The (Garden) Party's Over Martina Hingis beat a weakened field in the last WTA year-end event in New York

November 27, 2000

It was the kind of surreal scene that makes women's tennis
sometimes seem more like a Coen brothers film than a
professional sport. Less than four hours before the start of the
Chase Championships in New York City on Nov. 13, while Martina
Hingis cohosted a press function thrown by her clothing sponsor
at the Regal U.N. Plaza Hotel, she was unexpectedly approached
by an envoy of Richard Williams, whose daughters Venus and
Serena had bailed out of the tournament citing anemia and a bum
foot respectively. "Mr. Williams personally asked me to come
here and wish you every possible success," Williams family
business adviser Leland Hardy told Hingis, who looked as baffled
as a film critic following a screening of Battlefield Earth.

Hingis showed the kind of mettle that would carry her to a 6-7,
6-4, 6-4 win over an inspired Monica Seles in Sunday's Chase
final: She quickly composed herself, giving Hardy a hearty
handshake and offering what might have been an appropriate coda
to the season-ending championships at Madison Square Garden--if it
hadn't been for the final. "I miss the girls being around," she
said.

In the end, they weren't needed. Though the field did not exactly
reflect an event that both Hingis and Seles labeled "the fifth
Grand Slam," the Chase was saved by a stirring final in what may
be Seles's last year-end tour championships. Five of the world's
top 16 players (the Williamses, Mary Pierce, Anke Huber and
Amelie Mauresmo) withdrew before a single ball bounced on the
Garden's blue carpet. After No. 2 Lindsay Davenport exited in a
New York minute, losing to Elena Dementieva in the first round,
the chase for the Chase came down to veterans Hingis and Seles
fighting off young guns Dementieva and (surprise!) Anna
Kournikova. The old guard got through to the end, but the young
Russians nearly stole the show.

The 19-year-old Dementieva, an unexpected U.S. Open semifinalist
and Olympic silver medalist, survived a battle of future
champions with 17-year-old Kim Clijsters of Belgium before
falling to her childhood idol, Seles, in straight sets in the
semifinals. Fans of Dementieva's more celebrated countrywoman,
Kournikova, could also take heart. She may have lost to Hingis
7-6, 6-2 in the other semifinal, but she finally made fans notice
her for her play rather than her looks. She bullied Hingis early
in their match and even served for the opening set before playing
a frazzled tiebreaker and fizzling out in the second set.

Hingis and Kournikova will spend plenty of time together next
year. The former confirmed last week that their on-again,
off-again Spice Girls doubles pairing will become a full-time
partnership in 2001. That sets up a delicious doubles rivalry
with the Williams sisters, and after Hingis and Kournikova beat
up on Manon Bollegraf and Nicole Arendt to win their second
straight Chase doubles final, Hingis threw down a minigauntlet.
"It would be great if we could play the Williamses more often,"
she said, "now that Anna and I have proven we're a consistent
team."

Once upon a time in New York, Seles was flush with that kind of
teen spirit, and she rekindled visions of previous year-end
successes (three titles before she turned 20) with her run last
week. But while next year's championships will have $1 million
more in prize money, they probably won't have Seles. That's
because the tournament will move from the Garden to Munich's
Olympia Halle, and Seles reiterated last week that she is not
likely to play in Germany, where she was stabbed by a deranged
fan of Steffi Graf in 1993. Seles complained that she learned of
the tour's decision to move the event by reading about it in USA
Today last spring. "I was hurt," said Seles, who was a member of
the WTA players' council at the time of the decision. "It was not
so much that it's going away [from New York] but that no one
called me or said, 'We've done this deal, and this is what's
happening.'"

At least she can take away a sweet souvenir if last week was
indeed her last hurrah at the season-ending tournament. She had
been away from the tour for the past five weeks and would
probably have skipped the Chase to further heal the tendinitis in
both of her feet had this not been the event's Garden finale.
Fighting through a pulled groin muscle and buoyed by a crowd that
clearly favored her, Seles slugged it out with Hingis before
netting a service return that gave her opponent the crown. "There
were probably a couple of times where I reached a wall," Seles
said afterward, "but I knew I just wanted to win this match. I
just tried to push through it."

She fell short in the end but saved the tournament in the
process. Well done, Monica. You'll be missed in Munich.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

The draw didn't justify Hingis's calling this "the fifth Grand
Slam."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)