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Tennis Results Players Stats
  A tennis grab (Mail)bag

Posted: Mon Aug. 3, 1998

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

A few bullet points of business before we get to the 'bag:

  • Too bad you can't buy stock options in Andre Agassi's career.

  • When do you suppose was the last time a 28-year-old player who started the year ranked 122 won four tournaments by the first week of August?

  • If they played today, how many games does Marat Safin, who beat Agassi at the French Open, take off of our bald-pated hero?

  • Here's a problem with the ranking system as it stands today: Slovakia's Henrieta Nagyova won as many points for beating German Elena Wagner in the finals of the Polish Open last weekend as Lindsay Davenport received for beating Venus Williams to win the Bank of the West tournament.

    Lindsay Davenport outlasted Venus Williams to win her second tournament of the year. (AP/Paul Sakuma)

  • Speaking of Davenport, she made a miraculous recovery from the variety of injuries and ailments—none apparently life-threatening—that kept her from playing for the Fed Cup last weekend.

  • Speaking of recoveries, best wishes to Rod Laver for getting back on the golf course, if not the tennis court, in the near future.

  • Speaking of Laver, here's a memo to Boris Becker: The Rocket was ranked No. 7 in the world when he was 37 years old. Think about hanging in there for a few more years.

Now on to your questions ...

1) Now that Andre Agassi has won the Legg Mason in such a dominating fashion, do you think that he can be consistent enough to win seven matches in a row at the U.S. Open?

2) How would you rate Marcelo Rios' chances at the U.S. Open?

3) Do you think that Yevgeny Kafelnikov stands any chance of doing well at the U.S. Open, since he has had such a bad year?
—Mustafa Ehsan, Sunnyvale, Calif.

1) Agassi? Consistent? I'm not sure Agassi is consistent enough to drink out of a straw twice in a row without spilling. But it's hard not to like the way he's been playing lately, and if he can sustain this level, I don't see anyone other than Pete Sampras taking him out at the Open. My one beef with Agassi is that with his colossal talent, it's inexcusable that he allows his ranking to yo-yo like Oprah's weight. You watch him tear apart a quality opponent like Tim Henman, as he did last weekend at the Mercedes Cup, taking the ball on the rise, hitting half-volley winners, even cranking up his serve, and you wonder why he's only won three Slams.

2) It borders on farcical that a player who's been ranked No. 1 on two separate occasions this year has only made it past the quarters in one Grand Slam event in his life. Put it this way: Rios is so maddeningly erratic—witness his decisive loss to the semi-retired Becker last month—that it would surprise me less if he lost in the first round than if he lived up to his likely seeding and made it to the finals.

3) Compared to Kafelnikov, Rios is a hungry competitor who always plays his hardest, particularly when the chips are down. So far this year, the Russian Rocket has gone by way of the Space Station Mir. Kafelnikov could salvage a disappointing 1998 with some overdue success at the Open. More likely, he's upset fodder yet again.

1) What's wrong with men's tennis in the U.S.? Are there no exciting lads coming up with the potential to win on the ATP tour?

2) The women's game has really taken off. These blassful teenagers, with their confident, aggressive attitudes, bring excitement to the tour that we haven't seen since the days of Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. They say that Mirjana Lucic has all the tools to be No. 1. Will she challenge Martina Hingis, the Williams sisters and Anna Kournikova for the top prize and the No. 1 ranking?

3) What are your thoughts about U.S. vs Spain in the Fed Cup? Could we have won if Davenport or Venus Williams had participated? I think Lisa Raymond played really well and could have won if she had more experience. Maybe next year. Who do you think will win in the Fed Cup final, Spain or Switzerland?
—Harry C. Tiller, Washington, D.C.

1) Now that the Justin Gimelstob bandwagon has been summarily abandoned, the next big thing in American tennis is supposedly 17-year-old Taylor Dent, son of former touring pro Phil Dent.

2) Here we go with "blassful" again. Lucic is something of an enigma. The youngest of the teen sensations, she hits thunderbolts off both sides and has a serve that has the potential to rival that of Venus Williams. Problem is, Lucic has no clue how to work a point and set up a shot. After a few solid wins at Wimbldeon, she was humiliated by Serena Williams, winning only three games. Since then, she came down with a suspicious case of "chicken pox" and had to pull out of hardcourt events. Her showing at the U.S. Open, however, ought to give some indication as to whether she's, well, blassful enough to hang with her peers.

3) The U.S. definitely suffered when Davenport lamely withdrew and Raymond, a player never accused of being "match tough," took her spot. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Venus Williams, who completely spurned the USTA as a junior, to play Fed Cup. As for the final, Hingis and Patty Schnyder, who is on the cusp of becoming a top 10 player, should be able to take three of the four singles matches from Spain.

When will one of the Williams sisters win a Grand Slam singles event?
—Quinn Johnson, Oakland

Venus, who is already up to No. 6 in the world, has a legit shot at the Australian or the U.S. Open in 1999. Her frenetic game and sloppy footwork doesn't translate well to clay and she needs to volley more consistently to win Wimbldeon, but there's nothing stopping her on the hard stuff. In the long run, though, I think Serena will have the more successful career because, as their father Richard has said, "She's the meaner of the two.".

What do you think has been the biggest difference in Monica Seles from when she dominated the game (1990-93) to her present status? Why was she affected so much by the stabbing incident?
—Anshu, New Delhi, India

Before her hiatus in 1993, Seles was simply fearless on the court. Her confidence was unwavering, she won big points, she had a Sampras-like equanimity. While I don't think she's hitting the ball much differently since returning to the Tour in 1995, she often tightens up in big matches and plays "not to lose." It doesn't help that Seles' shoulder is still not 100%, which limits the range of her service motion, and that her fitness level is suspect. Still, Seles is only 24—and has barely picked up a racket for two years—so there's time yet for her to regain her mental edge and make it back to No. 1.

I was wondering what you thought of the Bryan twins chances at being top pros? I know that they did well at the last tournament they were in. I have seen them play several times in college and was impressed by their abilities.
—Craig Crenshaw, Athens, Ga.

As a doubles team, Bob and Mike Bryan may well make some noise, but don't look for either of them to crack the top, say, 40 in singles. They're both big kids (6' 3") with solid all-court games but neither has the one weapon to be a truly elite player. As a rule, success in the college game is a poor predictor of how players will fare as pros. The American players with a real future on the Tour skip college altogether, à là Sampras, Chang, Agassi, rather than wait till they're in their early 20s. The Bryans, who went to Stanford, may replicate the status of other recent college stars like Alex O'Brien and Chris Woodruff. But I wouldn't expect much more than that.

My favorite player is Gustavo Kuerten. He's really cute and he has a huge forehand, but can he win anything that's not on clay? What are his chances in the U.S. Open? Please post your response as soon as possible because my friend Marcy and I have a friendly wager about what you'll say!
—Lizzy, Windhoek, Namibia

Dear Gaga for Guga,
I hope Marcy enjoys her steak dinner—or the equivalent Namibian wager—because the odds of Kuerten winning anything at the Open are about the same as Men Without Hats releasing a platinum CD. Kuerten, it appears, is a classic one-hit wonder—the one hit in this case being his forehand. Everything else about his game—his wardrobe notwithstanding—is mediocre. By the way, a special prize for anyone out there who can name the members of the Namibian Davis Cup team.

1) Rank your top 10 men.

2) How do you feel about the Grand Slams devising a system of seeding that takes into account several factors: current ATP rank; results over most recent six weeks (including Davis Cup play); results on a particular surface; head-to-head performance against other top players; history at a particular Grand Slam.
—Steve Sheer, Boca Raton, Fla.

If I were picking racehorses today ...

1) Sampras
2) Agassi
3) Petr Korda
4) Rios
5) Patrick Rafter
6) Carlos Moya
7) Greg Rusedski
8) Jonas Bjorkman
9) Henman
10) Richard Krajicek

As much as people hate the idea of letting the Grand Slam poobahs come up with their own seedings that depart from the ATP Tour rankings, I think it's a necessary evil. Otherwise, you get ludicrous results that skew the draw. If, for instance, the U.S. Open were to start today, Agassi, who's won 11 straight hardcourt matches, would be seeded lower than Moya, who's never gotten past the second round in Flushing. Generally, I like your criteria, particularly the bonus points for Davis Cup play.

Is there any way we can coax John McEnroe out of retirement? There hasn't been one thing worth watching in tennis since he left. Don't give me a bunch of crap about the Williams sisters or Anna Kournikova. Tennis has sunk to depths that are challenging soccer. The only thing worth watching for is to see who McEnroe is going to call out next.
—Scott Carter, Dallas

If anything can, Scott, it's an eloquent, well-reasoned plea like yours.

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
July 27: Suddenly, Agassi re-enters the picture
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