Wrapping up the Open
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Some random thoughts: We hated the 32 seeds during the first week, but we concede that it sure paid off in Week 2. ... Maybe the paterfamilias was right after all, maybe it is "All-Williams, all the time." Aside from playing unsurpassing tennis, the sisters were dual models of poise during the Open. From refusing to be goaded into responding to Martina Hingis' comments to taking pains to praise their vanquished opponents, both Venus and Serena were not merely winners, they were champions. ... Think the men might need an extra day between the semis and finals? There have been only three five-set finals at the U.S. Open in the last 25 years, while Wimbledon has had 11. ... Speaking of, after nearly two weeks of betraying uncommon comportment that belied his age, Andy Roddick finally acted like a teenager when he went ballistic over a line call down 4-5 in the fifth set of his quarterfinal match against Lleyton Hewitt. Still, what chair umpire worth his Fila swag overrules a close call on the far sideline at that point in a match? ...
Credit Hewitt with playing his best tennis when it mattered most. Those who wonder how such an undersized player can win a Slam: When you have the best return game, the best foot speed and the best lob in the sport, you're on your way. ... How about some props to other winners: Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, now only needing a French Open title for a career Slam, won the women's doubles. ... Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett played an exceptional third set to beat Jared Palmer and Don Johnson in men's doubles. ... Top-seeded Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, playing in his second consecutive Grand Slam junior final, defeated Wang Yeu-Tzuoo of Taiwan 7-6 (5), 6-2 for the boys' title. ... A day after beating Ashley Harkleroad, Marion Bartoli of France rallied to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to win the girls' singles. ... Stubbs and Todd Woodbridge beat Raymond and Leander Paes to win the mixed doubles. ... Tony Trabert has been elected president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Lots of questions, sorry I can't answer them all.
Many of you wrote in about Hewitt and the comments he made during his match against James Blake. Some of you think he's the devil incarnate. Others think he's the victim of political correctness. ("I don't care what he says in the heat of battle," a caller on a radio show told me this weekend. "If every player had his heart, men's tennis wouldn't be dying.") Many of you noted how the media -- i.e., me -- loved him before the tournament and then slammed him for l'Affaire Line Judge. As Ron Leibman of Manhattan put it: "If you admire [Hewitt's] guts and fight, you should take the good with the bad and accept that he will be obnoxious on the court."
My response: All credit goes to Hewitt for playing exceptionally well, returning like a man possessed and winning his first Slam. But that doesn't get him off the hook for his ugliness the week before. Being a fiery competitor, a Rocky protégé, a battler, a [insert your own cliché here] and a sportsman aren't mutually exclusive. Hewitt should be able to play with intensity -- as he does, admirably -- and still refrain from acting like a jerk. Put another way, it is possible for a champion to have both Will & Grace.
Now do you care to admit you were wrong about James Blake?
I'll pay up. Blake showed uncommon class in traversing the high road on l'Affaire Line Judge; overshadowed by the controversy was his tennis. After waxing David Sanchez in straight sets, Blake had Hewitt, the eventual champion, dead-to-rights before succumbing to the heat. Blake was picking off Hewitt's passing shots, serving well, mixing up his groundstrokes and acquitting himself like a pro's pro. Blake is still a long way from, say, the top 20. But no question he's shown considerable game of late, starting in Newport, continuing through Cincinnati and then last week. Hats off, as we say.
As an aside, my wife (who notices these things) reported that of all the players, male or female, that she watched at the Open, Blake was only one who thanked the ballkids when they tossed him balls and fetched his towel. More points in his favor. Speaking of ...
My question is twofold: 1) Many players take three or four balls to choose the two with which they want to serve the next point. According to John McEnroe, the players are looking for balls with the "least amount of fuzz" so they can serve them harder. Can this really make a measurable difference in service velocity? It seems to me that since they start over with new balls every few games, the balls should never become that frayed.
2) I am moderately disconcerted by how these players discard the extra balls once they have decided not to use them. Instead of exerting a bare modicum of effort to get the balls at least headed in the direction of the ballkids, they just sort of dump the balls off in any direction. The ballkid then is forced to sprint off the wall, pick up the ball and sprint back. I understand that these are the best tennis players in the world and that their focus is entirely on winning the match. But is it a ridiculous notion that this bit of common courtesy should be employed by the players?
As for your first question, who knows whether it yields a real advantage or if it's merely superstition, but virtually every player will inspect the balls as if shopping for melons before serving. I, too, heard McEnroe say that players search for balls with the least amount of fuzz. But I also recall Pete Sampras once saying that he wants the freshest balls -- presumably those with the most felt -- before serving. Nothing gives him as much pleasure as serving for the match with new balls just put in play.
At the risk of sounding too namby-pamby -- like one of those anti-dodgeball parents -- I'm with you on the shabby treatment of ballkids. I also have noticed that certain players seem almost sadistic in their treatment of "the help." And it's not just dumping balls. I saw one popular player, who will remain nameless, demand a towel, spit a loogie in it and then toss it back at the ballkid. Yick.
It's true that the women get the media attention and the crowds, but name one active WTA player who inspires patriotic love and fervor in her countrymen the way Gustavo Kuerten, Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic (and, collectively, the Davis Cup teams) do. I don't know if it's a sexist thing. They may be amazing (Venus Williams), well-loved (Seles) or even their country's lone hope (Tamarine Tanasugarn), but the female players just don't inspire nationalistic pride.
It's an interesting observation. But I wonder if it isn't simply a matter of random circumstance and not a reflection on gender or the popularity of one tour over the other.
Martina Hingis, it seems, could play Fed Cup for half the world. Anna Kournikova hasn't lived in Russia since she was a pre-teen. It would take a panel of INS employees to determine Mary Pierce's nationality. Amelie Mauresmo is French but lives in Switzerland; Conchita Martinez has a pad in San Diego. I would say that only the Belgians -- Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters -- and lesser lights like Anne Kremer, Ai Sugiyama and Tanasugarn fit your "patriotic love" description. But if, say, Alicia Molik of Australia or Maria Emilia Salerni of Argentina started winning Grand Slams, à la Guga, Rafter and Hewitt, would they not engender a similar "patriotic love and fervor"? My guess would be yes.
What's up with Max Mirnyi? He is able to take good players to the brink, then he collapses. What do you think he needs to advance farther in tournaments? People like to watch him play because he seems so unusual and Bud Collins harps on him all the time. Do you see any potential for him in singles?
In addition to being among the last of the serve-and-volleyers, Mirnyi is also a First Team All-Nice Guy member. The guy can serve bombs, he volleys well and he moves with surprising grace for guy built like a linebacker. Mirnyi is vulnerable from the backcourt, but when I've watched him, I've noticed that for stretches of a match he will play out of his mind and look for all the world like a top-10 player. Then, for no reason, the clock will strike midnight and he'll metamorphose into a pumpkin and commit scads of unforced errors. If there's any way he can prolong his time in "the zone," he could be a top-20 player and not the 40something he is today.
Who has more game, Christophe or Olivier Rochus? After watching Christophe surge to a 5-2 lead against Pat Rafter in the second round of the Open, I was really impressed. That was some of the most exciting tennis I have ever seen. I take back my previous comment about Venus beating Olivier if he can play tennis like his brother did in that first set.
The week you speculated that Olivier would lose to Venus, he took Sampras to a third-set tiebreak at the Hamlet Cup. I think Christophe is probably the better player, if only because he has a few inches on his little bro. But they are eerily closely matched; at one point, they occupied successive positions in the rankings. Bottom line: The Rochus brothers aren't about to unseat the Williams sisters as the dominant sibling act in tennis. But how do you not root for two guys who can barely see over the net and are still in the top 100? By the way, a great name for a rock band or album: 11 Feet of Rochus.
I liked your piece on Nathalie Tauziat and I agree that she has been underrated, in part because she does not fit the classic definition of beauty. But I am confused. I thought she and Amelie Mauresmo weren't speaking because of what Tauziat wrote in her book. What's the scoop?
Tauziat, you're correct, incurred Mauresmo's wrath when she published her book The Underside of Tennis. The offending passage? Tauziat wrote that Mauresmo's ex, Sylvie Bourdon, would tear into Mauresmo in the locker room after losses, in full earshot of other players. After a year or so of not speaking to each other, Mauresmo and Tauziat made up earlier this year. They are, by no stretch, the best of friends. But Tauziat told me last week that there are no hard feelings between the two, and after Mauresmo beat Tauziat in the Round of 16, Tauziat encouraged her to win the tournament.
How come we don't see women umpiring men's matches? Men umpire women's matches.
A good question I cannot answer.
I've got a hypothetical for you: Suppose two tennis players injure themselves on the same play of a match in a tournament and both are hurt so badly that neither can continue playing. Who gets credited with the win? Who plays the next person in the draw? Furthermore, say this occurs in a final. What then?
From an ATP Tour supervisor: "I would think that if neither could continue in the event then it would be a walkover in the next round for the waiting opponent. Both injured players would receive points and money for the round in which they were injured. In the final, it would be either abandoned (no winner) or they might resume the match at a later date."
I know I'm probably not the only one writing in about the Davis Cup team, but I just can't get over how ridiculous Pat Mac is being. Choosing Todd Martin and Robby Ginepri is laughable. I can't get over the fact that he overlooked Taylor Dent or, for that matter, Mike Russell and Hugo Armando. All these guys are good players, and their rankings are better than Ginepri's. And Martin, I mean, he is on the verge of retirement and is one win over .500 this year! Is Patrick McEnroe really that stupid? Plus, why do I get this funny feeling Dent wasn't picked because his dad is Australian. You want to squash this theory while it's still alive?
As any Little League coach will tell you, picking a team is a no-win situation that always leaves one open to ridicule and second-guessing. Overall, I think Pat Mac did fine. Martin gets the Irving Thalberg Lifetime Achievement Award after years of loyal service. Besides, the team needs at least one veteran. For his match against Hewitt alone, Blake deserves to make the team. Jan-Michael Gambill is out with a shoulder injury that, as I understand it, is serious business. Russell has done very little since the French (and the tie will be played indoors) and Armando, despite having a great name, is a marginal talent. Ginepri, a mere teenager, has beaten Karim Alami and Harel Levy in the past month and will be a glorified practice partner whom Pat Mac can assess for future duty. Dent, you're right, was the glaring omission. You figure, particularly since McEnroe is stressing youth, any 20-year-old with a 145-mph serve ought to be in the mix. Maybe Dent's dual nationality has something to do with it. But maybe McEnroe simply caught him spraying balls and playing tactically vacant tennis in his second-round loss to Mariano Zabaleta.
FINALLY, it's the dessert you've been waiting for ...
You've done Guga and Sideshow Bob, right?
Nicolas Lapentti and Gabriela Sabatini. Nevermind siblings, this pair are identical twins.
Very likely Long Lost Siblings: Mariano Zabaleta and Erik Estrada!
How about Mikhail Youzhny and Matthew Perry from Friends?
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.