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 Sports Memorabilia

Hingis' comments taken out of context

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Posted: Monday September 03, 2001 11:50 AM

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

A few random thoughts:

There are no hard, fast rules for gauging a tournament's success. But when the highlights of the first week of a Grand Slam are a racial controversy and a spitting incident involving two players outside the top 50, it's been a slow week. The culprit? The 32-seed draw, which has yielded too many matches that are less competitive than a tornado versus a trailer park. The women's draw, in particular, has been riddled with lopsided matches as no seeds matched up until Round 3. Most of the night sessions -- which invariably feature the big names rather than the best matches -- were laughable. Pity the poor fans who ponied up serious cash to watch, say, the Venus Williams-Meilen Tu, Pete Sampas-Andre Sa blowout doubleheader. The system will no doubt pay dividends the second week; when Tim Henman, Sebastien Grosjean and Monica Seles are, after seven days of play, your top upset victims, big matches loom. The problem is that by that time, after a stultifying week of tennis, how many fans have already been turned off? ...

One last observation about Li'l Lleyton Hewitt. Lost amid his racial insensitivity is his lack of anything resembling graciousness. When your near-delirious opponent has just vomited in a bucket and is so weak his serve has dropped under 80 mph, it might be time tone down the "C'mons" and the chest-thumping. ... Since Bob and Mike Bryan lost in the second round of doubles, look for Pat McEnroe to tap Donald Johnson and Jared Palmer for Davis Cup play later this month. ... I have reluctantly agreed to do another book signing Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. near the main gate of the National Tennis Center. If you're around, stop by and say hi. No purchase necessary.

Onward ...

What does it say about our society that Martina Hingis is vilified for stupid comments about the Williams sisters' endorsements, but Goran Ivanisevic, who fires off derogatory terms for homosexuals during press conferences, is as popular as ever?
—Eric, Houston

First, let's cut Hingis some slack. Yes, her comments didn't exactly reek of enlightenment. But given the context, they were hardly so outrageous. In the wake of the Williams family's Indian Wells debacle, Hingis was asked the following question in Key Biscayne: Does it bother you that the father claimed there was a lot of racism directed toward his family at Indian Wells?

Her entire response: "I wasn't there. I didn't see the finals, just heard about it and it was on TV, obviously. But I definitely don't feel like there is any racism on the tour. I mean, it's a very international sport, and I even would say because, you know, they may be black they have a lot of other -- how do you say -- advantages to be, you know, where they are because they can always say it's racism or something like that, and it's not the case at all. Not from my standpoint. I don't care who, you know, who's on the other side, who I have to play, and I treat them with -- definitely with respect. It's a professional sport, and, I mean, they're good for the sport. I like the girls. Sometimes he has said things which are not true, but I don't know about what the girls think about what he says, so it's hard to say."

The notion that Hingis "made these remarks to Time magazine," as has been widely reported, is wildly inaccurate. She made these remarks to a room filled with reporters and cameras six months ago. Why did these comments only surface recently? Because, as you can see for yourself, given the context and entirety of her answer -- as well as the question she was addressing -- she comes across much differently.

Anyway, you raise a good point and I don't have a good answer. Best I can do: 1) Hingis was referring to two black players in particular, while Ivanisevic was using a generically offensive term without alluding to a specific colleague; 2) Ivanisevic is the clown prince of tennis so he was "just being Goran" when he made his slur; Hingis, on the other hand, has a worse reputation and a rich history of putting her Sergio Tacchini /adidas shoes in her mouth, so she gets whacked.

Once Pat Rafter goes on his long-awaited (by him, not his fans) sabbatical, is there a genuine serve-and-volleyer left in the men's game besides Tim Henman? I'm an old Stefan Edberg fan and would love to see that style come back in vogue or at least see a few serve-and-volleyers at each major/Masters Series tournament. Any chance?
—Jay Parthasarathy, Chennai, India

If you look hard enough, there are a few. Max Mirnyi and Wayne Arthurs come to mind. Call me an unreconstructed optimist, but I say that at least a few players will realize they can't win from the baseline and give serve-and-volleying a chance, much as Nathalie Tauziat did on the women's tour. I was talking about this topic the other day with Bob Bryan, who might be a candidate down the road. Also, as the livelihoods of various doubles players will be put in jeopardy next year with new rules for draw cutoffs, I say a few of them might try to make a go of it in singles implementing a serve-and-volley style.

What's up with your affinity for Thomas Johansson? You picked him to be a semifinalist at Wimbledon, but he disappointed. But again you picked him to be a semifinalist at the U.S. Open. Do you think he can bring his stuff to more than just little tournaments?
—Joseph, New York

Note that I'm writing this late Sunday night; Johansson has yet to play his fourth-round match against Marat Safin. Anyway, does TJ have incriminating photos of me causing me to predict success for him time and again? Not that I know of. So why pick him? The guy is steady and efficient, returns well, moves well and tends to play his best tennis at the U.S. Open. He's also in Safin's quadrant, so anything is possible. Also, when I do these predictions, it's like entering an NCAA office pool. If you pick Duke and Kentucky, you might win, but it's unsatisfying. If you can nail a Gonzaga sleeper it's more fun, and you can respect yourself in the morning.

Are you aware of any survey/study which correlates the top players of yesterday and today with the sizes of their hands? My interest isn't prurient. I think it's interesting, per se, but it also occurs to me that modern, high-tech rackets may also be useful equalizers compared to the wooden-racquet era (assuming, as I do, that a larger hand creates a power advantage).
—Alistair Wentworth, Toronto

Answering your question would subject me to a variety of criminal charges in 31 states and Guam.

I was at Serena Williams' first-round match at the Open. During breaks, she was reading notes sticking out of an envelope while sitting in her chair. When she got up, she covered the envelope with her towel. I know that coaching during matches is forbidden. I was wondering if is legal to read notes during a match made by either yourself or a coach? And if so, why wouldn't more players do it?
—Jason Brown, New York

A number of players, in fact, read note cards to themselves during breaks, including Venus Williams. In last year's Wimbledon final, she referred to scraps of paper on which she had basic directives like "be aggressive" and "move your feet." Recall, too, that Jim Courier once a read a book -- the overrated Armistead Maupin's Maybe the Moon -- during changeovers.

After Kim Clijsters pulled out of the Pilot Pen semis, my friends and I decided to stay and watch a doubles match that included three relative unknowns (Nadia Petrova, Miriam Oremans, Silvia Farina-Elia) and Jelena Dokic. I had never seen Dokic play in real life and was disappointed by her "jerky," inconsistent strokes. I was, however, impressed by Petrova. Can you tell us more about this player? And how did she get Lindsay Davenport's serve?
—Joseph Barretto, New York

Her serve does recall Davenport's, I suppose. Petrova is among the legion of young, talented Russians whose presence will be felt in years to come. She's nearly 6-feet tall, hits a big ball and needs to work on movement. I believe she spends part of the year in Connecticut and trains with the Yale men's team. Apparently, she has a wry sense of humor, too. In the WTA Tour media guide she claims to admire Marcelo Rios because "he is a nice, funny guy." Dokic is no doubles specialist and I agree that her Quasimodo ballstriking posture is rough on the eyes. But I still think she's an eventual top-10 player.

It seems that every year the epic 1996 U.S. Open quarterfinal match between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja is played on TV, and every time I see it I'm stunned at Corretja's lack of a killer instinct. Not once during that fifth-set tiebreak, after Sampras was visibly sick, did Corretja attempt a drop shot or rush the net. He's an awfully nice guy, but is Corretja perhaps too nice? Has lacking a killer instinct hindered his career?
—Claudia, Norman, Okla.

Interesting point. As Corretja has consistently failed to win big matches and remains a heck of a nice guy but a general underachiever, I wonder if some of the luster from that epic match had faded. Don't get me wrong: It was a heroic performance by Sampras. But one can't help wonder -- as you do -- whether it came against the ideal foe.

As long as we're bashing Corretja (who, again, is so gentlemanly he makes Pat Rafter look like Hewitt), I was thoroughly underwhelmed by his "effort" Sunday against Andy Roddick. Despite being the lower seed, Roddick was expected to win. But one would think that a veteran and two-time Grand Slam finalist would have done more to try and break the rookie's rhythm and make him hit more balls.

While I personally believe that Martina Hingis is ignorant and uneducated, I question whether her comments (and those of Jennifer Capriati, the Williamses, Anna Kournikova and Lindsay Davenport) draw so much attention because they come from a female athlete. If we were talking about male basketball players, we'd excuse the cockiness and ignorance. When Venus Williams celebrates a victory with a little dance or discusses how she can smash her opponents, she draws the ire of journalists and tennis fans. However, had these some comments and actions come from Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson, I doubt they would have raised eyebrows. Focusing on the general back-and-forth stabs that the top women's players seem to take at each other, I wonder if underlying our reactions is sexism -- we expect male athletes to be brass and cocky, but when female athletes engage in this behavior, it causes an uproar.
—Barry, Phoenix

Funny you should mention it. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd discussed the very topic on Sunday's Op-Ed page.

FINALLY, it's the Mailbag equivalent of the bobblehead doll giveaway ...

I was watching The Gift last week and was struck by the resemblance between Cate Blanchett and my all-time favorite tennis player, Steffi Graf.
—Ash, Austin, Texas

Steffi Graf
Cate Blanchett

My wife's submission for Long Lost Siblings (I'd never watch these TV shows!): Slava Dosedel and Jack Wagner (from General Hospital and Melrose Place).
—Marvin Landis, Tucson, Ariz.

Slava Dosedel
Jack Wagner

Have you checked out Martina Hingis and Pat Benatar?
—Hari, Chicago

Martina Hingis
Pat Benatar

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
Excerpt from L. Jon Wertheim's Venus Envy: Plenty of Anna-tude
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