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TENNIS; Tournaments in Limbo

Pro tennis may be squandering a golden opportunity to make two major tournaments much bigger in the public eye than they are. The problem with the end-of-year men's and women's shootouts is one of timing -- they don't fall in the same calendar year. These playoff-style events are pushed into January so that results, calculated in bonus points, can be tabulated from all the previous year's Grand Prix tournaments. In turn, the point totals are used to determine the playoff fields.

The top eight women from 1980 are now competing in the $250,000 Colgate Series championship, a round-robin affair that concludes next Monday in the Washington suburb of Landover, Md. Eight men qualifiers play in the similarly structured $400,000 Volvo Masters, which gets under way next Wednesday in New York's Madison Square Garden, its home for the past four years.

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These tournaments certainly have achieved a high degree of importance and prestige in the tennis community. Besides rewarding year-long consistency with a chance to make some big money, they provide the best players with an exclusive event in which to battle it out head to head.

The Masters and Colgate Championships may never achieve the visibility of Wimbledon or the US Open, a feat hard to achieve for any indoor tournament. They might, however, gain more prominence if played sometime in December, when they could have a direct bearing on the various announced before the tournaments take place, leaving them in something of a no-man's land. The events become an awkward appendix to the just-completed old year, sort of like a World Series carried over to the beginning of spring training.

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