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More foot-in-mouth disease

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Monday January 15, 2001 12:17 PM


Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.

Getting ready to spend the next day or so in a plane on the way Down Under ...

What is Pat Cash's problem? Why is he going around and saying that the female players are overweight? Why does he care? Is he in bad need of press?
—Lucy Lenton, Salem, Mass.

If you missed it, Cash became the latest male player from yesteryear to take potshots at the women's game. (Is there some kind of bizarre initiation ritual for the senior tour stipulating that you have to diss the contemporary women's game before you're in the club?) Cash, who made headlines years ago for analogizing men's tennis to women's tennis as harness racing to manure, said last week that the vast majority of WTA Tour members were out of shape. He was particularly critical of Lindsay Davenport, likening her to a shot putter. Class all the way. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't Lindsay Davenport won three times as many Grand Slams as Mr. Checkerboard bandana himself?)

This is essentially the same critique of the women's game we discussed here a few weeks ago. Namely, a lot of the men lament the popularity of the WTA, given that the players aren't as good, nor as athletic, and the field isn't nearly as deep as the ATP. The problem with this logic is that most fans don't view women's tennis through the lens of the men's game. Just as many basketball fans prefer the college game to the NBA, in the eyes of many tennis heads the personalities, rivalries and overall buzz of the women's game make it preferable to the men's. As the coach of Greg Rusedski -- a player who as serves as fast anyone on the planet but still has the Q rating of a fern -- Pat Cash ought to grasp this as well as anyone.

Your thoughts on Jennifer Capriati's rather bold statement that she hits the ball better than the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport, etc.? That's a big statement to make. I'm surprised that it came from her.
—Ted McCarthy, Baltimore

I was surprised when I read that, too. On the one hand, it bespeaks a confidence Capriati is sometimes accused of lacking. On the other, it shows a decided cluelessness. Capriati might hit the ball every bit as hard as the top gun; the problem is that a) she knows no other speed, and b) her balls are as likely to bound off the Ford placard behind the baseline as they are to land in the court. What's more, even if her core strokes are comparable to anyone's, her court savvy and her fitness lag behind the top players'. Until she can temper her power with more consistency, control and variation, she's Nuke LaLoosh in a Randy Johnson world.

You conveniently left out Goran Ivanisevic from your list of best players in the last 20 years never to have won a major (the Karl Malone mention: funny). Ivanisevic has reached more Slam finals, semifinals and quarterfinals than Marcelo Rios, so why the cruel passover?
—Pratik Basu, Los Angeles

A few of you wrote in about Ivanisevic, including Ingo (Ate My Baby) Duckerschien of London, who also suggested the comically erratic Henri Leconte make the list. In truth, Ivanisevic should probably have been there over Karl Malone. He did, after all, once attain the No. 2 ranking, and he reached the final of Wimbledon three times (though his performance at the other three majors was riddled by upsets and half-hearted efforts). Perhaps I subconsciously omitted Goran because his game has been so pitiful of late. After his first-round flameout at the U.S. Open -- winning one game in the final three sets against Dominik Hrbaty -- he lost in the first round of qualies in Melbourne last week. Maybe it's time to retire. Speaking of opting for the gold watch ...

OK, what is your deal? You make it so obvious that you dislike Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, but I think someone like you would be a little more professional about it. You've been retiring her forever, and I hate to tell you this but she is still here and is always making you look bad. Last year she reached back-to-back finals, and instead of praising her you had her on the AD OUT list. Learn to appreciate the players. You constantly praise Elena Dementieva, just for reaching the semis of Indian Wells, but I didn't see her reach any finals last year.
—Jorge Davila, San Juan, Puerto Rico

I was asked to name the biggest-name player I thought would retire by year's end. Sánchez-Vicario will be 30 this year, she recently married, she has interests outside of tennis, and her results, particularly on surfaces other than clay, have diminished in recent years. If you can think of a more likely big-name candidate who might call it quits after 2001 (who else? Sandrine Testud? Nathalie Tauziat? Els Callens? ), I'm all ears.

Since you feel I've slighted Sánchez-Vicario, let's take a moment to give her the props she deserves. A surefire Hall of Famer, she is the epitome of hustle, determination and overachievement. That a player of her stature (5-foot-6 in heels and 120 pounds) managed to win four Slams and more than $15 in million in prize money -- the most of any active player, including Monica Seles -- in an era of power tennis is testament to her competitive resolve. Another fact that speaks volumes about her tenacity: She's made it at least as far as the quarterfinals at Roland Garros 13 times since 1987. Simply suggesting that she's a candidate for retirement doesn't mean she should, nor that we hope she does. On the contrary, the longer she hangs around, the better off the game will be.

How would you handicap Todd Martin's future as a potential Davis Cup captain? He's respected, looks the part with those graying 'burns and could even be a player-coach. And clearly he "gets it" with regard to Davis Cup lore. Also: Does he have one more Slam run in him?
—Eric Torbenson, Minneapolis

I was somewhat surprised Martin didn't get more consideration this time around. You're right that he does indeed "get it"; and as his premature graying suggests, he's mature beyond his years. Aside from being a top-10 stalwart, his career has been characterized by sportsmanship, candor, a good sense of humor -- often deployed at his own expense -- and general good guy-ness. In other words, he has plenty of credit to trade on when he retires. Does he have another Slam run in him? Unlikely. Unless he can somehow wheedle the USTA into scheduling all of his U.S. Open matches to begin at midnight. Still, he's the kind of player who one suspects will be playing a big role in the game 20 years from now.

What are the chances of Carlos Moya coming back strong and possibly winning another Grand Slam, like he did in '98?
—Dan, Toronto

Winning another Grand Slam this year might be pushing it, but a healthy Moya is a good bet to return to the top 10.

Do you think the Williams sisters will get over their sibling bond and begin to concentrate individually on the No. 1 spot? And what future do you see for their doubles career?
—Chanda Norton, Lexington Park, Md.

Richard Williams deserves a world of credit for the success of his master plan. Still, one gets the sense that he overlooked the trifling fact that if his daughters were going to be the world's top two players, they would have to face each other time and again. From a strictly empirical standpoint, if Venus and Serena continue alternating events, there's almost no way they can be the world's top two players. It's clear, however, that both are utterly frazzled at the prospect of having to play the other, and I don't see them fraying their "bond" for anything. As for doubles, when the sisters play together they have a good time and don't take themselves seriously. Still, they've shown that when it counts, they're the best team in the world.

Glad to hear someone back up David Foster Wallace -- his essay in Tennis a couple years ago was really good. Maybe you know already, but he has a book of short stories called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again in which tennis is prominently featured. I'm happy you liked A Handful of Summers. I think I was the one who recommended it to you.
—Mason, Exeter, N.H.

Thanks. If you haven't read it already, the essay in ASFTINDA on journeyman Michael Joyce -- which, I believe, originally ran in Esquire -- is, in itself, worth the purchase price. Perhaps the absence of tennis is the reason Brief Interviews With Hideous Men was flatter than an Amy Frazier forehand.

Have a good week and happy A.O. viewing, everyone.

Click here to send a question or comment to Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag.

Related information
Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag Archive
SI's Jon Wertheim: Australian Open men's seed report
SI's Jon Wertheim: Australian Open women's seed report
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