Charleston tennis news compiled by Mike Saia.
Non-cited stories by James Beck, Post and Courier.

Winner: 2018 USTA South Carolina Media Excellence Award

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(12/16/97)  Fed Cup coming to Kiawah
Grand Prix-level tennis is returning to the Charleston area after an eight-year absence. Kiawah Island again will serve as the host. This time it's the first round of the 1998 KB Fed Cup international women's competition, pitting the United States against the Netherlands April 18-19 at Kiawah Island's East Beach Tennis Club. That's the same site as the 1990 U.S. Clay Court Championships.

U.S. captain Billie Jean King hasn't announced her team yet, but the former tennis great certainly will have her fingers crossed that top-five ranked players Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport will be available. Neither participated earlier this year when Holland upset the U.S. team in a first-round match in Haarlem, Netherlands. But in 1996 when the U.S. snapped Spain's three-year domination of the Fed Cup, Davenport was the singles and doubles star.

The U.S. Tennis Association and Kiawah Island made the site announcement Monday.

According to Fed Cup officials, Kiawah Island is the perfect site for this international competition for several reasons. One is that Kiawah is among the highest-rated tennis resorts in the country (No. 3 by Tennis Magazine). Another reason is Kiawah's experience in hosting big-time events such as golf's premier Ryder Cup and and last month's World Cup.

But ultimately the reason behind the selection of Kiawah Island probably was the fact the resort has clay courts and it is located right up the coast from Hilton Head Island and Amelia Island, Fla. The Corel WTA Tour's Family Circle Magazine Cup and Bausch & Lomb Championships will be held on clay surfaces at Hilton Head Island and Amelia Island in the two weeks prior to the Fed Cup.

King and her players preferred the clay surface to neutralize the big-serving game of the Netherlands' Brenda Shultz-McCarthy. Mariam Oremans was Holland's other singles player in the last meeting, with Kristie Boogert and Manon Bollegraf teaming up in doubles.

They defeated the U.S. team of singles players Mary Joe Fernandez and Chanda Rubin and doubles team of Kimberly Po and Gigi Fernandez, 3-2, before losing to France in the Fed Cup final.

A 3,000-seat stadium will be constructed for the Fed Cup matches, according to Kiawah Island tennis director Roy Barth. The competition will be held opposite the final weekend of the Heritage Golf Classic at Hilton Head Island.

"I've been looking for an event the last two or three years," said Barth, a former Grand Prix player. "I go to all the USTA meetings and always attend the Davis Cup and those kind of meetings.

"We are very excited to have this. It's the first big (tennis) event since the Clay Courts. Our company, the Kiawah Island Golf and Tennis Resort, is very interested in getting events such as this.

"Any kind of international event is exciting. This definitely will be a different type of event. It will give people in Charleston a chance to come out and root for their country."

The Fed Cup format is similar to that of the Davis Cup, but with two singles matches on Saturday and two more on Sunday before a doubles match closes out the competition. The United States has won 15 Fed Cups, more than any other country.

After losing to Holland earlier this year, the United States defeated Japan, 5-0, in a playoff to advance to the 1998 World Group I Fed Cup competition along with the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

"Kiawah had shown an interest and it just makes sense with the women just coming off the pre-spring season in the Southeast and then going to Europe to keep them on the East coast," U.S. Fed Cup chairman Carole Graebner said by telephone Monday from New York.

While Graebner of Tennis Week Magazine works with the Fed Cup as a volunteer. She was appointed by USTA president Harry Marmion.

"The top women's international team competition deserves to be held at one of the best tennis facilities in the country," Marmion said. "I know Kiawah will do a wonderful job of hosting the event, as they did in 1990 when they hosted our U.S. Clay Court Championships."

Jeff Ryan, the USTA's manager of the Fed Cup, said Monday from New York, "Kiawah is a nice facility. It's ranked pretty high and they've had the Clay Courts there before and done real well. We felt the Fed Cup would fit in real well there and Kiawah was standing there with arms wide open to hold it."

KB, Komercni Banka, is an international sponsor of the Fed Cup, along with Opel/GM and Nike.

(12/14/97)  It's time to be worried, people

Isn't it time to sound an alarm in the local tennis community when the city's head pro resigns to switch to Macon, Ga.? Public tennis here has room for vast improvement. Tennis has been put on the back burner and ignored by the city as well as the county for more than a decade while emphasis has been directed toward other ventures, primarily the tourist industry. Isn't it time for a wake up call before another generation of youth pass through the city and county without having the benefit of adequate public facilities and focused direction?

Arthur Anastopoulo's decision to leave Charleston to become superintendent of tennis in Macon is a major loss to local tennis. The city is now presented with a challenge to improve. It should take advantage of this new beginning to make a long overdue commitment to the tennis community.

Anastopoulo is moving to Macon simply because the Georgia city offers him and his family a far better opportunity. This wasn't a small move. Anastopoulo grew up in Charleston and has strong family ties here as well as in the large Greek community.

He'll be a city employee in Macon, with all the benefits and perks that accompany such positions. He'll have a pension and a 401K, even life insurance. In Charleston, he was just an independent contractor who taught the game of tennis for 14 years. He even had to purchase his own disability insurance. His only benefit was health insurance.

Even the two head pros who will work under Anastopoulo in Macon are city employees, with city benefits. They have that added incentive to make tennis special in Macon. Tennis is fun, but security is something to really smile about.

Macon has two quality tennis centers, one with 24 courts and one with 12 courts. Both have clubhouses and pro shops. Yes, real tennis facilities. Charleston, of course, has only one quality public tennis complex, with 15 courts.

In the spring and fall when high school and USTA League schedules are in full swing, adults and juniors not involved in these two groups might as well switch to a different sport from 4 p.m. until closing time. There are a few other city courts scattered around, but the two courts at the corner of Broad Street and Ashley Avenue may be the only ones that offer what many juniors and adults place the greatest emphasis on - quality courts in a secure area.

Charleston has erred for more than a decade, sitting back and letting the rest of tennis move forward. The little up-state town of Belton probably has more tennis courts than Charleston. And you wonder why Belton is usually regarded as the tennis capital of this state?

It's too late for Anastopoulo, but the city now has a chance to do something right: to search for and hire a tennis pro who can make a difference to the youth and to give the new pro the responsibility of masterminding the tennis operations of the city - a job similar to what Anastopoulo will have in Macon. Only then will Charleston begin to achieve its true potential in tennis and enjoy the success this city and area deserve.

A Fleming memorial?

A group of friends of the late Alan Fleming, the long-time resident of Seabrook Island and father of former pro doubles great Peter Fleming, is pushing for an Alan Fleming Memorial Tennis Center on John's Island.

Tom Kent, one of the group's leaders, writes, "With some constructive encouragement and some outside funding we believe there is a real opportunity to build some public courts in the relatively near future. Preliminary estimates for a nice six-court complex approximates $150,000. If we can raise 50 percent or more of the required funds for this project we will be able to have it dedicated as `The Alan Fleming Memorial Tennis Center.'"

This interest in public courts on John's Island started in 1996 when The Club at Seabrook Island opened its courts and made its pros available to instruct Jim Gansrow's new tennis program at St. John's High School.

"Teaching clinics and home matches were and are being played on The Club's courts one day per week. These kids are enthusiastic (and we have had up to 18-20 at a time doing drills at afternoon clinics). They and hundreds of others, young and old alike, deserve our support."

Hagood most improved

Charleston's Mary Neill Hagood was given the most improved junior girls award at last weekend's S.C. Tennis Association's awards banquet at Hilton Head Island. Hagood won the girls' 14 title at this year's Palmetto Championships.

Rating day set
Anyone who plans to play in the USTA League next spring and doesn't have a USTA rating can be rated Jan. 3 in Summerville by contacting Susan Mock (871-6591).

(12/09/97)  Anastopoulo leaving for Macon

Arthur Anastopoulo, who grew up on Charleston's public courts and then served 14 years as the city's tennis pro, is resigning from that position to become tennis superintendent for the city of Macon, Ga. Anastopoulo has been Charleston's tennis pro since 1984, after an All-America career at the University of South Carolina. His resignation will be effective Jan. 5.

During his competitive career, he won virtually every tennis title in the state, including numerous city and state titles. After college, he played Davis Cup tennis for Greece, as well as competed on the professional tour. He played in the U.S. Open, French Open and Italian Open.

Anastopoulo's duties will expand dramatically in Macon, where he will replace longtime superintendent Randy Stephens, who is leaving to become a stock broker. Anastopoulo will direct all aspects of tennis for one of the top city programs in the South.

In Charleston, Anastopoulo has been limited to duties as a teaching pro at 15-court Charleston Tennis Center on Farmfield Avenue. Macon, with its 24-court John Drew Tennis Center and 12-court Tatnall Tennis Center, will give Anastopoulo increased responsibilities as well as opportunities for growth.

"The tennis superintendent position is an exceptional opportunity," Anastopoulo said. "It's one of the premier tennis positions in the South."

Macon serves annually as a host for the Southern Tennis Association's Junior Championships.

"I will miss many of the people who have touched my family's life and me. I am glad to have been a part of the success with the tennis program in Charleston. Now that my children are young, now is the best time for me to accept a new challenge with a tremendous tennis program and tennis facility."

Anastopoulo learned tennis on the city courts at what is now Jack Adams Tennis Center next to The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium. He was one of the top juniors in the state and South throughout his junior years. He then received a tennis scholarship to the University of South Carolina where he rose to the No. 1 position and All-America status.

The Anastopoulo family has been one of the top tennis families in the state for many years. All four children of Rosie and Angelo Anastopoulo earned college scholarships in tennis. Patti played at the College of Charleston; Akim, now a prominent attorney in Charleston, played at the University of Louisville; and youngest child Angelo, the current College of Charleston men's and women's tennis coach, played at The Citadel.

During his years as city pro, Anastopoulo has coached 56 juniors who have won state titles and 76 of his students have received tennis scholarships. His summer camps have attracted about 450 juniors each summer. He has been recognized as one of the top 25 teaching pros in the country and was selected as state pro of the year in 1996.

(09/21/97) Graf steadily losing status among elite
How quickly things can change. Who was TV commentator Mary Carillo talking about in this quote that appeared in 1991 in The National Sports Daily: "Her game hasn't grown like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Sabatini. In a year of incredible growth on the women's tour, she slid back. The same year she wasn't going anywhere all those other women were improving - she lost double time."

Maybe she was talking about Andrea Temesvari (You remember her, the eye-catching blonde from Hungary?), who was looking to crack the world's elite after climbing to No. 43 in 1989 as a 23-year-old only to stumble 73 places in the rankings in 1990.

Or was she?

No, Carillo's comments were directed toward none other than Steffi Graf.

Graf had had a "terrible" 1990 in which she won only one Grand Slam title, the Australian Open, and had made it only to the finals of the U.S. Open and French Open and had lost in the semifinals at Wimbledon. It was early March 1991, and Graf was preparing to relinquish the No. 1 ranking she had held for 186 straight weeks to Monica Seles.

Carillo and others were tearing apart Graf's slice backhand and her stubbornness for not switching to a top-spin backhand. A graphic that accompanied the cover story in the now-defunct National Sports Daily rated Graf's backhand, serve and mindset just fair in 1990 and her forehand just good. Sounds like maybe they were talking about someone other than the No. 1 player in the world.

Some experts obviously thought Graf should have torn up her game at that point, the same game that had allowed her to sweep the Grand Slam three years earlier.

But Hana Mandlikova, Jana Novotna's coach, thought differently: "She has been playing that way since she was a teen-ager. Other people just believe they can beat her now. I don't think it has anything to do with technique or her slice backhand or that she should use top spin. It's so difficult to keep the level up."

Of course, there was nothing wrong with Graf that Graf couldn't cure in her head. She has won 12 Grand Slam titles since then, including six in a row in which she competed at one stretch.

Graf did stumble a bit, however, as Seles asserted her dominance in the early 1990s. But for an amazing 10 straight years, Graf won at least one Grand Slam title.

A year ago, the question appeared to be when not would Graf break Margaret Court Smith's record of 24 Grand Slam titles. But the Grand Slam year is over, and Graf has failed for the first time since she was 17 years old to win one of the big ones.

Now, her career appears to be in question again, only this time the question may be legitimate. It may not have as much to do with the other players on the tour as with Graf herself. She is 28 years old and coming off major knee surgery that has sidelined her since the French Open.

The word from the Corel WTA Tour is that Graf is aiming for January's Australian Open for her return to the tour, although she hasn't ruled out an earlier return. She is back home in Germany preparing to resume her tennis career.

When she returns her game probably won't be much different from the one she has demonstrated for more than a decade, huge forehands that can drive a player such as Martina Hingis off the court, slice backhands and an exceptional serve. If her body is up to the task, look for Graf to make another run at dominance.

Graf's ranking has dropped to No. 13 in the world. It will drop much lower, considering that she has competed in only five tournaments this year and won only one title.

There will be no co-ranking this time, as there was with Seles when she returned to the tour. Graf's official ranking will be calculated from the points she has earned on the court, but for tournament entry purposes she will have a special ranking of No. 3 (her ranking the week after she left the tour), according to the WTA Tour.
Venus update

After her U.S. Open loss to Hingis, Venus Williams said she was finished playing for the year. She isn't. She will play two tournaments in Europe in October, then Moscow in late October and Philadelphia in November. She's currently ranked No. 26.

Bishops win event

Bishop England's girls' team won the eight-team Lady Seahawk Challenge at Hilton Head Island last weekend, defeating Hilton Head Prep in the final. Bishop England's Nos. 2-4 players, respectively, Ashley Fleming, Katie Coleman and Charlotte Wilson, all went 6-0 in the tournament, and No. 1 Elissa Kinard was 5-1. Upcoming tournaments

The third annual Snee Farm Country Club Junior Tennis Championship is slated for next weekend. The entry deadline is Tuesday at 5 p.m. The tournament has singles and doubles for a $32 entry fee.

The State-Closed 25 and Over Championships are scheduled for next weekend at Charleston Tennis Center. The entry deadline has already passed.

Seabrook Island's Senior Clay Court Tournament will be held Oct. 9-12. The event was the Southern Tennis Association's tournament of the year in 1996. Entry deadline is Oct. 3.

The Kiawah Island Junior Clay Court Championship is set for Oct. 18-20, with an entry deadline of Oct. 9. The tournament will have singles and doubles.

Good $ news

Here's some great news for tennis families with more than one junior participating: Kiawah has reduced its $32 entry fee to $27 if two or more players from one family are entered.

It's not the money as much as the indication that tournaments and pros are starting to realize they are only hurting the game and themselves when excessive entry fees are charged.

Along those lines, I've been to a dozen or so junior tournaments during the last year, but the very best one for organization, hospitality and for handling the players was last weekend's Camden Junior Championships ($25 entry fee, consolation feed-in but no doubles). Belton's Palmetto Championships had been my No. 1 tournament.

The Camden event wasn't that small either. It had some 32-player draws. But the host Camden Country Club and tournament volunteers went out of their way to take care of the players and their needs, not to mention starting almost every match on time despite having a limited number of courts.

(09/14/97)  TV ratings aside, U.S. Open a hit this year

The TV ratings weren't anything to brag about. But the people who watched in person or on TV thought this year's U.S. Open ranked with the best in recent memory. Now, Venus Williams, not Martina Hingis, makes the first of what should be many appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And Venus didn't even win.

Hingis must be boiling, or maybe she'll make one of her smart comments without smiling.

Then, there's the controversy.

A good controversy might be as important as a good tournament in putting an event on the front sports page, or on the cover of the nation's top sports magazine.

Newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Charlotte Observer splashed Venus all over their front sports pages last Saturday after her miraculous victory over Irina Spirlea.

The controversy is brewing because of Spirlea's intentional collision with Williams on a changeover and then Spirlea's obscene (vulgar) comments toward the black teen-ager in a post-match interview. Spirlea stands to be fined $5,000 for the comments, but probably will draw an even larger fine now that Sports Illustrated has published a photo of Spirlea making an obscene gesture at a photographer at the end of the first set of the U.S. Open semifinal.

There's one thing for sure now: Spirlea is no longer a nobody. She's tennis' new bad girl, following in the footsteps of fellow Romanian Ilie Nastase, who set the standard for no-class gestures and comments during his career two decades ago.

This isn't Spirlea's first classless act. She holds the record for the largest fine handed out by the Corel WTA Tour, $20,000 for cursing an umpire during a tournament in Italy. She was kicked out of that tournament after advancing to the final.

And what did Hingis say about Venus? "She plays the game I like: She tries to keep the ball in play. That's too dangerous if you play me," Hingis is quoted in Sports Illustrated.

Hingis, of course, probably has played more tournament matches in the last two years than Williams has played in her entire life. I'd say Williams gained about two years in two weeks.

Both players are young. Hingis is only 16 (her birthday is in just two weeks) and Williams is 17.

But I think Hingis is already near her peak, because of the way she plays.

Actually, Hingis may be more confident and stronger psychologically now than in the future when pressure mounts as the competition improves. She's had only Monica Seles, who never beat her, to worry about this year. Next year, she'll have to contend not only with Seles and Williams, but also with Steffi Graf. Anna Kournikova, who is almost a year younger than Hingis, may make her mark in 1998, too.

As for Williams, she has the type of game that probably will improve by leaps and bounds, as it already has. She apparently has grown three inches this year alone. Once she gets her growth and size under control and begins serving aces, the world of women's tennis may never be the same again.

Barth heads team

Kiawah Island's Roy Barth is off on another of the USTA's all-expenses paid trips, this time to Johannesburg, South Africa, to again serve as captain of the U.S.'s 35-and-over Italia Cup team that will attempt to defend its title Monday through Saturday.

USTA promotes game

The USTA has made another commitment to increase tennis participation across the country with a five-year, $31 million package called "Plan for Growth."

The plan calls for the creation of Play Tennis America adult leagues and an extensive program for youth.

The goal is to attract 800,000 new players to the sport and to increase the number of frequent players by 20 percent by the year 2002.

New TV deal

With the added emphasis on the game, the TV numbers should pick up in the future as the USTA grows its own fans.

Hingis' victory over Williams gained a higher TV rating than last year's final between Graf and Seles, but the TV figures for Patrick Rafter's victory over Greg Rusedski were down from last year's men's final between Pete Sampras and Michael Chang.

Nevertheless, CBS-TV selected Sunday's women's final as the time to announce that the network had agreed to a four-year-extension through 2004 to air the U.S. Open. Do you think Venus' timely rise to the spotlight had anything to do with the new deal?

(08/10/97)  Area players have big week

What a week of tennis! Katie Coleman plays in the State- Closed Junior Hard Courts and takes the local game to a higher level, while the Basile brothers, Jeff and Jason, accomplish the unique family double.

Then there's the group of Charleston players who were playing the national circuit during the state tournament.
Maiko Cook advanced all the way to the round of 32 in a 256-player draw in the girls' 16 nationals in San Diego. The two-handed hitting Wando student then advanced to a fifth-round qualifier in the back-draw for a top 32 finish. Mary Neill Hagood lost in the third round of the main draw, but won three matches in the back-draw for a top 32 finish in the girls' 14 nationals in Atlanta. John Barnwell brought home a top 64 finish from the boys' 14 nationals in San Antonio. Victoria Moody and Elissa Kinard also competed in the nationals, Moody in girls' 14 and Kinard in girls' 16, but both lost in the first rounds.

If there's a lull in tennis these days, someone has forgotten to tell the people who play and watch the game. Just about every tournament on the professional women's circuit has had increased attendance this year, and participation is going off the charts in league play.

As an example of junior participation, 69 girls played in the 16-and-under division of the State Hard Courts. Isn't 16 the age when girls supposingly turn in their rackets for car keys and boys?

Look at the boys' 10 division locally. Six of the top eight players in the state tournament were from the area. That wasn't even including 1996 Belton champ Nicky Valiunas who chose to play up in 12-and-under this year.
Coleman's play in her march to the girls' 14 title bordered on sensational. She has all of the shots, and barring the knee injury that sidelined her for three months she probably would have been in the nationals earning a high finish.

Nevertheless, it was good to see Coleman play at Charleston Tennis Center. Her brilliant shot-making ability should serve as an incentive for other local girls.

How would you like to have Bishop England girls' coach Patricia Owens' job of numbering her top four players? That's Kinard and Coleman, and state semifinalists Ashley Fleming and Charlotte Wilson.
But the Basiles have got to be the tennis family of the year. Jason wins the boys' 10 title as expected, but Jeff surprises everyone by taking the boys' 14 crown. League-playing parents Jan and Jo Ellen Basile are quite proud, of course.

Injured Valiunas

Charleston might also have taken the girls' 12 state title had Maggie Valiunas been healthy. Runner-up to Emily Applegate at Belton, Valiunas had wanted to play in the state tournament here but she suffered a broken bone in the side of her left foot while playing soccer in early July on Long Island.

She limped around Charleston Tennis Center all week in a cast that will come off in two weeks, just in time for seventh-grade classes at Porter-Gaud.

Minton leaves tennis

Charleston juniors will miss Bryan Minton, who has left the staff at the Country Club of Charleston where he was in charge of junior development to take a job with his father's Beaufort construction company.

Minton, a 25-year-old College of Charleston graduate and four-time city champion, has worked with some of the top juniors in the area in recent years, including Hagood, Cook, Barnwell, and Maggie and Nicky Valiunas.

"I'm young. I can get back into it if I want to," Minton said. "It's just that my dad offered me a good job."

Jon Zepp has moved up on tennis director Lee Brockman's Country Club staff to replace Minton as head of junior development. Zepp, from Seattle, teamed up with Minton to win this year's city doubles title.

(07/06/97)  Young champion Hingis knows how to win when it counts
CORRECTION This column reported that Myrtle Beach's Elizabeth Proctor won the Southern Closed girls' 14 title in Macon, Ga., but Proctor actually lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Tanner Cochran of Dublin, Ga. Proctor did win the feed-in consolation tournament. Also, Charleston's Mary Neill Hagood lost in the round of 16 of the main draw as did John Barnwell.

What makes Martina Hingis the youngest Wimbledon champion of the 20th century?

She doesn't look the part. She looks more like just another plump teen-ager of average height, whose oversized legs may reveal her dislike for practice.

She doesn't have one shot that's really great. No big serve, no big forehand, and not even great foot speed.
More talented players such as Jana Novotna and stronger hitters such as Monica Seles should be able to overpower Hingis the way Novotna did Saturday in the first set of their Wimbledon final.

But there's something about this 16-year-old that separates her from the others. It's not her strokes, strength or speed. Her true weapon rests behind the bratty smile she often wears.

Martina Hingis obviously is one of the best thinkers to hit tennis in a long time. She takes a page from Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. She knows how to win when it counts.

The 6-2 drubbing by Novotna in the first set didn't really count. What counted was the third game of the third set when Hingis ran past the doubles alley to retrieve Novotna's sliced backhand volley and punched a backhand winner to the open court.

Without that one outburst of effort, Hingis probably would not be celebrating. Instead of being down 3-0 in the decisive set, she got back to deuce and then broke Novotna to start a 5-0 run that virtually wrapped up the championship and a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Just how well did Hingis play the big points? Consider the fact that Novotna held the advantage in eight of the nine games in the third set. With any kind of true grit, Novotna could have closed out the match in the first seven games of the third set.

Novotna couldn't put the plucky little girl away. Perhaps one of the best volleyers ever in women's tennis, Novotna's volleys lost their sharpness late in the match and became sitting ducks for Hingis' backhand passing shots down the line.

Hingis adjusted her game a bit from the first set when Novotna looked invincible. The youngster mixed in drop shots, top-spin lobs and her own charges to the net. Perhaps the top-spin lobs did the most damage to an injury fatigued Novotna. They appeared to frustrate Novotna much more than Hingis' passing shots.

As for the men, Pete Sampras can take a giant step toward his own place in history as one of men's tennis' greatest players. Other than the third and fourth sets against Petr Korda in the fourth round, Sampras has been superb. He has been as athletic as any men's player in memory, while serving at a high level and volleying brilliantly. Even his ground strokes have been virtually flawless.

Cedric Pioline is a determined player probably playing the best tennis of his career, although he's ranked only 44th in the world. But Pioline would have to play completely out of his head and Sampras would have to flaw badly today to prevent Sampras from winning a fourth Wimbledon title.

Opponents aren't the only ones paying for Sampras' aces. Sampras donates $100 an ace this year to his "Aces for Charity,'' which benefits the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation and Andrea Jaeger's Silver Lining Ranch. Elton John is doubling those totals for Grand Slam events.

It's too bad that Boris Becker is calling it quits, but I feel differently than John McEnroe. McEnroe blames Becker's early retirement on tennis, but I think he's wrong. Becker is a great player, but he's 29 years old and has a family. Why not quit while he's ahead?

Bud Collins gave Venus Williams' father, Richard, some good advice the other day on NBC when he said Venus needs a real coach. Although one of the more talented players on the tour, she probably is the worst prepared. It's dreadful that a player with so much talent looks so awkward on a tennis court.

Charleston's Mary Neill Hagood advanced to the quarterfinals of the girls' 14 Southern Championships in Macon, Ga. Hagood lost to top-seeded Elizabeth Proctor of Myrtle Beach, who went on to win the Southern title in a 6-0, 6-2 romp past Jennifer Smith of Charlotte.

Here's a couple more statistics about tennis: The 9.4 million new fans for tennis in 1996 was second only to baseball's increase; according to the recent ESPN/Chilton poll, tennis has 11 million more fans than golf (84-73 million) in the United States; the Tennis Industry Association survey by Audits & Surveys Worldwide indicated that there was a 24 percent increase in participation from 1995 to 1996 by players 35-and-over.

(06/29/97)  Sun may yet shine on the state of tennis

So, tennis is having about as much bad luck at its top level right now as Tiger Woods. Andre Agassi no longer likes to get beaten; Pete Sampras can't get to the French Open final; Michael Chang simply isn't a tennis great; Jim Courier doesn't know how to win the big one anymore; Boris Becker is getting old; all of the potentially great young men coming along appear to be Spanish clay-courters, with the exception of upset-prone Australian Mark Philippoussis.

Steffi Graf can't overcome her leg injuries or Amanda Coetzer; Monica Seles won't get into top shape and therefore hasn't regained her form of yesteryear; Martina Hingis is a little too cocky and may never become another Chris Evert; Arantxa Sanchez Vicario appears to be burned out; and Venus Williams, as talented as she may be, has a lot to learn about playing tennis against the best players in the world.

Yes, things are looking about as bleak at the top as a rainy day at Wimbledon. But check in a week from now. If certain things happen this next week at Wimbledon, tennis could look like Tiger Woods at Augusta National.
During the first week of rain at Wimbledon, John McEnroe and Chris Evert had loads of time to think and talk about all the bad things in tennis. McEnroe said things like, "I'm personally embarrassed by this sport. I'm embarrassed by the lack of interest in tennis." Chrisse chipped in with lines such as, "Right now, I'm not really impressed with the standard" in women's tennis, and added that having a 16-year-old like Hingis as the No. 1 player is "kind of scary."

McEnroe must have thought he was talking to a group of line judges. Does Chrissie remember when she was 16?

One French Open in which an unknown South American (Gustavo Kuerten) and a previously overshadowed Croatian (Iva Majoli) prevail, and the tennis establishment loses its grip. Forgotten is the fact that the French Open has never been a headline event for Americans. The red clay never has caught the fancy of television viewers in the United States.

Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are what tennis at the top is all about to Americans. Let's see what happens Fourth of July weekend.

Contrary to some belief, tennis at the participatory level is on sound footing and growing, especially among women. More and more women are taking to the game.

According to a survey by the Tennis Industry Association, 27 percent more females played tennis (four times or more but an average of 29.3 times) in 1996 than 1995. The 5.6 million females age 12 and older who played in 1996 equaled the number of players in 1992. Male participation dropped 7 percent from 1995 to 1996 and has been on the decline since the early 1990s. I guess the average male isn't as smart as the average female after all.
The 50-and-over gang of men and women took to tennis last year at a 60 percent increase over 1995, up from 1 million to 1.6 million participants and nearly reached the 1992 level of 1.8 million. The 12-17 and 35-49 age groups also grew.

Overall tennis participation (playing at least once) was up 9.6 percent to 19.5 million in 1996 for those 12-and-over. Counting players under 12, the number was 21.8 million.

So, don't go packing that racket away thinking no one is playing the game. All you've got to do is stop by one of the area tennis facilities at night in the fall or spring and try to get a court. The situation is almost as difficult as in bowling where leagues also dominate.

Nearly 2,000 people participate in the local adult leagues, more than ever before. And the juniors are coming out of the woodwork.

In the recent Palmetto Championships at Belton, Charleston had both finalists in girls' 12 (champion Emily Applegate and runner-up Maggie Valiunas) and girls' 14 (champion Mary Neill Hagood and runner-up Victoria Moody) and a girls' 10 finalist (Alice Knowlton), even if two of the area's top players (Katie Coleman in girls' 14 and Maiko Cook in girls' 16) didn't participate. Of course, Jason Basile won the boys' 10, while area boys struggled in other age groups.

Evert did make a couple of remarks that hit home to the U.S. Tennis Association: "We're still losing our best athletes to other sports. It's still a rich man's sport. Maybe the USTA should do a better job of funneling the money they're giving out."

Perhaps, the USTA should reroute some of the money it is dumping into its elite junior program into the local junior level and reduce the cost of tournament participation. Take the upcoming State-Closed Clay Courts at Myrtle Beach, the entry fee is $40 per junior. And the tournament doesn't even have doubles.

Tournaments should encourage participation rather than discourage it by hiking up entry fees to double what they should be. If anyone is hurting tennis, it's the tournament organizers and the USTA. The USTA should be smart enough to see this and step in and reduce the cost of participation. If the tournaments need financial help, then the USTA should provide it.

As it is, most of the USTA's financial help goes to the very top, the players the USTA is grooming to become the next Agassi or Sampras.

The funny thing is that Agassi, Sampras, Chang and Courier are not products of the high-cost USTA development program. In fact, the development program that has been in existence for about a decade has yet to produce a single top-ranked player.

Only now through the Play Tennis America program has the USTA started promoting tennis to the masses. Tennis should be portrayed for what it is: a game for life.

(05/25/97)  Juniors set sights on Palmetto event

The real tennis season is finally here, not just for professionals but for the state's juniors as well. Thursday will mark the entry deadline for the annual Palmetto Championships at Belton. The top juniors in South Carolina always show up at Belton, because this is the state's junior qualifying tournament that can open the door to national events.

Belton actually doesn't start until the weekend of June 7, or the same weekend the French Open is concluding in Paris. Qualifying rounds for the Palmetto Championships will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8. Losers in the qualifying rounds who do not qualify for the main draw will be able to take part in a Palmetto Challenger tournament that will start on Sunday.

Boys' and girls' 10-and-under competition will begin that Saturday and the 12-and-under division will start on Sunday. The 14, 16 and 18 divisions are scheduled to open play on Monday, June 9.

Some of the top contenders from Charleston should be Ryan Young in boys' 14, Katie Coleman in girls' 14, and Elissa Kinard and Maiko Cook in girls' 16.

Meanwhile, the eyes of professional tennis will be on Paris' staid Roland Garros Stadium beginning Monday. The Grand Slam season is here. January's Australian Open is a Grand Slam in name only, although it counts the same for rankings as well as for Grand Slam totals (11 of Margaret Court's 24 Grand Slam titles were secured Down Under).

Clay-monster Thomas Muster hasn't won a tournament on clay this year, leaving a bunch of no-names as the top threats to win the men's title. Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Todd Martin and 1996 runner-up Michael Stich aren't entered, and defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov is trying to recover from a three-month layoff with a broken finger.

Pete Sampras has never won in Paris, but considering that so many big names are missing this could be the year Pete achieves immortality. A French title would give Sampras a career Grand Slam.

The Spaniards are trying to take over the game, especially on Europe's red clay. Eighth-ranked Alex Corretja is one of five Spaniards ranked among the top 14 players in the world. The others are Carlos Moya (10), Felix Mantilla (11), Alberto Costa (13) and Alberto Berasategui (14). Even seventh-ranked Marcelo Rios of Chile is a Spanish speaker.

On the women's side, the picture is just as confusing. Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles haven't played enough collectively the last couple of months for even one player.

But if you've got to pick a women's favorite, it would be one of the three. If Graf is healthy, she would get the nod despite Hingis' unbeaten year and Graf's 6-0, 6-1 thrashing by Amanda Coetzer recently in Berlin.
Graf's 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Coetzer Friday in the semifinals of the Strasbourg (France) Open was enough to convince me that Graf is still the player to beat in each of the year's last three Grand Slams. Of course, she's hungry for the Grand Slams, needing just three more to deadlock Court's record total of 24.

(05/11/97)  Sea Pines a favorite of players
What was the deciding factor in Sea Pines Plantation continuing to host the Family Circle Magazine Cup? The answer to that one probably is Sea Pines Plantation itself. The players rank the tournament among the best on the tour, one of their favorite events because of the resort location. They are treated like special guests for a week.

The Family Circle has been a fixture at Hilton Head Island. Great crowds. Great tennis. And this year's field that included nine of the top 10 women in the world had the biggest crowds and best tennis in its 25-year history. Another major factor might have been that night tennis found a real niche at Sea Pines Racquet Club. The tournament took on a new look at night. Sea Pines president Michael Lawrence was especially pleased by the nighttime atmosphere.

Lawrence has promised that night matches will continue at the Family Circle. Although the lights were temporary ones, much of their expense was the initial investment of preparing the grounds for the light posts. The holes are already dug and the cement supports already poured for future tournaments.

Promoting Coetzer

In Steffi Graf's and Martina Hingis' injury absences from the Corel WTA Tour, things have been relatively quiet for some time. Yet, tournaments go on.

The WTA, needing another feature attraction, got a break when little Amanda Coetzer broke through a couple weeks ago to win the Budapest Lotto Ladies Open and vaulted into the top 10 for the first time.

The tour responded by putting together a full-color flyer on the 5-2, 122-pound South African, a Hilton Head Island resident.

Meanwhile, Graf should be back this coming week in the German Open, but Hingis is now saying that she probably won't return until the May 26 French Open.

Doubles rated

Last week when I listed area players who gained state top 10 rankings for 1996, I failed to recognize the doubles players. Two readers, Bob Johnston of Summerville and Thom Taylor of Charleston, wrote letters to call my attention to the oversight.

Area adults did quite well in doubles. Bob Spinazzola and Sam Steingold earned the top ranking in men's 25, Bob Minick and Jules Mugnier took first in men's 65, Minick and Jeanette Weiland were first in mixed 65 doubles, and Weiland was ranked first in women's 65 while playing with a player from Hilton Head Island, Anne Preston King.

Other local men gaining top 10 state doubles rankings were: John Foster-Dan Neal, No. 2 in 25; Russ Bridgham-Gene Taylor, No. 6 in 35; Colie Crosby-Fritz Missel, No. 8 in 35; Roger Newsome-John Tiencken, No. 3 in 40; Frank Jones-James Jones, No. 4 in 40; Heinz Maurer-Ramon Rodriguez, No. 6 in 45; Ron Keller-Brad Munday, No. 6 in 50; Charles Holcomb-Mike Reich, No. 7 in 50; Terry Brown-Thom Taylor, No. 8 in 50; Lyon Williams, No. 8 in 55; Bob Minick, No. 2 in 60; George Altman-B.R. Spencer, No. 3 in 60; Bob Johnston-Jack Weir, No. 4 in 60; Johnston-Hartl Jones, No. 9 in 60; Kurt Wassen, No. 3 in 65; Johnston-Weir, No. 5 in 65; John Baird-Jerry Hanchrow, No. 7 in 65; Johnston-Jones, No. 7 in 65; and Baird, No. 3 in 70.
Area women ranked in the top 10 in doubles were: Kitsy Wise-Toni Young, No. 2 in 35; Wise-Young, No. 2 in 40; and Susie Peiffer-Weiland, No. 2 in 45.

In mixed doubles, Eric and Renie Forsberg were ranked sixth in 45-and-over and Robert and Susie Peiffer were ranked eighth in the same category. Jerry and Janet Hanchrow took second in mixed 65.

Luszki sets clinic

Dr. Walter Luszki has scheduled a tennis clinic for Wednesday at 3:10 p.m. at the Rivers Middle School gym.
Rivers teachers Leroy Major and Alvin Oree will team up with Luszki to conduct the clinic. Tennis rackets and balls will be given away during the clinic.

(05/04/97)  Family Circle Cup still in limbo

It's been four weeks now since the 25th annual Family Circle Magazine Cup, and nothing apparently has happened that would secure the tournament for Hilton Head Island in future years. Of course, the people at Sea Pines Plantation were preoccupied with the MCI Classic for part of that time. But the word is that the two parties, Family Circle Magazine and Sea Pines, are getting ready to sit down and determine if it will remain at Sea Pines Racquet Club.

Let's keep our fingers crossed. I don't think we realize how important this premiere women's event is to tennis in this area.

Creekside prepares

Creekside Tennis and Swim pro Rich Shy is preparing for the U.S. Tennis Association's $25,000 Women's Challenger June 15-22 at Creekside.

The reason Creekside landed the women's tournament is because of its work in running the Skatell's Pro Tennis Classic each spring. This year's Skatell's event has been rated the best of all the USTA's satellite tournaments.
Juniors gain rankings

The Charleston area produced four of the state's top-ranked juniors in 1996.

Nicky Valiunas took the No. 1 ranking in boys' 10 and Ryan Young earned the top spot in boys' 12. In girls' play, Victoria Moody captured the No. 1 ranking in 12-and-under and Maiko Cook took the honors in 16-and-under.

Eight other local boys earned top 10 rankings: Nat Estes (4), Jeffrey Weinstein (5) and Jason Basile (7) in boys' 10; and Jamey Tinkey (3), Taylor Calcote (8) and Edward Darling (10) in 12-and-under; Matthew Hane (7) in boys' 14; and Garrett Dong (7) in 16-and-under. That's might be a good sign for the future, considering that eight of the area's top 10 juniors were in 10-and-under and 12-and-under.

In girls' play, Kalee Claussen was second, Erika Shortridge seventh and Monica Ullal ninth in 10-and-under; Emily Applegate fifth, Maggie Valiunas seventh and Alida Barnwell eighth in 12-and-under; Elissa Kinard second, Katie Coleman fourth and Mary Neill Hagood ninth in 14-and-under; and Molly Sanders fourth and Paz Shilling seventh in 18-and-under.

Young also was ranked eighth in boys' 12 by the Southern Tennis Association, and captured the top spot in doubles with Tinkey. Josh Goffi was the only other area boy to gain a top 10 ranking in the South with eighth in 18-and-under.

Area girls fared a little better in the STA rankings as Moody took sixth in 12-and-under, Cook captured 10th in 16-and-under and Sabah Sattar ninth in 18-and-under.
Adults ranked

The only adult player from the area to earn a No. 1 ranking in the state was Jeanette Weiland in women's 65.
A number of adults earned top 10 spots: Tim Hendershott (2) and Michael Dacuba (5) in men's 25; John Dotson (4) and Danny Blyth (10) in men's 30; Russell Bridgham (7) and Colie Crosby (10) in men's 35; John Tiencken (7) and Roger Newsome (8) in men's 40; Eric Forsberg (4) and Ramon Rodriguez (5) in men's 45; Heinz Maurer (10) in men's 50; Pete Trees (2) and Stuart Miller (6) in men's 60; Tom Kent (4) and Jerry Hanchrow (6) in men's 65; John Baird (4) in men's 70; Alan Fleming (2) in men's 75; Amy White (3) in women's 25; and Susan Peiffer (2) in women's 45.

Fishburne wins national

Diane Fishburne won the national indoor women's 40 title at the Mid-Town Club in Chicago. The Walterboro resident and former College of Charleston star then won the state hard-court championships' women's 40 in Columbia.

Fishburne was the No. 1-ranked women's 35 player in the country five years ago, but currently is unranked. She plans to go to Jackson, Miss., for the Southern 40 clay courts that begin Wednesday.

Jack Adams holds event

A junior novice singles tournament will be held next weekend at the Jack Adams Courts adjacent to Johnson Hagood Stadium. The deadline for entry is Wednesday and the entry fee is only $5.

The divisions will be 8-and-under through 18-and-under for boys and girls, with no doubles. Contact Charleston Tennis Center (724-7402) for more details.

(04/27/97)  Horsing around hampers Hingis
The perfect world of Martina Hingis has developed a flaw. For the first three and one-half months of 1997, no one could beat the youngster. Then, last Monday near her hometown of Trubbach, Switzerland, she suffered a loss. A friend's horse was the victor.

The all-conquering Hingis admitted she overestimated her ability to handle horses. Luckily for the world's top-ranked women's player, she suffered only minor injuries when she was tossed from the horse. Nevertheless, she underwent arthroscopic surgery at a sports clinic in Schrunz, Austria, on Tuesday, to repair a slight tear of the posterior cruciate ligament of her left knee.

Of course, tennis' girl wonder had a similar misadventure with a horse during the Australian Open. She escaped that fall unhurt, then became the youngest-ever Grand-Slam tournament champion.

That leads women's tennis to a triangular ring of question. In one corner is the Tiger Woods of tennis, Hingis, the youngest No. 1 player ever. Steffi Graf, who hasn't played in three months because of tendinitis in her knee, is in another corner. Monica Seles, forever on the rebound from her long layout from the game or from injuries, is in the other corner.

These are the three dominant women in tennis. They are the headliners, the players who sell the tickets and lure the sponsors.

But what will happen to these three? Will Graf return as strong as she was while winning all six Grand-Slam events she entered in 1995 and 1996? Does Seles have the willpower to lose the weight and get into the kind of physical condition she will need to be in to rechallenge for the No. 1 ranking?

And, of course, there's the new queen. But how will Hingis handle her first comeback from injury? Will she have to wear a support on the injured knee as a temporary precaution? Will she sacrifice some of her extraordinary quickness?

As long as Hingis was in a perfect world, there were no questions. She played and she won, while the others had rode physical and psychological roller-coasters.

Now, it's Hingis' turn to be tested. Smaller things than knee surgery have altered the career path of many athletes.

Hingis and Graf are expected to return to the Corel Tour at the same time, for the May 12 German Open. It will be interesting to see who wins the triangular battle for supremacy of the women's game.

LCTA party time

The Lowcountry Tennis Association is planning its annual party for May 10 from 7-11 p.m. at the Mount Pleasant Armory.

This should be quite a party, because all 1,515 members of the local USTA Adult League are invited, along with the 315 USTA Senior League participants. And it's free to LCTA members. Drinks and Frogmore stew will be provided by the LCTA, while those attending will be asked to bring covered dishes and desserts.

(04/13/97)  Sea Pines still may lose Family Circle Cup

It took Monica Seles only one trip to Hilton Head Island to realize the uniqueness of the Family Circle Magazine Cup. The only thing that might prevent her from returning is if the tournament moves.

Yes, the possibility of Sea Pines Plantation losing the Family Circle still exists. Money talks. And Family Circle, now owned by the German publishing company Gruner Jahr, may not be quite as committed as it once was to the resort that made the tournament what it has become the last quarter century.

The tournament has been Family Circle in name sake only. It could have been called simply Sea Pines and been just as successful and unique.

Family Circle Magazine is gambling with a sure thing. Moving the tournament elsewhere could prove catastrophic.

Just because Disney or Atlanta look good doesn't mean those sites will have the same success as Sea Pines. The quaintness and hospitality of Sea Pines have attracted the best players in the world year after year. Now that Seles finally has made it to Hilton Head Island in her fourth try, every great player of tennis' open era has played in the Family Circle.

Some great players, such as Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez as well as others, just keep showing up every year.

The fans have taken the tournament to heart. It didn't happen overnight. It took years for the Family Circle to build into what it is now. Another site would have to do the same thing: grow the tournament virtually from scratch.

This year's Family Circle attracted a record 69,288 fans. That's averaging just under 10,000 for each of the tournament's seven days, even on the weekdays in the early rounds. Of course, the crowds weren't always so large. They've grown with the tournament over the years.

Michael Lawrence, Sea Pines Plantation's president and chief executive officer, said Friday, it's not up to Sea Pines. Family Circle Magazine will make the decision.

"Our four-year contract with Family Circle ran out this year, and we had discussions before the tournament. We are going to sit down in a couple of weeks with them and talk about the future," Lawrence said.

"I've been here since 1990 and this one was the most exciting since I've been here. It was the best field, and the final between (Martina) Hingis and Seles couldn't have been scripted any better."

Family Circle luck

Just how lucky was the Family Circle? Consider the Bausch & Lomb Championships at Amelia Island, Fla.
Seles pulled out because of the bronchitis she came down with at the Family Circle, and Jennifer Capriati withdrew Wednesday with a strained thigh muscle. Seles and Capriati had been scheduled to meet Wednesday night in the headline match of the tournament.

Irina Spirlea and Magdalena Maleeva also withdrew at Amelia Island, because of the wrist injuries they suffered at Hilton Head which prompted them to default to qualifier Wiltrud Probst. And, of course, Hingis didn't enter.

Young Venus Williams did play at Amelia Island, but 30th-ranked Chanda Rubin took care of the 102nd-ranked Williams, 6-4, 6-0, in the second round.

Pavel shines

With the Skatell's Pro Tennis Classic starting Tuesday at Creekside Tennis and Swim, remember that the last two winners of the satellite tournament, Chris Woodruff in 1995 and Doug Flach in 1996, went on to defeat Andre Agassi in back-to-back Grand-Slam matches last year, Woodruff at the French Open and Flach at Wimbledon.

Just Thursday, Andrei Pavel, who played at Creekside a couple of years ago, knocked off Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, 7-5, 6-3, in the second round of the Gold Flake Open in Madras, India.

(03/16/97)  Entry still uncertain for Seles
It's been nearly three months since Monica Seles broke the ring finger on her right hand in a freak accident. A tennis ball, of all things, did the damage during preparation for the Australian Open. Seles hasn't played a match on the Corel WTA Tour since. She's pulled out of several tournaments along the way.

The people at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., must be holding their breath, hoping Seles shows up this coming week.

The Family Circle Magazine Cup is in the same boat. The Hilton Head Island tournament hasn't announced that Seles is committed because of her injury situation. Seles has withdrawn from the Family Circle three times in the past, including last year, due to injuries and has never played in the tournament.

Family Circle officials are waiting for Seles to play her first match at the Lipton before announcing she will play at Sea Pines Racquet Club the first week in April.

Whether Steffi Graf shows up at Hilton Head, she will not be the No. 1 player in the world when the tournament's main draw starts on Monday, March 31. That's the same day 16-year-old Martina Hingis will become women's tennis' youngest No. 1-ranked player. Seles currently holds the distinction of being the youngest top-ranked player, achieving that status March 11, 1991 at 17 years, three months and 19 days (Hingis' birthday is Sept. 30).

Hingis really doesn't even have to lift a racket to make her 4,277.5 WTA Tour ranking points surpass Graf's total (currently 5,028). Last year when Graf didn't need a bunch of points to remain No. 1 in the world, she won the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, Calif., and then the Lipton Championships. She withdrew from both tournaments this year because of a knee injury.

Those points will start coming back to haunt Graf Monday. She will lose the 358.5 points she earned last year at the Evert Cup. Then on March 31, the 420 points Graf won at the Lipton in 1996 will drop off her total. And young Martina will start the Family Circle No. 1.

Graf could snatch the top ranking right back from Hingis when her injured knee allows her to return to the tour. Graf hasn't formally entered the Family Circle, although on March 4 after it was announced that Graf had pulled out of the Evert Cup and Lipton Championships a WTA official said Graf had been placed on the list of players to play at Hilton Head Island.

WTA officials now indicate that Graf isn't on the Family Circle list and she may not return to the tour until the May 5 Italian Open, which is only a few weeks before the Grand Slam French Open starts May 26. Of course, Graf is Grand Slam hungry, needing just three more titles to deadlock Margaret Court Smith's record total of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Hingis, Seles, defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, former two-time champion Conchita Martinez, Jana Novotna, Anke Huber, Iva Majoli, Olympic champion Lindsay Davenport, Mary Joe Fernandez and Jennifer Capriati officially are entered in the Family Circle.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-677-2293.

Venus soaring

It's too bad young Venus Williams (she's three months older than Hingis) isn't scheduled to show up at the Family Circle. Williams shocked Majoli in a three-setter in the third round of the Evert Cup while serving at speeds as high as 114 mph, then took Davenport to a third-set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals before losing.
Williams is scheduled to play the Lipton, skip the Family Circle, then play a week later at Amelia Island.

(02/23/97)  Family Circle Cup on Monica's schedule
Will this be the year Monica Seles finally shows up at the Family Circle Magazine Cup? Barring another injury, this should be the year for Monica and Family Circle fans to form a relationship. The Hilton Head Island tournament hasn't announced Seles' entry, but the Corel WTA Tour lists the Family Circle on Seles' tournament schedule.

However, the Family Circle isn't on top-ranked Steffi Graf's agenda.

Of course, just because Seles has the Family Circle on her schedule doesn't mean she will show up for the March 29-April 6 tournament. She's been committed before.

Seles was entered in 1992, 1993 and again in 1996, or every year since her 18th birthday that she was on the tour at the time of the Family Circle. She's 23 now, and still hasn't played at Sea Pines Racquet Club.

It's not that Monica doesn't want to play at Hilton Head Island. It's more of a case of maybe being a little too ambitious.

She scheduled a long list of tournaments last year leading up to the Family Circle, but as in 1992 and 1993 her body couldn't take the punishment and she was forced to withdraw. Well, Monica hasn't changed. She still wants to wretch the No. 1 ranking away from Graf. And she figures the best way to accomplish that goal is by playing as often as possible.

But the injury-prone Seles hasn't played this year. She suffered a broken finger in December, and had to withdraw from the Australian Open.

She is expected to be back for the Evert Cup March 3-15 at Indian Wells, Calif. She is then scheduled to go straight to the two-week Lipton Championships that end on March 29 - two days before the main draw start of the Family Circle. Good luck, Monica.

If Seles does happen to make it to Sea Pines this year, she isn't likely to come with the fanfare she would have had in other years when she was No. 1 in the world or co-ranked No. 1. Seles is currently ranked sixth in the world.

Capriati scheduled

Family Circle fans should get another treat this year. Jennifer Capriati, who has been nearly as amazing as Seles in her comeback, is scheduled to play at Sea Pines.

Capriati had an outstanding fall before losing in the first round of the Australian Open.

Wilson wins tournament

Charleston's Charlotte Wilson won the girls' 14 championship in the recent Shoney's Junior Open at Florence. Wilson defeated Meredith Swain of Wilmington, N.C., in the straight-set final.

(02/16/97) Hingis threatens Graf 's dominance
Where did Steffi go? Followers of women's tennis might get the notion that Steffi Graf is no longer the premiere women's player in the world. Young Martina Hingis has taken over the headlines.

The 16-year-old Swiss sweetheart is everywhere. She's a major story when she gets tossed off a horse en route to winning the Australian Open, when she rides racehorse great Cigar, or when she just smiles.

Not since Chris Evert's arrival on the circuit about a quarter century ago has the Women's Tennis Association been so excited about a young player. There was Tracy Austin, Graf, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati, but none appeared to have the magnetic personality or style of Hingis.

She's the youngest to do almost everything. That means if she sticks around as long as Evert, women's tennis should be in for some very good days for quite a few years.

Of course, Hingis is on the cover of the Corel WTA Tour's 1997 player guide, along with Graf, Seles, the recycled Jana Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. That's no surprise. That group made up the top five players in the world at the end of 1996.

Hingis has since won the Australian Open and advanced from No. 4 to second in the world, threatening Graf's dominance. And if Hingis happens to win the French Open in a few months (by the way, her favorite surface is clay), she might take over the No. 1 ranking in the world. The WTA's new ranking system plays into her favor because of her heavy schedule of tournaments and Graf's light schedule.

I've just received a package of press clippings from the WTA tour that, as you might expect, was loaded with Hingis.

Here are some samples of the headlines, mostly from the Australian Open and coming from some of the world's leading newspapers: "Power and Poise"; "The smiling assassin"; "Hingis gallops towards Graf's No. 1 position"; "Hingis the history girl"; "History girl Martina set to rule world"; "The New Martina"; and "I'm ready, mum."
While Hingis takes charge of women's tennis, Graf is out with a knee injury and Seles is sidelined with a hand injury. But they'll be back, and the fun is just beginning.

About Hingis' affection for horseback riding, she lists her most memorable experiences as getting her first horse and winning Junior Wimbledon.

The people at the Family Circle Magazine Cup are smiling about as much as Hingis, knowing that the Swiss kid already is signed up for the March 29-April 6 tournament at Hilton Head Island (ticket information can be obtained by calling 1-800-677-2293).

The best analyst?

I'm glad to see that someone else agrees that Mary Carillo isn't the greatest tennis analyst around. I personally prefer just about any analyst to Carillo. Say, Evert or Austin.

At any rate, Toshiba polled the nation's top sports writers on a number of subjects, one of which was: Who are the most insightful game analysts on TV? For tennis, John McEnroe netted 54 percent of the vote to 17 percent for Carillo.

Snee Farm event near

The opening tournament of the Lowcountry Challenger Circuit is next weekend at Snee Farm. The U.S. Tennis Association-sanctioned junior tournament begins Friday.

The entry deadline is Monday. Tournament information is available by contacting the Snee Farm pro shop (884-3252).

Although the event is USTA sanctioned, it is a novice tournament with age groups in singles from 10-and-under through 18-and-under. The entry fee is $20.

(01/26/97)  Sea Pines takes to the night to save Family Circle Cup
Sea Pines Plantation is taking a new approach in an attempt to make the Family Circle Magazine Cup tennis tournament more profitable. Nighttime tennis is on the agenda for this April.

That might be good news for fans who haven't been able to make it down to Hilton Head Island for weekday afternoons; yet, bad news for the faithfuls who enjoy watching their daytime matches and then socializing at night. If the faithfuls choose not to challenge the gnats and often cool night temperatures, they'll forfeit probably one key singles match Tuesday through Friday; if they decide to take in the night matches, there's a tidy sum of money involved.

And it's that additional ticket cost that may save the tournament for Sea Pines. In the last year of its contract with Family Circle Magazine and its parent company, Gruner + Jahr of Germany, Sea Pines must fend off a host of other bidders to keep the tournament.

Sea Pines claims it lost money on the Family Circle tournament each of the last two years. As a result, Sea Pines was reluctant to up the ante for the tournament, leading Family Circle Magazine to recruit prospective hosts for the event once the current contract expires. Family Circle wined and dined some of the prospects at last year's tournament.

That got Sea Pines' attention, which quickly agreed to waive the usual $100,000 yearly site fee if Family Circle would remain at Hilton Head Island. The site fee covers the maintenance of the courts as well as the loss of other revenue, such as lack of court availability.

Night sessions are common for most successful tournaments. They provide an additional financial avenue, and should be a financial boost to Sea Pines.

Sea Pines hasn't changed the daytime ticket prices for the March 29-April 6 tournament; they're identical to the last two years' prices. The night tickets are separate, and go from $15 on Tuesday, to $20 on Wednesday, to $25 on Thursday and Friday; or $70 for the nighttime package.

If the night matches are as much of a hit as the day ones, then you might multiply 10,000 spectators times $70. That's $700,000.

And that's why Sea Pines plans to play "A Little Night Tennis."

The tournament, as always, will have a strong field. After experimenting with a 28-player field in 1996, this year's tournament will include 56 players. Defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and world's No. 2-ranked (when the new rankings are released) Martina Hingis already are entered. And there's hope that Steffi Graf and Monica Seles will enter.

Hingis is likely to be the crowd favorite, even if Graf and Seles participate. Fans saw just enough of the youngster last year to get excited. It was Hingis' luck to draw Sanchez Vicario in last year's second round, the first match for both players. After Hingis dominated the first set at love, Sanchez Vicario's experience and Hingis' lack of allowed the Spaniard to win each of the last two sets at 6-2.

But this is a veteran Hingis. She has reached at least the semifinals of her last eight tournaments, including two Grand Slams.

The odds are that fans will get to see Hingis in one of the night matches.

Seabrook honored

The Southern Tennis Association has selected the Seabrook Island Senior Clay Court Tournament as the organization's adult tournament of the year.

Tournament director Tracy Allen received the award for Seabrook Island last weekend at the STA's annual meeting in Atlanta. The STA is composed of nine states and is the largest of the 17 sections of the U.S. Tennis Association.

Challenger circuit set

The S.C. Tennis Association has announced the schedule for this year's Lowcountry Challenger Circuit, a novice-level group of three tournaments and a segment masters where a wild-card berth into the Palmetto Championships at Belton is the reward for winners.

The Lowcountry Circuit is set for Feb. 21-23 at Snee Farm, March 14-16 at Charleston Tennis Center and April 11-13 at Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club.