Breaking out all over
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
While pondering how the stellar week of the recently betrothed Marcelo Rios figures into our marriage hypothesis ...
Since she has zero points to defend until May and two Grand Slam singles titles on her record, what do you think are Venus Williams' chances of attaining the No. 1 ranking? Also, who are your top five male or female players on the verge of a breakout year in 2001?
The decision to become No. 1 is essentially up to Venus. You're right that she's defending negligible points and, with even middling results, she stands a good chance of achieving the top ranking by the spring. But that presupposes that she's not only healthy but plays a full schedule of events. An extended hiatus because of anemia/amnesia/fashion school/whatever, and she's back to square one.
Women (and men) on the verge of a breakout year ought to include:
1) Juan Carlos Ferrero
What gives with Barbara Schett? She broke into the top 10 and seemed on the verge of elite status, then fell badly last year. Is it her, or did the tour figure out her game?
Good question. Barbara Schett is a first-rate enigma. Two years ago she cracked the top 10, gave the top guns a run for their money and seemed to have a lot of daylight ahead of her. Today, she appears doomed to emulate her doubles partner, Anke Huber, and subsist as a serviceable No. 12-18 player, susceptible to the occasional upset as well as the occasional Grand Slam quarterfinal. Nothing more, nothing less.
I'm not sure the rest of the field got hip to her game. She was injured sporadically in 2000 and I believe she split with her coach, Thomas Prerovsky. She also suffered some confidence-deflating losses, include a choke job in Paris against Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario. In addition to being a popular, genial player, Schett has a world of talent and the athleticism to be a top-10 mainstay. But at 24, she needs desperately to reverse her downward trend.
As long as we're bringing up tennis books, I think it would be appropriate to mention John McPhee's Levels of the Game, which may be the best piece of sports journalism ever. Yeah, it's non-fiction and we're talking about novels, but if David Foster Wallace's look-at-me-aren't-I-smart piece of overrated literary garbage (or Infinite Jest, as it's better known) can get a mention in the 'Bag, certainly a man as wise as yourself can show some love to a real tennis literary masterpiece.
Yeah, we were talking about novels only, until I ruined it by bringing up Gordon Forbes. Sorry. Props to John McPhee -- there's a phrase you don't hear every day. And as long we're including non-fiction, Pete Bodo's Courts of Babylon ought to be in your shopping cart as well. But easy on the David Foster Wallace jabs. Them's fighting words in these parts.
Before the year really gets going, how about some predictions for 2001? I'll save them and see how you do. For men's and women's tours:
1) Wins first career Tier I
Just as long as you're sure to rub it in my face when I whiff.
1) Guillermo Coria and Anna Kournikova (you knew I was going to bite ...)
2) Magnus Norman and no one ( Elena Dementieva is the frontrunner, but it strains credulity that a player other than Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Mary Pierce or Monica Seles will win a Slam)
3) Rios and Pierce
4) Roger Federer and Lina Krasnoroutskaya
5) Mark Philippoussis and Alexandra Stevenson
6) Pat Rafter and Sánchez-Vicario
7) Andy Roddick and Maria Emilia Salerni
8) Venus Williams and Marat Safin
I was wondering if you can give a list of the best players (male and female) in the last 20 years who never won a Grand Slam but probably should have. Maybe give a top 10 and make it a little different from your famous top five.
I think I've done this before but I'll give 10, both genders, in no particular order:
Is Mary Pierce going to play in the Australian Open? She has missed out on a lot, but before injuring her shoulder she was in peak form and could have challenged Venus in the U.S Open if she hadn't retired to Anke Huber in the quarterfinals. Do you think she can improve on her performance last year, or will she crash out in the early rounds of Grand Slams?
Pierce seems to have made a deal with the devil worthy of Damn Yankees. After her victorious French Open, she has been a complete non-entity. On account of an injury to her serving shoulder, Pierce has played just two events since Roland Garros. In her last match of 2000, a fourth-round clash at the U.S. Open against Huber, her shoulder flared up and she had to default. As I understand it, Pierce opted against surgery and decided to rest (and watch an ungodly amount of Cleveland Indians baseball) during the fall and winter. With her fiancé in tow, Pierce is in Australia now and is expected to play in Melbourne.
I don't think it is embarrassing, but another melding of tennis and music is the Dan Bern tribute to Monica Seles on his album Fifty Eggs. I actually thought it was a pretty cool song. I enjoy your column each week and look forward to another year! Regards.
Gracias. A few of you also wrote in about Yannick Noah and Mats Wilander as well.
What is this little rift between Martina Hingis and Our Lady Anna? I've seen a bunch of references to Anna being in tears because Martina directed her anger at an umpire toward Anna. What exactly did she do? Also, how do you think Martina and Monica Seles might fare as a team in Australia?
Far be it from us to toot our collective horn, but here at the 'Bag we discussed this "Hate Match," as one tabloid called it, weeks ago. Here's the account that was in Friday's New York Post. Make of it what you will.
As for the more substantive question, I think Hingis and Seles could do quite well. Then again, I think Hingis and just about anyone could do quite well. This, remember, is a player who won the Australian title a few years ago partnered with Mirjana Lucic. Just in case you missed it the first time, SHE WON A GRAND SLAM PARTNERED WITH MIRJANA LUCIC. Not unlike Pierce (Hingis' partner for much of 2000), Seles isn't a standout volleyer, but she returns well, hits a heavy ball and can hold her own on natural talent alone. The word on Hingis is that she prefers it when her partner moonlights as a pal after the match. It will be interesting to see if the reserved, highly private Seles can fulfill this requirement.
I was wondering what you think of Jan-Michael Gambill. Is he top-10 material or just a male version of Anna Kournikova? He is ranked No. 33 and I heard he hits two-handed on both sides like Monica Seles. Do you see him doing well consistently in Grand Slams?
I've had less-than-flattering things to say about Gambill in the past, but I have to admit he's slowly winning me over. He has a monster serve, he's a good athlete, hits a solid ball from the backcourt (though that two-handed forehand makes me cringe) and, above all, is still improving. You've given me a pretty broad continuum, so I'll pick a spot in the middle. He still lacks the consistency (and cramps too frequently) to be a top-10 player. But he is more than another pretty face with a Jaguar endorsement deal.
Last year was such an up-and-down year for all of the players on the WTA Tour -- with the exception of Martina Hingis, who played consistently well throughout. Given that, who is the favorite in Australia? Venus Williams has not played in a while.
The Australian is a total wild card as a tournament. There's little to tell us which players will come out of the gate strong and which will have tennis' equivalent of ring rust. (Last year, who would have guessed that Serena Williams, on the heels of her triumphant U.S. Open, would lose before the quarters?) Hingis certainly has consistency on her side and isn't prone to significant lapses, but it's hard give the nod to a player who hasn't won a Slam in 24 months. Likewise it's hard to put your money on Gustavo Kuerten, given that he has won all of three career matches in Melbourne and has never been beyond the second round. With a gun to my head, I'll take the two previous Grand Slam winners, Venus and Safin. Stay tuned next week for a full seed report.
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