Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The 90s: A Thing of the Past

With the induction of Pete Sampras and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the 1990s have officially become a thing of the past.

No longer are the games giants from the era of bright colors, short hair (for the women), newly titanium-ed racquets, spandex, long hair (for the men), cross-over celebrity relationships and the birth of the endorsement deal populating the upper echelon of professional tennis.

For the first seven years of this new millenium the games great from an era past still were hanging around. Davenport ushered the 2000s with a win at Melbourne Park before Agassi took the Australian in '01 while Capriati denied a teen for the title in France and Sampras put icing on his career cake with an '02 USO win.

Since then, the darlings of the nineties have only been ghosts of their former selves. Seles glittered at the '02 Aussie only to lose in the semis while Courier called it quits as did Graf, Hingis (for a bit), Sanchez Vicario, Navratilova, Sampras, Chang, and finally, Agassi and Davenport.

Though the game continues to be blazing with popularity, I can't help but feel a little lonely without a few of the greats hanging around. While Capriati, Seles and Davenport have all left the door cracked open, it is unlikely we will see any sort of return from any of them. Sampras tried his luck at Team Tennis, a far cry from Centre Court at the All England, and Agassi seems quite content being Dad, playing philanthropist and giving his worked-over body a little rest.

In the last two years, the grand slam winners were barely into their teens during the '90s, showing a gap between the generations of the court. Nadal was seven when Agassi won Wimbledon with his hair, while Henin watched Seles down Graf in the epic '92 final from the stands as a girl.

And though the champions of the past now can now enjoy the world of retirement, a few names of the nineties are still lurking on the tour:
Amy Frazier, currently ranked 143 in the WTA rankings, has played 20 straight US Opens and has been a mainstay on the tour since the early '90s. She has won eight tour titles and has been as high as #14 in the world. Though she didn't make the trip to Melbourne this year, the St. Louis native is still actively practicing.
Nicole Pratt, the 33-year-old Australian is still a top-60 player and lost in a tough three setter to Virginie Razzano in the opening round of the AO this year. This 5'4 speedster has one tour title (Hyberdad '04) to her credit and has been ranked as high as #46 in the world.
Wayne Arthurs, the towering Australian is 35 and into the third round of his 15th Australian Open. The 6-3 big server has one tour win and is better known for his doubles expertise. Ranked as high as #44 in the world, Arthurs reached the fourth round of the 2000 USO by beating then #2 Gustavo Kuerten.

While we appreciate the game and grind of all these veterans, the torch has certainly been passed in the world of tennis. No long is it Gabby, Michael and Steffi, but instead Roger, Amelie and Rafa. While some would say this is bad for the game, I would argue that a sort of 'new energy' is upon the tour, a game full of past-appreciating, fast-rising champions are the new a wave of the game.

I hope Pete and Arantxa are proud.

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