Counting down to Australia
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
A smattering of random questions this week from the hardcore tennis junkies. Don't look now, but the Australian Open starts two weeks from yesterday ...
Is Pete Sampras just not too bright when he makes negative comments about the WTA, or is he simply a male chauvinist? The women's tour is a lot more exciting and energized than the men's, unless Andre Agassi is playing; he is the only male player who brings energy and interest to the men's game. I know you will probably disagree, being such a Sampras fan, but I do think his comments are just ignorance.
I think his comments are owed more to jealousy than ignorance. To a person, the players on the ATP Tour will tell you that while, admittedly, the women's tour has more buzz, the men's circuit is superior. The women's game, they contend, still has too many marginal players who make a good living and stand no chance in hell of beating a top player. Venus Williams can play at 70 percent and still beat most players outside the top 10. By contrast, if a top seed on the ATP Tour doesn't have his best stuff every match, he'll get his hat handed to him. Many of the men have a tough time swallowing the fact that their tour is immeasurably deeper, but the women's game is being hailed as revolutionary.
People seem to be applauding Pat McEnroe's selection as Davis Cup captain. But doesn't he have too much going on (Imus; CBS; his wife, I read, is an actress in L.A.), and isn't there the possibility for a conflict of interest?
When Pat Mac's candidacy was discussed at the USTA -- when, in other words, it made like Mother Hubbard and went to the cupboard; sorry -- no doubt the issue of his various commitments came up. My guess is that if anything, it worked to his advantage. The Davis Cup captain is promoter as much as he is bench coach, and Mac's assorted contacts and media positions will help publicize the ties and restore some buzz to the event.
As for the conflict of interest, when the USTA starts to hold Davis Cup ties in Santa Fe, or when Fred's Body Shop supplants BNP as the event's sponsor, we'll suspect something is up. Until then, P-Mac's allowed to have other interests during the 48 weeks a year (50, realistically) when there's no Davis Cup.
Tell me, in order of prestige, the nine Masters Series events.
The prestige of the Masters Series events is essentially equal. It's just a question of which players decide to compete in which events. When Sampras skips Rome, for instance, that event obviously suffers in prestige.
Chronologically, the Masters Series events are: Indian Wells, Ericsson, Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, Canada, Cincy, Stuttgart, Paris and the Masters Cup.
A couple of years ago there was an American player named Anne Miller. Whatever happened to her? Also, what's going on with Taylor Dent? I love him, but he seems to have faded away.
Anne Miller is serious role-model material. After cracking the top 50 and beating a number of quality players, including Lindsay Davenport, she grew weary of the insular, itinerant life of the tour and retired at the wizened age of 21 to enroll at the University of Michigan. She's now a junior majoring in business.
As for Taylor Dent, if he has faded a bit, he'll be back on your radar before long. Overall, he made big strides last year. His quality wins include Harel Levy (something like 6-1, 6-2) and Jeff Tarango, and he took Sampras to two tiebreakers in Cincinnati. While he still lacks the fitness and consistency to be a real threat, Dent is in the top 150 and ought to make more main draws in 2001. With Pat McEnroe vowing to work with the younger U.S. prospects (read: Andy Roddick, Dent and to a lesser extent Mardy Fish ) look for your man to get additional face time in the coming months.
Just want to give props to Chanda Rubin, who quietly had a good year, raising her ranking to 13 (amazingly, she is only 24). What is your opinion of Nathalie Dechy, who reached No. 20 before injury ended her year? Is she a player?
Props, indeed, to Rubin, who is finally fully recovered from a wrist injury that all but prevented her from hitting a tennis ball a few years ago. On the other hand, she is in that overcrowded WTA Tour holding pen, where she beats the players beneath her relatively handily, but poses little threat to the top five. I remember watching her play Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, and thinking, Here are two players at totally different levels.
I'm big on Dechy. Her year came to a screeching halt when she incurred some sort of abdominal injury during the U.S. Open. But she has elegant, crisp strokes, she's a good athlete, she plays intelligently and she's only 21. With Nathalie Tauziat and Sandrine Testud on the down escalator, Julie Halard-Decugis retired and Amelie Mauresmo invariably on the IR, Dechy may well be the highest-ranked French femme at this point next year.
If a retro tour were started where all active players from the mid-'90s to the present had to use wooden rackets (any wooden racket prior to the Head Guillermo Vilas model), who would benefit the most? My pick would be someone like Ramesh Krishnan on the men's side; can't think of anyone from the women's ... Nathalie Tauziat?
I'm not sure Rambo Krishnan qualifies as player from the mid-'90s. But if all the players had to sport wood, as it were, I'd venture to guess the top five wouldn't be all that different. Sampras, for one, uses an anachronistic racket that's probably closer to wood than titanium anyway. The beneficiaries, of course, would be players with technically sound strokes and a good bit of natural athleticism, but a deficit of power. Names that come to mind include Fabrice Santoro, Michael Chang, Hicham Arazi and Byron Black. One player I'd love to transport to an earlier era is Todd Woodbridge. He has wonderful reflexes, exquisite volleys and clean strokes. In part because he's 5-foot-9 or so (and in part because he has the temper of a hand grenade), he never really cut it in singles. But if he had played a generation or two earlier, I bet he'd have won Wimbledon.
I've heard people argue the opposite, but I've always felt that technology has made less of difference in the women's game. It has certainly improved the overall level of play and obviated the moonball rally, but it hasn't led to the blinding power where one-, two- and three-shot rallies are the norm. If you gave Jack Kramers to the entire field, at first blush, anyway, Hingis is an obvious beneficiary. But here's another way to look at it: If she doesn't have her high-tech Yonex, does she stand a fighting chance against opponents who are six inches taller, appreciably stronger and 30 percent heavier than she is? I dunno.
If we're going to do music-related top-five lists, we might as well include the five most embarrassing meldings of music and tennis. Here's my list:
5) Anna Kournikova posing with the Spice Girls (although maybe she was applying for a job at the time).
4) Gabriela Sabatini dating Michael Bolton.
3) John McEnroe appearing on-stage at a Kansas concert (I read this in Tennis years ago and have been unable to eradicate this from my memory. I mean, c'mon, Mac --Kansas???).
2) Elton John appearing at any tennis charity event wearing shorts and a tight T-shirt.
1) Who else but Babs Streisand commenting on Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open and cheering Pete Sampras' double faults in his 1993 quarterfinal match with Agassi at Wimbledon.
First of all, Sabatini dating Michael Bolton is an epic case of romantic underachievement right up there with Claudia Schiffer and David Copperfield and Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton. And, you're right, the band Kansas is weaker than Eric Chenowith on a liquid diet. Why not go all out and sit in for a few sets with Michael Bolton?
Five other co-minglings of tennis and music, though not necessarily embarrassing, include:
5) Former Danish pro Torben Ulrich is father of Metallica drummer/spokesman/Napster nemesis Lars Ulrich.
4) Sandon Stolle is tight with Pearl Jam. (And, coincidentally, is said to be dating Claudia Schiffer's sister.)
3) Johnny Mac's marriage to Patty ("I am the warrior") Smythe is an obvious one.
2) Patti LaBelle's seven-hour rendition of The Star Spangled Banner -- I think that's what it was, anyway -- before the 2000 U.S. Open women's final.
1) The aforementioned Elton John allegedly encouraging Alexandra Stevenson to go public with her accusations of racism on the WTA Tour. (This is same man who recorded Get Back Honky Cat.)
ONE FINAL THOUGHT: A few weeks ago, we had a brief discussion about tennis books. One of you -- whose name I've misplaced, lamentably -- wrote in and suggested A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes, a former South African player. I reread this cult classic over the holidays and it's absolutely delightful. A great mix of tennis, sex and international travel. Amazon has it in stock.
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