Solving the rankings riddle
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Think there will be any hype surrounding Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open? ... Serena Williams hasn't so much as made a Grand Slam final since winning the '99 Open. But after beating both Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati last weekend in Hog Town, she has to feel pretty good. ... Watch for Goran Ivanisevic to appear on David Letterman's couch in the near future. ... No surprise that Seles pulled out of New Haven. Did we really expect her to play for seven straight weeks? ... Though five months pregnant, Mary Joe Fernandez competed in a Legends event in Indianapolis. ... Anyone else notice that the USTA failed to give a main-draw wild card to NCAA singles champ Matias Boeker? Also, we can't help but think they could have thrown a bone to pitiable Vince Spadea, a top-20 player just two years ago. ... Props to Jeff Newman, the Legg Mason tournament director, for starting some sessions at 4 in the afternoon and playing throughout the evening. The players like it and so do the fans, most of whom can't sneak away for an 11 a.m. match, the time most events' day sessions commence. ...
Junior-tennis heads would be well-served to check out ustaboys.com. ... Watch out for Denmark's Kristian Pless, a former top junior who scored two good wins in Indianapolis. ... Marat Safin has dropped a third-set tiebreaker in Indianapolis for two straight years. ... From the Boyfriend In Arrears Dept.: Kim Clijsters spent last week in Indianapolis (as she did last year as well) with her significant other, Lleyton Hewitt. ... A Brazilian postage stamp has been produced in honor of Uncle Gus Kuerten. ... Alas, it seems the Marrakech Express is grinding to a halt: Hicham Arazi, Karim Alami and the vowel man, Younes El Aynaoui all fell early. ... U.S. Open dark horse: Ivan Ljubicic. You read it here first. ... Lots of you pointed out that Juan Carlos Ferrero is listed as 6-foot in the ATP guides, not 5-9 as I mentioned last week. Trust me, he's as close to being 6-feet tall as ISL is to being solvent.
Old Balls Please: In the third-set tiebreaker of his Indy semifinal, Pat Rafter received a dead ball that he carbon-dated as "five years old." Smiling, he tapped it to his opponent, Marat Safin, who belted it out of the stadium. "I was going to serve it to Marat for a bit of a joke. But 3-all in the tiebreak in the third set, it's not a great time for fun and games." ... Speaking of Rafter, by beating Safin he reached his fourth straight final. Asked whether he could take his first title of the year, he responded ominously: "I figure if I hang in there long enough, maybe someone will twist an ankle and I'll win." The following day, Kuerten retired in the first set with a rib-cage injury. ... Reason No. 3,213 why tennis needs a commissioner: On Saturday three matches ( Anke Huber -Capriati, Safin-Rafter; and Roddick- Michael Chang ) were being broadcast simultaneously.
I'll give you your props and admit that I hadn't heard about Andy Roddick until I read about him a few years ago in the Mailbag. I saw him play twice at the Legg Mason and I'm a believer! Great serve, great groundstrokes, and I thought he handled himself very maturely. Tell me this: What's stopping this guy from winning the U.S. Open?
Not surprisingly, there were lots of questions about Roddick this week. We always knew he could play on hard courts, but after beating Kuerten and winning a title on asphalt this month, expectations will be monstrously high heading into the Open. As a USTA poster boy, rest assured Roddick will be playing every match on a show court. He's popping serves, bludgeoning his groundies and moving well. More impressive, he's been showing poise that belies his age. If you're his coach, you have to like that he came out after the rain delay in D.C. and won eight of nine points to close out the match.
So what's stopping Roddick from winning in Queens? For one, how will he handle the stress of playing the big house during a night session? Much as we like Roddick's poise, it's plenty different from meeting Sjeng Schalken in a Sunday final. Is Roddick sufficiently fit to survive a succession of five-setters? I also worry about that wristy serve and forehand. Like the 12-year-old who throws a mean curveball, it looks like an elbow problem waiting to happen. Bottom line: Roddick won't win the Open this year. But especially at a time when Pete Sampras and, to a lesser extent, Andre Agassi are in a slow burn, his presence is a welcome infusion to the draw.
The Masters Series is played on every surface but grass. If a Grand Slam is played on grass, there should be a Masters event on grass. Other than scheduling, is there any reason not to have a Masters tournament on the green stuff?
I'm with you in theory. But I'm not sure there's a good place on the calendar for a Masters grass event. (Ideally, it would come before Wimbledon, but those weeks are clogged.) Also, I'm not sure there's a facility that can accommodate the event. Masters Series events are supposed to be the big-ticket tournaments on the ATP Tour, replete with sprawling players' lounges to accommodate a 64-men draw, high-tech production facilities and a large stadium. Anyone who's been to Queens Club, for instance, knows that, quaint as it is, the venue hardly meets these qualifications.
I read Venus Envy and enjoyed it, but I think you gave the players way too much credit for their intelligence. I read transcripts from tournament press conferences online from time to time, and I have to say that I am appalled by the bad grammar, the thoughtless responses and general airheadedness. It doesn't really bother me because I like to watch them play tennis, not be brainiacs, but do you really think they're that smart?
Brainiacs? There's a word I haven't heard since middle school. We covered the issue of tennis players' collective smarts a few weeks back, and I stand by my answer. I'm not saying that Mensa membership is a pre-req for playing on the WTA Tour. But relative to other athletes, tennis players -- men, too, by the way -- are, well, brainiacs. I'll take Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Seles and the Williams sisters. You take five athletes of your choice in the NBA, NFL, NHL or baseball. I'll gladly bet you some U.S. Open tickets that my team wins in the academic competition of your choice.
What happened to all the French players? It seemed that, during the first period of the year, tennis would taste some "French cuisine," with Arnaud Clément reaching the Australian Open final and Sebastien Grosjean two Grand Slam semifinals, and Amelie Mauresmo ripping off her amazing string of wins. Are they injured or have they simply disappeared?
I just saw Clément last week in the Indy players' lounge, so I assure you they haven't all disappeared. It's true that the Frenchies have struggled collectively as of late. Add Natalie Dechy to your list, by the way; she has tons of talent and is a good athlete, but still hasn't recovered from an injury she suffered at last year's U.S. Open. Also, include Cédric Pioline, who is on his last legs. But I think we're due to see either Clément or Grosjean make some noise at the Open. Don't surrender [insert joke here] quite so fast.
Mexico has put on some nice tour events for a few years now. What possibilities do you see for a Masters Series event here anytime soon?
Nada. It's nothing against Mexico. I've gotten a few similar questions lately, and as far as I know there are no "openings" for a new Masters Series event. (It was reported this week, however, that the Canadian Open might move full-time to Montreal.) Someone else asked a few weeks back why there aren't more than nine Masters Series events. Answer: The whole point of the series is to create a ne plus ultra, if you will, of tournaments that are suffused with more importance than your run-of-the-mill tour stops.
Who do you think would win an Olivier Rochus vs. Venus Williams matchup on hard courts? You can't tell me Rochus would be able to overpower Venus or dominate on serve. I say straight sets for Williams.
The Brussels Sprout* takes her in straight sets. While I agree that Venus would hardly be overpowered, Rochus is infinitely more consistent, he plays much closer to the lines, he returns better, and he can do things with the ball that Venus has never even considered. This is not meant as a slight against Venus or women's tennis -- we appreciate both here at the 'Bag. But the notion that a woman could beat a top-100 male is, simply, preposterous.
*Actually, our man is from Namur, Belgium. But the nickname is too good to pass up.
I just returned from the Legg Mason, where it appeared that some of the Spanish players were wearing little girls' headbands in their hair. What happened to bandanas? I certainly hope I won't be logging on to CNNSI.com to find you sporting this new trend in your photo.
Never. Give me little girls' headbands over the samurai ponytails that abound on the men's tour, a look that went out of style with John Belushi. Speaking of unforced fashion errors, what's up with J-Cap's fake tattoo?
I'm a big fan of the Mailbag, and I've always appreciated your honesty about the tour and its players. So, c'mon, Jon, be the first one on your block to come clean about Jennifer Capriati. Everyone loves her comeback story and all but, let's face it, she's a churlish, spoiled pain in the behind who pouts and cries every time things don't go her way, isn't she? I know it's more popular to criticize Mother Teresa than to trash Jen-Jen, but every time I've seen her during her comeback when things aren't going as she demands, she's whining to umpires, snapping at ball kids, and dumping on the media. She's a Williams sister plus some polish and minus a couple of IQ points. Am I right?
I'm of two minds on this one. The unvarnished truth is that Capriati can indeed be a smidge -- how to put this? -- rough around the edges. An obvious example was her ungracious bellyaching about Seles' grunting a few weeks ago. And as you point out, there ought to be a seven-second FCC delay on her broadcasts to bleep out all the &#^$s and the !#&*$s. So, too, has she been generally unaccommodating with the media and sponsors. Notice, for instance, how little she was on television -- Dave, Jay, Katie -- after her titles. As one WTA Tour employee told me recently, "Imagine how much women's tennis could have capitalized if Jennifer had been more cooperative."
Having said that, I find it hard to condemn Capriati too much. Better she have this aggression -- which, admittedly, manifests itself in vulgar ways at times -- than the angst-ridden "whatever" grunge persona she adopted in the mid-'90s. Also, as someone who was pulled like a wishbone as a teenager, her indifference toward publicity and the media is more understandable.
I was watching the Masters Series event in Cincinnati last week when ESPN was having audio difficulties.For a few brief minutes the only mikes working were on the court. One could hear the ball being struck, the sounds of the players, and the cheering of the crowd. It was delightful. The incessant droning of Cliffy and P-Mac was silenced, if only momentarily. Ironically, they even commented afterward that they hoped the silence wasn't "too" enjoyable for the listening public. I was just wondering if other fans found it as refreshing as I did to be able to simply listen to the match without the verbal diarrhea that invariably accompanies it.
(Memo to Yevgeny: Never cheat Mailbag reader Jerry Stackhouse in a game of cards)
"For a while I've been calculating what women's rankings would be using a points-race system. My "WTA race" works exactly like the ATP Champions Race, with the nine Tier I events replacing the nine Master Series events and the Tour Championship weighted similarly to the Masters Cup. Thus a player's ranking in the WTA race is based on her performance in Slams, Tier I events and (if she qualifies and participates) the Tour Championship, plus her five best other performances. Paralleling the ATP race, Slam winners get 200 points, the winner of the Tour Championship gets 150 points, Tier I winners get 100, Tier II winners get 60 points, Tier III winners get 50, Tier IV winners get 40, and Tier V winners get 35. Points for finalists, semifinalists, etc., are awarded using the appropriate scale from the ATP race. I keep track of two totals: a 52-week total (thus yielding rankings roughly equivalent to the ATP entry system, at least for higher-ranked players) and a year-to-date total (very close to the ATP points race).
"When I started doing this, I thought that this system would show that Hingis and Anna Kournikova are ridiculously overranked by the current system, whereas Venus Williams is robbed outright. Alas, how wrong we all are. Here are the WTA race 52-week rankings for the top 21 players, with total points for 2001:
"I may have made minor mistakes, but I'm quite confident that all the numbers are accurate to within a few points. Some thoughts based on the above:
"As a fan, I really like the ATP points system. It's simple to understand (I can implement it with a spreadsheet, and I'm no expert). It's fair (there's no question that top players earn most of their points playing each other in big events). If some top players just start skipping major events, à la the Williamses, the other players aren't penalized by the drop in "quality points" available. Players can do quite well playing 17 or 18 weeks a year, and there's not much point to playing more than about 25. The system's only problem, which you mentioned, could be taken care of by stressing the entry-system ranking as much as the points race. For example, what's so confusing about saying "Pete Sampras is the No. 12 player in the world. However, based on 2001 results his ranking would be 26?"
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim, author of Venus Envy: A Sensational Season Inside the Women's Tennis Tour, is a regular contributor to CNNSI.com. Click here to send him a question or comment.