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Matchups we want to see - but won't

We're not seeing what we want to see in sports these days: great matchups.

We see plenty of individual achievement, but it's not against the right folks. What we crave - local boosterism notwithstanding - are marquee matchups in marquee events.

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The just concluded US Open tennis tournament is a perfect canvas on which to paint this picture. On the men's side, we wanted to see Andre Agassi play Pete Sampras in the finals. They are the best two players. They have played each other in four Grand Slam event finals with Sampras winning three times, including recently at Wimbledon.

But Agassi has been turning it up this year, playing not a whit like the heretofore irascible and inconsistent Agassi. Agassi and Sampras are the turn of the millennium answer to those earlier epic contests involving Borg, Connors, and McEnroe. We're ready.

Alas, we got Agassi vs. Todd Martin. Phooey. Agassi won in five sets. Martin is a perfectly fine player with nice deportment, a rarity in a temperamental game. But he's not Sampras.

There had been suspicion since Wimbledon that Sampras wouldn't play because of a lingering back injury, and he didn't. Then two-time defending champ Patrick Rafter dropped out, also because of injury. That doomed the tournament to yawns. Suddenly, advancing were Pioline, Kafelnikov, Escude, Krajicek. Who are these guys?

The women were even more disappointing. We wanted to see the Williams sister act, Venus (third-ranked in the world) vs. Serena (fourth-ranked). Venus is slightly older and arrived on the elite scene several years ago with attitude aplenty and an undisciplined but potentially brilliant game. Meanwhile, Serena - she of generally sunnier disposition - has been laboring in the shadows, content to be The Other Williams.

It was all setting up perfectly until Venus got herself returned to earth by Martina Hingis in the semis, leaving us with a Serena vs. Martina final. Nuts. Potentially starry television ratings flamed out.

In yesteryear, Evert and Navratilova staged terrific matches that many thought never would be surpassed in drama. But as Serena erupts at the top level, hopes soar that the Williams sisters might become the dueling divas of this era. They still might, but not this time. Or probably not.

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After Serena won, she said, "Wow." We, however, felt wowless. Serena vs. Venus, however, definitely would be a world wow.

In the NBA, what we want is to see the New York Knicks vs. the Los Angeles Lakers - uptight and stodgy New York vs. laid back and cool L.A. It's a clash of cultures.

Last season we got New York and San Antonio and a ho-hum final won easily by the Spurs. Maybe this year we'll get what we want. Or probably not.

In golf, things have been particularly unsatisfactory. Raise your hand if you were hoping Paul Lawrie would win the British Open over Jean Van de Velde or that Jose Maria Olazabal would win the Masters. Thought so.

Now, raise your hand if you would have greatly enjoyed a battle between, say, Tiger Woods and Greg Norman - the young warrior vs. the old warrior. Thought so.

In the Super Bowl last January, we wanted to see Denver and John Elway play Minnesota and Randall Cunningham, two aging but very good quarterbacks directing teams with young talent overloads. Instead, Atlanta upset the Vikes and there ensued a kind of dull-brown title game between Denver and Atlanta. Now, Elway is retired and the moment has passed.

But hope for matchups we thirst for does spring you know what. The World Series is the next major event on the sports calendar, and what we'd love to see is the Red Sox vs. the Cubs in a longtime-losers- seek-redemption Series. This will occur in our dreams but not in our lifetimes.

So what we reasonably hope for is the Yankees vs. the Mets. Ah yes, New York vs. New York. Bring on the proud and arrogant Yankees vs. the hardscrabble and blue-collar Mets. Please, let it be.

It probably won't be. It'll likely be something like Cleveland vs. Atlanta. That's one that will put our heads in our hands and our hopes for cool matchups back in cold storage. Again.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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