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Tennis Results Players Stats
  Ivanisevic uses his head

Posted: Mon Aug. 10, 1998

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

Goran Ivanisevic would probably just as soon forget about this year's du Maurier Open in Toronto. Playing in his first tournament since losing to Pete Sampras in the Wimbledon final, Ivanisevic won the first set of his match against Andre Agassi before disintegrating, as is his wont, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2. That was nothing compared to what happened the following afternoon, when he and his partner, Mark Philippoussis, played doubles against Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor. Down 4-2 in the first set, Ivanisevic popped a volley straight into the air that had no chance of clearing the net. No doubt inspired by Croatia's World Cup showing, Ivanisevic playfully attempted to "head" the ball back over to the other side.

Problem was, Philippoussis, the notoriously hard-headed Aussie, had the same bright idea and the two players violently collided. Ivanisevic received a gash over his right eye that required six stitches to close, while Philippoussis needed treatment for a facial bruise. After defaulting the match, Ivanisevic retained a sense of humor. "I felt like I was in the ring with Tyson," he said. "My next doubles partner will be a bit shorter so he hits me in the chest instead."

Goran Ivanisevic had better success with this unorthodox move at Wimbledon. (Simon Bruty)
This wasn't the first time Ivanisevic has needed stitches this year. At the Australian Open players' party, he was "Nerf boxing" with Spain's Jordi Burillo and caught an elbow over his left eye. "I only needed four stitches for that," he said with palpable pride. "I'm never safe, but at least with me, it's never boring."

With that in mind ...

Can you tell me what you think of Sargis Sargsian in the future? I remember McEnroe saying Sargis has a future.
—Shant Shahmelikian, Sydney, Australia

Not much. Sargsian, a former NCAA singles champ at Arizona State, is already 25 years old and is ranked 85th.

How do you think John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors would fare against today's top players? Would they even be ranked in the top 50? I watched part of a Bjorn Borg-Connors match in a senior event a few weeks ago and they were really cranking the ball.
—Nik Chamberlain, New York City

Mac and Connors—and Borg, too, for that matter—can still hit the ball, no question. But they're simply playing a different game from the guys on the ATP Tour. Their average age is roughly 40, they're not training like they used to, they're not playing three-hour matches. My guess is that no player on the Nuveen Tour could crack the top 200 in the rankings. Which is not to say that the seniors aren't entertaining. Given the choice, I'd rather see Connors and Mac run each other around—mixing up speeds, hitting drop shots and strategizing points—than watch, say, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Richard Krajicek bomb serves back and forth for an hour.

O.K., you've given us your top 10 men. How about the top 10 women?
—Jason, Carrollton, Texas

If I had a tennis rotisserie draft today ...

1) Jana Novotna
2) Lindsay Davenport
3) Martina Hingis (who's looking mighty vulnerable these days)
4) Steffi Graf
5) Monica Seles
6) Venus Williams
7) Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
8) Irina Spirlea
9) Serena Williams
10) Patty Schnyder

1. Despite the fact that she hasn't played all that much until this year, why do you think Venus Williams is getting injured with such frequency? Is it a problem in her footwork or technique?

2. Re: U.S. Open. Agassi, Petr Korda and Marcelo Rios have been the most successful players on hard courts so far. Sampras is one of the clear favorites. Are there any other players you would chose as contenders for the men's title? Does Patrick Rafter have a prayer of repeating?
—Alvin Jiminez, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

1. My suspicion is that Venus' injuries simply stem from spending more time on the court than her body can handle. Though you're right, she doesn't play many tournaments, she rarely loses early and she's practicing a lot as well. Regardless of the cause, Venus ought to learn that it's bad form to withdraw from a match down 0-4 in the third set, as she did against Mary Pierce last weekend. It's one of those unspoken rules that when your opponent is that far ahead, give her the satisfaction of winning outright.

2. I'll give my predictions next week, but, as a rule, I like players who can get to the net. Remember that three of the four semifinalists last year—Rafter, Greg Rusedski, and Jonas Bjorkman—were serve-and-volleyers. That said, keep an eye out for Rafter, Krajicek, Rusedski and, bite my tongue, Ivanisevic.

Would it be possible for the ATP Tour to be organized such that there was only one official stop each week? I think this would really add to the quality and excitement of tennis today. As the system works now, the star players seem to be spread out all over the globe each week except during the truly big tournaments (Grand Slams plus the Lipton, Indian Wells, etc.). I would really like to see the game's big names playing each other more than six or seven times a year, and I think this would add to the popularity of our sport. Do we really need the Grolsch Open or the tournament in Casablanca, Morocco? Should there be a clay-court event in Austria four weeks before the U.S Open?
—Rick Glass, San Jose

I agree wholeheartedly. There are way too many events on the both and WTA and ATP tours. I suppose the logic for holding a Grolsch Open the same week as a Super Nine (a.k.a. high stakes) event, as was the case last weekend, is that it gives many more players a chance to win points and prize money—and many more sponsors a chance to pony up big bucks. The problem is that it dilutes the game to have four of the top players at one event, and another four at another event on another surface in another country. There are also so many events on the calendar that players have little incentive to give 100% in every match.

Along those lines, I have one correction to pass along. Last week I erroneously claimed that Lindsay Davenport received as many points for winning the Bank of California tournament as Henrietta Nagyova received for winning the concurrent Polish Open. In fact, they are different tier events, so Davenport won 120 more points than Nagyova. Mea culpa.

Reading your Mailbag responses, I was surprised about your picks of the up-and-coming young U.S. players. You canned Justin Gimelstob and picked Taylor Dent? Gimelstob is just re-emerging (check out his thrashing of Rafter last week) and Dent hasn't made a dent in an ATP match yet. What about Jan-Michael Gambill (my choice for best young American star)? And Bob Bryan (who you also canned) looks to have better potential than Dent. Care to revisit the teen-America list?
—Ted Ying, Laurel, Md.

You're right that Gimelstob had a good tournament in L.A. last week, but he's still ranked 86th in the world. Gimelstob has yet to crack the top 50, but at 21, he is older than Michael Chang, Sampras and Jim Courier were when they won their first Grand Slams. (At least Gimelstob already has the hubris of an elite player. After upsetting Rafter in L.A. last week, he inexplicably starting woofing, "This is my house!")

You're not alone in your high opinion of Gambill. Agassi has repeatedly said that JMG is America's next, best hope. Gambill, 21, the most down-to-earth player you could ever hope to meet, had a great winter, but has only won a handful of matches in the past few months. He's a good athlete with a big-time serve but he hits two-fisted groundstrokes off both wings, which severely limits his mobility. I'll say this much: If your prediction pans out and he makes some noise, he'll rival Agassi in popularity.

Whenever Leander Paes comes into the spotlight, everyone rants and raves about what a good player he is. He plays well during his Davis Cup matches, but never so well on tour. What does he lack, or why can't he reach the top level? He just recently won tournament which only goes to prove that he is capable, but something seems lacking.
—Krishan Jhalani, Berlin, Germany

Like so many other players on the tour, Paes has all the shots but he lacks a reliable weapon. He plays craftily and he has a great set of hands, but he's a little guy—5' 10" on a good day—who's not going to serve anyone off the court. Though Paes won the first tournament of his career in Newport last month, he's not even in the top 100 right now. If it's any consolation, Paes is a fantastic doubles player, who, along with his partner, Mahesh Bhupathi, comprise one of the best teams on the tour.

Do you think my favorite tennis player, Goran Ivanisevic, can overcome the disappointment of losing the Wimbledon final and put in a good showing at the U.S. Open? I hope he can recover the mental strength he showed during Wimbledon.
—Lakshmi Sundaram, Nassau, Bahamas

Asking Goran to summon mental strength is like asking Al Gore to evince personality. It just ain't going to happen. Still, I think he has a chance of making a nice run at the Open. He just rejoined the tour last week after a long vacation on the Aegean Sea and he seems to be over the disappointment of losing his third Wimbledon final. Ivanisevic's lefty serve is still lethal and, when he remembers to get to the net, he is formidable on hard courts. Provided, that is, he avoids head-butting his doubles partner and Nerf boxing ...

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

Related information
Previous Mailbags
August 3: A tennis grab (Mail)bag
July 27: Suddenly, Agassi re-enters the picture
July 21: Graf's comeback easy to root for
July 8: Novotna, Sampras earned the right to celebrate
June 29: Waiting out the rain
June 22: Sampras, Graf still have what it takes
June 16: Who will rule Centre Court?
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