Don't blame U.S. for withdrawing from Fed Cup
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Get the feeling the WTA Tour finally has had it with Venus and Serena Williams' propensity for injuries? When Venus pulled out of Munich on Friday with "wrist irritation," outgoing Tour CEO Bart McGuire had stern words: "Especially in view of Venus' repeated confirmations of intent to play in the Sanex Championships, this is very disappointing news for the tour, our title sponsor Sanex, the event's organizers, the Olympiahalle and the people of Munich." He added: "We will need to verify the extent of Venus' injury as it pertains to her ability to meet her commitment to the Sanex Championships. The tour's rules provide for such verification. In addition to losing her bonus-pool funds, Venus could be subject to sanctions under the tour's Code of Conduct if the injury cannot be verified." ... Memo to incoming CEO Kevin Wulff: Lace up your track shoes and run while there's still time. ... Sjeng Schalken may have won the Stockholm Open, but keep an eye on losing finalist Jarkko Nieminen, a 20-year-old Finnish prospect who recalls a young Santtu Seppala. ... Michael Stich was named captain of the German Davis Cup team. ... Still smarting from losing Andy Roddick to Reebok, Nike is said to have lavished American prospect Brendan Evans with a seven-figure endorsement deal. ... From the rumor mill: Nathalie Tauziat is retiring from singles after this week but may show up from time to time in doubles draws. ... In Linz, Iva Majoli was down 5-7, 1-4 to Austrian wild card Evelyn Fauth. Majoli won the match 5-7, 6-4, 6-0. ... Vince Spadea beat James Blake in a challenger match over the weekend in Houston.
I'm entirely outraged that the U.S. team would withdraw from the Fed Cup. Don't you think it's totally unacceptable during a time when everyone, from the President on down, is stressing the importance of resuming our normal lives -- particularly with regard to travel? Elite athletes are role models and they need to set an example.
A whole mess of you wrote in about the Americans' abrupt withdrawal from the Fed Cup. A conspiracy theory floated to me last week by an agent goes like this: With Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and the Williams sisters as no-shows, the USTA didn't want to risk embarrassment (and shell out $100,000 per player) for a B team of Monica Seles and perhaps Meghann Shaughnessy, Lisa Raymond or Lilia Osterloh.
But I'm not sure this is the time for skepticism. Competing in a team format, with an American-flag jacket draped around your back, is much different than competing as an individual. For much the same reason, a number of American teams in other sports (e.g., the Ryder Cup team) have pulled out of international competition since Sept. 11. If indeed the security wasn't up to snuff, it's hard to fault the Americans for withdrawing. You just wish it had happened the week before the event.
If you could humor me by playing Nostradamus of the 'Net and consult the cards for a minute: Can you see a male tennis player ever coming out of the closet? Now that would take some new balls.
Agreed. You raise an interesting question, but I think the answer depends largely on the player. Hypothetically, if a veteran were to come out, he would be received differently than a newcomer. If a top player were to come out, he would be received differently than a journeyman. I think the player's nationality would also be a factor. Maybe this is exceedingly optimistic, but I don't think there would be hugely negative consequences, at least not long term. Sure, a few cavemen might make some untoward remarks in the locker room. But tennis is an individual sport and the gay player wouldn't be dependent on tolerant teammates to pass him the ball or drop him the puck.
Likewise, I think the player would do well in the court of public opinion. Again, there might be the odd dunderheaded heckler. But there are infinitely more fans who would respect his decision, particularly given the lack of precedent. Also, if the Mailbag is any indication, there are countless gay tennis fans who, I'm assuming, would be all too happy to rally behind a gay player.
At some level, comparing the men's and women's game is a red herring. But the hypothetical player considering emerging from the closet ought to draw some inspiration from Amelie Mauresmo. Still a teenager, still in the incipient stages of her career, Mauresmo came out at the 1999 Australian Open. While her decision, coupled with her reaching the finals and Martina Hingis' infamous "half a man" remark, made her a brief cause célèbre, shortly thereafter her sexuality became a non-issue. Mauresmo lost no endorsement contracts; she was hardly ostracized; if anything, she became more popular and respected among players and fans for having such guts. The difference, of course, is that women's tennis already had a rich legacy of gay players. But the acceptance that greeted her announcement should be a source of some encouragement.
Because Martina HIngis has not won a Grand Slam singles title since the 1999 Australia Open, many in the media have described her as being in a "major slump," despite consistent semifinal and final appearances at nearly every tournaments. For Serena Williams, it's now been two years since her last Slam, but after her run to the U.S. Open final (which followed two years of erratic play), she was proclaimed by many as "clearly one of the best in the game." Please explain these contradictory comments to me. Maybe Hingis is right and there is an American media bias in the sport?
Fair question, but I think the dichotomy is a false one. (Please note that I learned that phrase freshman year of college and have been waiting more than a decade to use it.) Hingis won five Slams in two years and came within a match of winning the Grand Slam in 1997. So when she goes on a protracted 0-fer streak, it's a lot more striking than when Serena Williams, winner of only one Slam, does. Hingis' streak was also magnified by the fact that she was often the top seed, by dint of her ranking, and failed to live up to it. With Serena, she was often seeded in the 8-12 range, so when she lost in the quarterfinals (as she did three times this year) it wasn't particularly noteworthy.
But I think you're inflating perceptions of Serena. While few would argue that she's a prodigiously talented player, there is a raft of followers (self included, to some extent) who feel as though put-up-or-shut-up time is drawing nigh. After winning the 1999 U.S. Open it took her two years to return to a Slam final. Her schedule has been sparse and her propensity for questionable injuries and 11th-hour withdrawals has eroded her credibility.
Lindsay Davenport seems to be playing great against everyone except the Williams sisters. Do you think she is still a threat to win a Grand Slam? She always seems to go the distance with Venus or Serena and then melt down in the third. Do you think it is a mental block she has against them, or does she need to get more physically fit? Also, I heard Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez used to be best friends years ago. However, something happened. Have they gotten past that and gone back to being friends? Also, what is your assessment of Laura Granville, Marissa Irvin and Lilia Osterloh?
That's an awful lot of questions for November. Quickly, the Williams sisters have taken up residence in Davenport's head. As she proved last week against Capriati, she can still bang and hang with anyone. But, lately, she seems to have developed a mental block against Venus and Serena. A few years ago, Davenport and Fernandez had a "misunderstanding" about their doubles partnership. They've since patched things up, a good thing since Fernandez's husband, Tony Godsick, is Davenport's agent. As for your three Cardinal alums: Osterloh will never be a top-10 player, but she is a fierce competitor who grinds out matches and knows how to win ugly. Irvin is undersized, lacks a real weapon and is a dangerous floater at best. The jury is still out on Granville. (We're still Granville Waiters, in other words.) Her college record was redoubtable, but I saw her get absolutely smoked by Hingis at the U.S. Open.
I recently have begun taking lessons at our local club from former top-15 player Helen Kelesi (who, incidentally, has battled back magnificently from major health problems). I was amazed during our first session how much insightful and useful information she was able to impart to me based on just a few minutes of drills and hitting balls, information that immediately improved my game. My questions: Of the current crop of top players, which ones are the most analytical about the game and which do you think would be the best teachers? Which would be the worst? Are the truly great players so naturally gifted that they find it difficult to teach mere mortals?
My theory is that at some level, ignorance is bliss in tennis. The players who don't have conflicting thoughts in their heads, the ones who simply play on instinct ( Pete Sampras and Capriati are two names that come immediately to mind) have a big advantage over players like Todd Martin, who recognize that each ball presents a battery of options. Some top players have all sorts of technical insights; I would love, for instance, to take a lesson with Andre Agassi. But I would think that players ranked outside the top 20 would make the better teaching pros.
Also, tell Helen K. we say hi here at the 'Bag. She used to send in questions regularly, but we haven't heard from her in a few months.
Speaking of playing anchorman, what five men/women in the tennis world would you most likely see playing anchorman or some other "festive liquid" game while on tour?
Discretion being the better part of valor, I think I better open up this one to you guys. (Say this: Neither Marcelo Rios nor Nicolas Kiefer would make my list.) On the heels of the top-five marriage lists, I have high hopes. Fire away.
Both Gustavo Kuerten and Juan Carlos Ferrero started out the year fantastically, but over these last three weeks they've just crashed and burned. What happened? I know they're best on clay courts, but they aren't too shabby on other surfaces, either. Do you think they can get it together before Paris and Sydney? I hope so. I love watching these guys when they play well.
Who knows what's up with Guga. On those rare occasions when I've been a smidge critical of his game, I've been roasted by his legion of fans. But let's be honest here: He hasn't won a match since the Open and his losses have been pretty brutal. The low point: At a tournament in Salvador, Brazil -- an event that exists solely to capitalize on Guga's popularity -- the headliner lost his first match to someone named Flavio (Flav) Saretta, who presumably wasn't encumbered by the large clock dangling from his neck. Ferrero, as you note, has been no great shakes himself, though he's won a few decent matches indoors.
The good news is that both have a chance to get off the schneid this week in Paris and at the Masters Cup in Sydney. The bad news is that tennis suffers when two of its top players lose week in, week out.
I really like Guillermo Coria's game. I'm glad you put him on the list of tennis' future. With his talent, how far do you think he will go? Do you think he's ready for some big wins next year?
Definitely. It may take him a few years to improve on surfaces other than clay, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's a future top-10 player.
You're in the loop, Mr. Wertheim, so do you know how Jennifer Capriati gets her teeth so white?
I can only assume with a daily ritual of flossing and brushing after meals.
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.