THE LAST two weeks have seen the climax of the professional tennis season that will only resume in earnest next January. In Los Angeles, the world’s top eight ladies gathered to fight it out for the 2004 Masters title and the http://www. million first prize that went with it. In the absence of the injured Belgian pair, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, who won last year, no less than five Russian players were present.
Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Zvonareva, Myskina and Dementieva took on France’s Amelie Mauresmo and the American duo Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams in two round robin groups of four. A rejuvenated Williams emerged to reach the final with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Mauresmo, a result that prevented the French player from deposing Lindsay Davenport as the end-of-year world number one. Facing her was 17-year-old Wimbledon champion, Maria Sharapova, who had beaten fellow Russian Anastasia Myskina 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in her semifinal.
There was to be no revenge for Williams in the All-England Championships Final repeat, as Sharapova took the title 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 proving that she is more than a Kournikova successor both on and off the court. Described by her opponent as “very hot”, the teenager, now ranked 4 in the world, represents a new and fresh generation of competitors, heralding a change of the guard already on the scene.
The focus then switched to Houston where the best men in the world joined battle. Tim Henman took his place in the ‘Blue’ group largely thanks to Andre Agassi’s late withdrawal but failed to get the better of either Marat Safin or Andy Roddick who both progressed to the semifinal stage. In the ‘Red’ group, World No. 1, Roger Federer, who took this title in 2003, dropped only a single set while routing the opposition presented by Hewitt, Moya and Gaudio. Hewitt came out best of this losing trio, joining the Swiss in the semis, where he outgunned Andy Roddick in straight sets to face Federer once more in the final. Federer had demonstrated his artistry by forcing Safin into semifinal submission 6-3, 7-6, the tie-break going to an amazing 20-18.
Federer has lost only six matches all year and is without doubt the best player in the world. Hewitt has potential, energy and aggression, qualities that have stood him in good stead winning this title in 2001 and 2002. But there is no denying a Federer on top of his game. He took the first set 6-3 and after breaking Hewitt’s serve to take a 3 -2 lead in the second, the Australian capitulated, winning only another four points, as the Swiss World Number one surged to take the title.