Top brother-sister tennis acts
It was history in the making when Dinara Safina became the ringleader of the WTA Tour last week. Her older brother, Marat Safin, was once No. 1 as well, which means for the first time ever, one family has a brother-sister combination which has topped the ranking charts.
Though there's an ongoing debate as to whether a Slam-less Safina deserves to be No. 1 -- she's even raised the issue -- the ranking computer is the ultimate authority.
The Russians are not the only siblings to make their mark in the game. Here are the top five tennis brother-sister acts.
1. Marat Safin and Dinara Safina: The nod for top spot goes to the Russians for their historic No. 1 achievement. They were born into a tennis family: Their mom, Rausa Islanova, is a coach and dad, Misha, is the director of a tennis club. Safin has won 15 titles, including the 2000 U.S. Open as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, and the 2005 Australian Open, plus reached the Australian final two other times. Dinara fell short in her first two Grand Slam finals, at the French and Australian Opens the past 12 months. The owner of nine singles titles, Dinara promises she'll deliver a Grand Slam trophy to the family jewels soon.
2. Emilio Sanchez, Javier Sanchez, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario: Three family talents are certainly better than just two. Arantxa outshined the brothers by simultaneously holding the No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles in 1995, and her two silver and two bronze Olympic medals are the most a Spanish athlete has ever won. Arantxa captured four singles and six doubles trophies at the Grand Slams, winning an overall 29 singles and 69 doubles titles. Emilio, who was ranked as high as No. 7 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, won 15 singles and 50 doubles titles as well as the 1987 French Open mixed doubles event. Javier, who ranked No. 23 in singles and No. 9 in doubles, won four singles and 26 doubles honors.
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Dinara Safina recently supplanted Serena Williams to become the No. 1-ranked player on the WTA Tour.
3. Cliff Richey, Nancy Richey: In 1970, the Texans became the first brother-sister duo to rank No. 1 in the U.S. Nancy was more successful: She won two Slam championships and 69 titles total. She was the only player to win the U.S. Clay Court title six times (1963-68). Cliff, who achieved a career-high ranking of 16, won 10 singles titles.
4. Byron Black, Wayne Black, Cara Black: The Blacks of Zimbabwe became an established powerhouse in doubles, although all three enjoyed admirable singles rankings (Cara No. 31, Byron No. 22 and Wayne No. 69). Cara and Byron were No. 1 in doubles; Wayne topped out at No. 4. Cara's already won five Grand Slam doubles titles -- three at Wimbledon -- among her 48 doubles trophies. Wayne captured the 2001 U.S. and 2005 Australian Opens and 16 additional doubles titles. Byron's 1994 French Open doubles trophy is the most prestigious among his 22 tandem titles. Cara and Wayne teamed for the mixed doubles championships at the French Open (2002) and Wimbledon (2004).
5. Jeff Austin, John Austin, Tracy Austin: Tracy, the family baby, achieved greatness when she became No. 1 for the first time in April 1980, thereby eclipsing the four-year stranglehold that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova had on the top position. She won the U.S. Open in 1979 and '81, and 28 other singles titles. Brother Jeff ranked No. 52 in singles and scored a singles and doubles title. John made it to No. 70 in the singles rankings, won one doubles trophy and teamed with Tracy to claim the 1980 Wimbledon mixed doubles event.
The best of the rest:
6. Richard Krajicek, Michaella Krajicek: A female streaker and Richard's serve made this Dutchman's 1996 Wimbledon victory memorable, while sis is currently trying to rekindle her top-30 form.
7. Vitas Gerulaitis, Ruta Gerulaitis: The deceased Vitas won the 1977 Australian Open and ranked as high as No. 3, while Ruta's nerves in match situations led to the 1979 French Open quarterfinalist being affectionately dubbed the world's best practice partner.
8. Cyril Suk, Helena Sukova: Helena was a four-time Grand Slam finalist; Cyril won the 1998 U.S. Open doubles title and together they were three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champions (1991 French Open, 1996 and '97 Wimbledon).
9. Andrei Medvedev, Natalia Medvedeva: Andrei made headlines by reaching the 1999 French Open final and Natalia won four singles trophies.
10. Brad Gilbert, Dana Gilbert: Brad is the star with 20 singles titles and a post-career reputation as a phenomenal coach. The little-remembered Dana won two titles to add to the family lore.
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
Golf before tennis
Former great Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, has five daughters and none is busily hitting forehands and backhands in the junior realm.
Three of the daughters -- Marika, Daniela and Isabelle -- are already noted young golfers. Last fall, Marika was a standout player on the University of Central Florida's golf team. High school senior Isabelle is currently ranked No. 123 and high school sophomore Daniela is No. 97 on the junior golf scoreboard rankings.
A few weeks ago, when ESPN.com chatted with Lendl, he talked about the reasons why his offspring are not pursuing tennis careers.
"Actually, they chose it themselves," Lendl said. "There were a few reasons for that. They were playing tennis, but there was just too much pressure. People would actually walk up to an 8-year-old and ask them, 'Are you going to be as good as your dad?' I mean, who would say that to a child? You must have something wrong with you if you talk to an 8-year-old like that instead of just letting them play and enjoy themselves.
"Secondly, the kids came at a time in my life when I wasn't playing tennis, and I was enjoying golf. I believe that kids really like to copy their parents and do what their parents do. So after they started feeling the pressure with the tennis and I was playing a lot of golf they just naturally gravitated to golf."
Famous practice player
Most of the attention paid to Fed Cup this past weekend was on the World Group semifinals. The U.S., with Mary Joe Fernandez debuting as captain, reached its first Fed Cup final since 2003 with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Czech Republic. Italy capitalized on its home-court advantage to post a 4-1 win over defending champion Russia, which won the Fed Cup trophy three of the past four years.
But in little-followed World Group II action in Belgium, where the host country was squaring off against Canada, the Belgians had a buzz of their own. They scored the most famous of practice partners in Kim Clijsters. The former No. 1 used the Fed Cup week to further her training for her tour comeback this summer. (Clijsters retired to get married and have a child in early 2007.) Belgium took a 4-0 win and remains in Group II action.
China a tennis hotbed
Tennis-crazed China is about to have another tournament heading its way this coming autumn.
The newest event -- the Chengdu Open -- will take place Nov. 5-8, 2009, and will bring former tennis greats John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Michael Chang and Marcelo Rios to the Sichuan Province, known for spicy cuisine and as the home of the giant panda. The tournament will take place at the Sichuan International Tennis Centre, with seating for 6,700 and 28 VIP boxes in the stadium court.
The Chengdu Open will be an official ATP Champions Tour event and is one of only 14 veteran events sanctioned by the ATP Tour.
Other pro events in China include Shanghai, which starts its run as an ATP 1000 event. Beijing hosts an ATP 500-level tournament the week before Shanghai. On the WTA Tour, Beijing, which runs simultaneously with the men's event, is a top premier mandatory level tournament. The women also have an international level event in Guangzhou in September.
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