newest Wertheim mailbag
he talks a bit about the aftermath of FedGate, a bit about Lindsay, Mary Pierce, ASV, and Kim....
Battle of the sexes
Which gender has the more appealing game?
Posted: Monday May 06, 2002 1:12 PM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.
Big ups to Kim Clijsters for finally scoring one over the House of Williams and rallying to beat Venus in the Betty Barclay Cup. What's that sound? Oh right, the clambering aboard the Clijsters bandwagon just prior to Roland Garros. ... Two other players to watch in Paris: The evergreen Younes El Aynaoui (Moroccan surname or merely a bad Scrabble rack?) won the BMW Open in Munich. At the Mallorca Open, after first taking out Gustavo Kuerten, Gaston Guadio won the title. ... Re: last week's discussion about the Williams sisters' ability to win despite dozens of unforced errors, here's an interesting admission from Venus after beating Hingis in the semis on Sunday: "Sometimes it's definitely my weakness keeping the ball in play, but today I just felt like I definitely put power on the ball and kept it in the court.'' ... A final word on the King-Capriati scrum: Monica Seles, hardly one prone to popping off, assessed last week's fiasco for The New York Times' consistently excellent columnist, Harvey Araton: "It went on all week," Seles said of Capriati's challenging King's policies. "We were all told the rules and had a chance to leave. Once you stay, whatever the captain says, you have to respect that. God, it's Billie Jean King. She's responsible for everything we have. If you don't have respect for her, I don't know who you'll have respect for."... Out of action since November, Lindsay Davenport is scheduled to return to the Tour in Eastbourne. Better news still: She is expected to play doubles there with Corina Morariu. ... Is it me or are roughly half the players on the men's tour dead ringers for Creed frontman Scott Stapp? ... Yevgeny Kafelnikov lost to Nicolas Kiefer in his first round match in Munich. No word on whether Pete Sampras is demanding that the Y-Man retire. (This is turning into quite the clip-n-save.).
Lots of reader mail in response to my little riff on the dramaturgy of the women's game overshadowing the men's game -- and the women's on-court action, too, for that matter. Some of you vigorously agreed with me (Great!). Some of you strenuously disagreed with me (Great!). A few of you made me fear for my safety (A little perspective, Bill from Dallas and Co.: It's only a sport.)
A. Ouma of New Jersey raised a valid point: "I think that it is the media that plays up and creates a fervor around minor incidents just to generate revenue or increase readership. Case in point: the suit against the Williamses. This really should just be a minor footnote. After all, celebrities get sued all the time by money hungry or attention-seeking losers."
No doubt the media -- myself, unquestionably, included -- is partially to blame for reporting the heat and not the light. But only partially. The first defense of the media: We only report what our readers/viewers want to hear and tell us is important. If fans didn't care about Anna, we'd cease spilling ink over her. What's more, some of this WTA drama is newsworthy. When the world's No.1 player is at loggerheads with the Jeanne D'Arc of women's tennis and is kicked off the Fed Cup team on the eve of play, THAT'S NEWS. Had media members neglected to cover that, they would have been derelict in their duty.
Bottom line. I love women's tennis. You love women's tennis. We all love women's tennis. It just would be nice if Kuerten's comeback or Clijsters beating Venus Williams, for instance, generated half as much interest and ink as the authenticity of this month's Penthouse pictorial.
By the way, Brenda Jackson, Mesa, Ariz. writes: "I read your column on the hoo-ha of women's tennis being more interesting than men's. I presume this is solely based on airtime or some such, because this certainly isn't the case for THIS tennis fan. Men's tennis always has and always will be my primary focus, regardless of court surface or tournaments. There are many reasons for that: the depth in the men's game, the diversity of styles, and --certainly not least -- the fact that we usually, but not always, don't have to deal with such National Equirer tripe. Men's tennis I can take seriously. Women's tennis sometimes feels like a soap opera. And I hate soap operas. I'm curious as to how many Mailbag readers actually agree with the idea that women's tennis is more popular?"
I'm curious too. Particularly given prize-money debates and claims by the All-England Club about the relative appeal of the men's and women's game. Feel free to sound off, but a one-word response -- ATP or WTA -- will do just fine. Just click here.
With Mary Pierce back on the Tour and somewhat successful in the early stages (she did lose a pretty close third-round match to an on-fire Patty Schnyder in South Carolina last week), how do you see her chances for legitimate success in the European clay court season? Maybe a surprise showing at the French? Pierce still has some solid years left in her; shouldn't she be coming back with a vengeance any time now? I always seem to be waiting for her to fulfill her enormous potential, and it just never really happened.
--Brian Baker, New York
I may have written this before, but I always consider Mary Pierce to be an over -- not under -- achiever. You read the stories and hear the tales of what she went through as a kid and it's a small wonder she's not playing full-court with Chief, Martini and Randy Murphy, and then getting her dosages from Nurse Ratched. She does have two Grand Slams (one more than Serena) and was a top 10 player for the better part of a decade. What's more, not long ago, even some Pierce's friends on tour were casting doubt on whether she would ever return. For her to be back in business bespeaks a stronger commitment to the game than she's often given credit for. Though she was gifted a French Open wild card last week, I wouldn't look for her to replicate her feat of two years ago. She's simply not in physical shape, especially not on clay. But, having beaten Daniela Hantuchova a few weeks ago, Pierce's certainly in that dangerous floater/player-no-seed-wants-to-face-early-on category. Provided, of course, she stays healthy.
Recently you wrote about players receiving ATP points for Davis Cup play. As it happens, yesterday I played golf with Mark Knowles (Bahamian touring pro and longtime Davis Cupper whom you mentioned in the story) and we discussed the matter. Our solution is to award more points for successful participants in the world zone than the other zones. Most Davis Cuppers for Zones II and III do not receive wild-card entries into tournaments. Can Knowles and Danny Nestor continue their great run in doubles? By the way, add Mark to the players who do not like the new tiebreak system
--Eddie Carter, Bahamas
Not a bad solution. But it still doesn't solve the Todd Martin/Nicolas Escude/Magnus Norman problem. In other words, what do you do about solid top 20-30 pros who are willing to play Davis Cup, but don't get the call because their country's team is so stacked. Is it fair that these players get zero points? Also, this addressed the real elemental issue: Why would the ATP add to the incentive for players to compete in an ITF event?
No reason Knowles and Nestor can't be the best doubles team in the world by year's end. Overwhelmingly, the doubles players I've seen polled give an emphatic thumbs down to the match tiebreak. But it seems to me a small concession given the alternative: "layoffs", "down-sizing" and "early retirement", as we say in the cool, cruel corporate world.
What's the deal with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario? Shouldn't she be retired by now? You can't tell me that she enjoys losing week-in and week-out?
--Mark Goldman, Miami
Yet another beauty of tennis is that it's essentially a meritocracy. No long-term contracts, no guaranteed money, no players hogging salary cap room, a roster spot or minutes from more talented rookies. If ASV still feels like she can compete, why should we care? If she doesn't win matches, she won't be taking bread off another player's table -- at least not for long. If she wins matches, then, hey, good for her.
From your perspective -- and mine, for that matter -- it's hard to see how a former No.1 can possibly enjoy getting her clock cleaned week-in, week-out. (In fairness, she did take a set off of Venus last week.) But, not unlike Michael Chang, ASV surely has her reasons. Not sure it's up to us to begrudge her the right to follow her instincts and heart. Speaking of ASV, can we settle this for once and for all: hyphen or no hyphen? Even the WTA Tour is inconsistent.
I read in the local Houston paper that while at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships last week, Patrick McEnroe joked with Tommy Haas about playing Davis Cup for the United States. Haas was quoted as saying, "Anything is possible." Haas also seemed to indicate that if things don't change with his federation and the German press, he might leave. How serious is all this? Andy Roddick and Haas in 2004? Sounds like a winning ticket to me.
--Carlos Espino, Galveston, Texas
Again, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but how absurdly flexible are the nationality requirements for Davis Cup? (What's that? You own a Barenaked Ladies CD? You're eligible to play doubles with Daniel Nestor on the Canadian team.) Haas does spend the bulk of his downtime in Florida and, yes, his issues with the German Davis Cup team are well-documented. But unless he renounces his citizenship and "pulls a Monica," as one of you guys put it a few months ago, I can't imagine him playing for the U.S. Anyway, right now he has a far more pressing concern: rehabbing from yet another back injury.
I was just reading about Martina Navratilova's history, and was surprised to find that she wasn't always a serve-and-volley player. Until she switched from effective middling play to serve-and-volley, she was an average, even mediocre, tennis player. Who do you think has the athletic ability to become dominant as a serve-and-volley player? (I think Kournikova could become a serious force inside the "T." Davenport, and the Sisters might have nearly undefeated seasons.)
--Eli, New Jersey
There are a lot of players -- the Williams sisters top the list -- that have the athleticism to be serve-and-volleyers. (Whether their bodies could take the pounding is quite another matter altogether.) The problem is that collectively in women's tennis, players' passing shots are vastly superior to their volleys. I think we need to be realistic: The days of playing serve-and-volley tennis on every point have gone the way of the wooden racket. On the other hand, most players could stand to serve-and-volley with greater regularity.
After all the controversy surrounding the Fed cup, I am really beginning to miss Lindsey Davenport. Is she controversy-free, as the media has me believing? By the way, when she is she coming back?
--Gayle Iles, Omaha, Neb.
I wouldn't say Davenport is free of controversy, but she is an island of normal in a sea of dysfunction, a beacon of reason in a fog of confusion. I'll stop now. Davenport, I agree, can't come back soon enough. As I mentioned above, she's due back at Eastbourne, in time for Wimbledon and the U.S. hardcourt junket.
Jon, can you comment on the relative skill levels between the top U.S. 18-year-old boys and the top collegiate men? My understanding is that top juniors don't go to college because they should easily beat top collegiate men. Also, if we are to believe that the Williamses will lose to any good collegiate men, then doesn't it mean they will lose to the 18 year olds, too? I am a sucker for this debate. If Venus and Serena want to prove what they can do against men, they don't need to start at the top, like the ATP or John McEnroe. There are lots of challenger-level players who would love to take them on. But the Sisters won't do it for obvious reasons.
--Mike S., Falls Church, Va.
I'd say the skill level between the top 18 year olds and the collegians is pretty close. Sure Andy Roddick circa 2000 beats the NCAA champ that year. But that's an exception. Is Alex Bogomolov better than the yet-to-be-determined 2002 NCAA champ? I'm not so sure. A more interesting comparison: What happens to the games of the players who come out of USTA National 18s and decide to turn pro versus those who go to college? The conventional wisdom, as you note, is that the players with a real shot at making it to the highest echelons on Tour don't bother with college. But would it really have hurt players like Mardy Fish or Robby Ginepri had they gone to Stanford for a few years before turning pro rather than jump right in?
Your second question is one of my least favorite lines of inquiry because it's essentially a red herring. Truth be told, the Williams sisters wouldn't win more than a round or two -- if that -- at the USTA boys' 18s. But who cares? They're not playing against men, nor do they aspire to. (I have no doubt that they strongly regret the Karsten Braasch challenge from their teenage years that continues to haunt them.) Just as we don't assess the Nebraska football team in relation to the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New York Liberty to the Lakers or the U.S. Women's soccer team to Manchester United, let's resist comparing the apples and oranges of men's and women's tennis. We can compare the merits of the women's game to the merits of the men's game and we can debate how prize money ought to be split. But saying that "Venus Williams wouldn't be a top 100 male player, therefore X" is pointless.
What do you think of the rumor that Kim Clijsters may defect from her native Belgium in order to live in and play for Australia?
--Diana, Melbourne, Australia
Though the Australian press has taken to calling her "Aussie Kim," my suspicion is that Clijsters is no more likely to play Down Under than Lleyton Hewitt is to play for Belgium.
What's happened to Nicolas Kiefer? At one time he was a top 10 player, now he can't win a match.
--Rand Linton, Birmingham, Ala.
He's been hiding out with Arnaud Clement, Andrew Ilie, Fabiola Zuluaga and Mirjana Lucic in the little-known suburb of Monaco, Shadowofmyformerselfland.
I read your column every week and have a non-tennis question for you. I want to buy my nephew (not a tennis player) a CD for his birthday. He's about your age. Any suggestions?
I'm probably not the right person to ask, given that the last dozen or so CD's I've purchased are by the devil incarnate, Raffi, and contain deep, meaningful lyrics like: "Did you ever see llamas eating their pajamas?". But thinking back to my former life, you can't go wrong with The Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me. This, of course, presupposes, that you like your nephew. If that's not the case, buy him anything by Night Ranger.
Have a good week, everyone!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim