Wimbledon serves up 'Anna-mania' and controversy

The ultimate theater of tennis, Wimbledon, has taken center stage once again.

The ambience is sublimely Wimbledon: lots of strawberries, lobs, ground strokes, and "Anna-mania" - a cornucopia of Anna Kournikova coverage.

Things haven't changed much. On opening day, the official program touted Kournikova as the "Dish of the Day." In London, the Russian teenager is a phenomenon, the embodiment of female pulchritude to a beehive of flashing cameramen. Her run ended yesterday in defeat. She's one of the highest paid female players, yet she has never won a tournament.

The attention will now mostly rivet around what many see as the passing of an era. In the twilight of their careers, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have limited time to etch their names deeper into tennis memory. And both have hardly sparkled in recent months. Agassi, after what was his annus mirabilis, is hoping to become the first player since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win the men's singles while in his 30s.

And Sampras, if all goes according to plan, could win Grand Slam title No. 13, and become the Jack Nicklaus of tennis - the greatest player ever. He limped off the court Wednesday as he narrowly beat Karol Kucera. But at Wimbledon, the spring tends to return to his legs on the court the American rightly calls his own. Or, a new era could dawn.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon's ranking of players, according to its own judgment, might change as early as next year. "There's got to be an objective, fair way to do it from the players' perspective," said Mark Miles, the ATP Tour's chief executive officer. Controversy erupted when the Spanish Armada of Alex Corretja and Albert Costa withdrew from the tournament, claiming organizers used their discretionary powers to elevate grass-court players.

Wimbledon has used its own seeding system since 1924, and while for many years some players reluctantly accepted the ranking system, this year clay-court specialists frowned since the new rules require them to play Wimbledon and to count their result toward their final year-end ranking. A no-show in previous years did not translate into a penalty. This year it does.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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