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Posted: Monday September 24, 2001 1:05 PM
 

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

Now where were we?

First, thanks to the many of you who wrote in supporting the week off. ... The USTA will give $1 million to the disaster relief effort. So we'll forgive them those $15.75 lobster rolls after all. ... The ATP and WTA are donating tons of memorabilia for the same purpose. Check out the ATP's page and the WTA's page on eBay.

A few questions came up repeatedly:

1) How on earth could the WTA not have canceled the Big Island Open in Hawaii?

Yes, it was somewhat embarrassing that women's tennis was the only professional sport to hold an event on American soil in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks. If it were up to me, I would have packed up the tents. But it's hard to condemn the tour or the promoter for deciding that the show must go on. The players (the vast majority non-American, for whatever that's worth) were already on site, stranded, in effect. Matches were cancelled Tuesday and there was a protracted ceremony later in the week.

2) A few of you roasted me for writing in Sports Illustrated that John McEnroe is entirely too large a presence in tennis these days. On balance, I'll take Mac in the booth over anyone not named Mary Carillo. But enough is enough. The guy is so overexposed he practically glows in the dark.

3) Lots of you absolutely panned my esteemed colleague Frank Deford for his choice of the most overrated and underrated tennis players in SI's special package a few weeks back. (Then again, unlike a certain someone else, at least Deford wasn't nominated as "Loser of the Week" on WIP for having the audacity to suggest that Philadelphia was an overrated sports town.) Deford, you'll recall, tapped Steffi Graf as overrated and Jack Kramer as underrated.

Asked about Graf's dubious distinction, Andre Agassi said: "I guess it would be hard for me to say anything that would sound too objective. Well, I'll tell you, the reason why I will speak to that is because I actually answered that and addressed that before I had the privilege of spending my life with her. You know, there are four surfaces. To dominate on each one, I think, puts one in a position to argue [being] the greatest of all time. She did that. ... I think those things speak for themselves."

My choices? Overrated: Gabriela Sabatini. Yes, she had the misfortune of being a Graf contemporary, but she was entirely too talented to have won just one Slam. All but genetically incapable of "hitting out" and letting her shoulder generate more power, she topspun her way to complacency. Playing on her favorite surface, clay, she never even reached the French Open final. And -- get this -- 15 times in Slams she was a semifinal loser. Still, she is considered by many to be on the short list of champions.

Underrated: Mats Wilander. We've discussed this before, but Mad Mats won seven career Slams (more than Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg and as many as McEnroe) and nearly took all four in 1988. Yet his name rarely enters conversations about legends.

Onward ...

Mariano Zabaleta was one of the original New Balls and is a former junior world No. 1. Now that he has reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, do you think he will finally fulfill his potential as a top-10 player?
—Martin Irvine, New York

After floundering for much of the year with a wrist injury, Zabaleta is back. In reaching the U.S. Open quarters, he showed how dangerous he can be, beating a variety of top-tier players like Sebastien Grosjean, Greg Rusedski and the hyper-talented Xavier Malisse. Top 10 might be pushing it a smidge, but I like Zabaleta. Provided he's healthy, he's well worth watching next year.

Do you see any parallel between Venus Williams and Steffi Graf? Not only in the way they play -- both are amazing athletes -- but also in the way they used their power and speed to dominate the tour. Can Venus pick up where Steffi left off?
—Liam Jordan, Belfast, Ireland

Interesting comparison. You're right: Venus has the most dangerous combination of power and speed since Graf. And a better backhand to boot. We've seen over the past three months that Venus is head and (muscular) shoulders above the rest of the field right now. She has the capacity to dominate in the manner of Graf -- against a deeper field, no less. But first she must:

a) cut down on her unforced errors;

b) improve her play on clay and her French Open results;

c) maintain her interest in the sport and play with more frequency.

Lleyton Hewitt got pretty lucky in the U.S. Open, didn't he? Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Pete Sampras both played like crap. Of course, Hewitt deserves a lot of credit for his amazing return of serve and speed around the court, but Sampy is almost unbeatable when he's playing his best. Do you think Hewitt is a perfect combination of the best of Michael Chang and Andre Agassi? We could call him Chagassi or, even better, Agang?
—Jeff Parrott, Norwich, Vt.

Sampy? Wasn't that the name of Bart Simpson's elephant? Chagassi is pretty close: Hewitt has the foot speed and movement of Chang with the return and heavy groundstrokes of Agassi. But even his legions of detractors will admit that Hewitt also has a will to win, an indomitable competitive drive that's superior to any player on tour. Did he get lucky? Sure. (You left out that he was the beneficiary of a bogus line call against Andy Roddick at 5-4 in the fifth set.) But so what? The guy won and, two weeks later he led Australia into the Davis Cup final. Props are in order, grudgingly or not.

Several weeks ago I finally had a letter published here, and it's me saying that Lleyton Hewitt will never win a major. I want everyone to know that a foot tastes best with salt and a little bit of A-1 sauce. Anyway, just because Hewitt is U.S. Open champion doesn't mean I have to like him. Wouldn't you agree?
—Rob Y., Collegedale, Tenn.

I would have thought you'd have tried it with Tennessee hickory barbecue sauce. You're a good man for owning up, though. And, no, you don't have to like Hewitt.

What will it take for Serena Williams to beat Venus? When do you think it will happen? Every loss Serena suffers against her older sister can only further be killing her confidence. Also, could you PLEASE, PLEASE ask Todd Martin -- for the sake of all that is pure and holy and good in this world -- to dye his hair?
—Ani Bhat, Dayton, Ohio

It's all mental with Serena. If she can convince herself that the player on the other side of the net is an opponent and not a big sibling -- no easy task, I realize -- she's good enough to beat Venus at least, say, three or four times out of 10. I don't, however, think these matches puncture her confidence. Unlike her losses to Jennifer Capriati, these defeats are more flukey than deflating.

Second, I will ask Martin to do nothing of the sort. As a premature grayer myself, you gotta go with dignity. Nothing looks worse than the shoe-polish-men's-hair-dye look.

I would like to see Pete Sampras tutor Andy Roddick and other young, rising American stars on the value of the serve-and-volley game. Do you think this would ever happen? After all, how scary will the Americans be if they learn to be as multi-dimensional as Pete (but in better shape)?

—Jorin N. Efstathiou, Dana Point, Calif.

With all due respect, Sampras will tutor Roddick around the same time people start pronouncing your name correctly on the first try. Sans title since Wimbledon of 2000, Sampras has his own issues to contend with now. Even in the best of times, he has never seen himself as a mentor to young players. I sort of agree with your premise, though. Roddick's bread-and-butter shot is that forehand, so I'm not sure it does him much good to serve-and-volley full bore. But if he added that other dimension and had an s/v game in his pocket at Wimbledon, he would be that much more dangerous.

What do you think are Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario's chances of getting into the International Tennis Hall of Fame? How do you feel about this year's selections? I think Pam Shriver is a very good choice
—Scott, New Jersey

The Ranch is pretty much a lock, as well she should be. A quartet of Slams, a decade in the top 10, 13 years of reaching at least the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, and her role as fashion pioneer -- introducing the hip-higging metallic ball holder -- are more than sufficient credentials for enshrinement.

Shriver gets my vote, too. The obvious point against her is the lack of a Grand Slam singles title. But her success as a doubles player, as well her role as a spokeswoman and political leader and her overall contributions to the sport more than compensate. Wilander is a no-brainer. See above. No one else on the ballot caught my eye, to be honest.

I wanted to respond to the comments on tennis-ball fuzz. Having played at the college level, I can tell you that the amount of fuzz does affect ball speed. While it's true that balls are changed every seven games, they can become slower and softer with play. It is similar to a baseball that is rubbed up by a pitcher; rubbed-up balls break better. Same in tennis. New balls have the fuzz compressed and therefore travel faster; as they are broken in, the fuzz stands up and slows down the speed of the ball.
—Jim Yarnall, Riverside, Calif.

Thanks.

I really think it is pathetic to see all the bad line calls in every match. Why don't they invent something that monitors whether the ball goes out or not, like with the let calls on serves? It would make tennis more fair and keep the game flowing better because the umpire is human and also makes mistakes.
—Christian Kallberg, São Paulo, Brazil

I once suggested this to a high-ranking ATP official and was nearly laughed out of the room: Let the players call their own lines. Hire a roving judge to call foot faults, employ a Cyclops for serves and have an umpire on hand in case the players are on the verge of coming to blows. But otherwise, in the spirit of the sport's noble past, let the players decide what's in and out. My buddy at the tour responded that the players are too busy concentrating on the ball to call lines. If that's so, how come players state their objections with so much certitude when calls don't go their way?

If players called their own lines -- as they do with success in college, I should add -- it would lend a whole new dimension to the matches. It would foster rivalries and birth reputations. Which players are cheaters? Which call a generous line? Would Hewitt have had the stones to make that call against Roddick at 4-5 in the fifth? If there are no objections during a match, fans will remark how honorable players X and Y are. If there are hooks and counterhooks, it will make for great theater. Either way, tennis wins.

You recently commented on the smartest players in tennis, and I wanted to put in a word for the dumbest. I saw Christophe Rochus lose to Dominik Hrbaty in the third round of the Australian Open. Ever since he served his 15th foot fault, I have regarded Rochus as the dumbest player on tour. Have you ever seen a stupider performance than this?
—Aidan Whittle, Canberra, Australia

If you came here to bash the Rochus brothers, you're at the wrong address. Dem's fightin' words in these parts.

Seriously, I'm not sure that excessive foot-faulting is a mark of stupidity. I'm more concerned about players who have no idea how to change tactics mid-match or take advantage of an opponent's weakness.

Two questions. One, given all the highlights during the 2001 season -- Jennifer Capriati's resurgence, the arrival of the two Belgian girls, Monica Seles in better shape, the further decline of Martina Hingis (and what appears to be the start of Lindsay Davenport's), Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs winning two major titles, the disappearance of Anna Kournikova, Venus Williams once again proving she's the best player in the world, Venus' historic match with Serena -- do you think maybe you chose the wrong season for your book? And two, what are your five favorite tennis-related commercials?
—Bobby Smith, San Francisco

I would rather have written about 1999 than 2001. Australia featured l'Affaire "Half a Man"; the Williams sisters remained very much works in progress; the Williams sisters played in the Lipton final; Graf beat a petulant Hingis to win the French and then retired two months later; winsome Davenport took Wimbledon; Anna-mania raged fiercely; Jana Novotna -- whose almost cruel combination of athleticism and mental frailty still fascinates me -- retired; Serena Williams beat Big Sis to the punch and won the U.S. Open. Oh, those were the days, my friend.

1) Yvonne Goolagong's "Mummy beat Daddy" spot for Geritol.

2) A bard-stiff (and likely bored-stiff) Ivan Lendl exhorting us to "Veel Better Vith Ben Gay" ... strictly for the irony.

3) Agassi's "Image is Everything" spots.

4) The Sanex ad featuring Hingis showering (I've only seen it overseas).

5) Capriati's Oil of Olay ad ... strictly for the irony.

Best quote (from Boston's Digital Industry newsletter) about Anna Kournikova's new Web site: "Apparently, the section listing Anna's tournament victories is still under construction because I could not find it."
—Randy Parker, Boston

Nice. I recently came across this line about Jelena Dokic from superb British columnist Simon Barnes: "She and her Pa stormed out of a continent, leaving Australia because the country wasn't arranged quite to their liking."

I am a long-time reader. I see you're from Indiana. This isn't a tennis question, but I've always wondered: What is a Hoosier?
—John Monroe, Baltimore

The origins of the word "Hoosier" is one of life's great mysteries. Right up there with: Why does adding the suffix "-pants" to any adjective automatically make it funny? And why do we sterilize needles before administering lethal injections? Anyway, I was always told that the Indiana insult du jour in the mid-19th century was "Who's Yer Pa?" Hence the name.

FINALLY, the unfailingly popular Long Lost Siblings section ...

Sandrine Testud and The Incredible Mr. Limpet. (I mean no disrespect to Ms. Testud, but this is too good to pass up.)
—R. Capote, Sacramento, Calif.

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Sandrine Testud
Testud
The Incredible Mr. Limpet
Mr. Limpet

Comedienne Caroline Rhea and Lindsay Davenport. It's downright spooky ...
—David Thorpe, New York

I don't see it, but so many of you have suggested this, I'll defer to you.

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Lindsay Davenport
Davenport
Caroline Rhea
Rhea

For the body-double pile: Kournikova and Portia de Rossi; Albert Costa and Saturday Night Live's Chris Parnell.
—Rachel, Bellingham, Wash.

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Anna Kournikova
Kournikova
Portia de Rossi
de Rossi

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Albert Costa
Costa
Chris Parnell
Parnell

How about Jennifer Capriati and Neve Campbell?
—François, Paris

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Jennifer Capriati
Capriati
Neve Campbell
Campbell

It's really uncanny: Andy Roddick and Ethan Hawke.
—Robert Aguirre, Cambridge, Mass.

LONG LOST SIBLINGS?
Andy Roddick
Roddick
Ethan Hawke
Hawke

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.

 
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