Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It'll be "New Balls" versus "Old Balls" next week when Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi decide the 2002 ATP Champions Race victor at the $3.7 million Tennis Masters Cup in exotic Shanghai.
Hewitt, the reigning world No. 1 star and 2001 Champions Race winner, will head to China with an 88-point lead over the No. 2 Agassi (767-679).
Eight men (specifically the world's top-eight players) will be on hand in Shanghai, but only Hewitt and Agassi have a shot at claiming the coveted year- end top spot. The odds certainly favor Hewitt to secure a second straight Race title, with the Aussie not even needing a victory in the round-robin portion of the event, should Agassi go 2-1 in round-robin play and then fail to win the tournament title.
If Hewitt fails to win a match next week and go 0-3 in the round-robin portion, Agassi could stake his claim to No. 1 with a pair of round-robin wins and a victory in the final.
Agassi could also claim No. 1 by posting a trio of round-robin wins and reaching the final, provided Hewitt goes winless in round-robin play.
Are you confused yet? Good...because there's more.
Agassi could also win the Race by going 3-0 in round-robin play and securing the Masters Cup title, provided Hewitt fails to reach the championship match in Shanghai. The American could also finish No. 1 by going 2-1 in the round- robins and then winning the title, provided Hewitt goes 2-1 or worse and loses in the semis.
My head's spinning.
Andre Agassi trails Lleyton Hewitt by 88 points heading into next weeks Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.
Hewitt would finish No. 1 if Agassi fails to reach the semis, and the Aussie would also finish No. 1 if he reached the final regardless of his round-robin results.
Should Hewitt, Agassi or any of the other six combatants win all five of their matches in Shanghai, they would pile up 150 Race points and lot of cash -- $1.52 million to be exact. Hewitt was a perfect 5-0 at the Sydney Masters Cup last year on his way to becoming the youngest-ever year-end No. 1 (20 years, 8 months).
The buzzsaw that is Hewitt has enjoyed another stellar season, highlighted by his first Wimbledon championship back in July. The 21-year-old Adelaide native has won 57-of-71 matches and recorded four titles this year, including a first-ever Tennis Masters Series shield (at Indian Wells), on his way to $2.3 million in prize money.
Two of Hewitt's '02 victories have come against the 32-year-old Agassi, one in an outstanding final in San Jose and the other at a Masters Series quarterfinal in Cincinnati. Agassi exacted some revenge, however, by upsetting the high-strung Aussie in the U.S. Open semis.
Hewitt and Agassi met at last year's Masters Cup event in Sydney, where the Aussie surprisingly rolled in straight sets in round-robin action.
The legendary Agassi failed to add to his total of seven Grand Slam event titles this season, but has managed to go 53-10 with a tour-high five titles, including three of his ATP-record 15 Tennis Masters shields en route to just over $2.1 million in earnings.
Hewitt gave himself some much-needed Champions Race breathing room last week by reaching the final at the Paris Masters, where he lost handily to powerful Russian Marat Safin in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0, 6-4. A disappointed Agassi gave way to resurgent Spaniard Carlos Moya in the quarters.
Hewitt and the U.S. Open runner-up Agassi will be joined in Shanghai by the Australian Open runner-up Safin, French Open runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer, Moya, Jiri Novak and French Open titlist Albert Costa. Each participant will earn $90,000 just for showing up.
Absent this year is the great Pete Sampras, who failed to qualify for the prestigious event despite upsetting his long-time rival Agassi in the dream U.S. Open final in September. Even if he had qualified, Sampras had already announced that he was not going to play anymore tennis this year. "Pistol" Pete will miss a second straight Masters Cup after landing in the field 11 straight times from 1990-2000 and winning the event on five occasions.
Hewitt hoisted last year's Masters Cup by besting pesky Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean in the final Down Under.
By the way, Hewitt and Agassi could only meet in the semis or the final next week.
Wouldn't that be interesting if the meeting came in the semifinals, with Agassi still having a shot at No. 1?
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