Men's Tennis (ATP)
Another tennis season under the belt

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2004 tennis season will officially come to a close this weekend when the United States battles Spain in the Davis Cup final in Seville.

Last week, the women wrapped up their '04 season with the Fed Cup semifinals and final in Moscow, where the powerful Russians secured their first-ever title by holding off defending champion France, 3-2, led by French Open winner Anastasia Myskina.

This year was clearly a big one for Roger Federer and the Russian ladies.

The "Fed" won just about everything in sight and claimed his first-ever year- end No. 1 ranking and ATP Champions Race title. The unstoppable Swiss went 74-6, piling up 11 titles along the way. He ran the table at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, and capped his incredible campaign by nailing down a second straight Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, going a flawless 10-0 at the prestigious event over the last two years.

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova led the Russian surge by capturing the prestigious Wimbledon and WTA Championships crowns.
The 23-year-old Federer is already drawing comparisons to the game's all-time greats, which will happen when you win four-of-six Grand Slams, an Open Era- record 13 straight finals and 23 straight matches against top-10 opponents.

Federer took home $6.35 million in prize money this season -- just shy of Pete Sampras' record $6.5 million fortune in 1997.

Will Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt or Marat Safin have the poise and/or game to dethrone the Swiss star in 2005? Roddick was Federer's Wimbledon final victim in '04, while Hewitt lost to the Basel native in the U.S. Open and Masters Cup title matches and Safin succumbed to the Fed in the Aussie Open finale.

On the ladies' side, American Lindsay Davenport wound up having one of her best seasons, but it was the young Russians who captured a majority of the coveted hardware.

Russia broke through with its first-ever major title by a woman when Myskina handled Elena Dementieva in the historic all-Russian Roland Garros final. A few weeks later, Russian glamour girl Maria Sharapova shocked American superstar Serena Williams in the Wimbledon championship match, and in September Svetlana Kuznetsova bested Dementieva in another all-Russian finale, this time at the U.S. Open, as the hard-hitting Dementieva became the only woman to reach two Grand Slam finals this year.

The 17-year-old Sharapova also captured the lucrative WTA Championships in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, topping an injured Serena in a blockbuster matchup at Staples Center.

The Russians put an exclamation point on their tremendous '04 surge by edging out France to secure the Fed Cup in front of their home fans at Moscow's Krylatskoe Ice Stadium last week. A determined Myskina went 3-0, winning both of her singles rubbers and pairing with Vera Zvonareva to take the deciding doubles bout against a depleted French squad, which played without top stars Amelie Mauresmo (rest) and Mary Pierce (injury).

The only big hardware the Russians failed to collect this year was the Aussie Open and Olympic gold, both of which were corralled by Belgian star Justine Henin-Hardenne, who missed a large chunk of the season while battling an energy-sapping viral illness.

The former world No. 1 Henin-Hardenne wasn't the only Belgian star to miss a lot of time this year, as her fellow former No. 1 Kim Clijsters skipped a majority of the season while struggling with left wrist problems. Clijsters was the Aussie Open runner-up to J H-H in January.

Three different women held the No. 1 ranking this year, as Henin-Hardenne maintained it until September, when she was supplanted by Mauresmo, who was then replaced by the eventual year-end No. 1 Davenport in October.

The 28-year-old Davenport (61-8) led the WTA with seven titles in '04 and soared to No. 1 for the fifth time in her stellar career, but she failed to reach a Grand Slam final, as did the Athens silver medalist Mauresmo.

The women's tour could use strong (dare I say comeback) seasons from the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters next year.

Only two men held the No. 1 ranking in 2004, as Roddick started the campaign on top before the mighty Federer began his onslaught.

Honorable mentions on the men's side this year go to the resurgent Hewitt and Safin, surprise French Open winner Gaston Gaudio and dual Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu of Chile.

Will we ever see major titles again for American greats Andre Agassi, Venus or Jennifer Capriati? I say no, no and, of course, no.

This week's Davis Cup final will pit the underdog Americans against the host Spaniards, who should have the advantage playing on their beloved red clay, the Americans' worst surface. Former world No. 1s and French Open winners Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero will lead Spain, while the U.S. will counter with the likes of Roddick and Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish at Seville's Olympic Stadium, which has been configured to seat 26,000.

The attendance record for a sanctioned tennis match should fall this weekend. The existing mark was set in 1954 in Sydney, where 25,578 watched the U.S. down Australia in that Davis Cup final.

Exhibition tennis matches have drawn bigger crowds, including 1973's "Battle of the Sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome.

The 31-time champion U.S. is seeking its first Davis Cup title since 1995, while the Spaniards are in search of a second overall championship, with their first one coming in 2000.

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Scott Riley

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