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V.S.
Jan 4th, 2002, 11:03 PM
Who da (wo)man?


By Matt Price





Alicia Molik is tops on grass. (Allsport)


IT's hard to argue that Lleyton Hewitt has not been the best male player in the world this year. In between scandals and shouting, he has won 10 more matches than anyone else on the ATP Tour, won his maiden grand slam title and blitzed the world's best at the Masters Cup in Sydney. Rating the world's best woman is a little trickier. Lindsay Davenport is officially the best, having finished the year ranked No1, but she is only one of a handful of highly paid high achievers with a claim to the title.

Lindsay Davenport: The quiet achiever of women's tennis - if you can be a quiet achiever while standing at 189 centimetres - and Davenport was a "surprise" No1 at the end of the season despite winning 62 matches this year. But Davenport has four empty shelves in her trophy cabinet, and she is the first to admit that her failure to win a grand slam title (for the first time since 1997) scuppers any claim that she's the best.


Jennifer Capriati: There is no doubt that 2001 was the best year of Capriati's career. Ranked No14 on January 1, she was popping champagne corks on Melbourne beaches less than a month later after an unlikely Australian Open triumph. She won again at Roland Garros and almost did so at Wimbledon, where she swept into the semi-finals before falling to Justine Henin. Capriati, the No2-ranked player in the world at the end of the season, held the top ranking from October 15 until the final few days of the season, but endured a patchy second half of the year.

Martina Hingis: The Swiss Miss held the top spot for the first nine months of the year, but again finished a season without a major title as her ranking slipped to No4 by season's end; her grand slam drought will have stretched two full years when the Australian Open begins in January. After starting the year well, she was upset by Capriati in the Australian Open final and crashed in the first round of Wimbledon. The tennis wagon is picking up speed and Hingis is having more and more trouble keeping up with it.

Serena Williams: "I'm on a mission to be No1," the younger Williams said while compiling a outstanding record in another year of part-time tennis. She defated Kim Clijsters for the Indian Wells trophy and beat Capriati for the Canadian Open title before brushing Hingis aside to reach the US Open final - which she lost to her sister. She banked another fat cheque after taking out the year-ending WTA Championship to confirm herself as the world No6, and promised "you're going to get tired of me because you're going to see me everywhere next year".

And the winner is . . .

Oh, hang on, the smokeys are worth a mention - the women of whom we saw plenty this year, and of whom we are likely to see plenty more. Clay queen Amelie Mauresmo rattled off 16 consecutive wins in the lead-up to the French Open; Belgian ball-bursters Henin and Clijsters made two grand slam finals between them - Clijsters moving within two points of defeating Capriati in Paris; and Jelena Dokic broke through to win her first two titles and claim a top-10 ranking. And a special nod goes to Australia's own Alicia Molik, who won more matches on grass than anyone else - 21 - in an otherwise inconspicuous personal season.

Right then. The winner is . . .

Venus Williams: The 21-year-old played barely half the year, but what a half it was. She won six titles in six months from March to September, including the two grand slams she first won in 2000. She entered only one tournament on grass - Wimbledon - and won it. Then she defeated her sister in the US Open final, extending the Williams monopoly of Flushing Meadows to three years. A 46-5 record on all surfaces speaks for itself - the best win-loss ratio of anyone at the top end of the tour. And she had plenty of time left over for her favourite pastime: shopping.


:wavey: