Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The ATP's February-March swings through Latin America, and indoors in the U.S. and Europe demonstrated the growing popularity of men's tennis worldwide, with record-breaking crowds, extensive television coverage, and deep, star-littered fields.
Brazilian star Gustavo Kuerten, the No. 1 player in the world last year and prince of the ATP's "New Balls Please" promotional campaign, won a pair of the Latin American clay-court events to enter the Top 10 in the 2001 Champions Race, and fellow New Balls Pleasers Mark Philippoussis of Australia and Roger Federer of Switzerland captured indoor tournaments in Memphis and Milan, respectively. Federer, the tour's February Player of the Month, also reached the final in Rotterdam and is currently sixth in the Race, one spot ahead of popular Aussie star Patrick Rafter.
The ATP tournaments in Latin America were staged in Bogota, Colombia; Vina del Mar, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Acapulco, Mexico (sounds nice right about now doesn't it, especially if you're from the northern portion of the United States). The indoor events besides Memphis, Milan and Rotterdam were held in Copenhagen, Denmark; Marseille,France; and San Jose, California. ATP talent also entertained outdoors at the Dubai Tennis Championships in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. Tim Henman titled in Copenhagen, Yevgeny Kafelnikov trophied in Marseille, and Juan Carlos Ferrero secured the hardware in Dubai.
From stunningly-beautiful coastal venues to big city sites, ATP attendance figures soared to new heights. In Latin America, Bogota drew a record 29,350 fans; Vina del Mar attracted 18,500 spectators in its new resort town venue after moving from Santiago proper; Acapulco lured 24,225 following its shift from Mexico City; and Buenos Aires reeled in 48,348 folks.
And attendance for both North American indoor events was up from a year ago. The Memphis tourney attracted 63,000 fans, while 72,866 tennis enthusiasts entered San Jose Arena. In Europe, Rotterdam sold out with nearly 100,000 spectators, while 34,500 and 50,000 filed into facilities in Milan and Marseille, respectively.
The ATP's ever-growing popularity also was evidenced by the ample TV coverage at each event. Network television covered all four Latin America tournaments locally and cable coverage extended each event across the region. Nearly 150 hours were broadcast, including live coverage of the Vina del Mar final. An early-round match featuring local hero Marcelo Rios on Channel 7 garnered the nation's fourth- highest broadcast rating that week -- for all programming.
Fox Sports Net covered the semifinals and final for both U.S. indoor events, with just under six hours of live coverage in each of the final weekends. In Europe, all four events received extensive TV coverage, with the Copenhagen tournament generating an impressive 36 hours of coverage during the week.
Results of the February-March swings demonstrated the excitement created by a rash of rising young stars on the circuit, as well as the ATP's established champions. While the New Balls Please favorite Kuerten is the lone two-time winner thus far in 2001, Australian Open champion and San Jose finalist, veteran Andre Agassi, currently leads the Champions Race at the tender age of 30.
One of the most exciting developments on tour is the continued rise of 19-year-old Argentine Guillermo Coria, the titlist in Vina del Mar. Coria, who rose an ATP-best 641 places in the ATP Entry System last year following his stellar play on the Challenger circuit, was named February's ATP Rising Star of the Month after moving from 78th to 14th in the Champions Race. He's currently 24th.
Last week, the ATP shifted completely outdoors, and to the U.S., with the Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic in Scottsdale, Arizona and the Citrix Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Florida. Spaniard Francisco Clavet stunned Swedish Top-10 star Magnus Norman in the Scottsdale final, while American Jan-Michael Gambill held off young Belgian Xavier Malisse to garner the Delray Beach crown.
This week, all the New Balls Please stars and Champions Race leaders are gathered in one place -- Indian Wells, California -- for the first Tennis Masters Series event of the year. This is one of the nine premier tournaments on the ATP circuit, excluding the Grand Slams. A myriad of stars will compete at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, as Kuerten, Safin, Sampras, Agassi, Norman, Hewitt, Kafelnikov, defending champion Corretja, Enqvist, Henman, Rafter, Ferrero, Clement, Philippoussis, Federer, Moya, Rios, Rusedski, etc., will all be on hand with valuable Race points on the line, not to mention a first-place check of $211,000.