The Australian Open


Source: Wide World Photos
Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport is shooting for a second Grand Slam title with this year's Australian Open.
All in all, it's a bumpy start for the 87th Australian Open which got underway January 18 without men's number one Pete Sampras, who pulled out because of mental and physical exhaustion. Sampras, who is one Grand Slam victory short of tying Roy Emerson for the all-time lead, struggled with his health in 1998 and may be showing the signs of wear after 11 years on the tour.

The world's number two-ranked player, Chile's Marcelo Rios, is also not at the tournament because of a back injury. Doctors say Rios may not return to the tour until March. When he does, he will try to improve on a 1998 season that saw him win seven of the eight finals in which he appeared (he lost last year's Australian Open final to Korda).

All of the top men's seeds are going home early. Australian Patrick Rafter the defending U.S. Open champion, and former number one Andre Agassi, who surged into the top 10 last year after finishing 1997 ranked 122nd, were both upset within the last week. Karol Kucera of Slovakia, ranked seventh is the highest men's seed still playing.

Both Rafter and Agassi could have moved within striking range of Sampras this year with a strong Australian Open performance. So could have England's Tim Henman who was also knocked out early. Henman and fellow countryman Greg Rusedski could still threaten for Sampras' spot this year, each won two tourn- aments in 1998 and finished ranked in the top 10.

It could all make for some interesting tennis in 1999. That is, when everyone starts talking about tennis again.

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