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Venus falling

On second thought, Capriati will win the French

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Tuesday May 29, 2001 11:54 AM

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

Beginning on a terribly sad note, many of you wrote in regarding the health of Corina Morariu, the young American who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia last week. Aside from a being a world-class player, Morariu is the most self-possessed and downright cool person -- never mind tennis pro -- you'd ever want to meet. (Then again, judging from the amount of mail I received about her, many of you know this already.) As for those who requested an address for passing on get-well wishes as she undergoes chemo and tries to beat this thing, here are two options:

Corina Morariu
c/o Jackson Memorial Hospital
1611 N.W. 12th Avenue
Miami, FL 33136

(The family asks that no flowers be sent.)

You also can write her care of IMG at:

IMG Center
1360 E. 9th Street
Suite 100
Cleveland, OH 44114

The triviality of tennis is particularly pronounced this week. But here's a Memorial Day 'Bag ...

So tell me: Were you smoking crack or sniffing airplane glue when you picked Venus Williams to win the French Open?
—Ned Underhill, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Actually I wrote this question to myself in a fit of self-flagellation and an attempt to preempt those of you who were planning -- with full justification -- on rubbing this pitiful prediction in my face.

What was my thinking? First, the process of elimination: Martina Hingis, it seems, hasn't won a Slam since the Disco Era and is going through some serious maternal separation anxiety; Lindsay Davenport is worse than Pete Sampras on clay (see below); Jennifer Capriati would have been a decent pick; Amelie Mauresmo, as she showed Monday, was likely to get unnerved by the French crowd; Mary Pierce, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova were non-starters; and Conchita Martinez/Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario are both dangerous on clay but on the downsides of estimable careers.

Now the points in Venus' favor: Last year, covered in rust and still beset by tendinitis, she managed to reach the quarters at Roland Garros; she's won two of the past three Slams; she's already played a number of clay events this year and even went to Europe early in May to practice; she's said time and again that winning the French is one of her biggest remaining tennis goals; the clay dulls her power and tests her patience, but it also complements her unparalleled court coverage. Even meeting Barbara Schett in the first round seemed like no big deal as Venus had beaten her the four previous times they had met.

Obviously, I whiffed big-time on this one, as Venus played like, ahem, Schett. For those of you kind enough to grant me a mulligan, I'll take Capriati.

Why is it that none of you sportswriters comment on the fact that Lindsay Davenport practically skips the clay-court season every year? Everyone spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing Venus and Serena Williams for not playing as many tournaments as they should. Granted, Serena does pull out of a lot of tournaments, which makes her look bad, not to mention upsets fans and organizers. Still, I think that Davenport makes it no secret that she dislikes playing on clay and in Europe. Last year during the clay season, she had an injury; this year, she has an injury. What's up with that?
—Kimberly Rogers, Cambridge, Mass.

Fair question. I don't disagree with you, but here's some devil's advocacy: First, Davenport has reached the semis of Roland Garros and the quarters twice, so it's not as though she's totally blown off the French. Second, an injury is an injury. If she's genuinely hurt -- which I'm sure she is -- what more is there to say? Third, given her sparse athleticism and shoddy footwork, her antipathy toward clay is understandable. Fourth, Davenport is so professional in every other context that one is inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and overlook her shortcomings/disappearing act on clay.

Who's the best player among the ink-stained wretches of the tennis world? Do you writers ever get to play each other while you're traveling from tournament to tournament? I'm really asking this so I can read you trash-talking about how you schooled Peter Bodo on some side court at an event. Maybe I can incite a war of words between tennis journalists. Help me out -- I need to feel important.
—Craig Berry, Park Forest, Ill.

With all due respect, if your sense of importance is fueled by inciting a war of words among tennis journalists, you need to find the Dr. Melfi of Park Forest. I'm probably not the best person to answer this since I've never played in the various media tournaments. The undisputed champ, though, is Andrea Leand (Tennis Week) a former top-20 pro. Joel Drucker, who works for Tennis, Tennis Weekly and TNT, is supposed to be pretty good. Tom Tebbutt (The Globe and Mail) is solid. Lisa Dillman (Los Angeles Times) has game, as does Bud Collins. I've never hit with Bodo, but if he plays half as well as he writes, he's a force to be reckoned with.

Jelena Dokic seems to have talent, but it is raw and undefined. What are the prospects for her future development? Her physical attributes seem to be undeveloped when compared to some of the other stars. My first impression was that if this girl was placed on a strength and conditioning program, I bet she develop into a top-10 star. What is your opinion?
—Dempsey Watson, Rocky Mount, N.C.

My dear Watson, you have a good eye for talent. Dokic, only 18, is indeed a future top-10 player, perhaps as early as next month. She is still coached by her controversial father, though. If you've seen the guy, you know that a "strength and conditioning program" is not an area of expertise.

Albert Portas was impressive last week in beating Juan Carlos Ferrero. Do you think that he's the real deal or another Roberto Carretero, who was back in qualifiers after winning Hamburg a few years ago?
—Dave Milne, Indianapolis

I like Portas but don't love him. Let's clarify, too: While he's just starting to pierce the public consciousness, Portas is no newcomer. He turned 27 in November and has been on the tour for a decade. As he showed in Hamburg, he's capable of beating anyone. But consistency has never been his strong suit. Last year I saw him play a great match in Paris against Andrei Pavel (truth to tell, I was there to watch to Pavel). A few days later, I saw him go down to Cedric Pioline without much of a fight. Since you brought him up, Roberto Carratero is a tale out of the classical canon. He captured a Masters Series event in the early '90s and couldn't win another match.

I saw Fabrice Santoro play a five-setter against Sebastian Grosjean on a small court at the U.S. Open two years ago. He was very scrappy and a real crowd-pleaser. The adjective "nudnik" never came to mind. Has he changed that much or am I missing something?
—Barbara Seith, Fort Lee, N.J.

I meant "nudnik" is the most flattering sense. Santoro, you're absolutely right, is a scrappy crowd-pleaser who is great fun to watch -- at least when he's "on." He's one of the few players to use two hands on both sides, and, as we've discussed before, has a singular talent for slicing his forehand. But to the other players on tour, he's a pest, an annoyance, a nuisance, a, well, nudnik to whom they can't countenance losing. Like a Gallic ginsu knife, Santoro slices, dices, chops and cuts the ball, playing all sorts of bizarre angles and frustrating foes with tricky drop shots.

I interviewed Marat Safin last year, a few days after he lost to Santoro in Cincinnati. At least four times during our 45-minute session Safin shook his head and asked: "Can you believe I lost to him?"

What's the deal with Bart McGuire and the women's tour? Was he forced out or did he quit on his own?
—Monte Baskin, Dayton, Ohio

Depends whose side of the story you believe. It's no secret that McGuire -- a thoughtful and imminently decent man but not the last of the schmoozers -- never earned the support of the players. Nor is it a secret that he failed to win the backing of IMG and its partisans on the tour's board. I'm told by a highly biased source that McGuire resigned the same way George Steinbrenner's managers resign from the Yankees.

But I tend to think that McGuire simply grew tired of the in-fighting and the impossible job of appeasing so many fiefdoms. He figured he had done a fine job as CEO and was ready for another challenge. Even his detractors have to admit that there's little question he leaves the WTA in better shape than he found it.

A year ago, who would have guessed that Jennifer Capriati would be contending for Slams? A year from now, what amazing comeback will we be talking about?
—Stacy, Washington, D.C.

For your first question, certainly not I. As one of you was kind enough to point out, prior to the Australian Open I riffed about how delusional Capriati was when she asserted that she could hang with any player on tour. (Then again, I also picked Venus to win the French Open.) In her last match of 2000, Capriati was somnolent in a comprehensive, straight-set loss to Kournikova at the Chase. Two months later, she miraculously worked herself into shape and emerged as a world-beater.

No one will have a comeback as "amazing" as Capriati's. But I could see Pierce continuing to battle injuries and insecurity for the rest of the year, recovering in the fall and winter, and then starting 2002 refreshed and ready for the world. Pierce is in the doldrums now, but she's a wonderful, pure ballstriker; she's 5-foot-10; and she's still only 26. Plenty of time left, provided she clears her head and heals her body.

How do the players ranked 50-150 get into the main draw of a tournament? I saw your answer about the unique arrangement France and Australia have for Roland Garros, and my curiosity was piqued.
—Ian Pettycrew, Mesa, Ariz.

At most events there is a draw "cut-off," determined by how many players want to enter the event and how many wild cards/qualifying slots the draws contain. For a tournament like a Masters Series event, which everyone plays, the cut-off may be as high as No. 55 for a 64-person draw. For an event like Washington, D.C., which lures an appreciably lesser field and is held the same week as a competing event in Indianapolis, the cut-off is decidedly lower. Qualifiers notwithstanding, players north of the Mason-Dixon line are given automatic ins to the main draw, while those south of the cut-off are forced to try and qualify.

Hey, we haven't had a top-five list in a while. I just viewed The Third Man and found it an excellent film. What are the top five films noir of all time?
—Jason Rainey, Dallas

We haven't had a top-five list in some time, have we? Adjusting the category a bit to "indie flicks in general," here are five in no particular order:

1) The Tao of Steve
2) You Can Count on Me
3) The Afterlife
4) If Lucy Fell
5) Croupier

Let's see. In the last few weeks, you discussed Wotjek Fibak, One-a-Day vitamin commercials, the Milwaukee Bucks, hip-hop albums, and a player no one has ever heard of named Karsten Braasch. How come you answer so many stupid questions?
—Doug, Montreal

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