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Just a matter of time for Hewitt

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Monday August 27, 2001 2:53 PM

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

Stuck in a Delta middle seat 35,000 feet above Idaho, trying to get home in time for Day 1 at the Open ...

You, along with writers from pretty much every other tennis publication, have dubbed Lleyton Hewitt a future Grand Slam champion. I have a difficult time seeing this happening. He's remarkably consistent, handles pressure well and never quits. These are all characteristics Michael Chang had in the '90s, and they never got him a major in that decade because he couldn't dominate on any surface. Hewitt will run into the same problem on every surface he plays on. Hewitt may have the head, he may have the heart, but he just doesn't have the game.
—Rob Y., Collegedale, Tenn.

Fair point. I would say in response that the comparisons between Hewitt and Chang (which one often hears) aren't necessarily so accurate. Hewitt is far less of a counterpuncher, he has more weapons, and his game has more dimensions. Having reached the semis at the 2000 U.S. Open, the quarters in Paris and the fourth round at Wimbledon, Hewitt has already proven to be a superior player to Chang in terms of surface versatility. What's more, he has the good fortune of competing in an age when the best players -- Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter, Gustavo Kuerten, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tim Henman -- aren't necessarily power players. Despite his success at the grass tuneups this year, Hewitt will have a hard time winning Wimbledon; his serve simply lacks the pop. But with Rafter, Agassi and Pete Sampras in their sunset years, I can't imagine Hewitt not winning at least a Slam or two on clay, concrete and Rebound Ace within the next decade.

After spending a year on the WTA Tour for your book and going to all those press conferences, what are the five biggest clichés you media types get from tennis players?
—Susan Monroe, Houston

I'll first make a small public service announcement: Transcripts from most of the major events are posted at, the site of tennis' invaluable transcription service.

1) "I just take it one match at a time."

2) Would you rather play Francesca Lubiani or Venus Williams in the next round? "To be honest, I haven't really looked at the draw. I just need to play my game."

3) With this win, you move to No. 14. Is it a goal of yours to finish the year in the top 10? "That would be great, but my real goal is just to keep improving."

4) "I had a sore foot, an upset stomach, some other -itis the trainer couldn't even pronounce, some kind of virus I got from my pet dung beetle, kwashiorkor, black lung disease and a blister. I returned terribly, never got in a groove, served every game on the sunny side, missed an easy volley on break point and got unlucky on some let cords/let courts/net courts/net cords. And the line calls were really spotty. But I don't want to take anything away from my opponent; she played a great match and I give her all the credit."

5) "I don't know. You'd have to ask Anna that yourself."

Who would be the top five men's players today if they all played with wooden rackets, like Johnny Mac and Ice Borg? I can see the magnificent skills of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi undiminished by a mere instrument. I'm tempted to bring up the names of "weak" talents like Todd Woodbridge and Leander Paes, maybe even Fabrice Santoro. What say you?
—Anandam Mamidipudi, Boxboro, Mass.

We've addressed this in the past, and the jury is still out. Our knee-jerk reaction -- mine included -- is that Schwarzeneggers like Greg Rusedski, Mark Philippoussis, Goran Ivanisevic and Wayne Arthurs would be nonentities if disarmed from high-tech weapons and forced to compete with wood. Likewise, players such as the ones you mention would benefit immensely. To a person, though, players will tell you that it's the other way around. Using wood, the hard servers would only lose perhaps 10 or 15 percent of their velocity. On the other hand, return specialists and counterpunchers would be hopeless without their titanium rackets. Agassi, for instance, is quick to admit that if he were obligated to return 120 mph serves using wood, he would stand no chance.

My boyfriend has this annoying habit of referring to Mark Philippoussis as the male equivalent of Anna Kournikova. True, he's majorly underachieved in his career, but I wouldn't even consider putting him in the same non-category with Miss Kournikova. He got to the finals of the U.S. Open, reached three consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinals, has gotten to the Round of 16 of all four Slams and has won nine career titles. Maybe he's not in the same tier as the truly great players around today, but I think comparing him to Kournikova is a terrible insult. Here's a chick who hasn't even won a tournament and has gotten past the Round of 16 in a major exactly twice. What's your opinion? Can I tell my significant other to get real, or what?
—Elena, Egypt, Ohio

Your boyfriend has majorly underachieved for his career? And you're still with him? Seriously, I say you win. They're not quite in the same league. Yes, Philippoussis is, for now, anyway, a first-rate disappointment. But he has, as you point out, reached a Grand Slam final, and won Indian Wells as well as some lesser events. (Besides, he's not nearly as wealthy.)

I'm a 55-year-old recreational player living in Texas where, at any time between June 1 and Oct. 1, the temperature and humidity can both hover at 100. Competing in a USTA-sanctioned tournament usually means playing three matches (two singles, one doubles) on the same day. Somehow, I and my peers seem to do OK. What I don't understand is why the pros have such trouble with the heat and humidity. These guys make millions a year to be in peak condition, have all sorts of trainers and coaches at their disposal, post-match intravenous hydration, and play usually once every two days. What gives?
—Marina, Dallas

I don't mean this as an insult, but frankly, there is a Texas-sized difference between recreational matches in the 55s division and the pro tour. The pros can cover more ground in some points than players of our level will in a set. They retrieve balls that you and I would wave at, prolong points and can compete for upwards of two hours. Plus, sports psychologists will tell us that the pressure of a pro match can exact a physical price. At most events, the pros play daily. At the Slams they usually play every other day, but the men, remember, go five sets.

Can you provide some insight into the rumors that Anna Kournikova's career is in jeopardy because of her foot injury?
—Jim Parent, Philadelphia

That rumor has been out there for a while, fueled by conflicting and confusing reports from the Kournikova camp about her recent surgery. At Kournikova's age (20), it's entirely too premature to say that her career is in jeopardy. And, to be candid, there are way too many incentive clauses, performance bonuses and other cash on the table for her to opt for the gold Omega watch. Still, one has to be concerned about how long it's taken her to recover from this latest injury.

Just curious as to what's happened to Roger Federer. I haven't heard anything about him since Wimbledon. Will he be a factor at the Open?
—Brian Michaels, Charlotte, N.C.

After deposing Sampras at Wimbledon, Federer suffered a groin/abductor injury that sidelined him for the entire U.S. hard-court leg. Here, incidentally, is a possible beef with the ATP ranking system: Federer is a rising star, but after missing two Masters Series events with an injury, it's going to be difficult for him to achieve a year-end ranking that reflects his talent. Anyway, Federer will be back for the Open, but with a sensitive injury like that which restricts motion (see: Rios, Marcelo ), he'll need to be 100 percent recovered to live up to his seeding.

Everyone keeps going on and on about when someone is going to take the No. 1 ranking from Martina Hingis; they seem to have forgotten that one woman -- Lindsay Davenport -- has done it three times in the last three years. It is also pretty clear that if Davenport wins the Open, she would have a more-than-decent chance at ending this year with the top ranking. My question is this: Why are Davenport's accomplishments so often overlooked? Is it because she isn't a glamour puss? I think her story of getting into shape is very inspiring and would resonate with most Americans. I just don't understand why she isn't wildly popular. Can you clear it up?
—Matt Haufle, New York

The beef with Hingis isn't that her reign at the top has been uninterrupted; it's that she has spent the vast majority of the past three in the catbird seat while failing to win a solitary Slam since the 1999 Australian Open. Davenport is often overlooked by the masses and, true, you won't see her on the cover of the Maxim-genre mags anytime soon. But within tennis circles, she is both immensely popular and well respected.

I remember a research article from my college days which concluded that tennis and basketball players were the most intelligent. I'll take your U.S. Open tickets with this team of current NBA players:

David Robinson: 1320 on the SAT; B.S. in mathematics from the Naval Academy

Adam Keefe: Stanford graduate in political science

Michael Doleac: Utah graduate in biology; delaying his career as an orthopedic surgeon

Mark Madsen: Stanford graduate in economics; fluent in Spanish from two years as a volunteer missionary in Spain

John Amaechi: Academic All-American and Penn State graduate in psychology; working on doctoral degree in child clinical psychology

I think this group could take out your tennis crew in most subjects, but I will name mathematics for a sure win. Along the lines of street smarts, ask each athlete the value of pi, and see which group gives the more accurate, humorous and intelligent response. Do I pick up the tickets at will-call or do you need a mailing address?
—Frank Roberts, Layton, Utah

A lot of you wrote in on the subject and proffered similar lists. I'll admit that I may have gotten a little carried away last week, but I stick by my thesis: Collectively and on average, tennis players are brighter than athletes in most other sports.

You offer an impressive "brainiac quintet" from the NBA, but you're scraping the bottom of the talent barrel. Madsen, Doleac and Keefe? Come on, Frank. Those aren't NBA players. Those are guys who fill the league's mandatory "tall white stiff" quotient. If every pro is eligible for our quiz show, I'll take Debbie Graham (who graduated Stanford in three years with a double major), Jeff Tarango, Erika de Lone (who will return to Harvard after her career), James Blake (see: de Lone) and Kim Po.

A short answer to the guy who asked why there are no Masters Series events on grass: Grass tends to be green and not purple.
—Paul Yap, Singapore

As opposed to purple clay?

I was just wondering if you could update us on the progress of Corina Morariu. She is a really class act, a great player and an even more amazing person. One of the few players who knows how to look like she is actually enjoying being on the court. I would really like to know how she is doing so we can keep her all in our thoughts.
—Ceridwen, Sydney, Australia

I'm quoting from an AP story I just read in the paper:

"Morariu, 23, diagnosed this spring with leukemia, flew to New York to spend time with her friends from the WTA Tour before returning home to Boca Raton, Fla., for another round of chemotherapy beginning Wednesday. 'To be here around friends and people I've known for a long time has been great for me mentally,' she said Sunday. 'It's been a really nice break. Then I can go home and keep fighting.'

"Looking pale but sounding positive, Morariu wore a scarf to cover her bald head, a result of the chemotherapy, and joked that her baby nephew has more hair than she does. The treatment comes with a risk of infection, and the last round sent her to the hospital, but her doctor in Miami says her long-term outlook is good. 'He said it's going to be a bumpy road, and there are going to be rocky moments,' she said. 'But he's very confident about my prognosis and happy with the way things are going so far.'"

Remember, you can write to Morariu in care of IMG.

1360 East 9th St. #100
Cleveland, OH 44114-1730

FINALLY, what you've all been waiting for ... this week's lookalikes:

  • Jelena Dokic and Mena Suvari

    Jelena Dokic
    Mena Suvari

  • Todd Martin, James Van Der Beek and Matt Doherty

    James Van Der Beek
    Van Der Beek
    Todd Martin
    Matt Doherty

  • Rusedski and Ben Folds

    Greg Rusedski
    Ben Folds

  • Andrei Pavel and David Arquette

    Andrei Pavel
    David Arquette

    Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim, author of Venus Envy: A Sensational Season Inside the Women's Tennis Tour, is a regular contributor to Click here to send him a question or comment.

    Related information
    Jon Wertheim's Tennis Mailbag Archive
    SI's Jon Wertheim: U.S. Open men's seed report
    SI's Jon Wertheim: U.S. Open women's seed report
    Excerpt from L. Jon Wertheim's Venus Envy: Plenty of Anna-tude
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