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Tennis Results Players Stats
  Suddenly, Agassi re-enters the picture

Posted: Mon July 27, 1998

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

With the possible exception of his wife, is there anyone whose career has had more wild undulations than Andre Agassi? Just when it looks like Agassi is going to disappear into a trail of vapor, he reappears and tears through draws like Sherman through Atlanta. Then, just as you're ready to hop on his bandwagon and anoint him as Pete Sampras' rival, he goes into hibernation. Entering this year, though, even the most unremitting optimist had to wonder whether this was it for the erstwhile Mr. Image-Is-Everything. At age 27 his ranking was a woeful 122, he hadn't been to a Grand Slam final since 1995, and he had plenty of incentive to call it a career. "Instead," he said, "I decided that I had to rededicate myself to being the best I could be."

  Agassi Andre Agassi may be gearing up for another charge at the U.S. Open.    (AP/William Philpott)
If Agassi wasn't the best he could be this past weekend, when he won the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C., pity his poor colleagues. Now ranked No. 13, Agassi was simply playing a different game than his opponents. In the semis, he needed 56 minutes to beat Wayne Ferreira, a formidable hardcourt player, 6-1, 6-0. The next day, he spent 50 minutes waxing Scott Draper, 6-2, 6-0. Wow. "I played him when he was No. 1 in the world and he's playing better now," said Draper. Can Agassi stay this hot heading into the U.S. Open? History is never an indication with this guy, but this much is for sure: following his career is more entertaining than Suddenly Susan.

On to the 'bag...

Jon, I am still awaiting your reply from last week. I would appreciate a response.

1. What do you think of Venus Williams' progress since last year's U.S. Open finals, and can she duplicate her success but win this year?

2. Will Steffi Graf and Monica Seles regain their touch and challenge for the No. 1 position?

3. Can Venus challenge Martina Hingis for No. 1 this year or next if her game continues to improve?

4. Who of the young blassful teens will step up and create a rivalry with Hingis—Anna Kournikova, Venus, Serena Williams, Mirjana Lucic?

Jon, please answer these questions for me.
—Harry C. Tiller Sr., Washington

Easy there, tiger. If everyone remains calm, no one gets hurt.

1. Venus has progressed nicely this year and, more importantly, brings her 'A' game to the Slams. I'd like to see her play more hardcourt events this summer, but I would hardly be floored if she made it to the finals again.

2. Given their experience, I think Seles and Graf are both capable of beating Hingis. Right now, though, the best female player on the planet is Jana Novotna and, provided she keeps her head in the match, I'd bet on her to beat either Graf or Seles.

3. Venus has to defend so many points at the Open that, even if she wins, she stands virtually no chance of catching Hingis by year's end. She will by the end of 1999, though.

4. "Blassful," eh? Not quite sure what you mean there. Maybe an amalgam of blissful and blasphemous, both of which describe the damsels you've mentioned. Venus is Hingis' biggest rival. And the more Hingis coolly dismisses it, the more she fosters it.

There have been a lot of complaints recently about how boring the men's game has become now that players have such overpowering serves. John McEnroe suggested going back to using wooden rackets, and I think the International Tennis Federation is discussing the possibility of eliminating the second serve. Do you think any of these will actually happen, and will it really help tennis become more interesting?
—Hema, Columbus, Ohio

We've passed the point of no return regarding technology. The equipment industry is entirely too powerful to submit to a "wooden rackets only" policy, even if it applied only to the pros. Also, every player who relied on his widebody or thunderstick for that extra juice would file an injunction the next day. The one-serve proposal ain't going to happen either. The game of tennis embraces change as lustily as Pete Sampras embraces losing. If a comparatively minor suggestion of doing away with service lets has provoked a firestorm of controversy, you can imagine how hard it will be to change one of the fundamental rules of the game.

Who are your picks for this year's U.S. Open?
—Andrew, Toronto

Ask me in a month and I might have a different answer, but right now my picks are admittedly lame: Sampras and Novotna—Sampras, simply because there are no other men consistent enough to win seven straight matches; Novotna, because she has slayed her personal dragon and her net game is so superior to any other player's.

What do you think of Steffi Graf's chances of winning the U.S. Open?
—Gaylemarie, Philippines

Graf is at this strange point in her career where she is simply happy to be on the court smacking balls again. The advantage is that there is very little pressure, even self-applied, on her to reclaim her top spot. The disadvantage is that she may lack a certain urgency and intensity to pull out close matches, à là her loss to Natasha Zvereva at Wimbledon. Still, Graf is a money player, and if she shakes a little rust off in the next five weeks, I wouldn't rule her out by any stretch.

What has happened to Michael Chang this year, and what are his prospects for the U.S. Open and 1999?
—M. Mathias, Los Angeles

I'm not sure anyone—not least Chang himself—has satisfactorily diagnosed the problem. Here's a guy who had the chance to take over the No. 1 spot at last year's U.S. Open, and if the '98 Open were to start today he wouldn't even be seeded. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Chang's effort, fitness level and match preparation are beyond reproach. Unfortunately, I think his biggest weakness is uncorrectable. That is, even with that abnormally long racket, at 5' 9", 150 pounds, Chang's physique puts him at a nearly insurmountable disadvantage.

Send a question to Jon Wertheim, and check back the beginning of each week to read more of his answers.  

Related information
Previous Mailbags
June 16: Who will rule Centre Court?
June 22: Sampras, Graf still have what it takes
June 29: Waiting out the rain
July 8: Novotna, Sampras earned the right to celebrate
July 21: Graf's comeback easy to root for
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