Wrapping up Australia
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
35,000 FEET ABOVE THE PACIFIC -- Before we get to your questions, some final random thoughts on the first Grand Slam of 2001:
All credit to Jennifer Capriati for authoring such a great story -- and easing the guilt of so many. Lost amid the Cinderella hype: Her tennis was unparalleled. She hit the biggest ball this side of the Williams sisters and showed unprecedented poise taking out three of the top four seeds -- Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis. ... Andre Agassi in three words: He gets it. ... The men were once again overshadowed by their female counterparts. But their collective sportsmanship on the ATP is refreshing. Thanks to Magnus Norman, who did infinitely more both for tennis and for his image by conceding match point than he would have had he somehow come back to beat Sebastien Grosjean. Thanks to Arnaud Clement and Grosjean for showing that unreconstructed hatred of your opponent isn't a prerequisite for a good match. Thanks to Pat Rafter for losing with dignity and class. Thanks to Agassi for winning with it. ... Could Shaq and Kobe please resolve their differences so Pete Sampras can again concern himself with playing winning tennis? ... Want a good laugh? Rewind the clock two weeks and tell Hingis that she'd beat both Williams sisters in Melbourne, avoid having to play Davenport in the final, and still fail to win the title. ...
Do yourself a favor next time you're at a tournament: Watch Todd Woodbridge play doubles. ... If the winsome Clement didn't win you over, consult a cardiologist immediately. ... Was there ever a more poetic end to a match than Clement hustling to make a no-way-in-the-world retrieval and throwing up a desperate lob, only to have fat cat Yevgeny Kafelnikov dump the ensuing overhead in the net? ... Speaking of Kafelnikov, if he gets this mad about making a paltry six figures for winning four tennis matches, imagine his demeanor if his private jet were to have mechanical problems. ... Now about that $40 million Reebok deal. ... Memo to Little Lleyton Hewitt: you weren't the first long-haired, self-proclaimed rebel with head-to-toe Nike logos -- an laughable oxymoron, of course -- to transgress tennis' firmament. Now bald and 30, your predecessor won his fourth Grand Slam in the past 20 months last weekend. Note the way he conducts himself these days and how far removed he is from the bad-boy shtick. ... If there's a more relaxed, affordable and fan-friendly sporting event than the Australian Open, please, do tell.
What is your take on Yevgeny Kafelnikov's comments that the prize money in tennis is too low? Personally, I liked Andre Agassi's retort that Kafelnikov "should take his prize money when he's done here and go buy some perspective."
I'm of mixed minds. First, Kafelnikov has to realize off the bat that a man -- particularly one with a reputation for being an appearance-fee hog -- who makes millions playing a game for a living isn't going to win too much sympathy by claiming that he's underpaid. Do I think the winner of Memphis or Stockholm ought to make hundreds of thousands of dollars? No, regardless of how much money the tournament generates. (Of course, I don't think Alex Rodriguez should make $25 million a year either.) At tour events -- Masters Series tournaments, in particular -- the players are paid more than handsomely for one week's work. On the other hand, I see Kafelnikov's point regarding the Slams, as does Lindsay (Teflon) Davenport, who supported him eloquently. The Slams, with the U.S. Open being the most glaring example, make an obscene amount of cash. The players are well compensated, but the purses at the majors comprise a smaller percentage of gross revenue than at other events. Davenport nailed it: It looks great when the U.S. Open winner holds up a cartoonishly large check for $800,000. But when one considers that the event grosses more money than every American sports franchise except for the New York Yankees, it is suddenly writ much smaller.
The riposte that follows is that the revenues from the Slams go toward the host country's tennis association, which grows the game, supports juniors, etc. More prize money to the players means less money for grass-roots programs. It's nice rhetoric, but, at least in the U.S., it rings hollow given the notorious profligacy at the USTA. (As a friend of mine said, "I'd never eaten lobster bisque and flown first class until I served on the USTA board.") Players come to New York and see the suits in the suites, the ticket prices, the signage, the CBS contract and even the price of food and it's understandable they think they're getting a raw deal.
Who do you think the worst players are, men and women, to have won a Grand Slam in the modern era?
This is one of those harsh questions that only serves to make me enemies. But so many of you gave me grief for "sidestepping" the women's fitness issue, I'll stick my neck out.
If we define the modern era as, say the past 20 years, my votes go to Iva Majoli and Andres Gomez. Majoli, in fairness, suffered injuries and some personal issues and may still achieve something in her career. But after winning at Roland Garros in 1997, her ranking slipped outside the top 100 and she hasn't come close to replicating that success. Gomez did little on surfaces other than clay and shocked the world when he beat Agassi in Paris in 1990.
You also have to give heavy consideration to Pat Cash. Yes, in addition to winning Wimbledon in 1987 he made the Australian final the same year and the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Super Saturday of 1984. But, truth to tell, he only won five career titles. Then again, perhaps his keen, progressive observations about the physique of female tennis players warrant special dispensation.
What is your assessment of Dominik Hrbaty? After his breakout at Roland Garros in 1999, where he made the semis, his game fell off. He regained form at Monte Carlo, surged late in 2000, and now has had strong efforts at Auckland and Melbourne. Does he have the game to be a consistent threat?
Dominik Hrbaty is a head case, capable of both stunning and stunningly awful tennis. When he beat Marat Safin to reach the quarters last week, there was very little surprise in the locker room. Agassi was among those who characterized the Dominator as one of those streaky, dangerous players capable of beating anyone. (Remember that Hrbaty had Agassi dead to rights at the 1999 French Open, the event that reinvigorated Agassi's career.) Hrbaty hits a deceptively hard serve, passes well and isn't afraid to come in. For about an hour against Rafter the other night, he played brilliant tennis -- the kind that wins you Slams -- passing his man at will, serving bombs and winning baseline exchanges. Then suddenly he cooled off and, weirder still, didn't seem to mind. One had the sense that Hrbaty knew he had a finite amount of good tennis in him, and when he his reservoir ran dry, that was that.
What's with all the Argentine players surfacing at the Australian Open (at least seven on the men's side)? Usually, the Argentines don't join the spotlight until the clay season begins.
You're right. There's a nice crop of young crop Argentine players on the tour right now, including Guillermo Coria, a potential top-10 player. On the other hand, only one of the Gauchos, Juan Ignacio Chela, made it past the second round in Melbourne.
What happened to Magnus Larsson? He has had a lot of injuries and he hasn't played yet this year. Is he finished?
Having already seen 30 and battling back injuries for the latter part of his career, I'm guessing we've seen the last of Magnus (Lurch) Larsson. Look for him, however, on the motivational speaking circuit.
I still am wondering what, if any, appearance money is offered to participants in Grand Slams? I realize the pecuniary emphasis isn't really concerned with the sport of tennis per se, but I am curious. After all, I am an American, and how could I truly be so if I weren't interested in the subject of money?
To borrow a phrase, I don't care about the American democratic perspective. Just kidding. The irony about tennis is that it's the struggling smaller events that have to pay appearance-fee money to secure top stars. It's tough to sell tickets when Gaston Gaudio and Sjeng Schalken are your big drawing cards. The Slams -- and Masters Series events, too, for that much -- are prestigious enough and disgorge so much prize money that they don't have to pay for players' participation.
Everyone dismisses the comments of Damir Dokic because he appears to be a bit loopy. However, I would also like better assurance that the draws are indeed random. Several years ago, the U.S. Open draw had to be redone because the television network was dictating the seeding. Since people program the computers, a fix is not inconceivable.
Lots of question about draws this week. First, to say that Dokic is a bit loopy is like saying Agassi is a bit bald. Anyway, for all of tennis' ills, rigged draws are not among them. Draws are either done by computer or names are drawn out of a hat at a public ceremony. Either way, rest assured they're above board. Your real assurance is this: The lost credibility the tournament would incur from a scandal so far outweighs the benefit of a tantalizing match that only a promoter with a death wish would pull such a stunt.
The issue of subjective seeding is another matter. I realize I am in the minority on this, but I wouldn't mind if the Slams departed from the rankings and applied common sense. Should, for instance, Sampras, who has all but written off winning at Roland Garros, be among the top seeds at the French? Aside from the problems inherent with any subjective measuring, the argument against subjective seedings is that it undercuts the credibility of the tour's rankings. That's true, but is it any worse when top seeds drop like flies in events they have little chance of winning?
It's my usual question. What's with tennis brackets? Why does the No. 1 seed have to play the No. 3 seed? Shouldn't the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds play each other, like in any other sports bracket?
I finally got off my ass and got you an answer. It's totally convoluted, but here goes: As I understand it, when organizers make draws, they put the top seed in the top quadrant and the second seed in the bottom. They then flip a coin to determine the quadrants of the third and fourth seeds. So in the men's draw in Australia, the brackets were 1 (Gustavo Kuerten) vs. 4 (Norman) on top and 2 (Safin) vs. 3 (Sampras) on the bottom, a familiar pairing for anyone who does an NCAA basketball pool. But on the women's side, 1 (Hingis) and 3 (Venus Williams) met in the semis and 2 (Davenport) and 4 (Seles) were bracketed below. To add to the confusion, seeds 5-8 are sprinkled randomly among four spots in the draw. That's why at Wimbledon, top-seeded Hingis met No. 5 Venus in the quarterfinals (conventional wisdom says that 1 should play 8, 2 should play 7, etc.). Got that?
Why does tennis do this? No one I asked had much of an answer. The best I could come with up: If the rankings (i.e., seedings) are rigid throughout the year, it offers the possibility of different matchups from Slam to Slam. Otherwise, if 2 always played 3, Davenport and Venus might play in the semis time after time after time.
When are tournament officials going to stop placing the Williams sisters in the same bracket? Why does one always have to kill off the other to advance to the final? Why is there is never a chance for them to meet in the final of any major? Is the world afraid that they will always be in the finals against each other, or is this another way to keep them from truly obtaining the superstar status that they deserve?
It's all about how their rankings place them in the draw. If they ever fulfilled their promise to become No. 1 and No. 2, they would assure themselves of being in opposite brackets. Take two Tylenol and then see above.
Young guns Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters both disappointed a bit in the Australian Open, especially Clijsters, who lost 6-3, 6-0 to Lindsay Davenport. Several commentators believe that Clijsters is too influenced (in a negative way) by her boyfriend, Lleyton Hewitt. What is your opinion on this?
Clijsters played rotten tennis against Davenport -- and, to her credit, admitted as much -- but I think it was simply the weight of the occasion: She had a high-stakes match on stadium court against the defending champ. If anything, Clijsters received plenty of fan support from the Aussies, simply because she was Hewitt's girlfriend. Throughout the first week, she had to answer for her Little Lleyton's conduct, and she stood by her man. But, in turn, he supported her as well, showing up to her matches when possible and consoling her after the loss.
I'm a fan of Lindsay Davenport's impressive ground game and modest demeanor on and off the court, but I can't fathom why someone so smart and skilled lets a bad attitude and self-doubt destroy her game in big matches. It was clear in the U.S. Open final and once again against Jennifer Capriati in Melbourne that Davenport has the skills, but lately she has had problems slipping into a funk that is ugly to watch. A few years back she recognized that fitness was an issue and she worked on it and became the champion she is today. Do you think she will own up to the fact that her poor attitude is poisoning her game and get some help? Or do you think it is just burnout?
If there's a knock on Davenport's game, it's that she's entirely too hard on herself. She misses a few routine shots and suddenly her body screams, "I don't want to be here." In an early match at the Australian Open last year, her demeanor was so sour that her coach, Robert Van't Hof, left the arena in disgust. And you're right: Against Capriati, Davenport was at her worst, bouncing her racket in frustration even when she won points. At some level this is rooted in supreme confidence: Davenport expects to win every time she takes the court, and when she doesn't it pisses her off. On the other hand, as you note, someone as rational and down-to-earth as she is ought to realize that, however badly she's playing, she exacerbates things when she acts as though her pet just died.
Since I am forever quoting you to my husband and others, I need to know: How do you pronounce your last name?
The apocalypse truly is nigh when you're quoting me. But it's WERTH-hime, same as one of your state senators.
Who would win a match between Clyde Summers and Stephen Burbank? Summers has that fantastic top-spin lob, but Bourbon's serve-and-volley game is formidable. Any thoughts?
No doubt Clyde the Glide has mad game. But he's been spending so much time trying to organize a players union that it's affected his tennis. Burbank in three.
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