Wertheim--Pierce can be top 10
Mary's fierce return
After a strong 2003, Pierce eyes a return to the top 10 in 2004
Posted: Monday November 24, 2003 3:14PM; Updated: Monday November 24, 2003 3:14PM
The Player of the Week Award goes to the French Fed Cup team. The femmes beat Russia and then the depleted U.S. squad to win the title. Amelie Mauresmo won the decisive point by beating Meghann Shaughnessy Sunday, but the MVP may well have been Mary Pierce, who was terrific against the Russians and beat Shaughnessy as well. ... Martina Navratilova and Lisa Raymond won the doubles point for the U.S. against France to prevent a shutout. Martina the Elder's record in Fed Cup now stands at a ridiculous 39-0. ... For a country that boasts 12 of the last 14 Grand Slam singles winners on the women's side, the U.S. sure hasn't held its weight in the team competition. ...
Congrats are also in order for Robby Ginepri, who won the SuperSet competition in Portland. A friend who was at the tournament had this to say after watching the final set: "The whole thing was really weird. No one really got the rules, Andre Agassi lost, there was a hyper public address announcer trying to make it feel like professional wrestling. And at the same time it was an absolute blast. If they ever do this again, I'd definitely go back." Ginepri's windfall of $250,000 isn't a bad Christmas bonus for a guy who made less than $500,000 in prize money for the year. No word on whether he splurged at Genoa (located in southeast Portland), one the truly great American restaurants. ... Lleyton Hewitt bailed on Portland to prepare for this week's Davis Cup final matchup again Spain. But he also took time to meet with Murray, an Australian teenager with cystic fibrosis. Hewitt takes his share of hits for his off-court persona, but here's an except from a letter written by the coordinator of the foundation that arranged the meeting: "Murray had the time of his life yesterday and was so grateful for everything he received. As a tennis fan, he was so excited about all of the Nike gear, as well as the extra games for his brand new Xbox ... but most important meeting Lleyton. Lleyton was fantastic."... The International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation have announced that Larisa Savchenko-Neiland of Latvia is the recipient of the 2003 Fed Cup Award of Excellence. ... John McEnroe -- who, during his 25-year-career, never won a title in Monte Carlo -- beat Petr Korda to win the Tamoil Legends event. Why Korda is a) losing so decisively to someone a decade his senior and b) is considered "legend" are questions beyond our ken. ...
Quick programming notes: In a few weeks we will hand out our sixth annual Baggie Awards. Also, owing to a variety of factors (namely a pending deadline on a Sports Illustrated story, the current tennis offseason and the existence of a baby with with a turbo-charged case of colic in the adjacent room), the 'Bag will be abbreviated these next few weeks. ...
Going into this year, I had pretty much written off Mary Pierce, but it seems that she's made a steady comeback. After seeing her play well at Fed Cup this week, do you think she has a legitimate shot at making it back into the top 10 next year?--Tim Martin, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Pierce has basically been written off since late 2000 when she won the French Open and then, as if she had made some Mephistophelian bargain, scarcely won another match and spent most of her time on the training table. Her sustained health is still a big question mark, but I agree she seems to be on the upswing. She had a nice Wimbledon, a strong U.S. Open (including a dramatic win against Jelena Dokic, who parallels Pierce in all sorts of ways) and closed out 2003 with Fed Cup heroics. Pierce is still a top-10 player in terms of ball-striking and power. If she can play a full (or, more realistically, close to a full) schedule, a return to the top 10 is definitely a good possibility.
I assume when you chose Andy Roddick as the male Player of the Year, you did so based on which guy had the best year. Fair enough. Roddick's No. 1 status justifies your pick. But I have a subtly different question: Roger Federer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roddick -- who do you think is currently the best tennis player?--Azinna, Arochukwu, Nigeria
Who guessed discussing the "best" would be such an exercise in semantics? But I see your point. Roddick is our MVP for 2003 but in terms of who is the most skilled player, my vote goes to the gentleman from Switzerland. I defy you to find me a high-stakes tournament during the past five years that was so comprehensively dominated by one player as Wimbledon was in 2003 by Federer. Like Sampras at Wimbledon circa 1995 or 1999, Federer was just playing a different sport than anyone else.
Incidentally, the Federer bandwagon is officially in an overbooked situation. If you give up your seat we will offer you a $300 voucher that's good for future travel on a bandwagon of your choice, a voucher for dinner at the Hoolihan's on Concourse B, and re-book you on the next available flight to your destination. Seriously, we had more than 50 Federer letters this week and most weren't questions so much as they were paeans. As Mary Wimper of Baltimore wrote: "His game is so inspirational, I watch him and strive to achieve the same standard of excellence in my work."
Any relation between Maria Kirilenko and Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz?--Curtis Park Riverside, Calif.
Not that I know of. Andrei is, however, married to Masha Lopatova, the Mandy Moore of Russia. (Since you brought up Kirilenko ... man, can that guy play. If you could buy stock in NBA players, I'd load up on him.)
Why is there such a discrepancy in attendance between the men's and women's year-end tournaments each year?--Franklyn Ajaye, Melbourne, Australia
The men's event has been a smashing success, a well-attended, reasonably well-hyped tournament that has decided the year-end No. 1 player and generally featured the best and brightest. But this is really as it should be. The women's event has been an unqualified fiasco since it left Manhattan. The question is less "why the discrepancy?" than "how have the women flubbed this thing so badly?"
You can (and rest assured, many do) blame WTA chief executive officer Kevin Wulff for cluelessly selling out for a fast buck. You can blame Octagon and AEG for skimping on the promotion and marketing -- until it was too late. And you can blame the players for not always taking it seriously. You can blame L.A. for being a lousy sports town. You can blame dumb luck, as a rash of injuries have ventilated the draws.
Whatever the case, something has to be done. When the WTA's signature event -- the Slams, of course, notwithstanding -- resembles a Tier III, it's a recipe for disaster, both financially and in terms of perception. According to the rumor mill, there is currently a three-way tug-of-war for the tournament's future. Do you take the big money, recoup the previous years' losses and move the event to Asia, perhaps? Do you return to Madison Square Garden hoping the flagging fortunes of the Knicks, Rangers and Cablevision stock will foster favorable lease terms on the venue? Do you iron out kinks -- and possibly settle for disparate purses -- by joining forces with the men?
Re: your comments on Jim McIngvale: I grew up in Houston and have seen McIngvale on TV a lot. Every week he changes his commercials for Gallery Furniture, but the one constant is that he always wears an American flag shirt. He spoke at my junior high in the mid-'80s and he wore that same shirt. He didn't do anything at the tourney last week that he hasn't been doing for more than 20 years. He unabashedly supports all the Houston teams and the USA. He's always been that way and probably always will be. He's done a lot for Houston sports and for tennis. He deserves a pass on the criticism.--Jen Smith, Lubbock, Texas
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag each Monday.
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Lots of you wrote in with similar comments. We still say that it was an unfortunate choice of apparel. (And outwardly cheering for certain players was something of a faux pas.) But your larger point is well taken: McIngvale has done an awful lot for tennis in a short time. The Masters Cup was a success on many fronts -- especially in terms of attendance. And if the guy is willing to help combine the women's event (an obvious no-brainer on paper, but fraught with the kind of nagging complications that impede tennis' progress) with the men's, bless him. What's more, he is an "outsider" -- which means he isn't beholden to any fiefdom and wasn't weaned on a steady diet of conflicted interests like so many other in this sport. So, yes, we should cut him some slack and not overlook the fact that, in the end, his event was a success. But that doesn't mean we can't hope he does a few things differently in 2004.
Why are American tennis players having a hard time adjusting to the clay courts so favored by their Spanish and South American counterparts?--Edric Cruz, Manila, Philippines
The quick and easy answer is that American kids grow up playing on hard courts, not clay. I think the ATP and WTA schedule contributes to the problem, too. There are only a small handful of clay events in North America (Houston for the men and Charleston and Amelia Island for the women) so American players have to travel overseas to play matches on the dirt. What's more, there's a probably also a doctoral thesis to be written about how the subtlety and patience demanded by clay is anathema to the American way of life and temperament, circa 2003.
After her incredibly close match against Meghann Shaughnessy in Fed Cup, what do you make of Kirsten Flipkens' prospects?--Shreena, Bristol, U.K.
Honestly, I haven't seen Flipkens play much (read: a few games at the U.S. Open juniors), but exuberance about her pro prospects has been oddly muted. This in spite of a terrific junior career. Countrywoman Kim Clijsters was asked about whether Flipkens would be a top player within three years and here's her response. It's a perfectly acceptable analysis, but I think you'll agree that it's not exactly the most ringing of endorsements.
Well, that's very hard to say. It all, you know -- I'm not a -- I hope the sooner, the better for her. It's tough, you know, going from, you know -- it's a completely different circuit, you know, going from the Juniors to the pro tour. That's -- but I'm sure she'll get there. I'm not really, you know, a card reader or anything. I don't really know how long it's gonna take her. But I'm sure she's -- I mean, any junior who plays that well on a lot of surfaces, like her will -- I'm sure she'll get pretty far on the WTA Tour.
Does anyone to know what's happened to Tim Mayotte? He was such a big star in the '80s, but he's seemed to disappear into oblivion.--Kevin Forbes, Norwalk, Conn.
Tim Mayotte used to be a regular at the Sports Illustrated pick-up basketball games in Manhattan. I haven't played since I was sans bebe, but I recall him saying that he was a divinity school student. If anyone has a more complete or updated answer, pass it on.
You wrote: "Cheesy as this sounds, as fans who can appreciate Ferrero's skill and appeal even though he has unmitigated gall to hail from overseas, you guys ought to rattle some cages. Write to ESPN and demand your JC-TV. Call the USTA. Write to my editors. And next time you're at tournament, don't fall into the promoters' traps. Check the seedings and go watch the best players. Even if that means venturing to the secondary courts." Good statement. How do we write/e-mail folks at SI, CBS, ESPN and the USTA?--John Rossitter, Middletown, Conn.
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Have a good week, everyone!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.