2000 belonged to Venus and Guga

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PHILADELPHIA (Sports Network) - The 2000 tennis season -- which I believe is officially over at this point -- was highlighted by dual Grand Slam winner and dual Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams of the United States and new men's No. 1 star Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil.

Venus didn't finish the year ranked No. 1 in the world, but let's face it, she's the woman to beat on the WTA Tour right now.

All Williams did was post a brilliant 41-4 match record, including her first-ever Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, her second career Slam victory at the U.S. Open, and a pair of Olympic gold medals in Sydney. The young American not only claimed the singles gold Down Under, but also paired with sister Serena to secure the ladies' top doubles prize as well.

Venus closed out 2000 ranked third in the world, but that's only because she failed to play in enough tournaments to surpass currently top-ranked Martina Hingis and world No. 2 Lindsay Davenport. Both of Williams' title-clinching Grand Slam wins came against Davenport, who started her season off strong by capturing the Australian Open, only to see her campaign slowed by injuries on several occasions. It was an injury that knocked the powerful Davenport out the Olympic Summer Games, leaving the door wide open for Venus. Hingis opted against representing her adopted country of Switzerland in Sydney.

On the men's side, American legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi hoisted Grand Slam trophies once again, but it was Kuerten and Russian Marat Safin who stole the spotlight in the first year of the new millennium.

"Guga" stunned the tennis world, securing the year-end world No. 1 ranking by stifling Agassi in the final at the season-ending Masters Cup event in Lisbon.

Heading to Portugal, Safin only needed to land in the final to reign No. 1, while Kuerten needed Safin to get knocked off before the final, and the popular Brazilian would also have to win the tourney outright to give South America its long-awaited first-ever No. 1.

The 24-year-old Kuerten piled up five titles in 2000, including his second French Open crown in four years back in June.

Basically, it was Guga and Safin battling for No. 1 all-season long.

Safin shocked tennis aficionados by compiling an ATP-best seven championships in 2000, including the huge upset of Sampras at Flushing Meadows. The Russian Rocket steamrolled Powerful Pete in three sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, to place himself atop the world ledger -- this after opening his season with a series of early-round exits which had the 20-year-old thinking retirement at one point.

But Safin miraculously turned his season around, snatching his first-ever Grand Slam title and spending a majority of the campaign battling Kuerten, Sampras, and even Magnus Norman for the top spot in the highly-successful new-for-2000 Champions Race.

Sampras played sparingly, to say the least, this past year. The legendary star appeared in only 13 tournaments -- winning just two. But one of the championships was a one for the ages, as the six-time No. 1 established a new record by capturing a 13th Grand Slam title, breaking the mark he'd shared with Aussie stalwart Roy Emerson. Pistol Pete stopped another Aussie, Patrick Rafter, in July's Wimbledon final to make history. After that, Sampras would play in only four more events in 2000, which was also highlighted by his marriage to bombshell actress Bridgitte Wilson after the early- September U.S. Open failure.

Sampras finished the year No. 3 in the world.

Agassi entered 2000 as the world's No. 1 star, and opened his season with a bang by capturing the Australian Open in January.

But the other American superstar saw his season basically go downhill from there.

Andre managed just the one title all-year long, and would appear in only three finals.

Just about everybody had left Agassi for dead, but the aging star surprised most by closing out the season with his brilliant performance in Lisbon.

Agassi ripped through the field at the Masters Cup, going 4-1, with the only setback coming against Kuerten in the attractive final. Earlier in the week in Portugal, Agassi opened his Masters Cup tournament by toppling Guga in the round-robin portion of the event. He would also dismantle Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Norman and Safin en route to the final.

Andre's stunning win over Safin all but prevented the big Russian from achieving No. 1 status.

And let's not forget about the typically-steady Kafelnikov on the men's side, where the veteran Russian, who had an off-year by his standards, did reach the Aussie Open final, where he lost to Agassi, but eventually notched his first title of the season by capturing Olympic gold in Sydney.

Former world No. 1 Jim Courier called it a career in 2000. The now-30-year-old enjoyed the top-ranking in 1992; captured 23 career titles; and was a two-time Australian Open and French Open champion during his impressive run. In the early '90s, Courier also advanced to Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals.

The men's season finally came to a dramatic conclusion when Spain captured its first-ever Davis Cup title with a 3-1 victory against 27-time and defending champion Australia, in Barcelona. The Spaniards entered 2000 with nary a year-end No. 1 star and without an elusive Davis Cup title in their rich tennis history.

Back on the women's side, Hingis claimed the top-ranking for a season-ending third time, including the last two years in succession.

She was a stellar 77-10 in 2000, including a WTA-best nine titles. However, much to the dismay of the "Swiss Miss," she failed to capture a Grand Slam event, reaching only one Slam final, losing to Davenport in Melbourne. One of Hingis' titles came at the prestigious season-ending Chase Championships tournament in the Big Apple, where Venus was unable to attend because of anemia.

The "other" Martina has not hoisted a Grand Slam trophy since prevailing at the January 1999 Australian Open. So when the 2001 season gets underway, Hingis will be facing a two-year Grand Slam drought, one that she hopes to bring to a halt in Melbourne next month.

Like her sister Venus, Serena didn't play a whole lot of tennis this past year. The younger Williams logged 11 tournaments, posting a 37-8 record and three titles.

Serena capped her season by winning the Princess Cup in Tokyo in early October, but her biggest match of the year was a straight-set setback against Venus in the Wimbledon semifinals. Serena was so "off" that day, that many people thought she tanked the match in order to give Venus a crack at her first-ever Grand Slam title, which is exactly what occurred on the ancient lawns at the All-England Club.

And just so I account for all of 2000's Grand Slam titlists, Mary Pierce ran the table at Roland Garros, giving her a second career Grand Slam trophy, with the other coming at the 1995 Australian Open. Pierce, of course, was limited to only 13 tournaments in 2000 because of a chronic shoulder injury.

Look for 2001 to be another great year for tennis, and don't be surprised to see breakthrough seasons from the likes of Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, Swiss Roger Federer, Russian Elena Dementieva and Belgian Kim Clijsters.

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