What's in store for '94: Tennis

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The Independent Online
WHATEVER else is in store for tennis in 1994, a long-awaited return by Monica Seles would be most welcome. The women's game is entering its most critical phase since Billie Jean King and her contemporaries created a professional circuit 20 years ago.

Having lost its tour sponsor, Kraft, the Women's Tennis Association needs to reassure potential backers of the viability of its worldwide show. This wavered ominously towards the end of last season, when injuries to leading players exposed the lack of depth in the women's sport.

Even Steffi Graf, who won all the major championships in Seles's absence, seemed less enthusiastic after a stabbing incident on a court in Hamburg in April put her rival out of the game. The situation was compounded by the decline of Gabriela Sabatini, the disaffection of Jennifer Capriati, and the inability of Mary Joe Fernandez and Jana Novotna to capitalise on winning positions against Graf.

A reappearance by Seles would be a tonic, particularly since the 37-year-old Martina Navratilova has said that '94 will mark her last year on the tour.

There has been no clear indication of when and where - or even if - Seles will compete again. Organisers of the Australian Open (17-30 January) are reserving a wild card for the former world No 1 in the hope that she will be able to defend the title she has won there for the past three years.

The French Open (23 May-5 June) frequently springs surprises: Michael Chang and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1989, Andres Gomez in 1990 and Sergi Bruguera last June. Dare we hope for the shock of a serve-volleyer, a Pete Sampras, a Michael Stich or a Goran Ivanisevic, lifting the men's singles trophy at Roland Garros?

If racket technology, allied to the powerful physique of the players, has eliminated a good deal of the tedium from the clay courts of Paris, the reverse could be said to be true of Wimbledon's lawns. A few more rallies and a repeat of the '93 fortnight's weather would do nicely from 20 June to 3 July.

The organisers of the United States Open (29 August-11 September) will be thankful if the leading men stay around longer next time, though it is too much to expect that the scheduling will be tailored to the needs of the players rather than for television.

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