Sowing the seeds of a controversy
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Straight to the questions this week ...
What do you make of the Wimbledon seeding controversy? It seems unfair to drop players ranked in the top 16 out of the seedings entirely. At the same time, though, you know Richard Krajicek, Todd Martin and Mark Philippoussis are likely to do better at Wimbledon than Juan Carlos Ferrero, Magnus Norman or Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Is the solution a new set of seedings for every surface (so that Pete Sampras risks not being seeded on clay) or an across-the-board policy that the top 16 players entering every event are seeded regardless of surface?
At the most basic level, we probably need to define "seeding." Is seeding a reward players receive for previous accomplishments on the circuit? Or is it a prognostication of how a player will fare in a particular event? If it's the former, the Slams ought simply to follow the rankings, no matter how counterintuitive the results. If it's the latter -- as I believe it is -- we shouldn't be overwhelmingly concerned with the Slams using some discretion. As you write, we know that Gustavo Kuerten, god bless him, isn't going to win Wimbledon. So, irrespective of his ranking, why seed him first? Likewise, we know Sampras isn't a threat on clay. So why do the folks in Paris give him a seeding commensurate with his high ranking?
Two problems with discretionary seeding. First, it's somehow unsettling that a committee of stuffed shirts is deciding which players are better than others on a given surface. At Wimbledon last year, the subjectivity was compounded when two Brits, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, were, by dint of some home cooking, given wildly inflated spots. My solutions: Seed 32 players so the Albert Costas of the world aren't shafted entirely. Do away with the committee, as Wimbledon apparently has, and establish new guidelines -- e.g., a player's seeding can exceed his ranking by a maximum of four spots -- with the players' input.
The other problem is that in the eyes of many, seeding subjectively cheapens the ATP rankings. My response is that the tour's credibility is more seriously undermined when seed after seed -- playing on a surface ill-suited to his game -- loses early in an event. How many times do we see the headlines MORE MEN'S SEEDS FALL or RASH OF UPSETS PLAGUE DRAW at Slams? Then we read the story and see that Franco Squillari was "upset" at Wimbledon by Marc Rosset.
What Andre Agassi is doing at his age is really amazing. But I thought you went a little hard on Pete Sampras in your April 9 Sports Illustrated story. It looks like his loss to Andy Roddick maybe wasn't such an upset after all. Your thoughts?
I don't have the story in front of me, but as I recall my point regarding Sampras was neither negative nor positive. It was simply that there's a certain ironic twist to the respective evolutions of Pete and Andre. Ten -- even five -- years ago who would have guessed that the dispassionate Sampras would be the one married to a movie star, showing up at Lakers games, obsessing over his cars, living in Beverly Hills, and seemingly losing interest in tennis? While Agassi, Mr. Erstwhile Image Is Everything, would be the one to buy an isolated enclave in rustic Marin County, quietly give millions to charity, date the most publicity-shy woman on the planet, commit himself full-time to tennis, and generally live modestly?
As for Roddick, his beating Sampras on the hard courts of Ericsson still qualifies as a sizable upset. But you're right to imply he's no flash in the pan. When an American teenager wins his first career title serve-and-volleying on clay -- as Roddick did this past weekend in Atlanta -- it's time to take notice.
Is it true that Martina Hingis is no longer coached by her mother? I wonder whom she is going around with. Do you think this is a reason she's not playing as well?
To quote Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, "It's true. It's true." Unlike Hingis' 1999 rift with her mother, this breakup was, by most accounts, amicable. Closing in on age 21, it was time Martina stopped traveling with Mommy. As intense as Melanie Molitor is -- dressing down not just Martina but doubles partner Monica Seles after a loss earlier this year, for instance -- she is not to be confused with those deplorable tennis parents. She understands human nature and has spoken for years about giving her daughter more independence. ("If you love someone, set them free," blah, blah, blah.)
As I understand it, Hingis is still frequently in touch with her mother, but is now being coached by Davis Taylor, who, like Hingis, is based at the Saddlebrook Resort in Florida. Without taking anything away from Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario or Jennifer Capriati, I think it's fair to say that the absence of Molitor has played some role in Hingis' recent woes. We'll see how she fares during the European clay swing, which did not treat her particularly kindly last year.
Why do U.S. men's players avoid European tournaments so often? I would think it would be fun to go to other countries. European players spend a lot of time playing tournaments in the U.S. Are American men just a bunch of spoiled brats?
You and I harbor romantic visions of visiting churches and museums during off days and eating at cute bistros and cafés. In truth, players rarely see anything other than their hotel rooms, the practice courts and the players lounge when they're on the road. Europe is a serious hike, and most events on the other side of the pond are on clay, never the surface of choice among Americans. While Europeans are, you're right, generally much better about playing in the States, don't forget that many keep a base here.
Whatever happened to Alexander Popp, the German who made it to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year? He's had spotty results since then, and I haven't heard about him in several months. I liked his playing style as well as his name.
The tart Popp recently got over a bout of mono and, no one's clay-court virtuoso, lost in the first round of Atlanta last week. I wouldn't be surprised if the tallest player on tour isn't heard from again until Wimbledon.
I enjoy your Mailbag very much and look forward to reading it each week. By the way, you might want to tell Larry King that abstemious and arsenious also are two English words that contain all five vowels consecutively (not just facetious).
Thanks. From one L. King to another, I'll pass your message along.
Can Mary Pierce salvage her dismal year? Once you remove the 1,000 or so points she'll lose after the French Open, she'll be ranked in the 70s or 80s. Will she be able to pull through the hard-court season?
I think you're overstating the case, but you're right to note that Pierce's ranking will drop like an anvil down an elevator shaft after Roland Garros. (I'm guessing that she'll win a few rounds, so it's doubtful she'll fall as far you predict.) Pierce has been addled by injuries as well as her usual fickle, fragile nature. She has a new coach and I believe that she is no longer with IMG. I saw her in Charleston, S.C., the week before last and, though she looked far more fit than she did in Australia, her head was in the clouds during a pedestrian loss to Amy Frazier. Still, when she is healthy and confident, Pierce hits a monstrous ball and can beat anyone. A few good wins on clay and she'll return to the upper reaches.
Which of the following accomplishments do you consider most impressive:
1. Rod Laver's two Grand Slams, five years apart.
2. Bjorn Borg winning Wimbledon and Roland Garros for five consecutive years (in other words, his ability to switch between the two most disparate surfaces in such a short time and with such success).
3. Chris Evert winning at least one Grand Slam for 13 consecutive years (unparalleled consistency, not to mention mental toughness and lack of injuries!).
4. Steffi Graf winning each Slam at least four times and also being the only player to defend each of the four Slams at least once (the most balanced resume of any champion; she didn't have a weak surface).
5. Pete Sampras's record 13 Slams.
What do you think and what might you add to this list?
Starting with the most impressive, I'd rank them 4, 2, 5, 1, 3. Other feats to consider: Graf's Golden Slam in 1988, Martina Navratilova's six consecutive Slams, Ivan Lendl's run of eight straight U.S. Open finals.
What's going on with women's French Open champs? Lately, it seems winning the tournament means doom for your career. Iva Majoli (1997) wins and fall off the tour (though she's coming back) with injuries. Aranxta Sánchez-Vicario (1998) has barely won anything since. Steffi Graf (1999) wins and a few months later retires. Mary Pierce (2000) has dropped out of the top 10. The runners-up haven't fared much better (Martina Hingis hasn't won a Slam since losing that match to Graf). Is there a curse on the French? Maybe it's in the top players' best interests not to win.
Never thought of that, but it explains a lot. So that's why the Williams sisters rarely play well at Roland Garros and Lindsay Davenport would rather pose in a bikini than spend a day more than necessary in Paris. It's probably worth pointing out that your theory breaks down if you include the men. Agassi and Kuerten are doing just fine. On the other hand, whither Sergi Bruguera?
Realistically speaking, how likely is it that Monica Seles will ever win another Grand Slam? And what would it take -- physically -- for her to be able to compete again with the Williamses, Davenports, Capriatis and the rest of the "Big Babe Brigade"? Or is it just too late?
I get a permutation of this question at least once a week and usually defer because I realize that I come across sounding like the resident ogre when I answer candidly. If Monica Seles won one more Grand Slam, it would reassure us that there's some sense of karmic justice in the world. A good thing will have happened to a good person, "just deserts" will have been served à la mode, all will be right with the world. (More important, it would give tennis media types an easy-to-write, feel-good story, the likes of which would blow Capriati's tale of redemption out of the water.)
But here on cool, cruel Planet Earth, the chances of Seles winning another Slam are slimmer than Petr Korda on fen-phen. It's been three years since she's legitimately competed with the "Big Babe Brigade" in Slams. Her typical fact pattern: She plays a mean first set against Pierce (2000 French Open), Serena (1999 U.S. Open), Capriati (2001 Australian) or Davenport (2000 Wimbledon) and then the gas gauge hits E. Seles' movement isn't what it needs to be, her serve wins her few free points, players have gotten hip to her angles, and, much as we hate to bring it up, her fitness level doesn't enable her to win 14 sets in less than two weeks. Put simply: We all wish it weren't the case, but her days of winning Slams ended at the 1996 Australian Open.
RE: DODO CHENEY in the Billie Jean King movie, seems we have a difference of opinion. Richard Hicks of New York claims that he "definitely spotted the cameo." Ann Cox of L.A. writes: "With regard to the question you received about the cameo appearances ... that was tennis legend Peggy Kerr of the Los Angeles Tennis Club, where much of the movie was filmed. Peggy is in her mid-80s, still plays, was a ranked player in her prime, and her brother Jack played Wimbledon in his day." It's possible, of course, that both Richard and Ann are correct. But a free CNNSI.com T-shirt to the first person who sets the record straight.
Have a good week, everyone.
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