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Prepping for a Slam

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Posted: Monday May 21, 2001 12:57 PM

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

The year's second major starts next Monday in Paris. Check back toward the end of the week for my French Open seed reports.

On to your questions ...

As I watch Jennifer Capriati, Andre Agassi and so many of the seeds falling in Rome and Hamburg, I wonder if the top players really try their hardest in the week or two preceding a Grand Slam tournament. Are they afraid reaching the semis or final will leave them too tired for the big event?
—Mark, Washington, D.C.

Good question. While players want to approach a major in some semblance of a groove, they also want to avoid peaking too early. Someone like Agassi can't be pleased about heading to Roland Garros on the heels of clay-court losses to Alex Calatrava (the rare Spaniard who's better on cement than clay) and French nudnik Fabrice Santoro. On the other hand, someone like Juan Carlos Ferrero, whose string of 16 straight wins was snapped last weekend by Albert (Drop Shot Dragon) Portas in the Hamburg final, might well be concerned that his best clay-court tennis this season already is behind him. No players lose purposefully at tuneups -- and, physically anyway, they try their hardest. But without a doubt, the status of their preparation for the upcoming major bubbles just below the surface.

What's your take on Magnus Norman? He was one of my favorite players last year and now it looks like he can't win a match to save his life. Is he hurt? Was he a flash-in-the-pan?
—Brendan T., Toronto

"Flash-in-the-pan" is exceedingly harsh for a player who has won a dozen career titles, nearly $4 million in scratch and finished 2000 at No. 4. But you're right to note that Norman is in the throes of a serious slide. He's already lost 14 matches this year and has yet to advance beyond the Round of 32 at a Masters Series event. After a smashing 2000, he has crashed hard.

What gives? For starters, Norman is a Jim Courier- esque player who whacks away from the baseline and fights to the death, but he has no weapons that strike real fear and loathing in opponents. Also, like Courier, he trains like a madman -- overtrains, to hear some tell it -- and takes losses as hard as any player on tour. Martina Hingis tells a story that Norman, then her beau, was absolutely inconsolable after losing the French Open final to Gustavo Kuerten last year. She tried the "it's just a tennis match; you should be pleased you got to the final" routine and got a death stare in return. Granted, undoing one's essential nature is no easy task; but if Norman were to relax and try to enjoy himself a bit more, one wonders whether he wouldn't recapture his touch from a year ago.

Is Richard Fromberg still active on the tour? If so, is he having any success? I've tried following his career for years (note my last name, though there's no relation), but I haven't heard anything about him recently.
—Robert Fromberg, New York

At the wizened age of 31, your namesake is still at it. He's won only one match this year, but he's still in the savvy-vet category, the kind of player who rises to the occasion and is capable of springing the sporadic upset. Interesting story: Fromberg, Todd Woodbridge and two other yet-to-be-named Australian players will compete in a four-person clay "event" in France this week, and the winner will receive a main-draw French Open wild card. The French Tennis Federation and Tennis Australia have a reciprocity agreement whereby at least one wild card at the Aussie Open and French Open is reserved for a player from the other's country.

This is a little off the beaten path, but I've noticed that a lot of tennis players seem to take up musical instruments. Any word on who might actually have talent and who's just a hack?
—Bill Hall, Virginia Beach

We're all about departing from the beaten path here; no need to apologize. As for musical talents, you're correct that they run the gamut. Good for him for trying, but Guga's guitar-playing prowess calls to mind the guy who plays "I Gave My Love a Cherry" in Animal House. The musical ringers: the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, are purportedly quite gifted on the guitar; Emilio Alvarez supposedly is a first-rate vocalist; WTA Tour player Marlene Weingartner nearly became a classical pianist. And, of course, Richard Williams plays the lyre.

I just read that Aaron Krickstein's 12-year-old niece qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in golf. Apparently, he was caddying for her. So I was wondering why such great (still unmatched) young success didn't pan out to more. What's he doing now?
—John, Saratoga Springs, Fla.

A few of you wrote in about Krickstein -- Grosse Point Blank would have been a great nickname for him -- spending time on the bag with his 12-year-old niece, Morgan Pressel. Guess caddying is more fun that the fish-tank business, which he was running at last check. Krickstein is often regarded as a talent who "didn't pan out," as you put it, a bright American prospect whose career peaked when he was 16. Like too many Americans of that era, his topspin-heavy game lacked imagination, and when his forehand broke down he was in trouble. He also never really seemed to recover from losing that five-setter to Jimmy Connors during Connors' geriatric U.S. Open 10 (gulp) years ago. More than anything, though, Krickstein was beset by an unending string of injuries. A healthier body and he may well have lived up to his early promise.

In regard to your cloy query regarding a nickname for Patrick McEnroe, how about Little Mac? You know, like a Big Mac-Little Mac thing, you know, with the McDonald's thing, you know, MAC-Donald's. Oooookay, never mind.
—Mary England, St. Paul, Minn.

We won't.

This one is right up your alley.
Separated at Birth: Martina Hingis and Allen Iverson.
Both are small in stature compared to their opponents. Both are incredible shotmakers. Both have well-chronicled relationships with their moms. Both have been known to make un-PC comments. Both wear those one-arm-covered, one-arm-exposed outfits!

—Nick, Irvine, Calif.

And they look so much alike, what with Hingis' cornrows, her myriad tats and gold teeth. As long as we're separating Hingis at birth, my vote goes to Leo DiCaprio. Check it out:


I just found out I'm dating the daughter of Wojtek Fibak. What can you tell me about him so that I don't seem like an idiot when I meet him?
—Mark, San Francisco

For all I know, Wojtek Fibak is childless and living in an ashram in Santa Fe. But your question got a Dr. Hibbard chuckle out of me, so here are some talking points.

  • Fibak was an overachiever with a serviceable all-court game. He had a great set of hands, volleyed well and could hold his own from the baseline.

  • His success was particularly impressive given Poland's negligible tennis legacy.

  • He reached his peak in the early '80s when he advanced to the quarters of the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and beat the likes of Connors and Guillermo Vilas.

  • He's credited as being Ivan Lendl's first mentor, a renaissance man who helped expose the Czech to wine, art and, of course, women.

  • If all else fails you can't go wrong with the old standby: "Nice to meet you, Mr. Fibak. Now I see where your daughter gets her great looks."

    Click here to send a question or comment to Jon Wertheim.

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