Tennis: Grandest of anniversaries

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The Independent Online
TENNIS looks forward to a year of anniversaries, highlighted by the 100th women's singles championship at Wimbledon (21 June to 4 July). The inaugural women's title was won in 1884 by Maud Watson, who defeated her elder sister, Lilian, in the final. Maud received a silver flower basket (value 20 guineas), Lilian a silver and glass hand mirror and silver- backed brush (value 10 guineas). Steffi Graf, the 1992 champion, received pounds 240,000.

The year begins with the 100th Grand Slam championships of the 'open' era in Melbourne (18-31 January) - and a promised first appearance in the tournament by Andre Agassi. The Wimbledon champion, who used to be a reluctant visitor to the All England Club, has decided to sample the rubberised concrete courts of Flinders Park, which ought to suit his groundstrokes.

When tennis went 'open' in 1968, allowing amateurs and professionals to compete together, the Australian championships had already taken place. The 25th anniversary of 'open' tennis at a Grand Slam event therefore will be marked at the French Championships (24 May to 6 June), followed by 25th celebrations at Wimbledon and the United States Open (30 August to 12 September).

Jim Courier and Monica Seles dominated both the Australian and French singles championships in 1992. Courier's triumphs ended on the clay of Roland Garros, in Paris, though he finished the year as the world No 1. Seles, silenced by Graf at Wimbledon, reasserted her game to win the United States Open and continues to head the women's rankings.

In spite of Courier's rise to the top, the men's game is wide open. Stefan Edberg's resilience in successfully defending the United States Open title was an indication of this, and Pete Sampras, the runner-up at Flushing Meadow, has the style to make a serious challenge to be No 1.

It will be interesting to see if Wimbledon holds more surprises in the men's singles after Michael Stich's victory against his German compatriot, Boris Becker, in 1991 and Agassi's stunning triumph against the ace man, Goran Ivanisevic. Becker seemed to regain his appetite for the sport towards the end of this year with impressive performances in the Paris Open and also in winning the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt.

There is another anniversary: the 50th Italian Championships, in Rome (3-9 May, women; 10-16 May, men). There is also an innovation, the Middle East joining the men's tour, with tournaments in Qatar (4-10 January) and Dubai (1-7 February).

The recession continues to bite domestic tournaments. The Lawn Tennis Association is seeking new sponsorship for the women's indoor tournament at Brighton in place of the Midland Bank Group, who will continue to support the junior game.

In contrast, Boris Becker's manager, Ion Tiriac, miffed that his men's event in Stuttgart was not upgraded to 'Super Series' status by the ATP Tour, has increased prize-money for the Eurocard Open in February to dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.5m), second only to the ATP Tour Championship.