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Tennis Results Players Stats
  Can Davenport conquer the Open?

Posted: Tue August 18, 1998

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

So long as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, stays in the mix, we don't have to worry about women's tennis getting boring. Asked last week whether Serena could beat Martina Hingis in their quarterfinal encounter at the Acura Classic, Richard had an eloquent response: "I think Serena will kick her ass coming and going." After winning the match, 6-4, 6-1, Hingis—never one to pass up the opportunity to crow—countered, "He should watch his mouth. Serena is a nice girl, but the people around her talk too much."

While the Hingis-Williams sisters rivalry continues toward a rolling boil much to the delight of fans, sponsors and, not least, the media, Lindsay Davenport, as modest and unassuming a player as they come, has quietly climbed within striking distance of Hingis' No. 1 ranking. With her victory at the Acura Classic last weekend, Davenport has now won three straight events and 12 matches in a row. Davenport, who's nearly 6' 3", might be the worst natural athlete in the top 20, but she's lost a ton of weight and is getting to more balls than ever. Davenport has been improving in Grand Slam events (she has reached the semifinals in three of the last four), though one can't help but wonder whether she's peaking too early to sustain her hot streak through the U.S. Open. For the time being, though, suffice to say, she's kicking ass, coming and going...

Why is it that every time I see Pete Sampras play a long match he looks exhausted and out of shape? The fact that he plays more matches than most players might be part of the reason, but you rarely see Michael Chang, Marcelo Rios or Patrick Rafter lose because of fatigue. How can a player who is considered to be possibly the greatest ever, in a sport which requires great endurance, lose matches due to poor conditioning?

Also, who is the best player you have seen if you were to consider each at their 'A'-level game? I'd have to say Andre Agassi, even though most people would disagree. When Agassi is focused, which is rare, and he is in shape, which is also rare, he appears unstoppable.
—Ronnie Campana, Burlingame, Calif.

Sampras' suspect conditioning has been the source of speculation for a while. Sampras refuses to cite it as the cause of his breakdowns, but he does suffer from thalassemia minor, a form of anemia which can reduce the blood's ability to carry oxygen. The other explanation, as you note, is that he plays a lot of matches and rarely, if ever, tanks. Say this about Sampras, too: If he's physically frail, his mental game more than compensates. Tennis' anti-choker has won 11 of 13 matches in Grand Slam finals.

Your 'A'-game question is interesting. One of the things I like best about pro tennis—men's especially—is that any player's 'A' game is good enough to beat his opponent's 'B' game. I've seen, for example, a vastly inferior player like Fabrice Santoro get in a zone and thrash Sampras in straight sets. All things being equal, though, I'd have to say that Sampras' 'A' game is the best I've seen. It's almost like a video game. He places his 130 mph serves anywhere he wants, hits ridiculous angles, and returns serves as if they're on a tee. Agassi actually might be second—when he's on, he sees the ball so well that he's thinking three or four shots ahead of his opponent.

What's wrong with Jim Courier? He's still in great shape and can still hit the big forehand. Has the game changed or has he?
—Jerry Newton, Little Rock, Ark.

It has to be tough to be a former No. 1 who's now ranked 68th and is often early-round fodder for the Slava Dosedels of the world. For nearly five years, Courier has been suffering from Hideo Nomo syndrome. That is, players have figured out his game and realized what they need to do to beat him. He, meanwhile, has done little to adjust to the times. Courier's a scrappy fighter who goes down swinging, but I'd like to see him change tactics, try serve-and-volleying, every now and then. Something to break the baseline monotony.

What do you think of Lindsay Davenport's chances in the U.S. Open now that she has won the last three WTA events? Can you tell me what's new with Lindsay's tactics and play, since it seems she has reinvented herself all of a sudden.
—Danny Prado, Manila, Philippines

Lots of Lindsay questions this week. The hottest player on the women's tour has done little to change her tactics: hit hard, flat strokes from the baseline and serve consistently. The difference is that at age 22, Davenport, one of the most leaden-footed players on the tour, has finally gotten herself in great shape. In losing 25 pounds, she gained an extra step in quickness and is getting to balls she wouldn't have even tried to retrieve a year ago. Not only is Davenport trailing Hingis by "only" 444 points, but she's one of the WTA's top-ranked doubles players—so she's playing an awful lot of tennis this year. If her body doesn't betray her, I think she has a real shot to win her first Slam.

This may be a moot point, considering the amount of money the USTA poured into Arthur Ashe Stadium last year, but over the past 10 years there's been a great deal of talk about the possibility of the U.S. Open changing venues, or even alternating sites each year, to give Americans across the country a chance to see a Grand Slam. What is your opinion of this idea?
—Jason, Carrollton, Texas

  The new Ashe Stadium
Arthur Ashe Stadium will be the site of the U.S. Open final for years to come. (Steve Berman/USTA)
You're right on both counts. After building Arthur Ashe Stadium, the USTA won't be moving the U.S Open any time soon. So, yes, your question is effectively moot. But I'm with you on the idea. Particularly given tennis' flagging popularity in the U.S., rotating the site of the event from city to city—much like every golf major, save the Masters—would do wonders for the sport.

Indulge me a brief rant on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The USTA talks a good game about ridding tennis of its elitist image and bringing the game to those unendowed by privilege. Then, to showcase one of the sport's premier events, they build a stadium that smacks of corporate greed. Unlike soulful Louis Armstrong Stadium, which was reflective of New York's grit and color, the new center court is a monument to antiseptic corporate avarice. Unless you're in a skybox, eating $11 shrimp cocktails and imbibing gin and tonics, the players are scarcely visible. Most of the seats are so high that they induce vertigo; worse still, in order to finance this monstrosity, ticket prices are criminally expensive. The message of his eponymous stadium is antithetical to Arthur Ashe's legacy: Unless Mommy or Daddy has access to Goldman Sachs' suites, tennis doesn't care about you.

I really enjoy watching Mark Philippoussis play, but you think he has the mental ability to win a Grand Slam?
—A. Nayar, Windsor, Ontario

I'm not sure Philippoussis has the mental ability to spell his name correctly. When "Scud" first burst on the scene, we loved his raw power and assumed that in time he'd learn to play at a speed other than full throttle. Three years later, the saucy Aussie is 22, he has yet top crack the top 10, and his career seems to be going nowhere fast. His results have been particularly subpar this year. He's had a number of bad losses, and fell out of favor with Aussie mates like Rafter (who ditched him as a doubles partner) and the Woodies when he bagged the Davis Cup tie—which Australia lost, amazingly, to Zimbabwe. Philippoussis still has one the game's most ballistic serves and hits as big a ball as anyone, but he'll never be mistaken for a thinking man. He desperately needs to learn that sometimes less is more, and that a slice or an angle is often as effective as a howitzer.

There was a reference on TV this week to Marcelo Rios doing something strange in Cincinnati—like breaking up with his doubles partner in public—but it was never explained. Do you know what it was all about?
—Don Engel, Petaluma, Calif.

Didn't hear anything about a public breakup, but Rios did not have one of his better tournaments in Cincinnati. After officially taking over the No. 1 spot last Monday, Rios promptly lost his opening match to Daniel Vacek, a player who's not even in the top 50, 6-2, 6-3. He then defaulted his doubles match on account of "a sprained finger." Make of that what you will.

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 10: Ivanisevic uses his head
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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