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The marrying type(s)

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Posted: Monday October 22, 2001 12:10 PM

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

A pair of Supertramp tickets to the first person who can name the last player to beat Lleyton Hewitt before Tommy Haas took him out in the Stuttgart semis last weekend. Answer: the vowel-laden Younes El Aynaoui in Indianapolis. ... Despite Haas' Masters Series win, the Stuttgart event had Montreal Expos-like attendance. Rumor has it the tournament will be held in Berlin next year. ... Anyone catch this headline: " [Thomas] Enqvist upsets [Andy] Roddick "? ... The ATP doubles championship in India was cancelled on account of safety concerns. ... Perry Rogers, Andre Agassi's longtime pal and manager, scored a monster coup last week when he signed on to represent Shaquille O'Neal's marketing endeavors. ... The search is over. Seems the WTA Tour will announce former Nike exec Kevin Wulff as its new president and CEO. ... From the Liberal Use of the Word Forced Dept.: The WTA announced over the weekend that Venus Williams was forced to withdraw from Linz because of "wrist irritation." We've said it before: If the Williams sisters want to play a reduced schedule, particularly in these dicey political times, all power to them. But this business of giving a commitment and then withdrawing on the eve of an event -- after sponsors, television rights holders and ticket buyers have ponied up serious coin -- does everyone involved a disservice. ... Speaking of withdrawals, Pete Sampras appears to have pulled the plug on a forgettable year. ... This week's contest: Read the tennis-related essay on page 70 of November's Talk magazine ( Rudy G. is on the cover). Then explain what in G-d's name the author, Christopher Buckley, was trying to say. Best answer gets a year subscription to Talk. (Runner-up gets a two-year subscription.)


Was Arthur Ashe the last great champion to graduate from college? Will he be the last ever? Is this good or bad?
—Christine Hill, Cinnaminson, N.J.

The fact of the matter is that a player who stays in school until he (let alone she) is 21 or 22 is at real disadvantage on the circuit. Even players like Lisa Raymond and James Blake, who toted backpacks around campus and/or played anchorman for a few years before turning pro, are considered late bloomers. In recent years, there have been a few solid players -- Debbie Graham, Paul Goldstein -- who have finished school before turning pro. But no great champions. The good news, so to speak, is that a lot of pros return to school to finish their degrees after their careers are over. Former top-10 player Barbara Potter, for instance, graduated from Yale after her playing days ended. A few years ago Lindsay Davenport told me that she has considered going to college after she retires. I know, too, that Blake intends to finish up at Harvard when he's through playing.

Hello! Only a few weeks until the Fed Cup final. Since I come from Belgium, I was wondering how you like the chances of my compatriots.
—Sofie, St-Niklaas, Belgium

Hello! Too bad they don't have Fed Cup per capita. Two top players from tiny Belgium is quite an accomplishment. On paper, a U.S. team of Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles is a veritable murderers' row. But that presupposes all will show up. If I'm not mistaken, only Seles has committed -- and I'll buy you a case of Stella Artois if both Williams sisters show.

Any thoughts on why Leander Paes hasn't had much success in singles? Watching him play in the Davis Cup the other weekend, it's obvious the guy has plenty of raw talent.
—San R., Baltimore

Paes, you're right, has a surfeit of talent and possesses one of the best pairs of hands in the game. Through the years, he's played some decent singles, testing Agassi at the U.S. Open in 1996 and beating Sampras in New Haven in 1998. Paes, however, has neither a spring-loaded serve nor the backcourt game to be a top-notch singles player. Also, simply because of scheduling, it's awfully tough to be a top-notch doubles player and also compete credibly in singles.

Who do you think will be the first to make it to No. 1 in the world, Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick? And which one of them will win more Grand Slams in his career? I think they are the future of tennis, and their duels will become classics like Borg-McEnroe or Sampras-Agassi.
—Carlos Acosta, Torreon, Mexico

Hewitt has an excellent chance becoming No. 1 by year's end. Long-term, Roddick has more power and more weapons, but he also might be more prone to injury. The future of tennis also includes Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Guillermo Coria, Tommy Robredo and Mikhail Youzhny among others. But no question Hewitt and Roddick could become rivals. If you were at their quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open, you would be well advised to keep your ticket stub.

Do you feel that since Martina Hingis' strength is her smart court play, eventually her ego will allow her to become a doubles specialist and give up the singles game?
—Debbie Resnick, Cheltenham, Pa.

In a sense, Hingis has already established herself as something of a "doubles specialist," having won more Slams playing alongside a partner (8) than when flying solo (5). Will she ever concentrate on her doubles at the expense of her singles? Never. Hingis has spent the better part of the past four years as the world's top-ranked player. Sure, her status has slipped, but she's still better than all but four or five players on the planet. Second, so many of her endorsement deals no doubt have rankings clauses; I suspect she would lose a bundle the day she fell out of the top 10.

The recent interest in Evonne Goolagong's legacy reminds me of something I've been wanting to say for a while. Martina Hingis is the 21st-century equivalent of Goolagong, a naturally gifted, graceful talent who will never quite live up to her potential. Like Goolagong in 1971, Hingis burst on to the scene, winning tourneys and Grand Slams, but was never quite able to sustain that early excellence. There's a question buried in here, I promise. Don't you think we'll see Hingis, five-to-10 years from now, still playing and competing for titles? Hingis, like Goolagong, has the type of low-stress game that can keep her body healthy for years. Goolagong's nine-year lapse between Wimbledon trophies is the longest I can remember by any player. Maybe Hingis can top it.
—Jason, Evansville, Ind.

I agree with your point about Hingis. I've said this before: Hingis may never recapture her top ranking, but on consistency and technique alone she will be in the top 10 for a good many years. Despite last week's mishap, she has remained remarkably healthy for the first five years of her career. Further, she has the right constitution for a long career. She isn't crazy about practicing -- her mother will be all too happy to confirm this -- but she enjoys the limelight, she relishes competition and she has a pretty good perspective on her place in the sport.

The "second tier" of Americans on the women's tour has softened noticeably. Chanda Rubin, Amy Frazier, Lilia Osterloh, Kristina Brandi and Lisa Raymond are showing little this year. The big exception is Meghann Shaughnessy, who gets my vote for most improved on the WTA Tour (Jennifer Capriati wins for world's longest comeback}. Any thoughts?
—John E., Sacramento, Calif.

The question is a bit circular. If the "second-tier" players get better, they cease being "second-tier" players. But I see your point. Some Yankettes like Frazier, Raymond and Rubin seem stuck in that 15-25 range in perpetuity. Others like Osterloh, Meilen Tu, the injury-addled Brandi and Brie Rippner failed to make that next step in 2001. Shaughnessy is good candidate for most improved. But Justine Henin (largely because of injuries) finished 2000 ranked No. 48 and is now a star.

Is Max Mirnyi the most feared unranked player out there? He's such a giant slayer.
—Joseph Goins, Chestertown, Md.

Yes and no. We've covered Max before, but the question is topical as he reached the Stuttgart finals, beating Sampras, Gustavo Kuerten and Yevgeny Kafelnikov along the way. Basically, he's capable of beating anyone and of playing exceptional tennis against the top guns, as Guga and Sampras can attest. But he seems incapable of sustaining his excellence and winning a tournament.

Wedding bells

Finally, last week's conundrum/contest -- "Which tennis players would you be most inclined to marry?" -- drew a downright frightening number of responses. So many, in fact, that I'm considering submitting this idea to Fox for a possible pilot. The hands-down winner on the ATP was -- gasp! -- Pat Rafter. You'll be heartened to know that among the WTA Tour starlettes, personality and kindness were accorded as much weight as beauty. Hence, not every candidate's name starts with a "K" and ends with an "-ournikova."

To hell with the sluggish economy. So many of these were hysterically funny, we have a bevy of winners who will receive gear not available in stores. A smattering of the printable responses ...

Here's my top-five list for marriage material. And if any of the players are reading ...

5. Lisa Raymond: Call it hometown pride, but she could be as good a doubles partner in life as she is on the court.

4. Monica Seles: Easily the most gracious woman on the courts today.

3. Jennifer Capriati: That smile! Also, doesn't every guy have a crush on the homecoming queen?

2. Amanda Coetzer: Probably the only active WTA player who could wear heels with her wedding dress and not tower over a man of average height.

1. Steffi Graf: With my athleticism, my kids would need all of hers in the mix just to be able to open a can of tennis balls.
—Paul Gerard, Philadelphia

Top five most marryable ATP players ...

1. Pat Rafter: For reasons too obvious to mention.

2. Goran Ivanisevic: Insanity is never boring.

3. Tim Henman: For some fine, old, English gallantry!

4. James Blake: For proving himself an all-around class act, plus having hair that would always make mine look tidy.

5. Olivier Rochus: Because I think I might be able to beat him up.
—Diana Fawcett, Cincinnati

(NB: Beat-upability, that trait all women find so appealing in a husband.)

Since this is completely hypothetical and since my wife doesn't read your column, I will give it a go.

1. Lindsey Davenport: Great smile.
2. Martina Hingis: Great legs.
3. Amanda Coetzer: Great eyes.
4. Anna Kournikova: Duh!!
5. Chris Evert: I know she's married and doesn't play any more, but some dreams are hard to get rid of.

—Eric Prawde, Olney, Md.

(NB: I commend your wife on her discriminating tastes. You, on the other hand ...)

ATP players I would be most inclined to marry:

1. Arthur Ashe (were he still alive): Such a class act. Left such a positive mark on the sport of tennis, and lived and died with dignity.

2. Patrick Rafter (only if he grew back his hair): Not only is he a complete hottie and a great tennis player, but he is a genuine good guy.

3. Andre Agassi (without the hair): Complete package -- looks, sense of humor and every single Grand Slam trophy. What more could you ask for?

4. Todd Martin: He has a brain. Solid tennis player, but more important a solid individual.

5. Pete Sampras: Has become more passionate about tennis since hooking up with the blonde thingy. Not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that he beat three former U.S. Open champions to make it to the final, pumping his fist the entire way.
—Natasha Wood, Ottawa, Ontario

If we were talking about dating a player, my answer definitely would be Martina Hingis. She is so hot, I could fry bacon on her! But since the question is about marriage, my answer would have to change. I think Aranxta Sánchez-Vicario would probably be my choice, based on looks, personality and the way in which she seems to carry herself with greater dignity and class than some of the other players. Of course, my first choice by a mile, were she a little younger, would be Chris Evert.
—Larry Sidney, Bridgeport, Conn.

Which ATP Tour players would I be most inclined to marry? That's an easy one for us gals. If I were to search for a husband who is easy-going yet hardworking, well-mannered and polite yet intense on the court, successful but modest, friendly and charitable yet discerning, mature but still young, I'd have to pick Pat Rafter. The good looks would be a bonus. If I were to search for a husband who had tons of sex appeal, looked good on and off the court, had a wonderful build (basically someone who is "eye candy"), I'd have to pick Pat Rafter. The great personality would be a bonus. Add on top of that a house in Bermuda.
—Rima Z., Arlington, Va.

Top five to marry from the WTA:

1. Jennifer Capriati: Stars of almost any sport tend to be arrogant and self-absorbed. Usually, everything has revolved around them since they were young and things tended to come so easily to them. Jennifer certainly was the poster child for that ... literally. But she has managed to make it through to the other side, something few people do (read any recent John McEnroe interview). I get a sense of maturity and appreciation of life from her that few other stars have. It doesn't hurt that she's tall, strong, dark-haired and rather gorgeous.

2. Amelie Mauresmo: Hey, this is hypothetical, right? Again, someone who has had a variety of experiences tends to be more mature and have a wiser view of the world and themselves. It doesn't hurt that she's French; imagine the honeymoon -- we can go to anywhere from Vietnam to Martinique. Plus, she's tall, strong, dark-haired and pretty easy on the eyes. (This whole maturity argument is going to be undercut if everyone on my list looks roughly the same, isn't it?)

3. Martina Navratilova: Ha! Didn't see that one coming. Again, this is all hypothetical. Another player who has seen it all, been at the top and now seems to appreciate the pure joy of playing. The few times I've seen her play lately she has been very funny. She just seems to be at peace with the world. How great would that trait be in a life partner?

4. Serena Williams: Back to the tall, strong, dark-haired and amazingly attractive ilk [sigh]. And this is a tough one, because obviously the wedding would be a freakshow. Papa Richard would arrive for the rehearsal, then take a plane back home during the ceremony, and there is always a chance that Serena might hurt herself walking down the aisle and have to withdraw from the match. But I've always sensed something in her that I don't see in Venus, more of a sense of comfort with herself, more confidence, more humor. Yes, a little arrogance, too, and she's still pretty immature at time s... but doggone it, I just see something in her that appeals to me and, well, it's hard for me to get past her shoulder muscles. Imagine the backrubs. So, ya know, it'd all work out in the end.

5. Lindsey Davenport: I've always found her attractive; not many may agree, but there is something "attracting" about her. Call it warmth or lack of pretense. You know she's not going to play any games with you; what you see is what you get. And in the world of celebrities, that's pretty damn rare.

I know that any short-sighted individual who puts Anna Kournikova or Martina Hingis on his list will be reminded just what a living hell it would be to actually marry either one.
—Jason Zeaman, San Francisco

I had to break this down because most guys (sorry, Jon) don't seem to be strong in all three areas.

Looks/sex appeal: Guga!

Sense of humor: Goran. (I don't think I'd date him, though.)

Old fashioned sense of decency: The word "decent" has Todd Martin's picture next to it in the dictionary.

Someone who is more well-rounded in all three: I'm partial to Patrick Rafter.
—Renae Miller, Lititz, Pa.

Andre Agassi.
Andre Agassi.
Andre Agassi.
Andre Agassi.
Andre Agassi.

—Marline Thompson, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I gladly and proudly choose good ol' Guga. Who can beat that radiant smile, happy-go-lucky sunny disposition and great looks? Not to mention those blessed curls ... [sigh].
—Kaye, New Jersey

Meghann Shaughnessy: She's hot and she's got sportswriter blood in her family.
—Urs, Boston

(NB: Meghann Shaughnessy is a perfectly acceptable choice. But "sportswriter blood" is an affliction, not a blessing.)

I believe Lindsay Davenport has to be the current catch for those seeking a mate from the ranks of the WTA Tour. She may not have the cache of the blonde Eastern Europeans, but they're going to be Teutonic, fat-lady-singing forms in a few decades, while Lindsay will always be a beauty.
—Steve Austin, Hopkinsville, Ky.

1. Lindsay Davenport: An all-around Cali girl and sweetheart with whom I can't imagine ever having a bad time.

2. Carling Bassett-Seguso: Because I saw her in person once playing mixed doubles with husband Robert (she's better than Anna Kournikova).

3. Chris Evert: For the sheer challenge of winning an argument versus that silent, stunning glare.

4. Alexandra Stevenson: To know the true meaning of "mother-in-law."

5. Marcelo Rios: For the true scandal of the civil union that would rock tennis. And I'm taller than him.

Honorable mention to Natasha Zvereva for the ability to change her name (Natalia) after being double bageled and have most people forget about it. Teach me to do that with some of my past errors.
—Brian, Providence, R.I.

(NB: No problem, Bobby.)

In response to the top five WTA athletes I would most like to marry:

1. Jennifer Capriati.
2. Jennifer Capriati.
3. Jennifer Capriati.
4. Jennifer Capriati.
5. Jennifer Capriati.

I just started getting into tennis in middle school, about the same time she started, so I have followed her career closely. She is a very strong and very impressive woman. Her story (not to mention her smile) have completely won me over as a fan.
—Rob Dollinger, Bozeman, Mont.

Sandrine Testud. From what I've read, she has her head on straight and treats people fairly well. On top of that, I find her quite attractive, in a very Continental way -- I mean, she doesn't look American, doesn't look Central European, she looks French. Which is OK by me. Of course, she does seem to be happily married. As am I. But this is all just hypothetical, right?
—Bill Theriault, Portland, Maine

For looks, sex appeal, personality and basic human decency, my five, in no particular order:

Dominik Hrbaty: He's just so damn cute! And very talented. And gives good interviews. And he's one of those players whose results are not a true reflection of their talent.

Andrei Pavel: Surprisingly good-looking. And with a sweet backhand. And he's the best Romanian player out there!

Juan Carlos Ferrero: A bit on the scrawny ... I mean, skinny ... I mean, slender side, but still gorgeous.

Alex Corretja: Being a gentleman on the court is sexy. Really.

Sjeng Schalken: I don't know why. But he's sort of sexy in that grim, protruding-skull, Stephen Lang-assassin sort of way. No, I don't know what I mean, either.
—Jennifer, Cincinnati

Guga. No contest. Let's begin with the physical: He's tall, athletic and handsome with a splendid and contagious smile. He has great hair.

Personality: He always appears to be happy and enjoying himself on and off the court by playing soccer, surfing and singing Hakuna Matata from The Lion King. He's popular with other players and is always gracious in defeat. He is charming and possesses a great self-deprecating humor. These are all required ingredients for marital success. Further, he rarely gravitates towards the spotlight and he lacks hubris. Humility is another necessary quality for long marital success.

Family: It is obvious he is entirely devoted to his family, and it represents the most important element in his life. Although, in the long run, his close relationship with his mother may lead to some unresolved Oedipal issues.

Loyalty: He is one of the few, if not the only, top-10 players who still lives in his hometown and refuses to leave Brazil and move to a wealthier country or buy property in a tax-free haven. He is the anti-hedonist and rarely flaunts his wealth. Most important, he gives back tenfold to Brazilians in the form of charitable organizations that bear his name.

Education: He speaks at least three languages.

Second choice: Goran Ivanisevic. All three of him: Good Goran, Bad Goran, 9-1-1 Goran. Life would never be boring.
—Marcela, Denver

Lord help me, but I can't get enough of Jennifer Capriati. She actually looks like she could have fun playing ping-pong with a Coke bottle or taking on any other challenge that comes her way. And her smile lights up a room (and melts my heart). The only downside seems to be the temper tantrums, so you gotta know when to get the hell outta Dodge and wait for the concussion to die down. That, and deal with the in-laws and their Addams family act. Not too much to ask, if love really does conquer all.
—Vinstigator, Glen, N.H.

I'd definitely go with the recently retired Mary Joe Fernandez. She's totally beautiful, smart and, according to legend, one of the nicest players in recent memory, all of which really comes across when she's broadcasting. Yes, I know she's already married with a baby on the way, but, hey, can't a man dream?
—Jorge Caussade, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here's my opinion on the top five WTA pros worth marrying:

1. Gabriela Sabatini: Gaby wins hands down, with her combo of exotic beauty and down-to-earth personality. She was humble and gracious, even in defeat. Anna K., take note, please.

2. Carling Bassett: The most beautiful player ever to play women's tennis (sorry, Anna, you're a distant second).

3. Mary Joe Fernandez: Could you find a nicer player than Mary Joe?

4. Chris Evert: She was America's tennis sweetheart. She had grace, poise and brains, too, (um, Anna lacks all three traits).

5. Steffi Graf: The most perfect, athletic body ever for a female athlete, any sport.
—Anthony, Washington, D.C.

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.

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