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Tennis Results Players Stats Who will rule Centre Court?

Posted: Tue June 16, 1998

Jon Wertheim Tennis Mailbag
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions during Wimbledon. Click here to send a question.

When the red dust finally settled in Paris, we learned that the Spanish Armada is seaworthy after all and that Monica, Arantxa and Jana aren't going to surrender their toehold to the teenyboppers without a fight. But other than that, the French Open prompted more pre-Wimbledon questions than it answered. A smattering from the Mailbag:

I would love to see Monica Seles win Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam title that has eluded her. Does she stand a chance, or does it look like Martina Hingis will repeat?
—Marcela Mikkola, Denver

For good reason, Seles will be the sentimental favorite, but I'm skeptical that she has the stamina to win seven straight matches, particularly on grass, particularly in July. Seles has never been mistaken for one of the game's more physically fit players, but her well-upholstered physique was overshadowed by her sheer power. Now, as her body is starting to creak a little bit and as the younger players can match her firepower, she is being forced to hit a lot more balls during her matches. She's still capable of playing some great tennis, but don't be surprised if she wilts during the second week.

Though Hingis is still "like 3,000 points ahead of everyone else" in the rankings, as she crowed last week at the French Open, the rest of the field is catching up. Hingis' confidence has to be shaken a bit by the outright waxing Seles gave her at Roland Garros. Hingis' power is deceptive, but if she meets up with a player who can serve-and-volley and mix up the pace (Jana Novotna and Irina Spirlea are two names that jump immediately to mind, though they would have to face each other before either meets Hingis) she could be in trouble. That said, the Swiss Miss still has to be a prohibitive favorite to repeat.

1) How would you rate the chances of Andre Agassi and Marcelo Rios at Wimbledon? 2) In your opinion, can Pete Sampras win for the fifth time? 3) After her recent defeat in Paris, will Martina Hingis bounce back strongly?
—Mustafa Ehsan, Sunnyvale, Calif.

1) I'd be surprised if either makes it to the second week. If and when Rios wins his first Slam, it ain't going to be on grass. Given the wild undulations of Agassi's career, the guy is both capable of winning the entire event (as he did in 1992) and losing in the first round to a qualifier (as he did last month in gai Paris). Right now, the latter is more likely.

2) Definitely. Pete has had a rocky 1998 so far but, not unlike the Chicago Bulls, he's at his best when the stakes are highest. Wimbledon has been his personal playground this decade, and the upset-minded generally have to play amazing tennis—see Richard Krajicek, 1996—to beat him here.

3. Good question. Hingis, of course, also lost the 1997 French Open to Iva Majoli. She responded by winning the next three Slams.

Will there be a Martina Hingis-Venus Williams matchup in the Wimbledon finals?
—Joel Carandang, Manila, Philippines

Much as you and I would like there to be, I'm inclined to think not. First of all, the two have an uncanny knack for appearing in the same half of the draw, which they again do at Wimbledon. Second, though Williams' power game and foot speed are custom-made for grass, her inexperience on the surface will catch up with her. Remember, this is a player who lost in the first round last year to unknown Magdalena Grzybowska.

I would like to see Martina Hingis and Venus Williams play a doubles match together. Could it happen?
—Cesar, Lawrence, Mass.

Sure it could happen. No word on whether their opponents will be Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, O.J. and Fred Goldman, or Bill Clinton and Ken Starr. These two like each about as much as John McEnroe liked line judges.

After the French Open women's final, can we put to rest all the talk about the up-and-coming teen wonders? Martina Hingis certainly cannot be counted out, but what about the others—the Williams sisters, Anna Kournikova, Mirjana Lucic, etc?
—Marianna Castaneda, Houston

No. Age, if you can call it that—Monica Seles is only 24 and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is a wizened 26—was served at the French, but there's no doubt that a changing of the guard is afoot. By the end of the year all four teen wonders ought to be in the top 10. (Lucic would be, too, were it not for her limited schedule of tournaments.)

What ever happened to MaliVai Washington? I thought that he was supposed to be the next big thing in American tennis.
—Steve, Northboro, Mass.

One of the nicest guys on the tour, Washington has been hampered by knee injuries for more than a year now and his current ranking is a woeful 223. The good news is that, as a former Wimbledon finalist, Mal will get his share of wild cards when he regains his health. The bad news is that, at age 29, his "next big thing" days are long passed. More bad news: His probable second-round opponent in this year's field is Pete Sampras.

Who do you think will win Wimbledon?
—Christian C. Rivera, Manila, Philippines

For the past bazillion years, I haven't been able to succumb to reason and I've picked Goran Ivanisevic. I see that huge lefty serve and those crisp volleys and wonder why he's never won a Slam event—much less why he's no longer even in the top 20. This year, with a sparsely peopled bandwagon, the pressure's off the Toni Kukoc lookalike and he'll deliver a long overdue title. We can dream it at least. Can't we?

As for the women, I think the Williams sisters will eventually rule this event, but both need one more year to feel more comfortable at the net and playing on grass. Much as I'd like to see Seles or Novotna finally win here, it's hard not to go with Hingis.

It's obvious watching Andre Agassi that his passion to win is missing. Does he really think he can regain the fire?
—Dave Hinchman, Dorrington, Calif.

Agassi has a boatload of cash, a celebrity wife and a stash of Grand Slam trophies. If the passion were gone, I'm sure he would walk away and spend his days loitering on the set of Suddenly Susan.

Pete Sampras is obviously struggling to reach top form this year. If Pete fails to win Wimbledon (which will mean three consecutive poor showings in the majors), do you think he won't be able to break Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles?
—Keith Kropp, Ventura, Calif.

Sampras, to be sure, is in the throes of a pretty serious schneid right now, but I'd still bet on him breaking Emo's record. The guy already has 10, he's only 26, he still has the best serve in the game, and, most important, he has that raging competitive fire reserved for the most elite athletes. If he stays healthy, he ought to average a Slam a year until he retires at age 30.

Send a question to Jon Wertheim, and check back later to read more of his answers.  

Related information
Previous Mailbags
Agassi, Graf get boost in Wimbledon seeds
More rain stops Nottingham Open; Wimbledon in danger
Players talk boycott as ITF considers changing 'let rule'
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