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Changing of the Guard
Ian Thomsen
April 06, 1998
At the Lipton, Marcelo Ríos claimed the men's No. 1 ranking, while two hard-charging teens defeated the world's too women
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April 06, 1998

Changing Of The Guard

At the Lipton, Marcelo Ríos claimed the men's No. 1 ranking, while two hard-charging teens defeated the world's too women

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Room at the Top

When Pete Sampras lost his No. 1 ranking to Marcelo Ríos (above, kissing girlfriend Patricia Larrain) this week, he had held the top spot for 102 consecutive weeks and a total of 218 weeks. Here are the players who have been No. 1 since the man who held that ranking the longest, Ivan Lendl (270 weeks), was knocked off the summit in August 1990.





Stefan Edberg

Aug. 13, 1990



Boris Becker

Jan. 28, 1991



Jim Courier

Feb. 10, 1992



Pete Sampras

April 12, 1993



Andre Agassi

April 10, 1995



Thomas Muster

Feb. 12, 1996



Marcelo Ríos

March 30, 1998



A wild west mood prevailed at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., last week. The racket with which Pete Sampras had menaced the ATP Tour for five years was shot out of his hand in the third round, and by Monday, Sampras had lost his top ranking. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, each took aim at the women's No. 1, Martina Hingis, and Venus brought her down. Anna Kournikova dispatched four Top 10 opponents before losing to Venus in the final.

When was tennis this wide open? Venus Williams, who at this time last year was playing in only her 10th professional tournament, may have learned Hingis's weakness. Kournikova, at 16, is poised to contend for a Grand Slam title. Andre Agassi is back in the picture after slipping to No. 141 last year, and Marcelo Ríos, who trounced Agassi in the Lipton final, stands atop the tennis world, diminutive and unsmiling.

In one week the sport was turned upside down and inside out. Thank god.

"When Venus is 19, her average serve is going to be 130 miles an hour," the 17-year-old's father and coach, Richard Williams, predicted last week. "When Venus is 20? And her whole body fills in? And she's playing serve-and-volley? Boy, I'm going to feel sorry for those other girls."

He is exaggerating, for sure—130 mph approaches the high end for the likes of Sampras—but the warning should be taken seriously. While winning the Lipton, known in America as the fifth Grand Slam, Venus Williams produced serves of up to 122 mph, the second fastest in the history of the women's tour. That topped by a dozen miles per hour the tournament's next-fastest serve by a woman, which was hit by 16-year-old Serena Williams. Of the 96 players entered on the men's side, perhaps 15 served faster than Venus.

Of course, Venus was also plopping in second serves of less than 60 mph. Richard Williams expects that that and many other aspects of her game will only improve as she matures physically. "Venus grew too fast," he said last Thursday. "She grew so fast, the muscle around her left knee hasn't filled in with the bone. When she hugged me after beating Hingis, she said, 'My knee is really hurting me, Daddy. I have to go see the trainer.' "

Since their third-round meeting in this tournament last year, won by Hingis on her way to the No. 1 ranking, Venus has made huge strides. Last Thursday, when they met in the semifinals, Venus was ranked No. 11, up 100 places from a year ago. Their match came just a couple of days after Hingis had survived two match points in a three-set victory over the younger Williams sister. "Serena gave me one pointer that really helped me, which I will not disclose to y'all for fear that it will appear in the papers and over television," Venus told reporters, laughing, after she defeated Hingis 6-2,5-7,6-2 and rose to No. 10.

" 'Go out and kick butt,' " Richard Williams said. "That was what she told her."

Venus did just that, using a mix of fastball and changeup serves and searing ground strokes to win nine of the first 11 games in the match. Against another opponent Hingis might have thrown a little tantrum, or even her racket, in frustration. But she seemed to sense a sea change in her rivalry with Venus and appeared desperate that her opponent not recognize it. So Hingis laughed as winners thumped against the wall behind her, and she behaved as if all were well even as her ground strokes overshot the lines.

Late in the match Hingis asked to be excused to use the bathroom. Though she is three months younger than Venus, Hingis knows tricks that often take champions years to learn. Against Serena, Hingis had turned the momentum her way in the third set by requesting medical attention for leg cramps. But unlike Serena, Venus didn't blink, and she closed out the match.

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