Injury parade plaguing women's tennis
Venus Williams ends drought, but rest of top players are in a heap of hurt
Posted: Monday April 19, 2004 3:02PM; Updated: Monday April 19, 2004 3:09PM
Let's give our Player-of-the-Week award to Venus Williams for winning the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., her first title in 14 months. She not only triumphed on her least favorite surface, but salvaged the tournament in the process. ... Williams the Elder beat Conchita Martinez in a three-set final. ... Moment of the tournament had to come when Martinez beat Patty Schnyder in the semis and, as the two met at the net, Petty Patty pulled back her hand in the manner of a fourth-grader. (How does one say "psych!" in Swiss-German?) Schnyder was upset at Martinez for her penchant for playing at a leisurely pace and demanding she play points with specific balls. ... In the doubles, Paola Suarez and Ginny Ruano Pascual beat Lisa Raymond and Martina Navratilova. ... At the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston, Tommy Haas cemented his comeback beating Andy Roddick in the final. That Haas was out for a year and came back to beat the reigning year-end champ says plenty about how much talent is there. ... In the Houston doubles James Blake and Mardy Fish beat Brian MacPhie and Rick Leach. ... In Estoril, Emilie Loit won her second title in a week, beating Iveta Benesova in the finals. Look out Justine and Serena. In the doubles Emmanuelle Gagliardi won the first title of her career teaming with Janette Husarova. ... In the men's event, Juan Iggy Chela beat Marat Safin in the final a day after he teamed with Gaston (streamin') Gaudio to win the doubles. Nice double for the Argentine. ... Want to hear something depressing, at least to Americans? The Estoril Open was announced as a 519,750-Euro event which now translates to more than U.S.$660,000. Ouch. ... In Valencia, Fernando Verdasco upset hometown fave Juan Carlos Ferrero in the semis and then beat fellow Spaniard Albert Montanes in the final to win his first pro event. ... Honk if you didn't pull out of Monte Carlo.
Other random notes: Stay tuned for a big announcement from the USTA. ... Vivien Murphy of Galway, Ireland, kindly writes: "In reply to Eric Johnson's query, the English version of Boris Becker's autobiography is due to be published in June. You can pre-order a copy through Amazon." ... Trading paint with me after I took some swipes at NASCAR last week, Bill Duck of Salisbury, Md., pointed out that the Roddick-Guillermo Coria Nasdaq-100 match did a 1.5 rating on CBS only slightly higher than the Arena Football game on ABC. The NASCAR race on NBC did a 6.0. Just something to think about. ... Our man Anthony Molinaro is kicking off a worldwide tour this week. Check out his Web site for more info. ... I encourage all of you to sign the following petition: www.savebobedwards.com
. ... Look for James Blake on an upcoming episode of ESPN's celebrity poker challenge. ... Speaking of Blake, he shot some hoops at the Westside Tennis Club last week with Cuttino (Cat) Mobley the most popular man in the NBA. ... Speaking of the Rockets, was that Andre Agassi we saw at the Rockets-Lakers Game 1? If so, we liked his sweater. ... Safin will begin working with Peter Lundgren, former coach of Roger Federer, on a trial basis starting in Barcelona. They'll see how it goes and then reassess after Wimbledon. ... Attention Roto-heads: The ATP's Fantasy Tennis European adventure begins today. The winner of the ATP Fantasy Tennis European adventure will win a trip for two to the ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo in 2005. For more details, log on to this link.
Speaking of hard-core fans, reader Troy Quast wrote a paper on the effects of the coin toss on male players at Wimbledon. From 1999-2002 the player who won the toss chose to serve less than half of the time, yet by choosing to serve they could on average increase their chances of winning the match. He was kind enough to forward this link.
What is going on with the WTA? Not a week goes by when a player doesn't get injured and pull out of an event. Are the players faking it or are there really this many injuries? Either way, don't you think it's hurting the sport?
-- Tom C., Chicago
Get the feeling the WTA wishes it could just play a let on 2004? Last week was a microcosm for the recent woes. Justine Henin-Hardenne, the world's top player pulls out of the Charleston Tier 1 with mono. Kim Clijsters is still out with a wrist injury. With typical flair for the dramatic, Serena Williams withdrew barely an hour before her match citing knee trouble. Jennifer Capriati still doesn't have her groove back. Fortunately Venus Williams gave the event some star wattage in the latter rounds but boy is the women's game hurting -- literally and figuratively-- right now. And worse, it's credibility is starting to sink to Omarosa-like levels. Would you want to sponsor an event knowing that even the top players who commit are only a 50-50 bet to play?
Even if we assume that players are not faking -- this is the same week Anna Kournikova pulls out of an exhibition with pneumonia and is reportedly at her boyfriend's rock concert in India a few days later -- this parade of injuries bodes ill. The WTA is under immense pressure to get players competing as often as possible. But if playing 18 events a year yields this many injuries -- both in quantity and variety -- maybe that needs to be reassessed. The tour's explanation that these injuries are wildly anomalous, an unhappy coincidence, is starting to wear thin. Would paring the number of events, ensuring that those who made the cut had better and healthier fields, not benefit the sport in the long run?
Why is there a European tournament going on the same week as a Tier 1 event? Isn't it in the WTA's best interest to have all the players at the Tier 1 event?
-- Bob Romero, Monee, Ill.
Good question. There is a lesser event the same week there is a Tier I because, a) There is a promoter willing to put up the cash for a tournament, even if the likes of Loit is the top seed; b) There are players willing to commit, lesser ranked ones who are guaranteed a slot there but would have had to qualify at the Tier I; c) There are sponsors (and presumably television networks) willing to make it worth the promoter's investment. Discussion for next week: Does the brand get diluted when there are multiple events the same week?
With the U.S. now hosting the Davis Cup semifinals, the USTA should play the match at Louis Armstrong Stadium. The atmosphere is the best in the country, and there's some great history to the building. Further, the match could be promoted during the U.S. Open. The Davis Cup needs more exposure in big cities. And, lastly, the strong Russian/Belarus community in New York City would add atmosphere upon atmosphere to the matchup. The surface should not be an issue but, heck, if you had to, put a slow clay court on top of the Deco-Turf. The last [and only] time Louie hosted a Davis Cup match was back in the early 80s [1981 quarterfinal] when Ivan Lendl came to town with the Czechs to take on Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Louie deserves this type of match.
-- J.T., Brooklyn, N.Y.
You make a compelling case. I would add: a) The USTA wouldn't have to worry about a venue fee since, for all intents, they own the complex; b) Even in the event it gets buried by late-season baseball and early-season NFL games, the New York media throng would cover the tie; C) Inasmuch as anyone cares about being hospitable, an East Coast destination is probably better for broadcasting the match in Belarus. Nevertheless, we hear that Carson, Calif., is currently the leader in the clubhouse. And, apparently, the decision to play on clay is no joke.
I was following Conchita Martinez's matches in the Family Circle Cup -- what a delightful game she has, especially the way she completely destroys [opponents] with her delicate drop shots and wonderful mix of topspin and slice. With the top three players in doubt, does she have a realistic chance in the French Open?
-- Yee Han, Cambridge, England
Martinez's game is something of an acquired taste. You love of it. A friend of mine left a message on my voicemail Sunday afternoon: "I bow to no one when it comes to loathing Conchita but have to admit I was amused watching her slice and dink and carve up Venus." (Must have been in the first set.) Fans will either be dismayed or excited to know that -- particularly with so many top players in various states of disrepair -- Martinez does indeed become a contender at the French. Her game might divide fans but most players absolutely hate to face her. Not only are her quirks and mannerisms exasperating (see: Schynder, Patty inter alia), but she is classic junkballer who gives you no rhythm. Plus at 32, she seems to have gotten a nice second wind. Consider yourself forewarned.
[IMG]Hey, Jon, you have to answer this. When was the last time a question from Nepal was in the 'bag? What's up with Magnus Norman? I don't think he's played since last fall after withdrawing from a tournament with an injury. Is he still hurt, making a comeback, or is he retiring?-- Chip Faircloth, Kathmandu, Nepal[/IMG]
As usual, Greg Sharko had the goods, informing us Norman had over three hours of surgery on both hips on Friday, January 23, in Nashville, Tenn. The surgery was performed by Thomas Byrd, the same doctor who operated on Norman's hip in August 2001, and also the same doctor who operated on Gustavo Kuerten in 2002. The Swede will be on crutches for more than a month and hopes to start rehabilitation in two months. He is expected to be out of tennis action for at least six months. He was, however, in the stands in Delray Beach, Fla., last week cheering his fellow Swedes in Davis Cup.
Methinks we must ask: WTHIGOW Rainer Schuettler?-- George Creppy, New York
Let's give credit to Karl Miller of Phoenixville, Pa., for coming up with the WTHIGOW idea. Anyway, a few of you suggested we look at Schuettler, who came from obscurity to become a formidable top 10 player last year and has since retreated into obscurity winning just two matches so far this year. I don't have a good answer for this one. My best guess is that the guy is under tremendous pressure, both to defend points (inasmuch as they still exist under the Indesit points race) and prove that his banner 2003 was no fluke. Further, he doesn't really have a big weapon relying instead on foot speed and tenacity and grit. While you can win a lot of matches on these attributes (see: Hewitt, Lleyton), it doesn't leave much margin for error. When you're 10 percent off or 10 percent injured and don't have the big serve to bail you out or the bread-and-butter forehand to extricate you, it can be tough to win matches. (See: Hewitt, Lleyton.)
On the subject of tennis-related books, I'm reading The Story of the Davis Cup by Alan Trengrove. Published in 1985, it's a terrific account of how it all started and continuing through 1984. Lots of tidbits, including one about John Bromwich, an old-time Aussie who "played with a left-handed forehand, had a double-handed backhand, and served with his right hand."
-- Mark Flannery, Fullerton, Calif.
Thanks. Someone alerted us that a prominent New York journalist (who I'm not sure wants to be named) is working on a book about the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. So that's good.
I am confused. Where is Amanda Coetzer? Why isn't her absence bigger news? I'm sad.
-- Rob, Champaign, Ill.
"Oh Mandy! You came, and you gave without talking. But now you're away ..." Or maybe not. We're told that Coetzer is taking some time off to evaluate her next step, but she isn't officially retired. By the way, among Coetzer, Monica Seles, Kournikova et al., you could hold a hell of a qualifying tournament.
I just looked at the draws at the three clay-court tournaments going on in Houston, Portugal, and Spain. I noticed there was not one American entered in the qualifying or main draw of the Spanish or Portuguese tournaments. Wouldn't it benefit players like Roddick, Fish, and Blake to compete with the best clay courters in the world, who are playing in Europe?
-- Jason Williams, St. Louis, Mo.
How come all those Europeans and South Americans aren't playing Houston? In fairness to the Americans, if they headed to Europe now (immediately after two Masters Series' events and a Davis Cup tie) they would basically be on the other side of the pond until early July. As long as they're getting in some clay-court play (and snagging some appearance-fee booty) stateside, you can hardly blame them for wanting an extra week or two in the States. The mass pull out from Monte Carlo is less defensible.
Since elite athletes can't seem to stay retired, any rumors floating around about Pete Sampras tying up the old sneaks? Or is he the rare champion who'll walk away for good and not look back?
-- Tom Vasich, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Last week, Dominic Ciafardini of New York wrote: "For all of the talk of how the women's game has become much more competitive, what does it say about the game that Serena Williams can take months off and then casually win the first tournament she enters? There is no way Roddick or Federer or anybody on the men's side could do that." Let's not forget Marat Safin, 2004 Australia Open champion.-- Kate Riley, Berkeley, Calif.
Yeah, I thought of that when I wrote the response but I talked myself out of it on the grounds that: a) He wasn't exactly out for the previous seven months; b) He didn't actually win the event; and c) He went 7-5 in the fifth with Todd Martin and barely got past Roddick and Agassi. Big difference between that and winning the final 6-1, 6-1.
Jon, PUHLEEZE -- while I understand you were alluding strictly to his frequent changing/firing of coaches, NEVER compare Marat Safin or any ATP/WTA player to a certain baseball team owner! Pretty please with sugar and/or artificial corn sweetener on top.
-- Mike, Rochester, N.Y.
Point taken. But new rule: Can we puhleeze refrain from using "puhleeze" in future communiques? Thanks.
I'm sorry I've gotten to the "sleeveless-shirt" debate so late, but I need to add my two cents. The male player we really need to see in a sleeveless shirt is Mr. Feliciano Lopez. Hubba hubba!
-- Tom F., Cliffside Park, N.J.
New rule: Any correspondence that uses Feliciano Lopez in conjunction with the term "Hubba hubba" cannot go unpublished.
Ian Walton/Getty Images
This week's long-lost siblings comes courtesy of Sharon Utz of Arlington, Va.: Mats Wilander and Scottish actor Ewan McGregor.
Re: our next contest, there were no shortage of suggestions. Tennis cartoons was a popular choice, but I can't figure out a way to do it online. A few of you suggested filling out brackets at a tournament and picking against me. But if you know my track record on these things, you understand why that would never work. (I couldn't even get The Apprentice right.) Toby Smith of Albuquerque, N.M., suggested christening tennis players with Chris Berman style nicknames and even gave a doozy of an example: Steffi (Corruption and) Graf. But we've done that one. Some of you suggested a trivia contest, but that's lame. (Aside: Someone should write an article/masters' thesis on the chilling effect the internet and google have had on trivia. Rev up your search engine and you can find out the answer to just about anything.)
I credit David of Portland, Ore., and Dwyer of San Antonio, Texas, with this idea: Send us your Best Ideas for Marketing Tennis to an International Audience (slogans, giveaways, promotions, etc.). We'll then forward the winning responses to some of the folks who matter in the sport with hopes they'll implement a few. Fire away.
Have a great week, everyone!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.