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Venus, Goran come through

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Monday July 09, 2001 12:31 PM
 

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

Major kudos to Venus Williams for elevating her game when she had to and defending her title. ... Detractors who claim Williams is aloof and arrogant would do well to remember the exceptionally gracious words she had for Justine Henin. ... Venus was the the first player to repeat as champion since Steffi Graf in 1996. ... It was wonderful to see the genuine emotion Goran Ivanisevic exhibited after his victory over Pat Rafter. ... Ivanisevic joins Boris Becker (1985) as the only unseeded players to win Wimbledon. ... Memo to NBC: If Mailbag readers all had Nielsen boxes, Wimbledon would have had the ratings of Yulelog. Your tape-delayed broadcasts went over about as well as a quiche stand at Wrestlemania. Would it have been too much to ask for you to preempt Judge Judy for the Andre Agassi- Rafter semifinal epic? ...

Pat McEnroe suddenly finds himself with an embarrassment of riches when he chooses the next Davis Cup doubles pairing. The team of Donald Johnson and Detective Ricardo Tubbs, er, I mean Jared Palmer won the Wimbledon title. What's more, Bob and Mike Bryan reached the semis. ... On the women's side, top seeds Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs won the Wimbledon title for the first time in their venerable partnership. ... Marat Safin's younger sister, Dinara, made it to the girls' singles final before losing a tough three-setter to Angelique Widjaja. ... For all of you aspiring Kramers, U.S. Open ballkid (note the gender-neutral phrasing) tryouts start Thursday. Call 718-760-6200 for more info.

Onward ...

I haven't watched too much tennis until this year, but after following the French Open and the first two days of Wimbledon, I can truly say how ugly the game of men's tennis is when it's played on grass. This "Have strong serve; can win" play is not unlike "Have Shaq-like bulk; can dominate" brand of basketball. The style of play is too one-dimensional and doesn't really show the true essence of the game. Being a non-practitioner of the sport, though, I'm saying this purely from a viewer's perspective. So I'm wondering, how do most of the top players really feel about playing on grass?
—Joseph Galang, Manila, Philippines

In the minds of many, your sentiments are heresy. But in secret, anyway, a lot of us agree with you. Your comparison to Shaq is spot on. With the Rafter-Agassi match as a glaring exception, Wimbledon featured some of the most unsightly tennis I've seen this year. Players armed with a serve and a prayer -- and the finesse of Shaq at the free-throw line -- are automatic contenders. Those who don't play smashmouth tennis are at a serious disadvantage. We tennis fans are an impossible breed. We go into mourning for the death of serve-and-volley tennis and whine how Rafter is the last of tennis' net-rushing Mohicans. Yet we cringe when forced to sit through an Ivanisevic- Greg Rusedski ace burlesque.

As for the players, as we discussed recently, their tastes, not surprisingly, tend to mirror their level of success on grass. To a person, though, most players will tell you that grass is too much a novelty to be taken seriously. As one American ATP player told me last year: "It's tennis, but it's not tennis. It would be like deciding the World Series based on Home Run Derby." Most players also agree that the U.S. Open boasts the fairest surface of them all. Serve-and-volleyers can attack unimpeded; baseliners can stay back. Everyone can play "their game" without penalty.

An observation, not a question: Goran Ivanisevic and Chris Noth, of Sex and the City, are long lost brothers. Wow, wouldn't Goran be a blast on Sex and the City?
—Mary Durkin, Los Angeles

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Noth
Noth
Goran
Ivanisevic
Kukoc
Kukoc


And the funny thing is, as I write this, HBO is casting for Sex in the City (Zagreb edition). I always thought Ivanisevic looked more like Toni Kukoc, another Split personality, so to speak. Here's the best lookalike I take away from 2001 Wimbledon: Nicolas Escude and Gheorghe Muresan.

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Escude
Escude
Muresan
Muresan


Regarding your column on Pete Sampras' defeat at Wimbledon, apparently there was a backlash against Pete's exchange with the ballboy during his match against Sargis Sargsian. I wonder why you described his as an off-color remark, when it seemed to me that it was just a funny moment and that people in the stands were laughing. How was it described in the press? And why did you describe it as inappropriate? I actually thought that Sampras was showing a little bit more of the personality everyone's accused him of lacking throughout his career.

Also, Lleyton Hewitt has had shots at winning Wimbledon the last two years and has come up short. Is this a mental issue he needs to work on? And why didn't the tennis powers-that-be jump all over Hewitt and Kim Clijsters for withdrawing from mixed doubles? That's what they did when Serena and Venus Williams withdrew from the French.
—Elisa Olivares, Washington, D.C.

First, one wants to give Sampras the benefit of the doubt any time he plays to the crowd. But when he asked a ballboy to retrieve a ball from inside his shorts, it fell flatter than a Nathalie Tauziat serve. Quick rule of thumb: Pedophilia jokes play to a limited audience. Tough crowd, tough crowd.

We're all pretty much in accord that Hewitt is a future champ. But he needs to adjust his clock to "Put up or shut up" time. The guy hasn't even won a Masters Series event. He played well in the grass-court tuneups, but I have a hard time seeing a player with such a relatively innocuous serve winning Wimbledon.

Finally, no one jumped all over Hewitt and Clijsters for pulling out of mixed doubles because no one not named John McEnroe cares about mixed doubles. It is, to borrow yet another glib line from Mary Carillo, the "funny cars" of tennis. It's a fun and different divertissement, nothing to be taken seriously.

I read something recently about a book that you've written on tennis. Is this true? If it's written in anything like the irreverent yet knowledgeable tone you use for the 'Bag, I'd be interested in reading it. When can we expect it? (Here's your chance for self-publicity. And, for curious readers -- no, we don't know each other and you didn't put me up to this.)
—Carolyn Koo, Somers, N.Y.

Hey, thanks. I'll try to keep the shameless plugs to a minimum in the next few months, but lots of you have been asking similar questions (shame on those of you who read about it in the New York Post). Anyway, yes, it's true. I have a book on women's tennis, titled Venus Envy, coming out later this month. David Manning of The Ridgefield (Conn.) Press gave it a rave review. Seriously, it's on Amazon.com and coming soon to a Barnes & Noble near you.

Is there a better looking significant other on tour than Pat Rafter's girlfriend?
—Andrew, Melbourne, Australia

No.

Actually, what I mean to say is that when two players are on the court, I'm so transfixed by their gladiatorial battles that I hardly have time to notice who's in their boxes, much less assess their looks.

There is always a lot of talk about shortening the season and having fewer tournaments so players have less chance for injuries and can have longer careers. Yet the Williams sisters seem to contradict this thinking. They play very few tournaments each year, yet manage to be injured for the ones they do play. And it's said they aren't able to do as well as others because they aren't match tough. Does this suggest that a shorter season wouldn't matter, that injuries would still abound, and that everyone would play a little worse for lack of match play?
—Vicki Long, Dallas

Here's another way to look at it: The Williams sisters play so erratically and are so spotty in their preparation, if they played more often and more consistently, their bodies would be better equipped to handle the stress of match play. The top players bitch and moan about the season being too long, but as soon as the year-end championships end they invariably go line their pockets on the exhibition junket. Where were Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova -- both of whom lament the length of the WTA season -- last December when they had their battle royale and allegedly threw stemware at each other? Playing an exhibition in Chile. The same weekend, Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles were playing an exhibition in Denver. The other issue is that while the top players believe the season is too lengthy, most players ranked below, say, 20 wish that there were more events, more opportunities to get paid and earn ranking points.

What do you think of players pulling out of doubles to concentrate on singles? I saw Magui Serna after Justine Henin dumped her 10 minutes before their scheduled game, citing a dubious injury, and Serna clearly was not very happy about it. She said she had hopes of getting far in the competition and, had she known she wouldn't play, she could have flown home a week earlier. Do you think it was right for Henin to concentrate on singles, or is it a complete lack of respect and consideration toward the public, the opponents, the game of doubles and, most important, the partner? —Ricardo Molina, London

Doubles is a double-edged sword in this regard. The ATP, in particular, is trying to cleanse itself of the "culture of specialists." Yet when the top players are simultaneously in both draws and it's late in the tournament, doubles invariably gets shafted. I feel for Serna, but put yourself in Henin's shoes: Her feet are covered in blisters, she'd dead tired and she's a round away from the Wimbledon final. How can you blame her for being less than enthused at the prospect of playing three sets of doubles?

I was hoping you would be able to settle a difference of opinion between my friend and me. We've been having some rather heated exchanges about who has the greatest second serve of all time. I maintain that Pete Sampras, despite the fact that he likely is now washed up, will go down in history as having had both the greatest first and second serves of all time (considering velocity, placement, spin, consistency, etc.). My friend, on the other hand avers that Stefan Edberg's second serve knows no equal. Your thoughts? And while you're at it, how about a list of the top five second serves?
—Jonathan Cantor, New York

I think you win your bet. When he wasn't foot-faulting, Edberg was a wonderfully clutch second server. (Speaking of Edberg, did anyone else see his ghost in Rafter this past week?) But more than any other player, Sampras' second serve is (was?) a bona fide weapon. To me, it might be the most underrated component of his game. As for a top-five list, I feel like I'm missing someone, but off the top of my head:

1) Sampras
2) Edberg
3) Graf
4) Rafter (that serve hits the ground and makes a 90-degree turn)
5) Venus Williams (surely the first woman whose second serve regularly exceeds 100 mph)

Has any tournament on either the men's or women's tour ever considered a draw based solely on rankings, i.e., the highest-ranked player in the field plays the lowest-ranked player in the first round and so on, exactly according to the rankings? Having followed tennis for a while, in particular having followed younger players trying to break into, say, the top 30 or 40, I have always been frustrated by the random, unfair phenomenon that is the draw. I realize that the draw brings an element of surprise and intrigue to a tournament, but for at least a couple of weeks each year I would love to see a set draw based only on the ranking system. Your thoughts?
—Phil, Providence, R.I.

It's an interesting idea. A few issues: First, I want to see the seeds play decent opponents early on, not the very last players to qualify. What you call "random and unfair," I call "random and fresh." I like that Venus Williams and Barbara Schett can face each other in the first round of a Slam. Second, tournaments make a big deal out of the draw ceremony and sometimes include it as a perk for box-seat holders. This would be obviated if the draws were simply No. 1 vs. No. 64; 2 vs. 63 and so forth. Third, I can see a situation where following the rankings might lead to having the same matchups week in, week out.

With Patrick Rafter retiring at the end of this year, how legitimate is his shot at the Hall of Fame?
—Patrick Frappier, Cornwall, Ontario

Even though your namesake didn't win Wimbledon Monday morning, he's legit: Back-to-back U.S. Open titles, Davis Cup success, double titles, achieving the top ranking, an exquisite serve-and-volley style and a "credit to the sport" demeanor are fairly unimpeachable credentials.

I would like to hear your take on the Williams sisters. They seem to constantly cause controversy and mayhem in the tennis community. What started as a promising duo has turned into a seemingly racial-poor-me campaign. Coming from a black family, I don't understand their actions. Do you think this is all a big sham, or do you think they actually believe in their actions, especially that of Serena at Wimbledon and the father's racial charges. Can the WTA do anything about it? Can they be fined for their actions? Also, what about Venus' desire to "retire" soon? Is this another attention-getter or is this talented young woman going to show she's a true competitor and play for the game, not for the money she says she can get "out" of tennis, not "in" it?
—Jacob Olgreen, Dallas

Lots of you ripping Serena like Justine Henin rips her backhand. Let me start by saying that if this answer isn't up to snuff, well, right now I have the chills. I don't feel well. I have a horrible headache. I'm not alive right now. I have gastric something or other. Yeah, that's it. Been taking Pepto for like four days! Come to think of it, every time I've submitted a subpar 'Bag it's because I've been ailing. Don't believe me? The WTA Tour will confirm it all.

We've discussed the Williamses' propensity for melodrama and dubious injuries in the past. For all we know, Serena was genuinely on death's doorstep the other day. But she and her sister are the Girls Who Cried "Trainer!" Now every ailment and injury they contract is subject to scrutiny. Their father -- who has devolved from an endearing iconoclast to a controversial eccentric to a pathetic publicity-monger -- doesn't help. When the Williams sisters win titles and sign $40 million Reebok deals, an army of agents, advisors, "consultants" and consiglieres emerge to take credit. Sure would be nice if someone from this sizable braintrust could explain to them that all of this "controversy and mayhem" not only shows a contempt for the game but also alienates them from the Reebok-wearing, Avon-slathering, Nortel-dialing, Puma-buying public. More important, it is tainting and overshadowing their considerable on-court achievements. Here Venus defends her Wimbledon title playing unsurpassing tennis. Yet the majority of questions and comments I received from you guys pertain to the melodrama.

We can all agree that, despite her semifinal loss at Wimbledon, Jennifer Capriati has had a remarkable year. She deserves a lot of credit for rededicating herself to the game, and her results have been more than impressive. When will the media stop mentioning the shoplifting and marijuana possession charges from her past? Can you all please stop beating this dead horse? And is it just me, or should Martina Hingis get herself a copy of the Henin-Capriati match and watch it very closely. From what I can see, Justine is playing the way Martina should be.
—Judy Adams, Los Angeles

With respect to your first point, I can see where people might find it refreshing to read a story about Capriati that didn't contain phrases like "teen-age rebellion," "rehab," and "poster child for burnout." But bear in mind that part of what gives her current success so much texture is her past. It's like saying, "Can't we read about Lance Armstrong without a reference to his cancer?" Well, had he always enjoyed optimal health, his achievement would be cast in a much different light. Anyway, now that the "comeback" storyline is yesterday's news and we can appreciate Capriati simply as a potential No. 1 player, rest assured the dead horse will be beaten less often.

As for your second point, who is this Martina Hingis player you mention? Her name rings a faint bell. Seriously, watching Henin flick that backhand like a fly-swatter, we were all thinking the same thing: Why doesn't the like-sized Hingis "go for her shots" and attack in the manner of our Belgian friend? The answer is that while Hingis should be able to draw some inspiration, she doesn't have Henin's raw power, her racket speed through the ball or her go-for-broke mentality.

I always hear commentators talking about how candid Martina Hingis is in her post-match press conferences. So it got me to wondering which players hold the best press conferences?
—Sarah S., St. Paul, Minn.

The asterisk here is that I'm basing this list on English-speaking press conferences only. Here are my top five:

1. Ivanisevic
2. Justin Gimelstob
3. Hingis
4. Anna Kournikova, if only for the absolute disdain she shows for the media
5. Safin

What happened to Vince Spadea? I read a New York Times article that said he vanished from the tour.


—Francesca Rooney, Chicago

Let me answer this in an SAT-style analogy.

Vince Spadea : 2001 ATP Champions Race as Walter Mondale : 1984 Electoral College

Spadea, now ranked somewhere south of 150, is playing the Georgia (and Alabama and Bucharest) satellites trying to get some semblance of his game back. (You might say that his ranking is tied down with battleship chains.) Vince is actually a really nice guy who's under a good deal of pressure and is obviously going through a tough time. So if you happen by one of his matches -- say, at the U.S. Open qualifying tournament -- stop for a while and cheer him on.

Click here to send a question or comment to Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag.


 
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