Let's tune in to the 1992 Australian Open...
TENNIS; New Season Will Probably Be a Spinoff of '91
January 13, 1992
New York Times
On the court and off, tennis took a tumultuous turn in 1991, where breakthroughs, break-ups and breakdowns were circuit staples.
Jimmy Connors, a United States Open semifinalist, and Henri Leconte, the ringer on France's championship Davis Cup team, were resurrected from tennis' terminal unit. Martina Navratilova tied Chris Evert's record of 157 career titles, but failed to defend her record ninth Wimbledon title and found herself on trial for real in Texas. Monica Seles made state-of-the-art money but made people mad with anti-establishment escapades. France stole away the United States' Davis Cup in a rollicking final. Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were slowed to a standstill by injuries when the endless tennis season finally ended.
That means the 1992 season, which begins in earnest today with the Australian Open, will likely prove to be one of several after-shocks: The insurgent, resurgent Connors, who soared from 936th to 48th in the world, will start acting his age, 39, and make his splashiest statements this time around from the broadcast booth. Navratilova, the last of a dying breed of fearless serve-and-volleyers on either tour, will take a final crack at Wimbledon and then concentrate on resolving her palimony wrangle.
Seles, tired from counting the record $2,457,758 million she earned last year, will behave. Becker and Edberg, urged along by the emergence of Jim Courier and Pete Sampras, will play prime-of-life tennis or find themselves bypassed by the bandwagon of youth.
The Young and Restless
Power and money, the sport's two headliners in 1991, remain its clearest constants in 1992, and to the aggravation of those pensioners at the top who had banner years in the 80's, youth persists as the game's best friend. That many of the teen-agers wielding graphite racquets, those great equalizers of experience, are already millionaires is becoming the status quo. On the women's circuit, nearly half the tournaments on the 1991 Kraft Tour were won by teen-agers; this year, teen-agers will claim more than half.
Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy will likely spawn at least one winning teen-ager, perhaps ninth-grader Eva Majoli, a k a the second coming of Seles, who is on the cusp of turning pro. Anke Huber, just 17 years old, and Magdalena Maleeva, 16, Europe's other contributions to the next generation, are already pros. Two American amateurs, Chanda Rubin, 15 and rising from No. 157 to No. 81 since September, and 11-year-old Venus Williams, are also worth watching.
Seles, who won 10 events last year, including the Australian, French, and United States opens, turned 18 in December. Jennifer Capriati won't be 16 until March and is studiously adding a bang-up serve and bolder volley to her arsenal. Capriati can break into the top five before her birthday in March and is the next best United States hope for an enduring No. 1, provided she doesn't weary of the steady diet of tour tennis she's been fed since she was 13.
Capriati, whose $5 million yearly in endorsements indicates she's already regarded as an outright star, can be a charming spokeswoman for her industry for years to come. And her high visibility, along with the celebrity of Andre Agassi, may help tennis's profile and revenues remain afloat in this country and stem a trend that has seen the relocation of a half-dozen events from North America to Germany and Japan.
The women's circuit has been particularly hard hit by such defections; a 1992 tour event at Denver was canceled, tournaments in Albuquerque and Phoenix are troubled, and a new event at Indian Wells, Calif., is without a title sponsor.
The latter predicament is linked to corporate unrest caused by friction between the Women's Tennis Association, the player union headed by reform-minded Gerry Smith, and the umbrella group that has administered women's tennis for 20 years, the Women's International Professional Tennis Council. A division of Kraft, the tour's $6 million title sponsor, reneged on plans for a multiyear sponsorship of the Indian Wells event last November while an as-yet unresolved squabble between the W.T.A., which proposed an alternative tour starting in 1993, and the W.I.P.T.C. was at its height.
As the women's circuit fends off a civil war, the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour claims to be repairing its rift with the International Tennis Federation, fallout from the men's declaration of tour independence four years ago. For the last two years, the two groups have held separate year-end championship events in Germany, with the A.T.P.'s finale upstaged by the I.T.F.'s $6 million Grand Slam Cup. Unfortunately, nothing will change this year.
Nothing will change, either, in the game of musical coaches. For 1992, Graf has selected Heinz Gunthardt, Capriati has snapped up Graf's former coach, Pavel Slozil, and Sampras, unable to reach full-time terms with Capriati's former coach, Tom Gullikson, hired his twin brother, Tim. Mary Joe Fernandez, still lacking panache and creativity, chose Harold Solomon.
Linking Agassi and McEnroe
The hire-a-coach and add-a-stroke philosophy is popular, and the trend toward finding younger mentors, some of them just off the tour, persists: Becker discarded Bob Brett for Tomas Smid, and Agassi, ever in the vanguard, has reserved his coach in advance. Quite serious about acquiring the mental fortitude and strategic canniness needed to take command in a grand slam final, he has asked John McEnroe to tutor him in 1993 if, should best-laid plans hold up, McEnroe retires after 1992.
McEnroe and Agassi can test their compatibility all year on the Davis Cup team, where they'll be joined by Sampras and Rick Leach. And if the United States Tennis Association finds him a wild card, McEnroe's 1992 swan song will continue at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where he'd like to be considered for singles as well as doubles. But with heavy hitters like Sampras and Courier penciled in for singles, McEnroe may have to confine his touch to doubles.
Power tennis remains an inexorable trend: Seles, who went to the final of every event she entered, plays it, Graf perfected it, Capriati thrives on it, and Agassi has put it on billboards and into even Michael Chang's training regimen. Some statistics lie, but last year on the men's tour, despite the unwarranted hubbub over big-servers dealing the game a knockout punch, the 10 men who dealt the most aces in the game were, with the exception of rising star Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, all were in the top 20, an echelon that demands a big game along with the big serve.
All of which portends a big, fast race toward the megabucks at the top by the youngest and fittest in 1992.