The top ten in the men's game

WITH the recently concluded ATP Tour Championship in Houston, the season officially comes to a close. The performance in Davis Cup has never been considered for the official ranking and hence the top ten in the men's tennis for the year 2003 is as follows:

Andy Roddick tops the ranking at the conclusion of the ATP Tour Championship in Houston. — Pics. AP-

1. Andy Roddick, 2. Roger Federer, 3. Juan Carlos Ferrero, 4. Andre Agassi, 5. Guillermo Coria, 6. Rainer Scheuttler, 7. Carlos Moya, 8. David Nalbandian, 9. Mark Philippoussis, 10. Sebastian Grosjean.

It has been another year, 2003, where the men's game has seen four different Grand Slam champions. In fact, the last two years have seen eight different winners and I do not know if this has ever happened in the history of the game. What this goes to show is that this is a period of transition. Champions like Pete Sampras have quit the game. Champions like Andre Agassi are still around, though it makes you wonder how much longer. And champions like Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero have won what seems like the first of multiple Grand Slam titles.

The four titlists have definitely been a class apart and each at different times of the year has dominated their peers. Let us take a closer look at each of them. In my book, the new No. 1, Andy Roddick is certainly a first among equals. In the Australian Open, he gave us an once-in-a-lifetime performance during his marathon victory over Younes E1 Aynaoui in the quarter-final. Under normal circumstances, he should have gone on to reach at least the final but that match took so much out of him that he had nothing left in the semi-final.

It took him some months to recover from this effort and his game caught fire around June during the grass court season. Roddick won the Queen's Club Championship and reached the semi-final at Wimbledon, showing us that he is a potential Champion at the premier tournament in the world. He followed this with a purple patch in the American summer circuit where he lost only one match, culminating in his maiden Grand Slam title at the U. S. Open. This has catapulted him to the No. 1 position in the ranking.

A case can very easily be made for Roger Federer to be the No. 1 player of the year. He won his first Wimbledon title handsomely and led Switzerland to the semi-final of the Davis Cup competition. There, he repeated his straight set Wimbledon final victory over Mark Philippoussis, almost put it past the Australians in the doubles and led two sets to love and served for the match against Lleyton Hewitt on the last day. There are no prizes for coming second and Lleyton Hewitt did wriggle out of the tight corner but there is no denying Federer's heroic performance in Davis Cup competition. And then, in a year such as this, he did win the Year End Championships and that should count for something.

Roger Federer is the No. 2 in the list. "I would put Andy Roddick and Roger Federer as joint No. 1," says the author. — Pic. REUTERS-

Juan Carlos Ferrero is the only player to reach more than one Grand Slam final in 2003. He has been acknowledged as the top clay court player in the world for quite sometime and he legitimised that by winning the French Open title. And to stress the point the Spaniards can play on surfaces other than clay, he reached the U. S. Open final beating Andre Agassi in the semi-final.

Andre Agassi started the year like a house on fire by winning his fourth Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title. He also won the big tournament at Miami but could not keep up the momentum. He did reach the semi-final in New York and suffered what I feel is a bad loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero. Due to a lot of rain during the second week of the U.S. Open, the crowded schedule during the business end of the tournament did not give his thirty-something legs enough time to recover. The weather gods had worked against him.

When you look at the second four in the ranking, it is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Guillermo Coria lost in the semi-final of the French Open to Martin Verkerk, a match that he should never have lost. He also reached the quarter-final at the U. S. Open but otherwise did well in the clay court season. I think he is the second best player in the world on clay.

Rainer Scheuttler took advantage of a good draw to reach the Australian Open final. Carlos Moya has had a reasonable year with nothing outstanding in the Grand Slams. David Nalbandian had a match point against Andy Roddick in the semi-final of the U.S. Open. It is funny what a point can mean. Had Andy Roddick lost that point, it will not be a fair to consider him amongst the top three. Instead, he saves that match point, wins the title and goes on to be No. 1.

Special mention should be made of Mark Philippoussis. He was down and out at the start of the year ranked in the high two digits but reached the Wimbledon final to make it to the top ten. He will be the front runner for the comeback player of the year award. And more notably, he excelled in the Davis Cup final against Spain beating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first reverse singles to give Australia a 3-1 victory. While Philippoussis has made rapid progress, the pertinent question to ask is why has Lleyton Hewitt dropped so much? He had after all finished the previous two years as the No. 1 player winning a Grand Slam title in each of those seasons. And this year, he finishes at No. 16! It has been quite a fall and one doesn't know all the reasons. I feel he will comeback strongly. He is too young and too good to just fade away.

In my version of the top ten for 2003, I would put Andy Roddick and Roger Federer as joint No.1.