Without a loss after five events in this his debut season on the senior tour, Marcelo Rios has already sewn up the No. 1 senior ranking for 2006, making good on a promise earlier in the year to add the top senior mark to the No. 1 ranking he also reached while on the ATP tour.
“There is no obvious weakness in Rios’s game. You just have to play so well against him all the time. He’s the best player so far this year. He has the confidence to win any tournament.”
That quote, from Gustavo Kuerten in 1998, the year the Chilean reached No. 1 on the strength of titles at the now-defunct Grand Slam Cup, Masters Series events at Indian Wells, Miami, and Rome, and minor titles at Auckland, Singapore and St. Poelten, could be attributed to any of his fellow senior players who have met defeat this year at the hands of Rios.
With 2,000 points accumulated this year over five titles, Rios has put himself out of reach of No. 2 John McEnroe who has earned a distant-second 1,215 points. McEnroe has competed in both the Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions in Europe and the Outback Champions Series in the U.S., while Rios has played exclusively in Europe.
The senior tour has lowered its age limit to 30 in an attempt to bring in a jolt of new talent, as the fan-favorite McEnroe has shouldered most of the burden of infusing the tour with life over the last few years.
“I give myself two years more at the outside — maybe just one,” said McEnroe of competing on the senior tour — back in 2001.
But the seemingly-unstoppable competitor McEnroe soldiers on, much to the delight of fans. Rios at the spry age of 30 is a handful for any player, much less the 47-year-old McEnroe, who has not won a title this year, losing to Rios in the Algarve final and to Todd Martin in the U.S. final at Boston.
The “Rios Effect” on the senior tour in 2006 is apparent. McEnroe frequently travels with his own fitness coach now to keep up with the youngsters. Former Wimbledon champ Richard Krajicek, ahead of his homecountry event this week in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has reunited with his old tour coach Rohan Goetzke in an attempt to reach the Chilean’s level.
“I got my ass kicked by Marcelo in Paris last month and I wasn’t happy about that,” said Krajicek, who hopes to turn the tables as the tour moves away from Rios’ favored clay to the slick indoor carpet. “I looked at my schedule, cleared a few things, and decided to contact my old coach Rohan Goetzke — the man who helped me to win Wimbledon in 1996. He’s now the Dutch Federation coach and I decided to get him to train me again because Marcelo’s unbeaten and I want to be the first one to break his streak. I think that on an indoor court in Eindhoven, on a fast surface, with me having trained properly — I’m going to beat him.”
Play begins Thursday in Eindhoven, and Krajicek vs. Rios will be featured in Saturday round robin play as both are in the “UNICEF Group” with former No. 2 Michael Stich and former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash, who is happy to be back on a fast surface after taking some beatings this year on clay.
The “Elandsdoorn Group” is comprised of Goran Ivanisevic, Henri Leconte, Paul Haarhuis, and Wayne Ferreira. The winner of each group after the completion of round robin play on Saturday will square off in the Sunday final.
The event kicks off Thursday with Haarhuis vs. Ferreira, and Rios vs. Cash, the Chilean’s first test on the fast courts against the net-rushing Cash.
Whether of not Rios’ streak ends this year, his skill level combined with the tantrum-throwing fan-favorite McEnroe and former No. 1s such as Jim Courier and Thomas Muster, the sound-bite-friendly Ivanisevic, and the potential 2007 debuts of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Stefan Edberg make the senior tour a potentially valuable commodity.
Only “potentially” because, since this is pro tennis, they feel they have to throw up their own roadblocks to success. Would it still be tennis if, rather than propelling the sport forward, some party didn’t go for the cash grab to hold it back?
The ATP’s European leg of the senior tour, and the Jim Courier-spawned U.S. version, pretend like the other doesn’t exist, even though players jump back and forth across the ocean to play both tours. Why the animosity?
According to the Courier camp, Courier had been contacted by IMG and the ATP to discuss a merger of the two tours, but the two competing entities could not agree to terms.
As the senior tour drama plays out, the increasingly-new cast of characters could see it succeed, despite itself.
WORLD SENIOR RANKINGS presented by Tennis-X.com
(Top 10 through Oct. 8, 2006)
1. Marcelo Rios (2000 pts.)
2. John McEnroe (1215)
3. Jim Courier (1080)
4. Sergi Bruguera (990)
5. Thomas Muster (875)
6T. Todd Martin (850)
6T. Cedric Pioline (850)
8. Pat Cash (810)
9. Goran Ivanisevic (575)
10. Magnus Larsson (525)
The Tennis-X.com World Senior Rankings is a cumulative ranking for senior tour players combining results from the Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions in Europe, and the Outback Champions Series in the U.S.
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