Monday, August 14, 2000

Woodies win 61st doubles title

Extend career record in last time here

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde celebrate.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        MASON — It was a heck of a farewell party. Upcoming retirements by members of each team in Sunday's Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati doubles final lent a nostalgic air to the afternoon.

        Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge extended their tournament-titles record to 61, beating Rick Leach and Ellis Ferreira 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, but a tournament send-off to both Woodforde and Leach proved the highlight.

        That was nothing new for the “Woodies,” whose final season together has been recognized at nearly every stop. But the post-match ceremony Sunday, in which tournament chairman Paul Flory presented Leach a framed photo from his 1987 appearance — his first time here — was the first such recognition for Leach.

        “You leave towns for the last time, and it's sad,” Leach said. “That's why this meant a lot to me.”

        Don't let Leach's retirement go unnoticed. The California native, 35, owns 40 career titles — “with 13 or 14 different partners,” he said — including at least one title each of the last 14 years. He has been ranked No.1 in the world.

        He has won this event once, in 1988 with Jim Pugh, and has played here 14 times. He also has fond memories of his first visit to Cincinnati as a 14-year-old in 1979, when he and father Dick won the National Father & Son Clay Court Championship at Cincinnati Tennis Club. “This city has been special to me, and this tournament has grown into one of the best on the Tour,” Leach said.

        Leach and Ferreira beat the Woodies the last two times they played, including the Australian Open semifinals in January. But Woodforde and Woodbridge rallied Sunday by breaking Ferreira's serve at 5-4 in the first set and then winning a tiebreaker.

        This was the Woodies' fourth title here. They share the $152,800 winners check; Leach and Ferreira split $80,640.

        The Woodies are 49-5 this year, including 8-0 in tournament finals and have won 26 matches and five tournaments in a row. They are 496-129 (.794) in their 10-year career together, including 61-18 (.772) in Tour finals. They've won more than $7 million apiece, including singles play.

        Up next? Their 500th victory together, perhaps this week in Indianapolis. The U.S. Open could be their 12th Grand Slam title, which would tie the record total of John Newcombe and Tony Roche. (The Woodies' 11 are the most in the Open Era.) And there's their 1996 Olympic title to defend.

        “It's always like there's something there, still some records just within reach,” Woodforde said. “We just keep our heads down and keep pushing.”

        Woodforde, 35, is retiring at year's end. A final farewell in the Davis Cup finals — Dec.6-8 vs. Spain — is unlikely, because Woodbridge and his wife are expecting their first child Dec. 10.

        “Unless the baby comes six weeks early, Mark's on his own,” Woodbridge said.

        Woodbridge, 29, said Sunday he has picked his new partner: Jonas Bjorkman.

        “Jonas has to put on a red wig and play left-handed,” Woodbridge joked, referring to Woodforde. “He'll have some very big shoes to fill.”

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