En françaisPosted: Monday December 10, 2001 12:01 PM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
It's been a good month for Guy Forget. A week after captaining France to a Davis Cup triumph against Australia, Forget collected another title of his own on Sunday when he served 21 aces on the way to a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 11-9 victory over Petr Korda in a seniors tournament in London. ... As reported in this space several weeks ago, the WTA Tour admitted last week that it is considering alternative venues to host the year-end championships. In a strongly worded statement, the tour's new CEO, Kevin Wulff, said, "We are currently in a multi-year agreement to hold our world championships in Munich and are fully prepared to honor the existing agreement. That said, the event's promoters [Global Tennis Inc. and Octagon] formally requested on several occasions that the tour consider a significant restructuring of the current agreement moving forward. We have informed both parties that the tour will not make any changes to the current contract, but we are also in the process of working with Global Tennis and Octagon to reach a viable solution." Hmmm. ...
Pete Sampras made big news this week when he announced an amiable parting with coach Paul Annacone, who will become managing director of USA Tennis High Performance, the restructured and renamed USTA division that will facilitate the development of world-class American tennis champions. Sampras' new hire: former Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson, twin brother of the late Tim Gullikson, who coached Sampras in the early '90s. ... Less publicized, but more puzzling: Within weeks of reaching No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt uncoupled with his coach, Darren Cahill. Hewitt's new mate de camp? Jason Stoltenberg, who retired from the ATP Tour last summer. ... Yet more coaching news: Seems the George Steinbrenner- like Marat Safin has split with Mats Wilander. The talented Russian now seeks a coach for the fifth time in the past 18 months. ... Speaking of Hewitt, look for him in upcoming Nike commercials. Word from Beaverton, Ore., is that the company wants to boost his profile in 2002. ... From the Idle Trivia Dept.: Stoltenberg's next-door neighbor at his Florida residence is Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. ... There were as many comments and questions about The Simpsons this week as there were about tennis. Memo to Fox: If you ever wanted even more exxxxxxxxcellent Simpsons ratings, you should buy ad time during tennis telecasts.
Tune in next week for the Fourth Annual Baggie Awards ...
Now that Nicolas Escudé has shown himself to be a clutch performer in beating Lleyton Hewitt in the Davis Cup finals, what are his chances of cracking the top 20 and maybe being a threat on a faster surface, like at Wimbledon? Or is Escudé just a marginal talent who happens to play well against Hewitt?
While two weekends ago was undoubtedly the highlight of Escudé's up-and-down career, he's no one-hit wonder. This is a player who has reached at least the quarterfinals of three Slams, most recently Wimbledon, where he beat ... Hewitt in the Round of 16. Unquestionably, he has top-20 -- perhaps even top-10 -- talent. He is wonderful shotmaker who moves well, volleys superbly and doesn't wig out on big points. As you note, Escudé is at his best on faster surfaces.
The biggest impediment to success thus far has been his focus. Escudé reached the semis in Australia in 1998; within a year, he was out of the top 100. Even this year, he's skinned some nice pelts ( Sebastien Grosjean, Tim Henman, Roger Federer, Safin, Hewitt twice) yet he hasn't won a tour match since the U.S. Open. Still, assuming he can build on his Davis Cup MVP performance, there's little doubt he should crack the top 20 in 2002.
This is in response to your reply about no player being able to pull off a Grand Slam today. I'm curious as to why you left Roger Federer off your list. He is a huge threat on grass and hard courts, and if he puts together some victories on clay, you never know. I think he has the most raw talent/potential of any guy on tour.
To an extent, I agree with you. Before a groin injury wreaked havoc on his year, Federer was playing as well as anyone and, you're absolutely right, showed that he can play on all surfaces. But it's awfully premature to anoint him as a Grand Slam threat when he hasn't so much as made the semis of a single major.
After Fabrice Santoro helped bring his country a Davis Cup title, I am convinced he is one of the greatest junkballers ever, second only to the god of garbage, Brad Gilbert. These players are an inspiration to lousy club players everywhere, who slice and dice their way to improbable wins. Might you have an opinion on the best junkballer in the last 20 or so years?
If there's ever a rebroadcast of the France-Australia Davis Cup tie, make sure you watch the doubles match. Santoro was almost preposterously good, playing ridiculous angles, hitting forehand drop volleys with both hands on the racket and unfurling surgically precise topspin lobs on serve returns. You and I call him a junkballer, but -- in addition to being inspiring to us club players -- it was exceptionally effective tennis.
As for the best junkballers in the past two decades, Gilbert is probably tops. Santoro is up there, too. I'd put in a vote for the evergreen Gianluca Pozzi, who, according to the ATP Tour, will still be out there next year at age 36. Depending on how elastic you want to make the definition, you can throw in Jay Berger, Miroslav Mecir and perhaps even Jim Courier. Zen coan for next year: ">Can a female player be a junkballer?
Re: your list of announcers from other sports you'd like to see do tennis. How could you possibly leave out Dick Vitale? "Agassi and Sampras under the lights in New York City!!! IT'S AWESOME, BABY!!!"
"Here's my Exxon Valdez All-Tank Team!" Seriously, Dicky V's daughters played college tennis and the word is he actually has some game. So sure, we'll add him, too.
Here are some broadcasters from other sports I would like to hear call a tennis match:
1. Jim Ross: "And Agassi takes the first set from Rafter. Wait a minute? What's that? OMIGOD! OMIGOD! That's Pete Sampras' music! He's running out to the court! Good god! He just hit Agassi with a chair! What's going on here?!?!
2. Kevin Harlan: "... and a lob, and OH, BABY, WHAT A SMASH BY RODDICK, WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE!"
3. Al Michaels: (On the rare chance that Anna Kournikova actually won a tournament) "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
4. Charles Barkley: "You've got the Williams sisters, who are really, really good, and the rest of the women, who are really, really bad."
Have to disagree with your vote for Dennis Miller. Last thing we need is him doing another sport he probably knows nothing about. And if I could get rid of one broadcaster, without a doubt it would be Chris Evert.
Thanks. Glad to see Kevin Harlan is getting some love. He was the best-kept secret in the NBA for years.
It's interesting that you predict Juan Carlos Ferrero to finish next year as the No. 1 player. If this isn't a typo, on what do you base this prediction? Other than his fabulous clay-court record, he really didn't have any other great results this year. Talent-wise, he impresses me even more than the current No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt. But as a competitor, he just doesn't compare.
No typo -- unless I spelled his name incorrectly, which is entirely possible. Why did I pick JCF? Truth to tell, one reason was it would have been lame and boring to pick the more obvious candidates, Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten. But more important, the guy has big-time game. And not merely on clay. He's still improving, moves well, hits the ball early (far earlier than Hewitt) and still feels like he's disrespected a bit by the tennis cognoscenti. You're right that he might not have Hewitt's competitive drive. But who does?
I thought I heard an announcer mention that Stefan Edberg once launched a serve at the U.S. Open that hit an elderly linesman in the groin area, causing him to fall down and hit his head on the ground, which ultimately resulted in his death. Have you ever heard about this? I'm sure I didn't dream this up, and I would love to have it verified.
It's true. And the poor guy's name was, no joke, Dick Wertheim -- a phrase, as I understand it, that crops up repeatedly on tennis message boards.
I once read a theory that introverted players are more likely to be great champions. I can think of a few exceptions (Martina Navratilova, Andre Agassi), but mostly it seems to stick. What do you think of this theory, and does it apply to the Williams sisters? After all, Serena seems much more outgoing and hasn't quite enjoyed the success of introverted Venus.
At some level, it stands to reason that introverted players are inherently more self-centered, which is an asset in an individual sport. But I'm not sure how well the theory holds up in practice. For every Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg or Sampras, there is a Boris Becker, an Agassi or a Martina Hingis who would talk to a lamp post if it had ears. With respect to the Williams sisters, I think Serena just has a huge mental block when she has to face her sister. Take out their intrafamily matches, and their levels of success are fairly comparable.
A theory I ascribe to: The less -- how to say this? -- intellectually imposing the player, the more likely s/he is to be a great champion. For all the talk about "court smarts" and "smart players," they are seldom the champions. Players like Todd Martin and Jana Novotna are almost too bright for their own good. They realize that each shot presents a number of options and they are often too rationale to block out the pressure of a momentous occasion. The players who can simply perform on instinct, unencumbered by conflicting thoughts, often have superior results.
Not so much a question as a comment. We bought the three-day, pay-for-view Davis Cup final package through our cable provider. During the fifth match Saturday night/Sunday morning, the broadcast conveniently stopped at about 1:30 a.m., in the fourth set of Wayne Arthurs-Nicolas Escudé. When my wife called the PPV number (at this insane time of night) demanding to know what happened, she was told calmly that the broadcast was scheduled for only those hours. When asked why a live program, that can go into overtime was so scheduled, the rep had no answer. My wife, bless her, demanded a full refund!
On the other hand, having experienced the joy of commercial-free; banal, unable to shut-up announcer-free tennis coverage, I'll never be able to watch a regular broadcast again. Boy, would I happily pay $10 a day to see any of the four slams on PPV. Sigh ... it'll be years before that option is available.
A number of you wrote in about the Davis Cup broadcast receiving the Heidi treatment. Without getting myself into too much trouble, all I can say is that attorneys have been summoned, and don't blame the good folks at Innovative Sports.
Have a good week, everyone.
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.