Johnny Mac to the rescue?
Sports Illustrated staff writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At the NBA All-Star Game this past weekend, wondering why tennis doesn't do something like this once a year ...
As a casual tennis fan I believe John McEnroe should have been selected to play Davis Cup to generate some interest from viewers like me. It would have been great. Big names are what the event needs. Your views?
The longer answer: I agree that it would have done wonders for the interest level in Davis Cup had McEnroe played. (And I would likely be in Switzerland this weekend and not D.C.) It also would have spurred interest had Gary Coleman, Fran Tarkenton or Tek from The Real World -- to pick three random names -- played. But the Davis Cup isn't the XFL. The captain's job is to field the most credible team, not generate ratings and woo fans. Given that Brother John hasn't won an ATP match in years -- coupled with the recent doubles success of Justin Gimelstob -- Pat Mac made the right call. Imagine if John had embarrassed himself and the Yanks lost 3-2.
Of course, playing Sunday-morning quarterback, it's hard to imagine that Johnny Mac would have performed any worse than the Gimelstob and Jan-Michael Gambill pairing. Given how poorly the doubles tandem for the U.S. has performed in recent ties, the new captain will be well within his rights to call the old captain's number at the next face-saving tie. But it will be because of Johnny Mac's aptitude -- the effect he'll have on ratings and interest ought to be incidental.
Much praise for the tennis movies top-five list. I was curious to hear your thoughts on The Break (if you've seen it), starring Vince Van Patten. And if it's possible, can you explain to me how a former top-25 player hits like an eight-year-old girl in this movie (not to mention parlaying his fledgling acting career into co-hosting television coverage of poker tournaments).
Thanks. It is with remorse that I admit I've seen that movie. How a former top-25 player manages to show worse form than Gail Stanwyck (of Fletch fame), I'll never know. By the way, if you want to read an entertaining piece about the tennis game of Hollywood stars, check out the latest issue of Tennis Week.
Generally, how reliable are junior performances as an indicator of a player's eventual success?
At the Australian Open, the ITF passed around a chart which basically revealed that a junior with a top-10 ranking has a 50/50 shot at becoming a top-100 pro. This makes sense, if you figure the top 100 is comprised of players ages 18-28. Obviously, for every Elena Dementieva and Roger Federer, there's a Rudy Rake who just can't seem to cut it in the big leagues. Still, if you check out an Orange Bowl draw sheet from a few years past, invariably you'll recognize a good number of players.
Here is a top-five list for you: What are the best five doubles teams (ignoring gender) ever?
How about post-1980? Off the top of my head ...
1) The Woodies ( Todd Woodbridge-Mark Woodforde )
I heard that Monica Seles' clothing contracts are being renegotiated because she plans to retire after Roland Garros. This is supposedly "the buzz" around the WTA executive offices. Can you shed any light?
Seles has vowed to hang around until Anna Kournikova wins her first title. Kidding. There were a million "Seles to the packing plant" rumors in Australia, which both she and her management people categorically denied. She'll retire when she's ready, she said repeatedly, and right now she's not. I take her at her word. It can't be fun having dominated the sport as a teenager and now having little realistic chance of winning a major. On the other hand, Seles knows as well as anyone that there are worse existences than being the world's fourth-ranked player.
Serena Williams has pulled out of the Paris tournament, citing "exhaustion." Is this a joke? It's early February, she has played just two tournaments this year, completing seven singles matches. How long are the WTA and promoters going to put up with Venus and Serena bailing on tournaments? And when are reporters going to start seriously questioning their honesty?
The Williams' string of dubious "injuries," their abundant withdrawals and their ugly propensity for retiring down 5-2 in the third set is a real hot-button issue on the tour these days. In a league with more clout, the players would invariably be fined for a welter of unexcused absences. (Consider that both Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are going to eat $10,000 this weekend just for missing a mandatory media session.)
But this is tennis. If de facto commissioner Bart McGuire took action, as objectively he ought to, he'd have to face a tag-team backlash from Richard Williams and IMG, a political battle he knows he's ultimately going to lose. Besides, a fine might only antagonize the sisters and a) dissuade them from playing more events, and b) renew their father's call for appearance fees. Promoters with whom I've spoken are livid, but their hands are tied. As the director of an American event told me, "If I made a stink, they just wouldn't play my event in the future. I need those girls to sell tickets, so I grin and bear it when they pull out with an upset stomach." In private, anyway, rest assured the media are plenty skeptical. But when a player defaults because of an injury -- and it's accompanied by a confirmation form signed by WTA Tour medical personnel -- there's only so much one can write.
One wishes a member of the Williams braintrust would tell Venus and Serena that their sparse schedules and 11th-hour withdrawals -- compounded by their insistence at not entering many events other than Slams -- hurts both the game and their legacy. Rare is the sports legend who has been described as injury-prone. Rare is the tennis legend who has failed to achieve the top ranking because she didn't play enough events. At a time when the tour is trying desperately to sign a television contract (which would ultimately yield more money for the players), it can't help the negotiations that two of the biggest draws are iffy from week to week.
One point in the Williams' favor: I have no objection to their missing tournaments on account of their other interests. If they don't want to play a fall schedule because they'd prefer to take classes at fashion school, that's their prerogative, and in a sense it's refreshing. But if that's the case, they ought to say so up front and let the promoter make alternative plans. This business of pulling out the weekend before an event with a previously unreported "condition" has gone way too far.
Some players on the women's tour seem to have every shot in the book yet never manage consistent results (e.g., Natasha Zvereva), while others with seemingly lesser raw talent make the late rounds of every tournament they enter (e.g., Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario). Which female players do you consider underachievers given their sheer talent? And vice versa: Which ones have achieved the most despite their lack of natural ability?
Five players who have all the shots yet still can't break on through to the other side:
1) Anne-Gaelle Sidot: Tons of talent, too temperamental.
As for players who've made the most of their limited gifts:
What you think about the maturity level of tennis players on the women's tour? We seem to have gotten away from the 14- and 15-year-old child prodigies who join the tour very young, win a few championships, then seem to peak and burn out by their early 20s (much too soon). Do you think this current crop of players is better able to handle the demands and pressures of playing professional sports, and that to mature and peak at a later age is better?
Absolutely. McGuire, the current CEO of the women's tour, ought to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame at some point for crafting the Age Eligibility Rules -- aka the Jennifer Capriati Rules -- which restrict the number of events players can enter before they turn 17. By easing precocious teens into the game and putting them under low-intensity lighting for a few years, we've seen drastically fewer cases of burnout. Players like Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Dementieva -- and the Williams sisters before them -- are infinitely better adjusted than their forebears, who played a full schedule before they could drive a car. (It is also to McGuire's credit that the rules have withstood every legal challenge.)
An added bonus: When young players turned pro in the past, they showed a slavish reliance on the shots that helped them in the juniors -- invariably, topspin-laden groundstrokes. Thanks to the Age Eligibility Rules, talented players are spending ages 14-16 rounding out their games and developing shots. As a result, players have much more variety and play a more entertaining game when they hit the circuit full time.
In an issue of Tennis from last year, WTA and ATP players were asked about their ideal vacation. Barbara Schett said somewhere in Hawaii because she could be anonymous there. Which leads to my question ... can you think of a place where Barbara Schett would not be anonymous?
Imagine the mob scene if she were winning some matches ...
Martina Hingis has always been unflappable and has always been very confident. Do you think her inability to win a Grand Slam in eight tries might be weighing on her mind more than she admits? Does it frustrate her that she cannot win a tournament without having to face Davey/a Williams sister/Mary Pierce (no insult to Jennifer Capriati)?
Does Lindsay Davenport know that people are calling her "Davey"? Let's hope not.
Anyway, you've raised a good point. Unquestionably, Hingis' inability to win a Slam weighs on her more than she has let on. It's not simply that more than two years have elapsed since she's hoisted the trophy; she's made four Grand Slam finals in the past two years but hasn't been able to seal the deal. That has to hurt. You're right, too: After beating both Williams sisters and then falling to Capriati in the Australian Open finals, she must be asking herself whether she'll ever get another opportunity so golden. (One aside about Hingis: She's usually such a witty, fiendishly clever player, but I've noticed that when she faces a heavy hitter in a high-stakes match, she throws strategy out the window and goes toe-to-toe. She's like Oscar De La Hoya. Her knockout power is called into question, so she succumbs to bravado and departs from her strengths to prove she can hang with the big girls.)
On the other hand, not only is Hingis supremely confident in her ability but she has become scary good at rationalizing her predicament. When Davenport beats her, Hingis says, "Yes, but Lindsay has five years of experience on me." When the Williams sisters beat her, it's, "Yes, but I've won more Slams than the two of them combined." When she's beaten by a more powerful player, Hingis says, "Look at Agassi. He's smaller than his opponents but still wins." Point is: If you or I had held the No. 1 ranking but still managed to lose at eight straight majors, we'd be crying in our beer. Hingis is wired differently than we are.
If Marat Safin asked you for advice to help his tennis, what would you say?
Just a heads-up here. It's surely a hazard of the trade, but someone imitating you (or, at the very least, using the moniker L. Jon Wertheim) posed a question on a rival Web site's chat with Jan-Michael Gambill. The question: What's up with you and Monica Seles? Gambill says that he has a girlfriend (not Seles), and that he and Monica are just very good friends.
An Internet imposter? Has it really come to this? (For the record, it wasn't me.) To whatever sociopath did this: May you be punished by spending the hereafter watching a tape loop of Gambill-Gimelstob doubles matches.
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