Warming up the crystal ballPosted: Monday November 26, 2001 11:30 AM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
After a long holiday weekend, let's go straight to the questions ...
While I like your Mailbag very much, you tend to avoid making predictions like the plague. Here is my prediction for next year: Unfortunately, my favorite tennis player (and piece of eye candy), Amanda Coetzer, will fall out of the top 30 by year's end. She will retire unspectacularly at the end of 2002. OK, that one was probably pretty easy; I'll give you a tough one. How will Andre Agassi (now a father) fare next year? A Steffi Graf-like mid-year exit? Call it quits before the Aussie Open starts in January? Finish in the top five? Lay it on the line, Jon!
Tune in next week, when we'll make some bold predictions for 2002 and see how I fared with my predictions for 2001. (How about that Magnus Norman ?) Anyway, among her endorsements, her doubles proficiency, her popularity in South Africa and her appeal in the exhibition market, Coetzer can still make some good cake despite her faltering results. Unquestionably she's at the tail end of her career, but she may stick around longer than a year.
Agassi has made a career out of making tennis prognosticators look like Henry Blodget. Just when you're ready to write off AA as a has-been, he blazes through a Grand Slam draw like General Sherman through the South. Just when you're about to anoint him as a Grand Slam contender, he loses to the likes of Nicolas Thomann and gets jittery when Bill Clinton watches him. On talent alone, he has the ability to be top five for sure. The obvious question: Will fatherhood and husbandry, so to speak, blunt his drive and prove a distraction? Or will they give him extra incentive?
What are your thoughts on young Argentine players like Guillermo Canas, Guillermo Coria, Juan Ignacio Chela, Jose Acasuso and David Nalbandian on the men's side, and Maria Emilia Salerni and Paola Suarez among the women? Ever since Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabatini retired, almost every talented teenager who showed up on a tennis court was saluted as the next top-ranked star. Most of them didn't even make it anywhere near No. 1 (i.e. Javier Frana, Guillermo Perez-Roldan, Mariano Zabaleta).
I've had just about enough Javier Frana.
I realize that I'm perpetuating a stereotype here, but the problem -- if that's what you want to call it -- with Argentine players is that their results tend to fall off on surfaces other than clay. I know that Canas, the best of the lot, beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov at Wimbledon and Marat Safin in Cincinnati. But overall, the faster the surface, the worse the results. Of the players you mention, I like Canas and Coria the best. I like Zabaleta, too, and predicted (albeit unsuccessfully) big things for the elegant Augustin Calleri. Nalbandian had a few nice wins and Chela, having served his drug suspension, is a player worth watching in 2002. But, frankly, I'd be surprised if any cracked the top 10.
As for the women, Suarez is what she is: a talented, but not overpowering, top-30 mainstay who plays a nice game of doubles. After she had such a successful junior career, I expected more out of Salerni in 2001. I suspect we'll hear more from her next year, but she's not causing anyone to forget Sabatini quite yet.
My three favorite women players are in flux. Please help! Jen-Jen: Isn't there an undeniable sense that after peaking at Roland Garros, Capriati's level of play slid a bit? When I saw pictures of her from Munich, she looked a bit doughy and not so ripped like we saw her in Australia. Seeing how she has a boatload of points to defend early next year, can you peer into your crystal ball and see where she'll be ranked this time next year? Next, Monica Seles: She's gotten into better and better shape (beating Martina Hingis twice, Capriati and Serena Williams once) and breezed through her last three tourneys (admittedly, they were small events). Since she has relatively few points to defend early next year, I think she'll be moving up and contending for the French. What's your take? Also, Serena Williams: She has vowed to compete more next year. Any hope that she means it? IMHO, she would positively pulverize everybody else (Venus included) if she would just play more.
I'm not sure those three are in any more or less flux than any other players. And though there always are points to defend, the prevailing sense is that everyone starts the year tabula rasa.
Anyway, I essentially agree with your take on Capriati. It was only to be expected that her game would dovetail a bit after winning the first two majors. But she ended a tremendous year on a surprisingly sour note. After offering little resistance to Venus at the Open, she was out of sorts in Europe. She does indeed have a boatload of points to defend the first half of 2002. On the other hand, she made the most of the offseason last time around. Perhaps she's regrouping and recouping as we speak.
As for Seles, her gazillion admirers will roast me as usual, but let's be honest: Her better days are long past. Sure, with little to defend she might improve her ranking by a notch or two. But the gulf that separates her from the Williamses/ Lindsay Davenport /Capriati/ Kim Clijsters axis is a wide one. Seles will rack up points (and, of course, cash) winning Tier IIIs. But beating the Henrietta Nagyovas of the world only gets you so far. Insofar as her being a bona fide contender at a major, I don't see that happening.
I'm essentially with you on Serena. If she's true to her word and she plays a full schedule, she could be No.1 It would help if she could get over the understandable mental block she develops when she plays Venus. Saying you're going to compete more is, obviously, something other than doing it. But the elemental game is differently there.
I'm sure you've gotten this sort of question before, but since I've been hearing a lot of different opinions lately I thought I'd ask for yours. Can you tell me if you honestly believe that Anna Kournikova is capable of becoming a dominant player on the tour, dominant meaning that she'd be able to win any Grand Slam? Or do you think she'd be better off modeling and avoiding the embarrassment of never having won a singles tournament?
I'll take option C. To Shallow Hal's dismay, Kournikova will never win a Slam. But I don't think she's better off quitting and going full-time on the catwalk. Despite much evidence to the contrary, Kournikova has a genuine love for the game. She might be a total head case on the court, but she enjoys competing and, I think, likes the "scene." Also, part of her appeal to sponsors lies in the fact that she has a platform (i.e., tennis) to peddle their products. Every time she plays on television, it's a 90-minute infomercial for adidas and Yonex. Every time she's photographed in a magazine, it's a free ad for Omega watches, etc.
Do you think there is one ATP or WTA player who has the ability, given the depth in today's game, to win the true Grand Slam of tennis -- i.e., all four majors in the same year -- in the upcoming 2002 season?
Among the men, absolutely not. Lleyton Hewitt is probably your best bet (perhaps Agassi, too, depending on the whereabouts of his head) but the field, as you note, is too deep. Plus, all players are susceptible to catching a Wayne Arthurs or a Taylor Dent or a Mikhail Youzhny on a good (or bad, depending on your perspective) day and simply getting served off the court. On the women's side, Venus has a shot, her body willing. Though her results in Paris have been decidedly lousy, I still submit that she is an underrated clay-court player. If Capriati can win on clay and Rebound Ace, surely she can win on grass, too. In her case, though, she'll have to find a way to beat Venus, something she failed to do in 2001.
Regarding Woody Allen movies, what about The Front? Tough to beat. My question: The ownership/promotion of organizations like IMG seems to have stripped most events of any character or individuality. I remember when every tournament had its own character and promotional slant. Now it is so prepackaged and boring. Is it only going to get worse?
In many ways, management groups are a blight on the sport. That they own events and simultaneously manage players is something out of Conflicts of Interest 101. That they often put their own interests before the greater good of the game is shameful. That they make fevered pitches to sign up 13-year-olds is shameless.
Still, for all their ills, bleaching the color out of events isn't among them. First, the management groups don't even own half the events on the calendar. Second, events tend to reflect the personality of the promoter, the market, the venue, the draw and the time of year. Indian Wells and Manhattan Beach, for instance, are both owned by IMG. But you'd never know it from the ambiance. Sort of like comparing The Front to Manhattan.
Jumping for joy
In addition to spelling his first name the correct way, reader Jon Berg of Seattle put down his pint of Red Hook to submit the following:
"Just a response to the jumping over the net question from last week. The practice has seriously died down, probably because of an increase in the attitude on tour (how often do you see players sitting down for a drink after the match?) and in the money that the players are competing for, which makes them much less chummy. Leaping over the net was a classy thing to do, and a few classy players have done it in the more recent past: Stefan Edberg after winning the US Open in '91 and '92; Michael Stich jumping over the net to congratulate Andre Agassi after winning the '94 U.S. Open. It would be neat to see the practice come back in a bigger way, though."
Finally, several readers have asked about the merits of the Tennis Masters Series video game you might see advertised above. (Click here for more info.) Given that the game is one of the proud sponsors of this site, my response is that it's so spectacular you should buy a disc for everyone on your holiday shopping list. If any of you who have actually played the game have a more comprehensive product review, feel free to riff.
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.