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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(11/15/98)  Relentless Graf is back among the tour's elite
Another contender for the No. 1 ranking in women's tennis just arrived, or should we say just returned. Steffi Graf can still dream.

Or maybe, hers is more than a dream.

It's been nearly 18 months since Graf underwent surgery on her left knee, and in so doing convinced many observers to believe her playing career was in jeopardy or possibly over. One setback led to another setback. Her will and perseverance were tested repeatedly in those 18 months.

But 29-year-old Steffi Graf wouldn't surrender.

She won a tournament last Sunday in Germany. She defeated Martina Hingis Friday night in Philadelphia. Yes, it's time for the elite of the tour to take notice. Steffi may indeed be back.

Suddenly, she is ranked in the top 20 in the world, at 17th and sure to climb when the new rankings come out Monday. She also has qualified for the season-ending women's tour championships at Madison Square Garden.

With any kind of luck, Graf could start 1999 ranked in the top 10. By the time the Australian Open ends in January, if she competes, she once again could be the No. 1 player in the world or, at least, breathing down the top players' necks.

That's probably asking too much, except when you're talking about possibly the best player ever to play the women's game.

So, Hingis now has more to worry about than just taking the No. 1 ranking back from Lindsay Davenport, fighting off fellow teen-ager Venus Williams, and outlasting veterans Jana Novotna (already 30 years old), Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (soon to be 27) and Monica Seles (soon to be 25). She's got Steffi on her mind. Interest in women's professional tennis has grown by leaps and bounds in 1998. Next year should be even better.

Consider what Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated On-Line had to say about the health of the women's game: "The popularity of the women's tour is at an all-time high. The top female player (Davenport) is a well-adjusted Californian devoid of pushy parents and pretension. The top three players - ages 18-29 are also the top three doubles players (actually, Davenport, Hingis and Novotna are 1-2-3 in singles, but 4-1-2 in doubles).''

As for tennis as a whole, Wertheim wrote: "There are no drug scandals, no point-shaving allegations, no proliferation of paternity suits, no lockouts, no Lawrence Phillips."

Now, if Pete Sampras can just keep his No. 1 ranking until the end of the year, and Andre Agassi can continue his climb up the ranks to a position of possibly challenging for the No. 1 ranking. He's currently ranked fifth.

Junior event set

The 17th annual Charleston Thanksgiving Junior Classic is scheduled for No. 28-30 at Charleston Tennis Center. The entry deadline is next Saturday.

(11/01/98)  Tennis resort mecca right here in our own backyard
When it comes to tennis resorts, there's no place quite like the South Carolina coast. Or you could go one step further and say the Charleston area's coast. As you might have guessed, Tennis Magazine's Roger Cox has been traveling the country, keeping tabs on tennis resorts. Apparently, he's spent a great deal of time along our coast, especially around Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

Not only are four South Carolina resorts listed among the magazine's top 10 tennis resorts, the Charleston area alone has as many top 10 resorts as any of the other 49 states. Yes, Wild Dunes is back in the top 10 after being left out in 1996 when the magazine last selected the top tennis resorts.

And, of course, Kiawah Island is listed again, although Kiawah has dropped three places from third to sixth. Cox spent some time at Kiawah earlier this year when the Fed Cup was held there.

Wild Dunes, which was in the top 10 in 1994, is rated eighth.

Hilton Head Island's Sea Pines Plantation narrowly missed out on the top spot, finishing as runner-up again to the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort of Longboat Key, Fla. Sea Pines was No. 1 in 1994.

The state's other top 10 resort is another repeater from 1996, No. 7 Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort.

If that wasn't enough, three Hilton Head Island resorts, Palmetto Dunes, Shipyard Plantation and the Westin Resort, were listed among the magazine's 50 Greatest U.S. Tennis Resorts.

"This shows how successful coastal South Carolina is in the market for national business," said Wild Dunes tennis director Rob Eppelsheimer. "Obviously, S.C. coastal tennis is what people on vacation are looking to do."

As for Wild Dunes' listing, he said, "Marketing wise, we'll definitely play off that. We're getting noticed for what we do."

Eppelsheimer, whose wife Kim also is a pro at Wild Dunes, was especially happy this time. He had been disappointed in 1996 when Wild Dunes was left off and his former resort, Litchfield, made the top 10 for the first time.

Cox visited Wild Dunes this time and even took part in some of the tennis activities. He was especially impressed by Wild Dunes' children's program, and ranked the resort first in that category.

Wild Dunes also fared better this time possibly because of the addition of the 93-room Boardwalk Inn, located directly across from the tennis center.

Eppelsheimer heads up the recreational activity for all of Wild Dunes. "That includes everything but tennis and golf," he said.

The key to the recreational program is Wild Dunes' summer intern program. "We bring in 20 HRT (hotel resort tourism) management students each summer," Eppelsheimer said. "These are seniors who have to fulfill an internship in a recreational program."

Kiawah also was ranked (fifth) among the Best Kids Programs.

Cox bases his overall rankings on 24 criteria, which in addition to kids' programs and off-the-court recreational options include teaching staff, game-matching abilities, lodging and cuisine.

Florida and California each landed two places on the top 10 resorts list. Ponte Vedra (Fla.) Inn and Club was ranked third, while Rancho Valencia (Calif.) Resort was ninth and La Quinta (Calif.) Resort and Club claimed 10th. The two other top 10 resorts were No. 4 The Broadmoor of Colorado Springs and No. 5 Topnotch at Stowe (Vt.) Resort and Spa.

Sea Pines, led by former Wimbledon champion Stan Smith, took first place in the Best Tennis Programs category and third in Best Teaching Staff. Litchfield Beach was fourth in Best Tennis Programs and second in Best Bargains. Palmetto Dunes was fifth in Best Tennis Programs.

(08/30/98)  Graf returning to form just in time for U.S. Open
Hooray for Steffi Graf. She may finally be back. Even at age 29. Graf put a sound 6-3, 6-0 beating on Amanda Coetzer Thursday in the Pilot Pen tournament. The victory might not look so significant, but it might be.

You're heard of a player or a team having a nemesis. Well, Coetzer has been the "Graf Beater" since the start of 1997, or about the time Graf's tennis world started falling apart.

It was the moon-balling, retriever-style of play of Coetzer that practically destructed Graf in the first half of an injury-shortened 1997.

In fact, Coetzer was the only player to beat Graf on the court last year.

Coetzer turned the trick three times, twice in Grand Slams (the Australian and French Opens) as well as handed Graf her worst-ever tour loss in a 6-0, 6-1 trouncing in Berlin. Otherwise, Graf went 16-0 in matches that she actually played.

Graf may finally be ready to challenge for her 22nd Grand Slam title after following up her victory over Coetzer with straight-set wins over second-ranked Lindsay Davenport and third-ranked Jana Novotna to win the Pilot Pen.

She needs only three titles to tie Margaret Court Smith's total of 24. Of course, that may be asking too much now.

Yet, anything is possible for Graf in the Open if she can stay healthy.

It really would be great to see Graf still around for championship weekend at the U.S. Open.

Monica's next

If not Graf, then Monica Seles.

Second on my wish list for the women's final would be Seles. She has beaten Martina Hingis twice now this year, including last weekend in Montreal. Monica appears to be lean and fit. She definitely is capable of winning the Open.

For Graf to come back from the edge of injury-forced retirement to win the Open would be the ultimate comeback of the year. But a U.S. Open title for Seles wouldn't rank far down the list of great comebacks and perseverances.

Seles has won one major, the Australian Open, since her return to the tour in 1995. Only now, though, does she appear to be completely fit and ready to contend for the top ranking.

After Graf and Seles, my wish would be for Venus Williams. Such an accomplishment would set off an even bigger explosion of interest in women's tennis.

Fourth on my wish list would be a repeat of her Wimbledon success for Novotna. On hard surface, Novotna should be difficult to beat, regardless of the opposition.

And there's still Davenport, who is playing the best tennis on the women's tour right now. In fact, she's probably the favorite to win the U.S. Open.

Then there's Serena Williams. She's still trying to escape from Venus' shadow, but her time will come.

What about young Anna Kournikova? She certainly is capable of beating anyone in the draw.

Don't forget a revived Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. And certainly not Hingis.

That's nine legitimate contenders, without even counting the likes of Mary Pierce, Conchita Martinez and Irina Spirlea. Women's tennis has never been deeper, or in better shape.

That's amazing. Much of the talk has been on the youngsters. But going into the fourth Grand Slam event of the year, the kids haven't been in a Grand-Slam final since January.

TV ratings up

Men's tennis also is doing well, especially with the revival of Andre Agassi. The recent Pete Sampras-Agassi quarterfinal match in Toronto produced the largest viewership ever for an ESPN2 ATP Tour night broadcast.

The .68 rating for that match was the fourth-highest of any ESPN2 sports telecast during the week, according to the ATP Tour. ESPN's ratings for the Mercedes Super 9 broadcast package are up 41 percent, while ESPN2's ratings for ATP Tour tennis have doubled since last year. The 41 percent increase is the biggest ratings growth any sport package has experienced on ESPN this year.

Venus rules

Venus Williams is making quite a name for herself. The September issue of George Magazine lists the 18-year-old along with the likes of Hillary Clinton in its `20 Women Who Rule` for 1999.

(08/23/98)  Sampras will return to No. 1 on Monday
Pete Sampras may be ranked No. 2 in the world right now behind Marcelo Rios, and Patrick Rafter may be threatening to push Sampras another notch lower. But wait until Monday. Pete will be No. 1 again.

The fact the world's top three men's players suffered losses Thursday guarantees Sampras a return to the top spot in the new rankings.

Another thing to remember for the upcoming weeks is that Sampras isn't the defending U.S. Open champion, and therefore has only points for a fourth-round finish in the Open to defend the next three weeks. Of course, Rafter has big points to defend for the next three weeks, runner-up points this coming week at Long Island's Hamlet Cup as well as championship points at the U.S. Open. Rios also must defend runner-up points from last year's Boston event while playing this coming week at Long Island. He was a quarterfinalist last year at the U.S. Open.

Sampras is sitting prettily in points, as a result of not having played the week before the U.S. Open last year and sitting out that week again this year. If Sampras happens to win the U.S. Open, it would be safe to say that he would gain solid control of the No. 1 ranking, especially if Rios and Rafter happen to falter early.

Of course, Sampras could falter, considering his 6-3, 6-4 loss to Leander Paes Thursday at the Pilot Pen International. Not only is Paes ranked 100th in singles, he had to qualify just to get into the tournament.

Yes, Pete looks vulnerable, but no more so than he did before sweeping through Wimbledon. Just like at Wimbledon, he'll be going for title No. 5.

The stiffest competition for Sampras at the U.S. Open might even come from someone other than Rios and Rafter. Andre Agassi is now ranked eighth in the world, and he at least made it through Thursday's round at Indianapolis.

Agassi actually is playing well enough to win the U.S. Open. If that happened, he would suddenly jump into contention for the No. 1 spot. Women's race tight, too

As Lindsay Davenport says, she's now only hundreds of points behind Martina Hingis in the women's rankings, not thousands. Hingis is only 444 points ahead of Davenport, and red-hot Jana Novotna is just 400 points below Davenport.

With Hingis having to defend championships points from last year's U.S. Open, Davenport actually could surpass Hingis by winning the U.S. Open. With the right set of results at the U.S. Open, even Novotna could surpass Hingis in the rankings. Williams sisters on TV

Venus and Serena Williams will be the hosts today for the first tennis television special targeted to a young audience. Topspin will premier today at 12:30 p.m. on CBS.

The 30-minute show will return next Sunday at 1:30 p.m. with Luke and Murphy Jensen serving as hosts.

Topspin will become an ongoing tennis program for kids, with three broadcasts planned in 1999.

(06/21/98)  No `bad birthday' presence
Junior tennis in this country will undergo a major facelift. The "good birthday'' will change. There will no longer be a "bad birthday'' in junior tennis.

Juniors with January birthdays will no longer have the huge advantage they once had over players with birthdays in the last few months of the year.

Junior play has been governed by the calendar year. If a player turned 14 on Dec. 31, the player was forced to move up to 16-and-under the next day, Jan. 1.

But that rule will end with 1998. Under the U.S. Tennis Association's new birthday rule, the player with the Dec. 31 birthday could remain in the 14-and-under division through Nov. 30 of the following year, or practically the entire year.

The new rule will take effect at the start of 1999 for all USTA-sanctioned events. Basically, the new rule allows juniors to play in an age division until the month they age out of that division.

In other words, a player can play in one division until the last day of the month in the month immediately preceding the birthday month in which they surpass the age limit of the division. If a tournament carries over from one month to the next (to the birthday month), the player can play in that tournament before moving up to a new division.

Of course, players can continue to play in higher age divisions.

Junior tennis will look a great deal differently next year, especially at tournaments such as the prestigious Palmetto Championships, which have been played for the last week in Belton.

Some players who were dominant in their age groups may not be quite as dominant, and players who were not factors before might suddenly become very competitive, thanks to the new rule.

This rule appears to be fair to everyone.

One important feature of the rule is that it will allow many players a chance to participate in junior tennis the spring of their senior year and the summer before attending college. Many players with "bad birthdays" had been lost in the tennis shuffle after their high school tennis season. That was especially true for girls who play their high school seasons in the fall.

The most complex part about the new birthday rule will be the rankings. USTA officials are still working on the ranking criteria.

Belton hopping

If your life is dull, you should enter two children in the Palmetto Championships in different age divisions, say 10-and-under or 12-and-under and one of the older divisions. That'll keep you hopping for a few days.

You might be playing an early-morning match in Anderson with the younger player, then jumping in your car for the 30-minute hike to Belton for the older junior's match. Or you might even have to take the nearly one-hour jaunt through the country to Due West, home of Erskine College's excellent tennis facility.

And that's just the first singles matches of the day.

Suppose, the players are in the consolation feed-ins or Challenger Tournament. You might have to repeat this same shuffle in early afternoon for the second matches of the day.

Don't forget the doubles. That might mean a third match of the day for both players.

Before you head out, you'd better pick up some Gatorade. If the juniors don't need it, you might.

This has been going on for 42 years now. Parents do survive.

Belton notes

Rain washed out most of Friday's doubles in the Palmetto Championships, but Charleston's Ryan Young and James Tinkey went indoors in Spartanburg to claim the boys' 14 title with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Will Kieffer of Hilton Head Island and Jason McAlhaney of Aiken.

Erika Shortridge of Goose Creek and Natalie Ferrara of Charleston won the girls' 12 doubles title Thursday over Mount Pleasant's Kalee Claussen and Aiken's Stacey Percival.

Other doubles finals will be played later at neutral sites and reported to the tournament. The results, as they are reported, can be found on the internet at www.tennisinformation.com.

The Charleston area has several other players in doubles finals. Emily Applegate and Maggie Valiunas are in the girls' 14 final; Katie Coleman is in the girls' 16 final with Myrtle Beach's Elizabeth Proctor against Charleston's Elissa Kinard and Columbia's Fallon Koon; Maiko Cook made the girls' 18 final with Joyce Bergman of Hilton Head Island. Charleston's Nicky Valiunas and Jason Basile were the top-seeded boys' 12 doubles team and Charleston's Nat Estes and Columbia's Austin Francis were seeded second.

The boys' 18 singles final was interrupted by a thunderstorm and then resumed, but had to be switched to indoors in Spartanburg for the final eight points of a third-set tiebreaker. Top-seeded Ryan Haviland of Sumter was down 2-1 in the tiebreaker when the downpour came, but rallied indoors to complete a 6-3, 6-7 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4) victory over second-seeded Lesley Joseph of Rock Hill.

Charleston won only two singles titles at Belton, Alice Knowlton in girls' 10 and Nicky Valiunas in boys' 12, but the area might have picked up another title if Victoria Moody had not been sidelined by an injury. Moody, the girls' 14 runner-up to Mary Neill Hagood in 1997, was the top seed this year in the division before having to withdraw.

(04/20/98)  Seles, Davenport complete Fed Cup sweep
KIAWAH ISLAND - Sunday was a red, white and blue day at Americanized East Beach Tennis Center. America's Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles were in full bloom in a 5-0 victory over the Netherlands. Davenport, the world's No. 2-ranked player, actually finished off the Dutch in a 6-1, 6-2 bombardment of Miriam Oremans in the first singles match to give the United States a 3-0 lead in the best-of-five KB Fed Cup first-round competition.

Seles blitzed 200th-ranked Amanda Hopmans, 6-1, 6-2, in the meaningless second match as an orange-clad Dutch fan in the capacity crowd of 2,035 begged Seles for just one game late in the second set.

The winner of nine Grand Slam tournaments smiled and temporarily lost her focus at 5-0. "I love you Monica,'' the fan shouted when Seles double-faulted to lose the sixth game. Seles acknowledged the fan with a smile, then lost the next game before finishing off the match.

Playing in a cozy stadium wrapped with a red, white and blue banner, the high-powered U.S. team closed out the day with a 6-1, retired, doubles victory by Lisa Raymond and Mary Joe Fernandez over Manon Bollegraf and Carolina Vis when Vis retired after the first set with a leg muscle injury.

"Lindsay took all of the pressure off,'' said a relaxed Seles, now 6-0 in Fed Cup competition.

The victory sends the Americans to Fed Cup powerhouse Spain for a July 25-26 showdown, probably on red clay. Spain, which had won four titles in five years before losing to the United States in the 1996 Fed Cup final, also won Sunday, 3-2, over Germany.

America had its best players for this tie, much to the dismay of Oremans, who had scored a pair of singles victories last year in the Netherlands' 3-2 first-round upset of the Americans.

"I think they felt revenge,'' Oremans said. "Otherwise they don't come up with the team they had today.''

The Dutch team's task was huge from the start. The fact the Netherlands had beaten the Americans last year and finished as runner-up to France really didn't come into play. Oremans and Hopmans were forced to play two of probably the best five players in the world, although Seles is currently ranked seventh.

Prior to record-setting server Brenda Schultz-McCarthy's withdrawal last weekend because of a back injury, Oremans was just the Netherlands' No. 2 player, and Hopmans had never faced a player ranked higher than No. 73 in the world. Hopmans probably now will return to the challenger circuit after a weekend against the greats of the women's game.
Davenport and Seles lost a total of 14 games. While only Seles had been sharp the first day, both played excellent tennis Sunday. They definitely were on.

Davenport could do no wrong against Oremans as she improved her Fed Cup record to 16-2. The 6-2 ½ American knocked off winners from both sides, leaving the Dutch player wrong-footed many times.

Oremans committed 35 unforced errors in the one-hour match. Other than the first two points of the match and holding serve in the third game, she won only five points in the first set. By the time Oremans served at 0-3 in the second set, she had won only 16 total points in the match.

The match was completely different from a day earlier when Davenport struggled to a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Hopmans to stake the Americans to a 1-0 lead. For Oremans, the loss to Davenport was by the same score by which she lost to Seles the first day in which the United States grabbed a 2-0 lead.

"I think for Lindsay to start today with a 2-0 lead (in team score) than 0-0 like yesterday made a big difference,'' Oremans said.

"She knows me for a long time and she didn't know Amanda Hopmans. She was just on a roll today and I wasn't''

Davenport was pleased with her play. "I felt like today was a completely different match,'' said Davenport. "Yesterday I was playing a player I had never played before and I was expected to win.''

(04/16/98)  Netherlands loses Schultz-McCarthy to injury
The U.S. Fed Cup team no longer has to worry about the bullet serves of Brenda Schultz-McCarthy. She's injured.

And in the process, the Americans' goal of gaining revenge against the Netherlands in this weekend's Fed Cup tie at Kiawah Island's East Beach Tennis Center looks even more obtainable.

Schultz-McCarthy, the owner of the fastest serve in women's tennis at 123 mph, played the last two weeks at Hilton Head Island and Amelia Island, Fla., losing her last two singles matches. She has been listed definitely out of this weekend's competition, but Dutch officials have not confirmed her injury.

According to U.S. Tennis Association officials, Schultz-McCarthy is not at Kiawah Island, but little-known Amanda Hopmans is. There are unconfirmed reports that Hopmans will replace Schultz-McCarthy.

Hopmans, a 22-year-old, is ranked No. 200 in the world in singles and 191 in doubles.

Dutch Fed Cup captain Fred Hemmes has until 10 a.m. Friday to announce the replacement for Schultz-McCarthy. The draw for the tie will be announced at 11 a.m. Friday at East Beach, at which times the two singles pairings for Saturday and the two singles and doubles pairings for Sunday will be announced.

"I'm sorry she can't play," U.S. Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King said about the absence of Schultz-McCarthy. "I have to worry about who's here."

King is more concerned about gaining revenge for the 3-2 defeat the Dutch team put on the Americans in last year's first round of KB Fed Cup play. Martina Navratilova was the U.S. Fed Cup captain for that tie, along with a victory over Japan in a qualifying match last year that allowed the Americans to return to the eight-team World Group this year.

A victory over the Dutch would put the Americans in the KB Fed Cup semifinals against the winner of this weekend's Germany-Spain tie. The semifinal tie would be played in Spain if the Spanish advance. Prior to the last two years, Spain had won four out of the last five Fed Cups.

The other first-round pairings this weekend pit defending Fed Cup champion France against Belgium and the Czech Republic against Martina Hingis and Switzerland.

The first-round losers will be forced to play a qualifying match to requalify for the 1999 World Group.

Without McCarthy, the Dutch team has only three official players, Miriam Oremans, who scored a pair of singles victories over the Americans in last year's tie, and the highly ranked doubles team of Manon Bollegraf (No. 5) and Caroline Vis (No. 13). Oremans is ranked No. 53 in singles this week and No. 32 in doubles.

Both teams practiced Wednesday at East Beach, and each will hold two practices today.

The U.S. team also was missing one player at Wednesday's practice. Monica Seles was scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening.

Seles, currently ranked seventh in the world in singles, suffered an early-round loss to Lisa Raymond last week at Amelia Island.

World's No. 2-ranked Lindsay Davenport (No. 3 in doubles), Raymond (No. 17 singles, 14 doubles) and Mary Joe Fernandez (No. 24 singles, 23 doubles) round out the four-player U.S. team.

"I'm happy Monica is back with us playing against the Netherlands," King said.

"Along with Mary Joe Fernandez and Lindsay Davenport, Monica was on the winning Fed Cup team against Spain in 1996."

Only a limited number of tickets remained Wednesday afternoon.

The only tickets left for Saturday's 1 p.m. session were 28 box seats ($75 each). A similar number of box seats also remain for Sunday's noon schedule, along with 12 bleacher seats ($30 each).  Ticket information is available by calling 768-2900.

(04/12/98)  Fed Cup similar to Davis Cup
What is the Fed Cup? It's the younger sister of the Davis Cup.

The Federation Cup was started in 1963 by the International Lawn Tennis Federation. The world-wide governing body of tennis, now known as the ITF, still organizes and conducts the Fed Cup competition yearly.

The competition is in its 36th year, a little more than one-third as old as men's 98-year-old Davis Cup.

Today, the format is similar to Davis Cup in that a tie is made up of four singles matches and one doubles. Whereas in Davis Cup, the doubles match is played on the middle day of a three-day weekend, a Fed Cup tie is for only two days, with the doubles match capping the event the second day. Like Davis Cup, a country needs three points to win a tie.

But until 1991 the Fed Cup was played at one site for an entire week. With as many as 70 countries participating at one site, there became a need for a new format. A Regional Qualifying tournament was held, with the top 32 nations advancing to compete for the silver rose bowl trophy that goes to the winner each year. The competition was two singles and one doubles match.

The format was overhauled again in 1995 and the name was shortened to Fed Cup. Matches, or ties, started being contested on a home-and-away basis by a World Group of the eight strongest nations, and eight nations in Group One, with the remainder of the countries competing in Regional Qualifying for a chance to play for a promotion to Group One the following year.

The United States lost to the Netherlands in a first-round match last year and therefore was forced to win a qualifying round match against Japan later last year to return to this year's eight-country World Group.

Only seven countries have won the Fed Cup, led by the United States with 15 titles and Australia with seven. But before losing 3-0 to the Americans in 1996 at Atlantic City, N.J., Spain had won four titles in five years, its only titles. The other four countries that have won titles are Czechoslovakia (5), Germany (2), South Africa (1) and France (1).

The competition is now officially known as the KB Fed Cup. It is sponsored by KB, Komercni Banka; Cadillac; Nike; and Vossen.

(04/08/98)  Fed Cup adds Seles to `formidable' squad
The United States is bringing out its biggest guns for its first-round KB Fed Cup match against the Netherlands April 18-19 at Kiawah Island. Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles, this country's two highest-ranked women's tennis players, have been named to lead the Americans against the Dutch. The announcement was made Tuesday by U.S. Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King through the host U.S. Tennis Association.

Lisa Raymond and Mary Joe Fernandez, ranked 19th and 23rd in the world in singles, respectively, will round out the four-player team. Davenport is currently ranked second and Seles is seventh.

"With Monica, Mary Joe, Lindsay and Lisa, I know we have assembled a formidable U.S. team," King said. "This is the best possible team for our revenge against the Dutch."

The revenge factor was created by the Netherlands' 3-2 victory over the Americans in last year's first round. The United States was then forced to defeat Japan in a qualifying match just to get into this year's world competition, while the Dutch team led by hard-serving Brenda Schultz-McCarthy went on to finish as the 1997 runner-up to France.

Neither Davenport nor Seles played last year against the Dutch, but both were on the team in 1996 that defeated Spain in the final. But Schultz-McCarthy, who holds the record for the fastest women's serve, defeated Davenport last year at the Family Circle Cup on a surface similar to the clay surface at Kiawah Island's East Beach Tennis Center.

The announcement that Seles would play for the United States excited Kiawah director of tennis Roy Barth.

"Monica has become one of the biggest names in tennis over the past 10 years. It is great for Kiawah and Charleston to have her playing here," said Barth, a former men's tour player.

"Billie Jean King is a legend, Monica is a great player, and Lindsay has the potential of winning the Grand Slam. America should be favored to win, but in tennis you never can assume anything. Brenda Shultz-McCarthy is quite a challenge to the American team with her well-known serve."

Schultz-McCarthy, currently ranked 26th in the world, will lead the Dutch team that also will include Miriam Oremans (No. 52 in the world). The Netherlands' doubles team is expected to be Manon Bollegraf and Caroline Vis, who are ranked No. 5 and 13 in the world in doubles, respectively.

The format calls for the draw to be made on Friday, April 17 at 11 a.m. The first of two singles matches on that Saturday will begin at 1 p.m., with two more singles to be played on Sunday starting at noon, followed by one doubles match.

Seles, who had a 4-0 Fed Cup singles record in 1996 in her only year on the team, had said last week at the Family Circle Cup that she would wait until the last minute to decide if she would play Fed Cup. But the International Tennis Federation's deadline for competing countries to turn in their rosters is today, forcing Seles to make her decision early.

"Monica loves Fed Cup, so does Lisa, Mary Joe and Lindsay," U.S. Fed Cup chairman Carole Graebner, like King a former player, said Tuesday from her New York office.

"If they make a commitment, you have it 100 percent. These are professional women."

Graebner talked about how interchangable the U.S. team is. "They all play good singles and doubles," she said.

Davenport and Seles advanced to the singles quarterfinals of the Family Circle. Raymond was a semifinalist in singles and a finalist in doubles where she is ranked 14th in the world. Raymond has teamed with Davenport to reach two Grand Slam finals. She also has one mixed doubles Grand Slam title and was one of only five players to defeat top-ranked Martina Hingis in 1997.

Also, Seles and Davenport are playing doubles together this week at Amelia Island.

Fernandez, ranked 21st in doubles, has missed all of this year because of wrist surgery, but she won Olympic gold medals for doubles in 1992 and 1996.

As for tickets to the Fed Cup weekend, they are almost exhausted, according to Fed Cup director of operations Kathy Moloney. "We have about 200 tickets left and they are going quickly," she said.

"The stadium is almost complete and the remainder of the tents will be going up this weekend. The teams are scheduled to arrive Monday."

Fed Cup ticket information is available by calling 803-768-2900. USTA members will receive a 10 percent discount on all tickets purchased in advance.

(04/02/98)  Novotna hopes improvement will lead to Slam title
HILTON HEAD ISLAND - As Jana Novotna closes in on her 30th birthday, one thing is missing from her brilliant career, a Grand Slam title. She had Steffi Graf beaten in the 1993 Wimbledon final, holding a 4-1, 40-30 lead in the third set. She double-faulted and didn't win another game, crying afterwards on the Dutchess of Kent's shoulders.

But that was a long time ago. Novotna is playing even better tennis these days, as was evident by her Chase Corel WTA Tour Championship at the end of 1997.

So, isn't it time for Novotna to win a couple Grand Slam titles? She definitely has the game to win at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

"A couple! I wish. One there, one there. You're talking about a couple. I'm talking about one,'' Novotna emphasized Wednesday after defeating Sandra Kleinova, 6-4, 6-3, in the second round of the Family Circle Cup.

"The last few years really I found myself and I'm playing better tennis than I ever did, but Grand Slam is a very long tournament. You have to face many different opponents and it's a long two weeks. So hopefully one of these days I can put it all together at one tournament and finally win a Grand Slam, and that will make me really happy.''

Novotna ended 1997 ranked second in the world and is currently ranked third. She made it to the Wimbledon final again last year and even won the first set against Martina Hingis before faltering. She also was in the 1991 Australian Open final.

Novotna uses big serves and slices, follows them to the net and then takes advantage of her 5-9 height and athletic ability to volley as well as any woman in the game.

Clay is not her best surface, but she made it to the semifinals here in 1996. This year, she's at the bottom of the draw, with top-seeded Lindsay Davenport at the top.

Novotna faces the winner of the Magui Serna-Elena Likhovtseva match, which was interrupted by rain Wednesday.
"I didn't do very well (here) last year, so hopefully I will do better this year,'' said Novotna, who lost in the third round last year.

"Usually, I am much more aggressive (than she was against Kleinova), but because I was on clay and because it was the first time, I really wasn't 100 percent sure how to win the points. It takes a couple of matches before you get used to it.''
Talking about rain problems, Monica Seles experienced her share of them Wednesday.

She was interrupted twice against Barbara Paulus.

The first rain delay came after Seles held service in the first game and then trailed Paulus 30-love in the second game. They resumed play an hour later, and Seles came back to win the second game but lost the third game for a 2-1 lead before being interrupted again. Eventually, Paulus retired when Seles took a 6-2, 0-1 lead.

Attendance at this year's Family Circle is looking a lot like last year's record-setting total of 82,000. The 5,245 fans who watched Davenport dominate Corina Morariu Tuesday night pushed the attendance total to 28,705.

Davenport has always had the talent, but now she actually plays like the No. 2 player in the world. In her 6-3, 6-0 blitzing of Morariu, Davenport played as big as she looks.

Veteran NBC-TV analyst Bud Collins has been posted at the gate to the courts promoting his new book on tennis. Collins writes columns for the Boston Globe, directs the Friday Chartruese Gallagher Press Tournament and then does commentary for NBC's Saturday and Sunday telecasts of the Family Circle's last two rounds.

(04/02/98)  Glass-shattering strokes surprise Sanchez Vicario
HILTON HEAD ISLAND - What a forehand? Andrea Glass is no Steffi Graf, even though she's a blonde German. But nationality, hair color and a "G'' aren't the only things Glass has in common with the women's tennis great.

She could break more than glass with her forehand, as former champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario discovered on a rainy Wednesday at Sea Pines Racquet Club in the second round of the $926,250 Family Circle Cup. Glass, a 21-year-old ranked 94th in the world, sent the No. 7 seed packing with a 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 6-2 victory.

Sixth-seeded Iva Majoli, the French Open champion, was another upset victim, losing to Mariaan de Swardt, 6-4, 7-5. Also, Virginia Ruano Pascual eliminated 10th-seeded Nathalie Tauziat, 7-5, 6-1.

Sanchez Vicario's upset left the Family Circle without a former champion in the field. Again, as in the case of former two-time champion Conchita Martinez losing to little-known Magdalena Grzybowska in her first match Tuesday, this was a major upset.

Currently ranked fifth in the world, Sanchez Vicario looked like one of the favorites in the absence of 1997 champion Martina Hingis. The 26-year-old Spaniard won this tournament in 1996, was a finalist in 1993 and advanced to the semifinals three other times. She came here with a 24-9 Family Circle record and ranked second to Martinez in tournament earnings at Sea Pines with $393,405.

Glass got into the Family Circle only by winning two qualifying matches last weekend. Of course, it may have been those two extra matches, as well as her first-round victory over another qualifier, Catalina Cristea, that prepared Glass on clay and helped her overcome Sanchez Vicario.

"The forehand . . . that's her shot,'' said Sanchez Vicario, who made the mistake of trying to outhit the 5-5 ½ Glass. "I tried to go down the line, but I made too many errors.''

That isn't to say Sanchez Vicario didn't have her chances. After saving the first set by winning the last three points of the tiebreaker, she rallied from 3-0 down to take a 5-4 lead in the second set as Glass appeared to collapse
But Glass rediscovered her forehand and sailed through the next five games for a 2-0 lead in the third set. By then, Sanchez Vicario had suffered an injury and left the court with the trainer to have her left thigh taped.

Glass played a loose third game, but pulled her big strokes together to close out Sanchez Vicario in two hours and 25 minutes without another serious threat.

"I made too many unforced errors,'' Sanchez Vicario said. "I think I did not play well enough to win.''

The match was interrupted early in the first set by rain, but Sanchez Vicario said the delay didn't affect the outcome of the match.

"I should have been more patient. I did not play long enough (points) to make her run,'' said Sanchez Vicario, whose clay-court game normally is one of patience rather than power.

Glass beamed with delight after the victory. "This is my biggest win ever,'' she said.

She agreed that her cross-court forehand kept Sanchez Vicario at bay. "Yes, that's my game and that's what I tried to do also,'' she said.

Second-seeded Jana Novotna had little trouble winning her first match of the tournament, a 6-4, 6-3 decision over Sandra Kleinova.

Third-seeded Monica Seles survived two rain delays before Barbara Paulus retired because of an elbow injury with Seles leading, 6-2, 0-1; No. 9 Irina Spirlea rallied to defeat Florencia Labat, 5-7 (7-3), 6-2, 6-1; No. 15 Lisa Raymond defeated Rita Grande, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4); and No. 16 Natasha Zvereva defeated big-serving Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, 6-2, 6-2.
Fourth-seeded Amanda Coetzer trailed Silvia Farina, 2-1, in a night match before rain halted play for the day. Fifth-seeded Mary Pierce's scheduled feature night match against Anne Miller also was a casualty of the rain.

A total of seven of the 16 seeds have been eliminated in the first two rounds, and three (Coetzer, Pierce and No. 14 Patty Schnyder) of the nine seeds left haven't finished or started their second-round matches.

Play will begin at 9:30 a.m. today, with Pierce taking on Miller in the first match.

Wednesday Singles, Second Round
Jana Novotna (2), Czech Republic, def. Sandra Kleinova, Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-3.
Lisa Raymond (15), Norristown, Pa., def. Rita Grande, Italy, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
Andrea Glass, Germany, def. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (7), Spain, 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 6-2.
Ruxandra Dragomir, Romania, def. Naoko Sawamatsu, Japan, 6-0, 6-2.
Irina Spirlea (9), Romania, def. Florencia Labat, Argentina, 6-7 (7-3), 6-2, 6-0.
Natasha Zvereva (16), Belarus, def. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Netherlands, 6-2, 6-2.
Monica Seles (3), Sarasota, Fla., def. Barbara Paulus, Austria, 6-2, 0-1 retired.
Mariaan de Swardt, South Africa, def. Iva Majoli (6), Croatia, 6-4, 7-5.
Virginia Ruano-Pascual, Spain, def. Nathalie Tauziat (10), France, 7-5, 6-1.
Silvia Farina, Italy, leads Amanda Coetzer (4), South Africa, 2-1, susp., rain.
Magui Serna, Spain, leads Elena Likhovtseva, Russia, 7-5, 1-4, susp., rain.

(03/22/98)  Davenport may be one to beat
There was a time not too long ago when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez caused panic for their opponents at the Family Circle Magazine Cup. They were the best clay-courters in the game, and the clay surface at Sea Pines Racquet Club suited their games perfectly. So, there was reason to be concerned.

Entering the 1997 Family Circle, they had combined to win the tournament three straight years. It was thought that these two Spaniards could beat just about anyone on the soft surface.

But with this year's Family Circle just over a week away, Sanchez Vicario and Martinez probably aren't the players to beat. They actually are struggling just to remain in the top 10. Sanchez Vicario is ranked eighth and Martinez ninth.
So, who is the favorite?

Most of the talk is centered around second-ranked Lindsay Davenport. Of course, top-ranked and defending champion Martina Hingis is skipping Hilton Head Island.

But Davenport has never even reached the semifinals at Sea Pines. She a big-hitting player, who usually isn't regarded too highly on clay, even though she will lead the Americans against the Netherlands April 18-19 in the KB Fed Cup at Kiawah Island.

Who is the favorite then?

The player to beat shouldn't be third-ranked Jana Novotna, although Novotna is playing the best tennis of her career. She still has not won a Grand Slam title, thanks to her chokes against Steffi Graf. But she did win last year's season-ending Chase Championships, perhaps her biggest breakthrough.

There's fourth-ranked Monica Seles, No. 5 Amanda Coetzer, No. 6 Mary Pierce, No. 7 Iva Majoli and No. 10 Irina Spirlea to consider. Seles, of course, is playing her first tournament of the year in the Lipton; Pierce is a hard-courter; and the little Coetzer still has to prove she can win this tournament.

That leaves Majoli and Spirlea, along with the Spanish clay-courters and a bevy of capable players ranked out of the top 10.

Majoli is the French Open champion, being the only player to best Hingis in a Grand Slam since 1996. That also was on clay. So, you've got to think this tall Croatian is capable of coming to Hilton Head Island and walking off with the title.
Mary Joe Fernandez, this year's Family Circle Player Who Makes a Difference Award winner, took part in a telephone conference call Thursday and rated the favorites.

"She's a hard hitter, dangerous, and she's a favorite for sure," Fernandez said about Davenport. "And then I think after her comes Novotna. I wouldn't say clay is her best surface, but she's always had good results, and she takes the first months of the year off to get in shape for the rest of the year.

"Monica is playing at the Lipton, so that's still to see. I don't know how much she's been practicing or anything. Nobody knows what kind of shape she's in.

"Amanda is always tough. You're always going to see her do well and fight through her draw and get to the later rounds. Pierce has been playing well, too."

What about the clay-courters?

"Usually there's like one or two (favorites) that you pretty much rely on, and then you have your clay-courters like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez. I mean, those used to be the favorites. So, I still list them as favorites because they play really well on clay. They're experts on the clay."

That brings everything back to where we started. Maybe the top players should start worrying about the clay-courters again. Without Hingis and Steffi Graf in the field, Sanchez Vicario and Martinez have about as good a chances as anyone.

Dutch team named

The Netherlands' Fed Cup team that will oppose the United States will be made up of hard-serving Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Miriam Oremans, Manon Bollegraf and Caroline Vis. Schultz-McCarthy is the highest-ranked of the group in singles with a No. 24 world ranking, but Bollegraf is rated fifth in doubles and Vis is 13th in doubles.

Schultz-McCarthy, Oremans and Bollegraf were all members of the team that upset the Americans, 3-2, in last year's Fed Cup competition.

(02/08/98)  Fed Cup tickets in demand
What could be finer than to be on the beach at Kiawah Island in late April, with a little tennis squeezed in? With that question in mind, there might not be many empty seats for the U.S.-Netherlands KB Fed Cup tie scheduled for April 18 and 19 at Kiawah Island. Only about 3,000 tickets were available at the start, and that total has dropped about 30 percent already, according to Jeff Ryan, the USTA's Fed Cup-Davis Cup manager.

One reason for the early heavy demand is the location. Kiawah Island is a fairly prime resort destination for springtime. Adding to that is the fact the Fed Cup isn't just a local promotion. It's worldwide.

The Fed Cup, like the Davis Cup, is run by London's International Tennis Federation. The competition has international sponsors, including its title sponsor, Komercni Banka of the Czech Republic, as well as Nike, Cadillac and Vossen.

So, if you're a KB Bank executive in the Czech Republic or elsewhere, wouldn't you want to spend some time at Kiawah Island? There you have it, the host USTA has to make the ITF and its international Fed Cup sponsors happy first.

"They (the ITF) own and operate the Fed Cup and Davis Cup," Ryan said Friday morning while visiting Kiawah Island.

"We have obligations to them. We have to give up some of our inventory to them, but they sponsor it. It's a great deal for both sides. It's a true sponsorship.

"They bring the base to support the project."

Ryan also has a large block of tickets assigned to International Tennis Tour, a travel agency the USTA works with that brings in large groups.

"I believe all of the tickets will sell," Ryan said. "We haven't placed an ounce of advertising, yet, just press releases and word of mouth. But we have pieces about to hit mass mailing and membership lists."

As an example of promotions in the works, an insert in the soon-to-be- mailed Southern Tennis Association Yearbook will promote the Fed Cup. An advertisement also will be in the upcoming S.C. Tennis Association magazine.

"We want to do a better job of letting our members know," Ryan said.

"Our members," of course, are USTA members, who will be given a 10 percent discount on advance ticket purchases.

After all of this, the USTA will promote the Fed Cup in media advertisements.

Ryan has been working with the Fed Cup for less than a year now, but he is no newcomer to sports event promotions. He was with the International Management Group for 10 years, and promoted WTA and ATP events all over the country.

"I've even done a dog show in Baltimore, Md., a few years ago that was sponsored by the American Kennel Club," Ryan said.

As the Fed Cup countdown continues, U.S. team captain Billie Jean King is scheduled to conduct a conference call Tuesday with the news media. Although she isn't expected to announce her team yet, King surely is counting on second-ranked Lindsay Davenport and fourth-ranked Monica Seles as possible singles players.

The next highest-ranked U.S. player is 17-year-old Venus Williams, currently ranked 14th in the world or one notch ahead of Fed Cup veteran Mary Joe Fernandez.

Venus is no novice at doubles, either. She teamed with Justin Gimbelstob to win the mixed doubles title in the just completed Grand Slam Australian Open.

If you're planning to attend the Fed Cup, tickets are now available by calling 1-800-654-2924 or 803-768-2900.

USA Tennis Day

The day will be May 9. The USTA and the Tennis Industry Association announced Thursday plans for a nationwide USA Tennis Day as part of USA Tennis Month.

The day will be the initial kickoff of a five-year $50 million commitment to increase tennis participation in the United States. The day's activities will include national events in New York City and Washington, D.C., with Charleston and more than 150 cities throughout the country also participating in USA Tennis Free For All festival events. Columbia, Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Spartanburg also will be among the cities.

However, the USTA announced that the bulk of its resources will be used in 16 Tier I Markets, cities such as Boston, Colorado Springs and Charlotte. Charleston and the other five South Carolina cities are in Tier III, which will receive some financial support to promote and stage USA Tennis Free For All activities.

For Charleston, it appears the most significant part of the announcement will be that the USTA Adult League is changing its name in 1999 to USA League Tennis.