The good and bad of Ivanisevic
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Andrea Gaudenzi, rumored to be on the brink of retirement since around 1927, won the Swedish Open. ... Magnus Norman's annus horribilus continues as he lost to Bo (Knows Topspin) Ulihrach in the semis. ... The mercurial Jiri Novak upset Juan Carlos Ferrero in the Gstaad final. ... Nice week for James Blake, who reached the Newport semis. ... Unseeded Iroda Tulyaganova won her second career title last weekend, beating Patty Schnyder in the Vienna final. Dare we say, that makes two more titles than a certain -- oh, never mind. ... The 2002 ATP Masters Cup will be held in Shanghai. All in all, a good week for China. ... If you live in the New York metropolitan area, check out the A&P Tennis Classic this week in Mahwah, N.J., for a taste of the sport with its hair let down. Jennifer Capriati is the headliner. ... Our latest (equally media-friendly) lookalikes: Marcelo Rios and Ichiro Suzuki.
I was happy to see Goran Ivanisevic finally win Wimbledon until I saw his post-match news conference, during which he referred to a linesman as a "faggot." Why doesn't the press call him on his bigotry? I guess being a world-class tennis player doesn't make one a world-class human being. I bet you and others would have rightly called him on this if it had been racially motivated. Why the double standard?
A number of you wrote in about this. I couldn't agree with you more. By my count, this was the fourth time in the past year that Ivanisevic used the word faggot in a press conference. This isn't merely indefensible; it's the kind of mindless, deeply offensive slur that would earn him a fine and suspension in other sports. (The ATP should at least publicly condemn this. And force Ivanisevic to read Bill Tilden's biography.) And, I beg to differ, it hardly went unremarked upon by the media. Even in the face of an otherwise positive day for tennis, this ugliness made it into most accounts I read. It's just a good thing that there are no homosexual tennis fans out there who might be less inclined to support him, the ATP, Head rackets or Sergio Tacchini.
Let's say that Goran Ivanisevic never wins another match -- which is entirely possible. Does his Wimbledon title take him out of one category of player (i.e., colorful character with limited game, fun to have around) and automatically place him into another (i.e., Grand Slam champion, part of an elite group)? Or is this just a fun story that really won't change how tennis history will remember Ivanisevic?
I don't think these categories are necessarily mutually exclusive. But I think that Ivanisevic will be, finally, recalled as a lovable head case (his disturbing homophobia notwithstanding) who happened to have won Wimbledon. Part of it is that one magical two-week stretch (I promised myself never again to use the impossibly grating word fortnight) doesn't bleach out a decade worth of color. Part of it also is that even in winning Wimbledon, Ivanisevic's eccentricities were readily apparent. When was the last time a Wimbledon champ ripped his shirt off after a third-round win? Alluded to his manifold personalities? Openly cried as he served out the match?
I heard during Wimbledon coverage that Lindsay Davenport said she wants to settle down, get married and have kids in the very near future. Is this true? If so, she will be missed -- and not only by me, I guess.
Credit to the sport that she is, Davenport is in an awkward position and has been for the past year. She's had a wonderful career that has exceeded everyone's expectations -- not least, hers. But she's been losing ground to the Williams sisters and Capriati lately, she's had her share of injuries, and she's been "out there" for nearly a decade already. She has plenty of money, a good life in California, a serious boyfriend. I picture her waking up in random hotel rooms in Zurich and Philadelphia, icing her foot, figuring out time differences, trying to get herself motivated to play someone like Magui Serna and saying to herself, So, remind me again what I'm doing here? If Davenport called it quits within the next year or two, I wouldn't be surprised at all. As you note, though, whenever she does retire she'll be greatly missed. The sport will be a whole lot worse off without her.
Is there a women's senior tennis tour? If so, I've never heard of it. Do you think there ever will be one if there is not one currently?
There are women's senior events from time to time, but there's no full-time tour. They were great players in their day, but I can't say there's a clamoring among fans to see Virginia Ruzici and Rosie Casals take care of unfinished business. Another problem is logistics. Of the few players fans would pay to watch, Martina Navratilova is still on the regular tour, and Billie Jean King is too busy with World TeamTennis and her innumerable other commitments. (I was going to write that Chris Evert is a parent and a broadcaster, but those commitments haven't prevented John McEnroe from playing on the men's senior circuit, the "geezer tour" as Richard Williams calls it.) Will there ever be a women's senior tour? My guess is yes. Twenty years from now, who among us wouldn't shell out cash to watch Martina Hingis, the Williams sisters, Davenport, Monica Seles and guaranteed-to-still-be-blonde Anna Kournikova renew their rivalries?
Where does Anna Kournikova fit into the game after she returns from injury? It seems that everyone has been waiting for her to win a tournament, yet while she's been out Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Jelena Dokic have all had breakthroughs. Kournikova is by no means old, but now that the next crop of players is starting to pass her by, does she have any hope of maintaining credibility as a top player?
Good question. Those cloying Lycos ads notwithstanding, she has hardly been a presence in her absence. Right now Clijsters and Henin have already surpassed Anna's biggest achievements and are superior players. Capriati (whom Kournikova dusted the last time they played) might be the world's best player. Even players like Dokic and Meghann Shaughnessy have eclipsed her. In spite of her queenly iciness, the dirty little secret about Kournikova is that her nerves can turn to Jell-O under pressure, and this business of being without a title consumes her more than she lets on. Another shaky U.S. Open and she could be in real trouble. On the other hand, Kournikova can be an admirably hard worker and she has the tools to be successful. If her injury hasn't restricted her movement and if she's decided to add variety to her game during all these months off, she might be as good as ever and finally gain -- not maintain -- credibility as a top player. We'll find out soon enough.
I was really impressed with Tim Henman's half-volley during his Wimbledon semifinal. That's a shot that rarely gets any attention. How about a top-five list of the best half-volleyers?
The half-volley can be a real weapon (or Achilles' heel) on grass. But it's not rare for a player to go an entire singles match on other surfaces without hitting the shot. Perhaps that's why it gets so little attention.
1) Pete Sampras/ McEnroe
Maybe this is a case of premature wishful thinking, but I believe that Tim Henman's best shot to win Wimbledon will come next year. By then, Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic will probably have retired; Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Todd Martin will all be "on the wrong side of 30," as you like to say. Other good grass-court players like Mark Philippoussis and Richard Krajicek have been out with injuries so long that they probably won't bounce back to championship level. Young guns like Andy Roddick won't yet be ready for a Grand Slam crown, while Lleyton Hewitt seems to do well at Queens but not great at Wimbledon. That leaves Roger Federer as the only major roadblock, but Henman defeated him rather handily this year. So based on all that, I'd place Henman as the top choice for Wimbledon 2002. Would you agree with this assessment?
You, my friend, are more than a little optimistic. Wimbledon 2002 is too far away to start prognosticating, Projecting 50 weeks from now, Henman could decide to run off and join an ashram, Philippoussis could be a top-five player and Roddick could be married. I'll agree with your overall thesis, though: Henman ought to be a contender just as he was this year. But it's hard to tap him as the favorite when, under such immense pressure, he's yet to show the mettle to get out of the semis.
Given your comments in the last Mailbag, I'll ask the obvious question: What has brought about this new humility in Venus Williams? Or, put it another way, what do you say to those folks who see her new "image" as a show, just to win over the fans? Take your pick ...
It's easy to be cynical about Venus' exceptional graciousness. McEnroe was quick to point out that it's easier to be courteous and respectful when you're holding the winner's trophy. But I'd like to think this was genuine and that Venus realized that, heading into Wimbledon, her popularity and credibility had really taken a hit since last year. She did a lot to restore both with her performance at the All England. On a related note ...
A few weeks ago reader Olusola Kingsley took you (and your media pals) to task for being so harsh on the Williams sisters. You replied that you'd be just as harsh on anyone who pulled out of a draw for the "quadzillionth time citing an injury." Can you elaborate? I've been hearing this kind of stuff for a long time, and I certainly saw the spectacle at Indian Wells earlier this year, but how many times have the Williams sibs really done stuff like this? Can you give us a chronological breakdown?
Two quick disclaimers. First, we should all distinguish between the Williams sisters' dubious withdrawals and their sparse schedules. If they want to play a dozen tournament a year because they have a multitude of other interests and want to pursue fashion school, I say good for them. If they skip events because they don't want to deal with the trauma of playing each other, that's their prerogative. If they don't want to play the year-end championships in Germany because they fell asleep during Das Boot or because eight is their limit on schnitzergruben, that's OK, too. But when they commit to an event -- and fans buy tickets, sponsors pony up big bucks and networks arrange telecasts expecting to see them play -- and then pull out or come up with an injury the Brits would call "dodgy," it ceases to be acceptable. Let's also point out that Venus has stated her commitment to achieving the top ranking, which necessitates playing more often. So let's hope these achin' ways are a thing of the past. That said, this is from the past year alone. Draw your own conclusions:
Surely you must have been drinking when you said that Venus Williams has the fifth-best second serve in history. Sure she can hit a 100-mph second serve, but, come on, it doesn't happen too often. Her second serve is the weakest part of her game and it just sits up in the middle of the box for her opponent to attack. If anything, that second serve is a liability; it's not that much better then Martina Hingis'. Hingis might even have a better one; at least she doesn't double-fault seven-to-eight times in a match. I think that Lindsay Davenport deserves to be on that list; her second serve is 10 times better then Venus'.
Several of you made a similar point. Quick story. At last year's San Diego event, a few weeks after Wimbledon, I asked Venus what was the difference in her game that finally enabled her to win her first Slam. My guess was she'd say her cross-court forehand. Instead, she responded: "Come on, that's an easy one: my second serve." I watched her play Amanda Coetzer the next day and I looked on as some second offerings landed in the corner of the box and then hit courtside placards. Others hit down the T and ricocheted off the back wall. After the match she said that if she kept serving like that, people would have a hard time beating her at the U.S. Open. Sure enough, every time she got into trouble at Flushing (to wit: her first set tiebreaker against Meghann Shaughnessy ) it was her second serve that extricated her.
The notion that Hingis has a better second than Venus is absurd. Davenport might belong on the list. But I still say that Venus' second ball is more dangerous than Lizzie Grubman behind the wheel of daddy's SUV.
I just got back from watching the baseball All-Star festivities, which got me wondering why there isn't something like this for tennis. All the best players and great old players could meet up in somewhere like Newport, R.I., and could participate in a variety of fun matches and serving contests, something to give back to the fans. Any thoughts on this?
I went to the NBA All-Star Game in D.C. this year and thought the same thing. Much as the ATP and WTA hate to admit it, pro tennis is at its best when both tours are together and the sport's entire cast of characters is on display. The contests would be great: Who has the more accurate backhand, Davenport or Andre Agassi? For once and for all -- on standard equipment, under the same conditions -- who has the fastest serve in the men's and women's games? Would Venus and Rafter beat Serena and Gustavo Kuerten in a three-legged race? Kids Day prior to the U.S. Open is about as close as it gets, but it's still a far cry from an All-Star weekend.
What's stopping it? At a time when players can command $250,000 for a weekend exhibition, how are we to expect Agassi, Kournikova and the Williams sisters to appear for free? Even with a television contract and some sponsorship, it would be tough to make a profit. Where would you hold the event? Are there 20,000 tennis fans in, say, Atlanta who would show up for the affair? Also, where would it be on the calendar? As we discussed last week, players already bitch about the length of the season. If it were at an event -- say, the weekend prior to Wimbledon -- players could (read: would) beg off with the convenient excuse that it interferes with their match preparation, and you'd be left with the WTA Tour's embarrassing no-show banquet at Indian Wells.
You recently commented about the chances of Jim Courier and Michael Chang making it to the Hall of Fame. What about those of Aranxta Sánchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez?
It's funny you should mention all four players in the same question. Courier and ASV have had remarkably analogous careers. Both are indefatigable fighters who lacked the innate gifts of others but compensated with grit and guile. Both won four Slams, reached the Wimbledon final and achieved the top ranking. Both are future Hall of Famers. Like Chang, Martinez unexpectedly won a Slam early in her career but never replicated the feat. Though she remained a threat for a good many years, she, like Chang, never got in the crosshairs of greatness. Like Chang, I think the "Cheetah" falls short.
With all the fuss about top players pulling out of doubles late in a tournament, why aren't teams allowed an alternate member who can be subbed in if necessary? That way if one player wants to pull out, the other can still compete. Of course, it would make practicing a little complicated. But wouldn't it protect the serious doubles players -- especially the ones who need the doubles prize money because they don't do so well in singles?
Ding. Ding. Ding. What a great idea! Everybody wins: The tournaments and tours would have yet another inducement for getting the top players to compete in doubles; the fans would have more opportunities to watch their faves; there will be fewer defaults and walkovers; and the "doubles specialists" both tours are trying to make extinct may have another breath of life.
Let's use the example cited last week: Serna and Henin are entered in Wimbledon as a team. After reaching the semifinals of the singles draw, Henin bails on doubles and Serna is left to stew. Under your system, here's how it would work: After Henin decided to concentrate on singles, Serna would summon a sub, say American Debbie Graham. Had Serna-Graham won, maybe Henin would rejoin with Serna -- but after giving Graham $5,000 or so for her efforts. (Graham would also get a chunk of ranking points -- all the more incentive for her to be "on call in the bullpen.") If Henin still wanted to focus on singles, Serna-Graham could keep playing. If Serna-Graham lost, at least Serna wouldn't have frittered away her time, the fans wouldn't have been cheated out of a match and the tournament wouldn't have to scramble to fill the spot. I also think the fans would be curious to see whether the "sub" held his/her own. Sure, there are some logistical issues. But, honestly, this is pretty ingenious. Mark Miles & Co., if you're reading, take note.
Who's the best player never to have won a major? Marcelo Rios? Todd Martin? Tim Henman? Roger Federer?
You hate to burden a relative newcomer like Federer or Hewitt with that albatross, to mix metaphors. I've always considered Martin an overachiever who came close, not an underachiever who never sealed the deal. Rios? Maybe. I'm inclined to say Alex Corretja. He made the French final twice, plays well on hard courts and has been ranked as high as No. 2. Yet he's never gotten the brass ring.
What is the deal with the white spot in Pat Rafter's hair? Is it some weird fashion statement or just a birthmark of some sort?
It's a birthmark and not, contrary to rumor, an homage to Rasheed Wallace.
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