. Those who play more get ranked higher. A perfect example? See: Jankovic, J.

Evey year my wish list for the pro game is that the ranking system will be changed back to an average system, where every tournament result counts (and afterall why shouldn't every event count?) and players are ranked by their average # of points for tournaments. For those that want to play a lot of events, there is money to be had. And bonus money for fulfilling commitments and finishing first or high in the 'bonus pool' list. And those are good things. But for ranking based on results, just getting to a lot of quarters, semis, and finals shouldn't put you at the top or near the very top of the ranking list. (see Kuznetsova, S. for another example of what *not* winning tournaments will do for your ranking)

Posted by Second Serve 10/04/2008 at 02:58 AM

Thanks Pete, for bringing that great Guga moment to life. I wasn't watching tennis back then, and reading out that moment in wikipedia is just not the same.

About that 100 mph serve, is a 100 km/hr serve close enough? Too bad mine doesn't land in the court.

Posted by Second Serve 10/04/2008 at 03:54 AM

Now that the YE#1 issue is back on the table, could anyone enlighten me on this subject of ranking point accumulation.

The ATP determines ranking from 18 events. The rules seem pretty clear. The 4 grand slam events always count, and the same goes for the 9 masters tournaments. That leave 5 other results with second chances. If you play more than five, only the top 5 counts. If you make the year end championship, the points earned are gravy. I can understand that.

The WTA determines ranking from 17 events. We have 4 grand slam events and 9 tier I tournaments, leaving room for 4 others. Capping the tally at 17 events gives 1 less chance to lump minor tournaments into the tally, but WTA is the organization singled out as the one that favors quantity over quality -- with JJ derided ad nauseam as the poster child.

But there is one potential loophole. WTA's ranking rule describes 4 grand slam tournament and the mandatory Tier I tournament. The singular is always used, but it is never specified which one of the 9 tier I tournaments is mandatory. This in contrast to the ATP rule where all 9 masters tournaments are mandatory. If the use of singular is correct, then there is indeed more room for substitution within WTA, and therefore more chances to reward players like JJ.

That is just hand waving from me so far. I need someone with deeper understanding of tennis rankings here.

Posted by Laura 10/04/2008 at 07:12 AM

I love the choice of the picture Pete.
Wasn't watching tennis back then so I feel that I should look up Guga to find out more about him

Posted by Blake 10/04/2008 at 11:56 AM

Second Serve brings up a number of facts that justify more conversation. My belief is that the WTA Tour structure (which seems to be changing within the next 2-3 years) is a big part of the problem. The men have the Master Series, and these tournaments are clearly defined as the cream of the crop behind the Slams. On the other hand, besides the obvious events such as Indian Wells, Miami and Rome, for example, the WTA fails to clearly detail which tournaments are the most important (i.e. Tier I).

I feel that if they were to create a series such as the ATP (and again, the plans are to create more cohesiveness in this regard), then the WTA Tour would build more momentum and be able to make great strides in terms of prestige and prize money. I'm a fairly devout fan, but it's still hard to determine which tournaments are Tier I's, as it seems so flexible from year-to-year.

I've always felt that 4 Grand Slams, 7-8 Master Series, YEC and 3 other tournaments (15-16 total) would be a legit ranking system, if only these tournaments were clearly defined in terms of importance. I think that's the major problem at this point in time, with the allocation of points being a part of that problem. If I'm correct, Miami (a pinnacle of the schedule) is judged the same as Tokyo (played 2 weeks after the Open). Of course, many of these points are moot due to the new Roadmap.

Posted by tad oliver 10/04/2008 at 12:14 PM

yeah i remember the semifinals of the masters cup in 2000. agassi won the aussie that year, guga the french, pete won wimby and marat won the us open.
never expected marat to lose that badly to andre.
guga definitely deserved that no.1 ranking.

btw, the semis featured the so-called new balls(guga,marat) vs the old balls.

speaking of "new balls", that generation(with the exception of roger and to a lesser extent hewitt) never really dominated the game the way they're supposed to. they let guys like t.johansson and a.costa and gaudio win majors. verkerk and schuetler and philippoussis were also surprise finalists.

during the time of sampras-agassi, the only "surprise" slam winner is petr korda.

Posted by tina 10/04/2008 at 04:17 PM

Erm, there are women here who don't "get" the appeal of Marat Safin?! I have to say that surprises me. But I guess he's my type - and only yesterday I enjoyed a Safin-fest on YouTube. I'm no Muscovite beauty, but I've impressed Russians with my vodka drinking. In this regard, we need not think of an elegy for Marat - what might have been - for I'm sure now he's even more free to enjoy parties like this.

Pete: perhaps that's where "Mikey" is.

Posted by tina 10/04/2008 at 04:21 PM

p.s. I once drove surprise Slam winner Petr Korda around the New Haven area in my mother's 1986 Taurus wagon - and when I returned him to the hotel, there was a vodka party in progress at the pool. It was about as "glamorous" as my mother's 1986 Taurus wagon.

Posted by Master Ace 10/04/2008 at 04:57 PM

Next year the WTA is changing their minimum requirements for top players:

4 Slams
4 Mandatory Events (Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, Madrid, Beijing)
4 or 5 2 mil events (Dubai, Rome, Cincinnati, Toronto, Tokyo)
1 or 2 other premier events (Sydney, Paris, Charleston, Stuttgart, Berlin, Eastbourne, Stanford, Los Angeles, New Haven, Moscow)

Under 2 mil events, if a player chooses only 4 events, the 5th one will be mandatory for them next year

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 10/04/2008 at 04:59 PM


You can't possibly tell us that story without explaining HOW that came about. Details, please! :)

I'm afraid I have to join Tari and Jewell in the "I don't get the Marat appeal even though I like him" club." He's a dead ringer for McSteamy on Grey's Anatomy and I wouldn't pick him, either!

Posted by tina 10/04/2008 at 05:18 PM

Ok, tangi. August 1990. I was living in Manhattan and thus didn't own a car. I was casting about some ideas for Interview magazine, and had decided Ivanisevic would make an interesting subject, though he was just shy of 19 and ranked 15. New Haven is my hometown, and though I'd actually driven a rental car up to Vermont for the Pilot Pen's initial incarnation as the Volvo Stratton Mountain, it sure was easier to visit my folks and go to some matches there. Which meant borrowing mom's car. Goran was playing doubles with Korda, and I ended up ferrying them around for the evening to a dinner hosted by a colleague of Srdjan Ivanisevic who was teaching at Yale, which they politely endured, and then back to the tournament hotel where a South African player whose name I can't think of at the moment, Christian something?, alerted us to the party when we got into the elevator. Having not been offered so much as a glass of wine at dinner - odd, for Splicanki - and curious about the off-court lives of tennis players, I convinced Goran and Petr to check it out.

McSteamy doesn't do anything for me, either. But he doesn't have an accent. Or, from what I can tell, a sense of humor.

Posted by tina 10/04/2008 at 05:23 PM

Oh - it was Christo van Rensberg.

Posted by Blake 10/04/2008 at 07:39 PM

Yes, Master Class, and thanks for the information as well. Unfortunately, this system isn't place right now, which is causing all the "controversy".

Posted by Second Serve 10/04/2008 at 08:08 PM

It is Master Ace to the rescue again. Thank!
I can get back to work on putting that serve down again.

Posted by federerfan 10/04/2008 at 10:45 PM

until i read this anytime i heard the mention of gustavo being #1, i would smirk at it and move on, but this makes me appreciate his efforts and recognize him as a true year end #1, thanks Pete.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 10/05/2008 at 03:05 PM

Hey, Pete -- TWers

Well, I don't have the time to take a close look at TW (especially the comments section) anymore, but I try to whenever I can. So, even with a slight delay, here I am.

I enjoyed this post, since it is about two champions I got to know at a very young age and in their formative years, through smaller and more intimate tournaments here in Portugal.

I met Guga for the first time in the mid 90ies, playing a Satellite Circuit near Lisbon. He won one week of a particular Satellite Circuit (his first international pro win, in 1995 if I remember well) and he could hit a heavy ball, but I confess -- contrary to what I thought of Marat -- that I didn't expect him to be that good.

The following years, we would have dinner in a pizzeria near the hotel we usually stayed in while in Paris for Roland Garros (mine was the Pierre & Vacances, his was some other one) and in 1996 he played a pretty good match against Wayne Ferreira in the first round; I remember telling him something like «hey, next time, with one year of experience on the tour, you can go all the way to the 4th round...».

Well, the year after he won the tournament -- but a month before he played our Estoril Open. He'd beaten Andre Agassi early in the year and at the Estoril Open he did lose in the singles first round against Francisco Clavet... but won the first set playing incredibly, hitting those incredible backhands down the line with that long arm of his. We talked a bit after that match and I told him «Sampras would give his derriere to have your backhand» (pardon me my vulgar metaphor here, please). He won the doubles title with Fernando Meligeni and then went surfing in a surfer's beach nearby called Praia do Guincho.

A few weeks later... he won Roland Garros. That year I stayed home (I covered Wimbledon, someone else went to Paris) and followed his matches on tv -- I was so emotional supporting him and shouting «Vamos lá, Guga» ('C'mon, Guga') so many times that to my older daughter Francisca, who wasn't even 2 years old by then, 'Guga' became a synonim for 'tennis'! In 1999, when Guga lost to Marcelo Rios in the quarters at the Estoril Open, I finally intrfoduced Francisca to Guga -- she gave him an autographed draw of him... featuring his ponytail, of course.

Guga came back to Portugal in 2000 -- having a shot at the year-end number one together with Marat Safin. His right leg and back were really bad during his first round loss to Andre Agassi (who won 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 and saved 7 of 8 break-points), but I noticed he was serving better than ever. The funny/serious (pick one) anecdote about the situation was that after that match Guga's mother and some other members of the family went on some sort of pilgrimage to the religious center of Fatima 120 kms away from Lisbon and prayed for Guga's health... because Guga's back was so bad he considered not playing anymore in the tournament (on a side note -- and I'm not a very religious person: in 1990, Andres Gomez lost in the first round at the Estoril Open and his career was in dire straits; he went to Fatima and then in the following week he won Barcelona, then Madrid, was a semifinalist in Rome and won Roland Garros at 30!).

Somehow, after having a day off and playing the last match the following day, Guga recovered -- also with the help from the magic hands of ATP physio Bill Norris. He won his next two round robin matches against Magnus Norman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov and then faced Sampras in the semis. His positioning on the court was way back returning Pete's serve -- but he did return well, served huge (saved 9 of 10 break-points) and especially fired incredible passing-shots off his backhand... including a miraculous short crosscourt one I still remember until this day (was it on a break-point at 4-4 in the third? maybe), closing the match with his opponent trademark: an ace! He declared it «the most important single win of my career».

In the final, Guga served great again (19 aces) was also played like in a trance. The ambiance was incredible in Lisbon's futuristic Pavilhão Atlantico -- with its wooden ceilings reminiscent of the ships used by portuguese mariners when they discovered Brasil. There were a lot of brasilians in the arena (there are a lot working in Portugal) and a lot of portuguese were supporting Guga, but mostly were supporting both -- yes, it was a hard pick, since Agassi was really popular. When Guga won, there was a big carnival of a show (after three huge standing ovations when Agassi got his runner-up trophy, unbelievable!) and then I was supposed to meet Guga and take him to the press room. The arena was going crazy, the ambiance was incredibly emotional and we faced eachother on the corridor paralel to the court; I looked at him and told him: «Guga, és número um!» (Guga, you're number one!) and, amidst all the noise and fanfare, he put his hand over my shoulder and told me calmly with a portuguese accent «Pois sou, pá» ('Indeed I am, my man'; the difference between portuguese and brasilian portuguese can be compared to the difference between english and american english).

And that is the moment I remember the most about Guga. He was the calmest guy in the arena -- the place was almost going down with joy! -- at the very moment of his improbable win in the Masters Cup, after beating Kafelnikov, Sampras and Agassi in succession and becoming the year-end number one in the very last match of 2000.

About Marat (I don't know where my post from 2006, 'Being El Maratski', went -- it's not in the archives), he had to beat Sampras in the last match of the round robin stage in order to be assured of the number one and Sampras had to beat him in 2 sets; the outcome was the opposite of the US Open final in that year. Marat could still be number one by beating Agassi in the semis, but couldn't close it down -- he was slipping a lot, twisted a bit his ankle and threw his adidas away in anger...

Guga didn't put extra pressure on his shoulders by thinking about the number one spot. Before the semifinals, he declared himself incredibly happy by just being a semifinalist of the Masters Cup and kept saying tha Safin deserved the number one spot -- even after the semifinals he kept saying that.

But, in the end, he was the 'número um'. Grande guga!

Posted by Miguel Seabra 10/05/2008 at 03:10 PM

Oh, and when I see Juan Martin del Potro play he reminds me a lot of Guga -- a tall, thin guy with long arms capable of catapulting the ball at a considerable speed...

Posted by Ro'ee 10/05/2008 at 05:13 PM

Mikey, this one's 4 u:

Posted by tina 10/05/2008 at 05:37 PM

Miguel - get ready, my friend. I really AM going to Estoril next year!

Posted by Rosangel 10/05/2008 at 05:49 PM

A heartfelt thankyou for your account about Guga, Miguel. It so happens that he was one of the players that was inspiring me around that time - I was lucky enough to travel to see him play at Roland Garros - loved the whole experience, of course.

And one day, when my current Rafa Euro-Slam exercise is over, I intend to make it to Portugal for that Estoril Open of yours. I've been to Portugal, of course, and even to Estoril, but never yet to watch tennis.

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/05/2008 at 06:46 PM

miguel seabra, many thanks,for your owm memories of the guga,i really enjoyed it,yes he was a very calm player,as you said,its funny when we go back in the past,different memories come flooding back,Roland Garos,is there no other,that grand stadium,holds so many great,fond memories,for me,especially,Guga,Borg,Rafa,we can buy all the dvd's,to refresh,our memories,but the greatest ones,i believe,lie deep in our minds.

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/05/2008 at 06:57 PM

miguel seabra, many thanks for your memories of guga,its funny when we go back into the past,all these great moments,come flooding back,dont they?,yes guga was a very calm sort of guy,especially on the court,Roland Garos,for me,holds the best and fondest ones,is there no other?, Guga,Borg,Rafa, to new a few,we can all go out and buy these great games on dvd now,but the most treasured ones,remain deep in our minds.

Posted by aussiemarg{true lover of all things spanish also learing the lingo} 10/05/2008 at 06:58 PM

oops sorry for the double post there,i thought the first one,went into cyber space,oh well!

Posted by tina 10/05/2008 at 07:53 PM

Oh - and perhaps I, a lapsed Catholic, should make that pilgrimage to Fatima, too. Is it some place where I will have to walk barefoot up a hill, like Croagh Patrick in Ireland? Or simply a site to visit and meditate - like Medugorje or Lourdes? With my medical history, couldn't hurt...

Posted by Miguel Seabra 10/05/2008 at 11:44 PM


Ro'ee, so that angled backhand crosscourt passing-shot i remember so vividly wasn't at 4-4 in the third after all... that youtube videoclip of yours brought some great memories. Maybe there are some of the prize giving cerimony as well, i'll try to take a look at them.

Tina, Fatima is a place like Lourdes, i guess -- famous by some sightings of the Virgin early on last century.

Posted by tina 10/06/2008 at 09:16 AM

Well, that makes it more attractive, for sure. I've done Croagh Patrick barefoot. I'm less in the mood for pain these days.

Posted by Jaison Niehues 10/06/2008 at 01:30 PM

Guga was amazing... it was a misfortune all his enjuries, he still can be playing this days. I'm from his hometown and all here love Guga. Congratulations for your post.

Posted by leonardo 10/06/2008 at 01:41 PM

o brasil e foda,o guga e foda

Posted by 10/06/2008 at 03:27 PM

Btw, you don't suppose Sampras's record against Kuerten also had something to do with the fact that he never played him on clay, do you?
I mean, nobody ever mentions that while about a third of the tournaments were played on clay Pete would hardly ever face the big guns on it. He had losing clay records against Agassi, Rafter, Courier, Chang, Safin etc., but he never played Guga. If we're gonna mention how Nadal's record against Raja's is affected by having played over 50% on clay, how about mentioning that Pete's great record against other top players has something to do with rarely meeting them on clay.

Posted by gustavo kloh 10/06/2008 at 07:29 PM

watch the end of the game on youtube:

must see!!!!!

Posted by Luis Felipe 10/07/2008 at 07:53 AM

I cry every time I see this video, specialy the break point at 5-4.
Unbeliveble Guga!!!

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