Mac, movies and ... Michael Russell?
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Some scattered thoughts on Week 1 at Roland Garros:
Just as we all predicted: Andre Agassi and Michael Russell were the last two remaining American players. ... Marcelo Rios may have dropped a second-round match to qualifier Nicolas Coutelot, but he didn't leave Roland Garros empty-handed. For the fourth time in five years, he won the Lemon Prize, awarded to the player with the most sour disposition. One more year of churlishness and they should just retire the trophy. ... Jelena Dokic, ever gracious in defeat after losing to qualifier Petra Mandula: "It was a player I shouldn't have lost to. Everything that she won was my mistake." Sounds as if Mandula would give Rita Kuti Kis a run for her money. ... Memo to NBC: In the age of the Internet, tape-delayed broadcasts don't work. ... Nice to see Magnus Larsson, the Swedish pilaster (only less mobile) who perpetually looks as though he just woke up, back on the radar screen. Same goes for Mirjana Lucic, who qualified and won two main-draw matches before losing to Jennifer Capriati. ... From the File This Away Dept.: Because of a death in the family, WTA Tour communications sorceress Brooke Lawer had to leave Paris unexpectedly last week. Two players on tour sent her a sympathy bouquet: Venus and Serena Williams.
Tons of questions this week. Sorry I can't get to all of them. Godspeed, fair Helena ...
I just watched Gustavo Kuerten barely beat someone I've never heard of named Michael Russell. I have to say that I'm not impressed by the defending champion at all. His serve is average, his volleys are poor and his game is predictable. If Pete Sampras played him tomorrow, he'd win in straight sets. I'm serious. Watch a tape of the match and tell me why Sampras can't win the French.
Bernard, for the love of God, please don't drive or operate heavy machinery until you come down off your delusional Sampras high. Kuerten was hardly at his best in beating the winsome Russell. But he loses to Sampras in straight sets when the Lakers get swept in the NBA Finals.
I was sorry to hear about Monica Seles' latest setback, and I was wondering why she is always referred to as a "Yugoslav-born American citizen"? Does the fact that she was not born in America make her a second-class citizen? I remember when Lindsay Davenport won her first U.S. Open title she was referred to as only the second "U.S.-born" woman to win the U.S. Open. So I guess Monica's achievement didn't mean as much to Americans as Lindsay's. I mean, it's not as if she barely speaks the language or resides in a different country, like Mary Pierce, or expresses strong attachments to her previous country, like Jelena Dokic. What gives? Why can't naturalized citizens receive full credit and acknowledgment (the two Martinas also are always reminded of their country of birth despite their full integration into their adopted cultures)?
Good point. This is a pet peeve of mine, too. So long as Seles is a U.S. citizen, it makes no more sense to call her a Yugoslav-born American than it does to call Serena Williams a Michigan-born Floridian. And why don't we ever hear about German-American John McEnroe, who was born in Wiesbaden? As you point out, it would be one thing if Seles requested that some mention be made of her Yugoslav provenance -- the nationality equivalent of a hyphenated name. Far as I know, that's not the case.
Since last week was NCAA men's and women's tennis championship week, I thought I'd ask a question about the college game. I was reading an article in which it said that 60 of the top 100 ranked men's players and 47 of the top 100 ranked women's players were foreign born. Are there not enough young Americans playing tennis? Or are college coaches even bothering to find them? If this trend continues, do you think the USTA will take away the automatic spot in the U.S. Open draw for the NCAA champ?
I'm sure a lot of you guys caught that Cedric Kauffmann, who nearly upended Sampras in the first round, is a former Kentucky Wildcat. He is one of many foreigners who played college tennis in the U.S.* (Others include the Black brothers (Wayne and Byron), Paul Haarhuis and Davide Sanguinetti . I can appreciate how some people might find it distressing that so many scholarships and playing opportunities are going to non-Americans. But the coaches want to field the best teams possible, and that often means finding talent overseas. In my mind, it's not a whole lot different from, say, BNP Paribas hiring Harvard MBAs to come work in Paris. You know, the global village and all ...
I see your point, but I can't imagine the USTA would cease giving a U.S. Open wild card to the NCAA singles champ. First, it would smack of jingoism. Also, ironically enough, most of the recent champs -- Cecil Mamiit, Bob Bryan, Alex Kim -- have been Yanks.
*Note that this isn't merely limited to big-time schools. Lander University in South Carolina is a major Division III juggernaut. I was considering writing an article on the team, naively thinking that its members were a bunch of ringers from the depths of the Palmetto State. Instead, it's a roster that resembles the Model U.N.
What would your rankings be of the greatest players, when they are at the tops of their games, since 1980, taking all surfaces into account? Also, who among today's young guns do you see possibly taking a place among the greatest of all time?
Here's how I rank the men of the past 25 years:
There are a number of active players who could make a run at the "greatest of all time" corridor, as you put it. Kuerten obviously is the frontrunner. But it's worth pointing out that he and Marat Safin are the only players under 25 who have won a Slam.
Did you charge anything to the Ned Underhill account when you were in Beverly Hills?
A steak sandwich. And a steak sandwich. Naturally.
First of all, I must commend you on your excellent taste in indie films; I didn't realize anyone else saw If Lucy Fell. Anyway, a lot of recent discussion seems to focus on Andy Roddick and the new wave of American players. I was wondering what happened to some of the old guns who only had a few shining moments. What about guys like Aaron Krickstein, David Wheaton and Jay Berger? Where are all those second-tier guys now?
As we discussed a couple weeks ago, Krickstein is back in the public eye caddying for his 13-year-old niece, Morgan Pressel. I believe that Krickstein's fellow tribesman Berger is the head coach at the University of Miami, alma mater of Michael Russell. As for Wheaton, he's still out there, amazingly enough. At age 31 -- with $5 million in career winnings and a ranking in the stratosphere -- Wheaton is in the midst of a protracted comeback, playing USTA challengers. I also recently saw that he will be playing World TeamTennis this summer.
I don't know why I'm asking a question to somebody who is unable to see If Lucy Fell as anything other than the atrocious waste of time that it was, but, hey, here goes. I watched USA's coverage of the French Open on Memorial Day and became increasingly bored with John McEnroe's schtick. Interspersed with sometimes useful insights on the game were criticisms of the USA network's facilities, continual promotion of his answering of e-mail, a boilerplate discussion with his brother, and actual comments about how lousy the product on the court was. I guess the reason his act isn't reined in is because of his substantial ego, but aren't there rumblings in the tennis world about his increasingly annoying TV presence? Don't the TV networks that employ him wince when he walks around the U.S. Open food pavilion interviewing people who are in the middle of eating their hot dogs? I loved the guy as a player, but he's getting carried away with his ego.
Hey, Sugar Ray, not only do we disagree about movies, but we're also at odds over McEnroe. Sure, the guy is self-indulgent in his commentary -- "orgiastic," as a friend puts it. We could do without some of the "Back in my day ... " bleating. But on balance, I'll take him over anyone else, save Mary Carrillo. His unpredictability makes him entertaining, he is appropriately cynical, and he doesn't mince words the way so many other ex-player commentators do. Just be glad Sarah Jessica Parker and Eric Schaeffer aren't in the booth.
What's the favorite Grand Slam city for the ink-stained wretches of the tennis press? And if you've got any inside info, how about some nice restaurants in Paris or London that would pass muster with the bean counters at AOL Time Warner?
Paris is ... well, Paris. But I'm a big fan of Melbourne. Totally pleasant, clean, ethnically diverse, quirky and dirt cheap. As for an eating establishment that would pass muster with the AOL Time Warner bean counters -- that's a good one, Sergio. Blimpies or KFC in London; in Paris, Jean Valjean could eat better. (A croque monsieur from a street vendor, maybe.)
Back in the gilded era of Time Warner, I'd have sent you to Bibendum in London and Tanh Dinh, a great Vietnamese-French place behind le musée d'Orsay, in Paris.
Daniel Vacek has seemingly disappeared from the ATP. Two years ago he was doing pretty well in singles and great in doubles with his consistent partner, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. I remember watching him in a doubles match on an outer court at the U.S. Open, and he seemed very frustrated with Kafelnikov's antics. He also lost a heartbreaking singles match to Justin Gimelstob at the same tournament. He hasn't been heard from since. Is he injured? Retired? What gives?
You, my friend, are a hardcore tennis fan. After a nice run as a solid top-40 player and a strong doubles career, Vacek endured a nasty back injury. His ranking has blown up like Al Gore's waistline, and he finished last year ranked outside the top 200. His epic layoff ended last month when he entered a challenger in Israel. At age 30, he's a longshot to return to the top 30, where he once roosted. But if he needs inspiration, he ought to take a peek at Magnus Larsson.
I'm an Irish tennis fanatic living in Sydney, bleary-eyed from sitting up in the early hours watching the trials and tribulations of the people I should have been, and it struck me to ask you a question. We see the Aussies, Americans, Russians, French, copious numbers of Spaniards and even the odd "British-born" out there slogging their guts out. Why is there not even a sniff of an up-and-coming Irish player? Are the ATP and WTA neglecting potential breeding grounds? Should they not be out there trying to find and guide some real talent from some of the smaller sporting nations? Surely it would be good for all concerned! It wouldn't be the same if we had to do a Greg Rudeski, if you get my drift.
Correction: I'm pretty sure you are the Irish tennis fanatic living in Sydney. As you point out yourself, being an Irish tennis fanatic is the equivalent of being a fan of Jim Belushi's Oscar-worthy performances. Beautiful country, Ireland, but what do you do to lure talented juniors? Say no to sterile Saddlebrook. Say yes to Joyce, Guinness, wool and rain. I don't see it.
Stick with the stupid questions, Jon. No one said you had to be a tennis automaton! Andy Roddick at Wimbledon -- we haven't seen him over here, so will it be a coming-out party or a low-key stage in his development?
Thanks, Graham. Not to worry. As for Roddick's chances at Wimbledon -- by no stretch a stupid question -- provided he recovers OK from this pulled muscle, he's serious darkhorse material. With that serve, that athleticism, that attack-attack-attack mentality, and that heat-seeking forehand, he could do some real damage. On the other hand, the latest word on the street is that his leg injury is more serious than first reported and that he may miss the next six weeks.
The Tao of Steve as one of the best movies? Please. But since you brought it up, how would you compare Donal Logue and Damir Dokic?
They're close in body weight, but Donal Logue holds his alcohol better.
I know this one is a stretch for the "what ever happened to" requests you get, but do you remember the ethnically Indian, Zimbabwean-by-nationality tennis player with the accent of Arnold Schwarzenegger who hung out around the bottom half of the top 50 in the early '80s named Haroon Ismail? He always had a scrappy game and a Petr Korda-esque backhand, but evidently didn't have enough to stick around on the tour. I think he won a few matches at Roland Garros one year. Anyway, I thought maybe you knew what had become of him.
Call me, Ismail. Or e-mail me with your whereabouts. I vaguely recall seeing Ismail's name in the draw of some 35s event in the midwest -- Indianapolis? Columbus? Cincy? -- several years back. If any of you has a more definitive answer to this conundrum, a free CNNSI.com T-shirt is in the offing. Next week's unsolved mystery: Claudia Khode-Kilsch.
FINALLY, TWO question-less riffs on the six-string from loyal readers.
This comment is in response to Doug from Montreal's observation that no one has heard of Karsten Braasch. I was a ballperson at the now Sybase Open in San Jose, Calif., a number of years ago and had the pleasure of working a few of Braasch's matches. He is by far my favorite player to work for and, like you said, not exactly someone you would look at and think was a player. He was always very good at getting positive reactions from the crowd (even if it was because they were laughing at some of the noises he would make between points), and he was always gracious to the ballpeople. Anyway, I think you should know that I appreciated the little story and even e-mailed it to some of my tennis friends so they could have a laugh (they also have heard of him).
I just wanted to comment about Roberto Carretero. I used to train with him when we both were 13-14 years old. He was obviously more talented than I was, otherwise you would know my name by now. The thing is that he was a very good player who used to fight Alex Corretja for every junior national and international competition he played. Roberto had a knee injury before he won Hamburg, however. Right after that he had another very serious knee injury (I am not sure if it was the same knee) and he had to stop playing for two years. After such an unlucky career path I guess getting over all this drama was too much. I haven't seen the guy since I was a teenager, but that's what I know about him.
Click here to send a question or comment to Jon Wertheim.