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Warming up the crystal ball

Posted: Monday November 26, 2001 11:30 AM<br /> <br /> <br />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! <br />—Kerry Ryan, Denver

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. However she is too old to even win a tier 1 now.

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). <br />—Liliana, Cordoba, Argentina

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. <br />—Peter Faso, Oakland

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? <br />—Rodrigo Contreras, Guatemala City, Guatemala

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? <br />—Khodi-Kuba Bennu, Boston

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? <br />—John, Cumming, Ga.

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.

<br />Jumping for joy<br />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."

<br />Electronically challenged<br />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.

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[ December 11, 2001: Message edited by: bulgar ]</p>
 

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here is the one from december 10th



<br />

<br /> <br /> En français

Posted: Monday December 10, 2001 12:01 PM<br /> <br /> <br />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? <br />—Dan, Toronto

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. <br />—Ashok Reddy, Denver

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? <br />—John, Cincinnati, Ohio

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!!!" <br />—Brian J., Springfield, Ill.

"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. <br />—Tom Cammalleri, Simi Valley, Calif.

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. <br />—Leonard, Bronx, N.Y.

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. <br />—Thor Evenhouse, Santa Cruz, Calif.

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. <br />—Jason Rainey, Dallas

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. <br />—Robert Lang, Weston, Conn.

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.
 

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The marrying type(s)

Click here for more on this story <br />Posted: Monday October 22, 2001 12:10 PM<br /> <br /> <br />Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.

A pair of Supertramp tickets to the first person who can name the last player to beat Lleyton Hewitt before Tommy Haas took him out in the Stuttgart semis last weekend. Answer: the vowel-laden Younes El Aynaoui in Indianapolis. ... Despite Haas' Masters Series win, the Stuttgart event had Montreal Expos-like attendance. Rumor has it the tournament will be held in Berlin next year. ... Anyone catch this headline: " [Thomas] Enqvist upsets [Andy] Roddick "? ... The ATP doubles championship in India was cancelled on account of safety concerns. ... Perry Rogers, Andre Agassi's longtime pal and manager, scored a monster coup last week when he signed on to represent Shaquille O'Neal's marketing endeavors. ... The search is over. Seems the WTA Tour will announce former Nike exec Kevin Wulff as its new president and CEO. ... From the Liberal Use of the Word Forced Dept.: The WTA announced over the weekend that Venus Williams was forced to withdraw from Linz because of "wrist irritation." We've said it before: If the Williams sisters want to play a reduced schedule, particularly in these dicey political times, all power to them. But this business of giving a commitment and then withdrawing on the eve of an event -- after sponsors, television rights holders and ticket buyers have ponied up serious coin -- does everyone involved a disservice. ... Speaking of withdrawals, Pete Sampras appears to have pulled the plug on a forgettable year. ... This week's contest: Read the tennis-related essay on page 70 of November's Talk magazine ( Rudy G. is on the cover). Then explain what in G-d's name the author, Christopher Buckley, was trying to say. Best answer gets a year subscription to Talk. (Runner-up gets a two-year subscription.)

Onward!

Was Arthur Ashe the last great champion to graduate from college? Will he be the last ever? Is this good or bad? <br />—Christine Hill, Cinnaminson, N.J.

The fact of the matter is that a player who stays in school until he (let alone she) is 21 or 22 is at real disadvantage on the circuit. Even players like Lisa Raymond and James Blake, who toted backpacks around campus and/or played anchorman for a few years before turning pro, are considered late bloomers. In recent years, there have been a few solid players -- Debbie Graham, Paul Goldstein -- who have finished school before turning pro. But no great champions. The good news, so to speak, is that a lot of pros return to school to finish their degrees after their careers are over. Former top-10 player Barbara Potter, for instance, graduated from Yale after her playing days ended. A few years ago Lindsay Davenport told me that she has considered going to college after she retires. I know, too, that Blake intends to finish up at Harvard when he's through playing.

Hello! Only a few weeks until the Fed Cup final. Since I come from Belgium, I was wondering how you like the chances of my compatriots. <br />—Sofie, St-Niklaas, Belgium

Hello! Too bad they don't have Fed Cup per capita. Two top players from tiny Belgium is quite an accomplishment. On paper, a U.S. team of Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles is a veritable murderers' row. But that presupposes all will show up. If I'm not mistaken, only Seles has committed -- and I'll buy you a case of Stella Artois if both Williams sisters show.

Any thoughts on why Leander Paes hasn't had much success in singles? Watching him play in the Davis Cup the other weekend, it's obvious the guy has plenty of raw talent. <br />—San R., Baltimore

Paes, you're right, has a surfeit of talent and possesses one of the best pairs of hands in the game. Through the years, he's played some decent singles, testing Agassi at the U.S. Open in 1996 and beating Sampras in New Haven in 1998. Paes, however, has neither a spring-loaded serve nor the backcourt game to be a top-notch singles player. Also, simply because of scheduling, it's awfully tough to be a top-notch doubles player and also compete credibly in singles.

Who do you think will be the first to make it to No. 1 in the world, Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick? And which one of them will win more Grand Slams in his career? I think they are the future of tennis, and their duels will become classics like Borg-McEnroe or Sampras-Agassi. <br />—Carlos Acosta, Torreon, Mexico

Hewitt has an excellent chance becoming No. 1 by year's end. Long-term, Roddick has more power and more weapons, but he also might be more prone to injury. The future of tennis also includes Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Guillermo Coria, Tommy Robredo and Mikhail Youzhny among others. But no question Hewitt and Roddick could become rivals. If you were at their quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open, you would be well advised to keep your ticket stub.

Do you feel that since Martina Hingis' strength is her smart court play, eventually her ego will allow her to become a doubles specialist and give up the singles game? <br />—Debbie Resnick, Cheltenham, Pa.

In a sense, Hingis has already established herself as something of a "doubles specialist," having won more Slams playing alongside a partner (8) than when flying solo (5). Will she ever concentrate on her doubles at the expense of her singles? Never. Hingis has spent the better part of the past four years as the world's top-ranked player. Sure, her status has slipped, but she's still better than all but four or five players on the planet. Second, so many of her endorsement deals no doubt have rankings clauses; I suspect she would lose a bundle the day she fell out of the top 10.

The recent interest in Evonne Goolagong's legacy reminds me of something I've been wanting to say for a while. Martina Hingis is the 21st-century equivalent of Goolagong, a naturally gifted, graceful talent who will never quite live up to her potential. Like Goolagong in 1971, Hingis burst on to the scene, winning tourneys and Grand Slams, but was never quite able to sustain that early excellence. There's a question buried in here, I promise. Don't you think we'll see Hingis, five-to-10 years from now, still playing and competing for titles? Hingis, like Goolagong, has the type of low-stress game that can keep her body healthy for years. Goolagong's nine-year lapse between Wimbledon trophies is the longest I can remember by any player. Maybe Hingis can top it. <br />—Jason, Evansville, Ind.

I agree with your point about Hingis. I've said this before: Hingis may never recapture her top ranking, but on consistency and technique alone she will be in the top 10 for a good many years. Despite last week's mishap, she has remained remarkably healthy for the first five years of her career. Further, she has the right constitution for a long career. She isn't crazy about practicing -- her mother will be all too happy to confirm this -- but she enjoys the limelight, she relishes competition and she has a pretty good perspective on her place in the sport.

The "second tier" of Americans on the women's tour has softened noticeably. Chanda Rubin, Amy Frazier, Lilia Osterloh, Kristina Brandi and Lisa Raymond are showing little this year. The big exception is Meghann Shaughnessy, who gets my vote for most improved on the WTA Tour (Jennifer Capriati wins for world's longest comeback}. Any thoughts? <br />—John E., Sacramento, Calif.

The question is a bit circular. If the "second-tier" players get better, they cease being "second-tier" players. But I see your point. Some Yankettes like Frazier, Raymond and Rubin seem stuck in that 15-25 range in perpetuity. Others like Osterloh, Meilen Tu, the injury-addled Brandi and Brie Rippner failed to make that next step in 2001. Shaughnessy is good candidate for most improved. But Justine Henin (largely because of injuries) finished 2000 ranked No. 48 and is now a star.

Is Max Mirnyi the most feared unranked player out there? He's such a giant slayer. <br />—Joseph Goins, Chestertown, Md.

Yes and no. We've covered Max before, but the question is topical as he reached the Stuttgart finals, beating Sampras, Gustavo Kuerten and Yevgeny Kafelnikov along the way. Basically, he's capable of beating anyone and of playing exceptional tennis against the top guns, as Guga and Sampras can attest. But he seems incapable of sustaining his excellence and winning a tournament.

<br />Wedding bells<br />Finally, last week's conundrum/contest -- "Which tennis players would you be most inclined to marry?" -- drew a downright frightening number of responses. So many, in fact, that I'm considering submitting this idea to Fox for a possible pilot. The hands-down winner on the ATP was -- gasp! -- Pat Rafter. You'll be heartened to know that among the WTA Tour starlettes, personality and kindness were accorded as much weight as beauty. Hence, not every candidate's name starts with a "K" and ends with an "-ournikova."

To hell with the sluggish economy. So many of these were hysterically funny, we have a bevy of winners who will receive CNNSI.com gear not available in stores. A smattering of the printable responses ...

Here's my top-five list for marriage material. And if any of the players are reading ...

5. Lisa Raymond: Call it hometown pride, but she could be as good a doubles partner in life as she is on the court.

4. Monica Seles: Easily the most gracious woman on the courts today.

3. Jennifer Capriati: That smile! Also, doesn't every guy have a crush on the homecoming queen?

2. Amanda Coetzer: Probably the only active WTA player who could wear heels with her wedding dress and not tower over a man of average height.

1. Steffi Graf: With my athleticism, my kids would need all of hers in the mix just to be able to open a can of tennis balls. <br />—Paul Gerard, Philadelphia

Top five most marryable ATP players ...

1. Pat Rafter: For reasons too obvious to mention.

2. Goran Ivanisevic: Insanity is never boring.

3. Tim Henman: For some fine, old, English gallantry!

4. James Blake: For proving himself an all-around class act, plus having hair that would always make mine look tidy.

5. Olivier Rochus: Because I think I might be able to beat him up. <br />—Diana Fawcett, Cincinnati

(NB: Beat-upability, that trait all women find so appealing in a husband.)

Since this is completely hypothetical and since my wife doesn't read your column, I will give it a go.

1. Lindsey Davenport: Great smile. <br />2. Martina Hingis: Great legs. <br />3. Amanda Coetzer: Great eyes. <br />4. Anna Kournikova: Duh!! <br />5. Chris Evert: I know she's married and doesn't play any more, but some dreams are hard to get rid of. <br />—Eric Prawde, Olney, Md.

(NB: I commend your wife on her discriminating tastes. You, on the other hand ...)

ATP players I would be most inclined to marry:

1. Arthur Ashe (were he still alive): Such a class act. Left such a positive mark on the sport of tennis, and lived and died with dignity.

2. Patrick Rafter (only if he grew back his hair): Not only is he a complete hottie and a great tennis player, but he is a genuine good guy.

3. Andre Agassi (without the hair): Complete package -- looks, sense of humor and every single Grand Slam trophy. What more could you ask for?

4. Todd Martin: He has a brain. Solid tennis player, but more important a solid individual.

5. Pete Sampras: Has become more passionate about tennis since hooking up with the blonde thingy. Not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that he beat three former U.S. Open champions to make it to the final, pumping his fist the entire way. <br />—Natasha Wood, Ottawa, Ontario

If we were talking about dating a player, my answer definitely would be Martina Hingis. She is so hot, I could fry bacon on her! But since the question is about marriage, my answer would have to change. I think Aranxta Sánchez-Vicario would probably be my choice, based on looks, personality and the way in which she seems to carry herself with greater dignity and class than some of the other players. Of course, my first choice by a mile, were she a little younger, would be Chris Evert. <br />—Larry Sidney, Bridgeport, Conn.

Which ATP Tour players would I be most inclined to marry? That's an easy one for us gals. If I were to search for a husband who is easy-going yet hardworking, well-mannered and polite yet intense on the court, successful but modest, friendly and charitable yet discerning, mature but still young, I'd have to pick Pat Rafter. The good looks would be a bonus. If I were to search for a husband who had tons of sex appeal, looked good on and off the court, had a wonderful build (basically someone who is "eye candy"), I'd have to pick Pat Rafter. The great personality would be a bonus. Add on top of that a house in Bermuda. <br />—Rima Z., Arlington, Va.

Top five to marry from the WTA:

1. Jennifer Capriati: Stars of almost any sport tend to be arrogant and self-absorbed. Usually, everything has revolved around them since they were young and things tended to come so easily to them. Jennifer certainly was the poster child for that ... literally. But she has managed to make it through to the other side, something few people do (read any recent John McEnroe interview). I get a sense of maturity and appreciation of life from her that few other stars have. It doesn't hurt that she's tall, strong, dark-haired and rather gorgeous.

2. Amelie Mauresmo: Hey, this is hypothetical, right? Again, someone who has had a variety of experiences tends to be more mature and have a wiser view of the world and themselves. It doesn't hurt that she's French; imagine the honeymoon -- we can go to anywhere from Vietnam to Martinique. Plus, she's tall, strong, dark-haired and pretty easy on the eyes. (This whole maturity argument is going to be undercut if everyone on my list looks roughly the same, isn't it?)

3. Martina Navratilova: Ha! Didn't see that one coming. Again, this is all hypothetical. Another player who has seen it all, been at the top and now seems to appreciate the pure joy of playing. The few times I've seen her play lately she has been very funny. She just seems to be at peace with the world. How great would that trait be in a life partner?

4. Serena Williams: Back to the tall, strong, dark-haired and amazingly attractive ilk [sigh]. And this is a tough one, because obviously the wedding would be a freakshow. Papa Richard would arrive for the rehearsal, then take a plane back home during the ceremony, and there is always a chance that Serena might hurt herself walking down the aisle and have to withdraw from the match. But I've always sensed something in her that I don't see in Venus, more of a sense of comfort with herself, more confidence, more humor. Yes, a little arrogance, too, and she's still pretty immature at time s... but doggone it, I just see something in her that appeals to me and, well, it's hard for me to get past her shoulder muscles. Imagine the backrubs. So, ya know, it'd all work out in the end.

5. Lindsey Davenport: I've always found her attractive; not many may agree, but there is something "attracting" about her. Call it warmth or lack of pretense. You know she's not going to play any games with you; what you see is what you get. And in the world of celebrities, that's pretty damn rare.

I know that any short-sighted individual who puts Anna Kournikova or Martina Hingis on his list will be reminded just what a living hell it would be to actually marry either one. <br />—Jason Zeaman, San Francisco

I had to break this down because most guys (sorry, Jon) don't seem to be strong in all three areas.

Looks/sex appeal: Guga!

Sense of humor: Goran. (I don't think I'd date him, though.)

Old fashioned sense of decency: The word "decent" has Todd Martin's picture next to it in the dictionary.

Someone who is more well-rounded in all three: I'm partial to Patrick Rafter. <br />—Renae Miller, Lititz, Pa.

Andre Agassi. <br />Andre Agassi. <br />Andre Agassi. <br />Andre Agassi. <br />Andre Agassi. <br />—Marline Thompson, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I gladly and proudly choose good ol' Guga. Who can beat that radiant smile, happy-go-lucky sunny disposition and great looks? Not to mention those blessed curls ... [sigh]. <br />—Kaye, New Jersey

Meghann Shaughnessy: She's hot and she's got sportswriter blood in her family. <br />—Urs, Boston

(NB: Meghann Shaughnessy is a perfectly acceptable choice. But "sportswriter blood" is an affliction, not a blessing.)

I believe Lindsay Davenport has to be the current catch for those seeking a mate from the ranks of the WTA Tour. She may not have the cache of the blonde Eastern Europeans, but they're going to be Teutonic, fat-lady-singing forms in a few decades, while Lindsay will always be a beauty. <br />—Steve Austin, Hopkinsville, Ky.

1. Lindsay Davenport: An all-around Cali girl and sweetheart with whom I can't imagine ever having a bad time.

2. Carling Bassett-Seguso: Because I saw her in person once playing mixed doubles with husband Robert (she's better than Anna Kournikova).

3. Chris Evert: For the sheer challenge of winning an argument versus that silent, stunning glare.

4. Alexandra Stevenson: To know the true meaning of "mother-in-law."

5. Marcelo Rios: For the true scandal of the civil union that would rock tennis. And I'm taller than him.

Honorable mention to Natasha Zvereva for the ability to change her name (Natalia) after being double bageled and have most people forget about it. Teach me to do that with some of my past errors. <br />—Brian, Providence, R.I.

(NB: No problem, Bobby.)

In response to the top five WTA athletes I would most like to marry:

1. Jennifer Capriati. <br />2. Jennifer Capriati. <br />3. Jennifer Capriati. <br />4. Jennifer Capriati. <br />5. Jennifer Capriati.

I just started getting into tennis in middle school, about the same time she started, so I have followed her career closely. She is a very strong and very impressive woman. Her story (not to mention her smile) have completely won me over as a fan. <br />—Rob Dollinger, Bozeman, Mont.

Sandrine Testud. From what I've read, she has her head on straight and treats people fairly well. On top of that, I find her quite attractive, in a very Continental way -- I mean, she doesn't look American, doesn't look Central European, she looks French. Which is OK by me. Of course, she does seem to be happily married. As am I. But this is all just hypothetical, right? <br />—Bill Theriault, Portland, Maine

For looks, sex appeal, personality and basic human decency, my five, in no particular order:

Dominik Hrbaty: He's just so damn cute! And very talented. And gives good interviews. And he's one of those players whose results are not a true reflection of their talent.

Andrei Pavel: Surprisingly good-looking. And with a sweet backhand. And he's the best Romanian player out there!

Juan Carlos Ferrero: A bit on the scrawny ... I mean, skinny ... I mean, slender side, but still gorgeous.

Alex Corretja: Being a gentleman on the court is sexy. Really.

Sjeng Schalken: I don't know why. But he's sort of sexy in that grim, protruding-skull, Stephen Lang-assassin sort of way. No, I don't know what I mean, either. <br />—Jennifer, Cincinnati

Guga. No contest. Let's begin with the physical: He's tall, athletic and handsome with a splendid and contagious smile. He has great hair.

Personality: He always appears to be happy and enjoying himself on and off the court by playing soccer, surfing and singing Hakuna Matata from The Lion King. He's popular with other players and is always gracious in defeat. He is charming and possesses a great self-deprecating humor. These are all required ingredients for marital success. Further, he rarely gravitates towards the spotlight and he lacks hubris. Humility is another necessary quality for long marital success.

Family: It is obvious he is entirely devoted to his family, and it represents the most important element in his life. Although, in the long run, his close relationship with his mother may lead to some unresolved Oedipal issues.

Loyalty: He is one of the few, if not the only, top-10 players who still lives in his hometown and refuses to leave Brazil and move to a wealthier country or buy property in a tax-free haven. He is the anti-hedonist and rarely flaunts his wealth. Most important, he gives back tenfold to Brazilians in the form of charitable organizations that bear his name.

Education: He speaks at least three languages.

Second choice: Goran Ivanisevic. All three of him: Good Goran, Bad Goran, 9-1-1 Goran. Life would never be boring. <br />—Marcela, Denver

Lord help me, but I can't get enough of Jennifer Capriati. She actually looks like she could have fun playing ping-pong with a Coke bottle or taking on any other challenge that comes her way. And her smile lights up a room (and melts my heart). The only downside seems to be the temper tantrums, so you gotta know when to get the hell outta Dodge and wait for the concussion to die down. That, and deal with the in-laws and their Addams family act. Not too much to ask, if love really does conquer all. <br />—Vinstigator, Glen, N.H.

I'd definitely go with the recently retired Mary Joe Fernandez. She's totally beautiful, smart and, according to legend, one of the nicest players in recent memory, all of which really comes across when she's broadcasting. Yes, I know she's already married with a baby on the way, but, hey, can't a man dream? <br />—Jorge Caussade, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here's my opinion on the top five WTA pros worth marrying:

1. Gabriela Sabatini: Gaby wins hands down, with her combo of exotic beauty and down-to-earth personality. She was humble and gracious, even in defeat. Anna K., take note, please.

2. Carling Bassett: The most beautiful player ever to play women's tennis (sorry, Anna, you're a distant second).

3. Mary Joe Fernandez: Could you find a nicer player than Mary Joe?

4. Chris Evert: She was America's tennis sweetheart. She had grace, poise and brains, too, (um, Anna lacks all three traits).

5. Steffi Graf: The most perfect, athletic body ever for a female athlete, any sport.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
WTA soap opera continues

Click here for more on this story <br />Posted: Monday November 05, 2001 11:53 AM<br /> <br /> <br />Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.

We have a special treat this week. His free-association, USA Today column may have been cancelled last month, but Larry King has taken a break from a busy past eight weeks to, once again, offer some random ruminations for the Tennis Mailbag. Without further ado, the King of All Media:

Not that I miss him, but did Damir Dokic fall off the planet or what? I think he's hanging out with Coolio, Scud Stud Arthur Kent and Mary Pierce at Club Where Are They Now? ... Can't decide who I'd less like to perform my next heart surgery: Jana Novotna or Byung-Hyun Kim. ... The WTA Tour has postponed moving its headquarters to Saddlebrook for at least a year. Yes, it sounds suspicious to me, too. ... Just when you thought the WTA Tour's rankings couldn't get less intuitive: Lindsay Davenport, who failed to so much as reach a Grand Slam final this year, finishes the year with the top ranking. ... Semper ubi, sub ubi. Never have truer words been written. ... If refills are free at Taco Bell, someone tell me why you'd order a size other than small? ... The quest for sponsors is going so poorly, I hear that the ATP Tour will soon be launching an NPR-style pledge drive. "For $100 you can get signage at a Masters Series event and your choice of a Sjeng Schalken coffee mug or a Car Talk tote bag. We rely on your support. All gifts are tax deductible." ... For all the blathering about improved depth on the WTA Tour: Serena Williams goes more than a year without an indoor match and hasn't played since the U.S. Open, yet she wins her first match in Munich 6-0, 6-2 in 40-some minutes. ... Snap peas are making a mean comeback. You read it here first. ... Confidential to Dr. Richard Ferber: You, sir, are a hero. ... Gustavo Kuerten heads to Sydney having lost six of his last seven matches. ... I would write more, but I've been suffering from wrist irritation of late.

Tons of questions this week. Sorry I can't get to all of them.

Assuming her remarks were quoted fairly, I wonder whether you were as disappointed as I in Lindsay Davenport's rather flippant dismissal of Venus Williams' late-hour withdrawal from the Sanex Championships and the announced investigation thereof. While acknowledging that Venus should have given more notice to tournament organizers and sponsors, Davenport's conclusion that professional tennis players are "self-employed" and "don't have to play if they don't want to" was surprisingly bush-league for a player of her usual thoughtfulness and intelligence. Does her attitude represent that of most of the top players on the WTA Tour? <br />—Mike, Montgomery Village, Md.

Before I answer ...

Consider this message a preemptive "calm down" to my fellow 'Bag readers who are enraged at some of Lindsay Davenport's recent comments. Consider what she has said the last few weeks or so:

1. Venus Williams, in Davenport's mind, is the No. 1 player in the world right now.

Well, duh. Davenport lost to Williams the three times they've played this year, and both Davenport and Williams have beaten Jennifer Capriati in two straight matches (in fact, Williams is 4-0 lifetime vs. Capriati). This wasn't an attack on Capriati's credibility; Davenport has since said that Capriati deserves the top spot (over herself) because of Capriati's Grand Slam results.

2. The way Williams pulled out of the Sanex Championships was not handled well.

Again, duh. This is not an attack on Williams, it's just a logical observation. Plus, Davenport generally defended Williams' decision, saying it's her prerogative to play whatever events she wants. Davenport just questioned the way the withdrawal was handled, which has since caused so much resentment.

I hope that fans of Capriati and the Williams sisters will see these comments as just observations and not bitter, jealous and/or racist remarks. I just can't accept any of those adjectives as a description of Davenport. Your thoughts? <br />—Kevin Shoop, Toledo, Ohio

Even by women's tennis' impossibly high standards for absurdity, it was a bizarre week on the WTA Tour. To recap: Venus Williams pulled out of Munich with "wrist irritation," which sounds like the injury equivalent of "the dog ate my homework." The tour announced an investigation but claimed it was not singling out Venus, that this was standard operating procedure whenever any player withdraws from the year-end championships. (Yeah, right. Why am I skeptical that a blue-ribbon panel was convened to investigate the legitimacy of injuries to players Kimiko Date, Brenda Schultz McCarthy and Barbara Paulus when they pulled out a few years back?) In so many choice words, Davenport says what she (and pretty much the rest of the tour) has been thinking for years: namely, that the Williams sisters' nonsense has gone on far too long. The defending champ, Martina Hingis, is out with an injury. Capriati loses her No. 1 ranking to Davenport when J-Cap suffers a sore throat. Then a knee injury forces Davenport to withdraw before her final showdown against Serena. Say this: For all its foibles, women's tennis has one tremendous sense of irony.

What do I think? Everyone should go home, take two aspirin and come back in eight weeks with healthier spirits and bodies.

Seriously, in short strokes:

a) The tour desperately needs to revamp its rankings system.

b) The players are, at some level, "independent contractors," but they play under the aegis of the WTA Tour and owe the circuit some level of professionalism. After he rejiggers the rankings, the new CEO needs to make the players feel a greater sense of obligation and loyalty to the tour itself. (Of course, the management agencies, which always have the interest of the game at heart, will help these values.)

c) Essentially, I'm with Kevin from Toledo. Davenport may have been more blunt than she needed to be. But she readily admitted that, on merit, she wasn't the best player -- nor should she have to apologize for finishing first. And her remarks about Venus and Capriati were unobjectionable.

How do the other players feel about Goran Ivanisevic being allowed to play in Sydney even though he ranks outside the top 10? There is no way that Ivanisevic can be considered one of the eight best players this year, despite his miraculous run at Wimbledon. You talked about problems with the wild-card system before -- isn't this the worst possible abuse? <br />—Amy L. Otto, Albion, Mich.

While it's not the worst possible abuse, you raise a good point. Namely, it smells mildly fishy when a player who's nowhere near the top eight in the Champions Race makes the year-end blowout. Lots of you, including Dallia Abdel-Moniem of Khartoum, Sudan, inquired about the confusing Masters Cup format. As I understand it, the top seven in the Champions Race qualify. The last spot goes to the highest-ranked Slam winner between 8 and 20. Ivanisevic clinched when it was determined that none of the other three Slam winners ( Andre Agassi, Guga and L'il Lleyton Hewitt ) could fall out of the top seven. If no Slam winners exist between 8 and 20 then the No. 8 guy in the race goes. Got that? Someone who might be described as a "well-placed source" claims that this "Slam Winner" codicil exists so that if a marketable player (read: Pete Sampras or Agassi) were to win a major but fail to finish among the top eight, he would still, to the promoters' delight, make the draw.

Having been criticized for being rude to the media, not always being in top shape and tanking on several occasions, what do you think of the "new" Marcelo Rios? Since hooking up with a new coach in August and coming back from an ankle injury, he has beaten several top players -- Sebastien Grosjean (twice), Marat Safin and Andrei Pavel, to name a few. After not making the main draw in Paris, the guy goes down to South Africa to play in a challenger. What do you make of his renewed interest in the game, and do you see him possibly getting back to the top 10 and maybe still winning a Grandie? <br />—Patrick, Bayonne, N.J.

We're all about giving credit where it's due here at the 'Bag. And though he has been a favorite piñata in the past, Rios does indeed qualify for props of late. Actually, he went to his native South America (Santiago, Chile, to be precise) and not South Africa and won the challenger event last week. But what's a few frequent-flier miles between friends? Though it will preclude him from winning a "Grandie," Rios' recent marriage and fatherhood seem to have changed him (his little lapse into a guest appearance on Cops Rome notwithstanding). Of course, he's also been healthy for the first time in years. He recently said that his goal is the top 10; while I wouldn't bet on it, he has so much natural talent that it's not preposterous.

A research question for you. A lot has been made of Anna Kournikova failing to win a title, despite a top-10 ranking, exorbitant sponsorship deals and a huge following among (mostly male) fans. Have there been any other top-10 players, either male or female, who have also failed to win a title? <br />—Leon Wolff, Sydney, Australia

You should know by now questions that entail expending some actual effort rather than merely pontificating are frowned upon. Elena Dementieva, of course, has yet to win a title. Other than that, I know of no other top-10 players who failed to win a title.

Has there ever been discussion of penalizing players with point deductions rather than monetary fines? Five-, even six-figure fines mean little to someone like Venus Williams. <br />—David Ebershoff, New York

Interesting. There is, in effect, an inherent point deduction for a player bailing on an event. Venus, for instance, earned a goose-egg for Munich, which will hurt her well into next year (though because she failed to play the 2000 year-end championships, she was defending bubkas). The WTA Tour should realize that fining a player a portion of her "bonus money" is both moronic and oxymoronic. Withholding a bonus (i.e., money a player has yet to earn) is not a fine. The least the tour could do in the face of a dubious injury is to fine a player cold cash that she has already earned. (Of course, as you note, when you're making seven mil a year -- guaranteed -- from Reebok, is a $100,000 penalty really a deterrent?)

Here's the scenario: The WTA has three players, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin and Iroda Tulyaganova, ranked in the top 20 who are all shorter than 5-foot-7, and they play each other on clay, grass and hard courts as well as indoors. 1) Who has the best chance against the Big Babes (please rank them)? 2) How far can Tulyaganova climb in the rankings? <br />—Casey L., Leroy, Minn.

First, for the record, there are other top-20 shorties you failed to mention like Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario and Amanda Coetzer. Of the triumvirate you've mentioned, I think Henin has the best chance against the Big Babe Brigade. She generates the most power and, right now, anyway, her confidence level is the highest. Lately, Hingis appears a beaten woman before she even sets foot on the court. She's proven that she can play splendid tennis, but I fear her best days are behind her and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Henin surpasses her in the rankings by this time next year. As for Tulyagonova, I confess that I haven't been impressed. She's had some great results at various Tier IIIs. But when I've seen her play at Slams, she looks like a player who lacks the weapons to get much higher than her current ranking.

What's your take on Brendan Evans? I saw him play at Kalamazoo and was impressed but not that impressed. Who else that played at the USTA Boys' Championships is considered a player? <br />—Walt, Oxford, Ohio

I admit to be being partial to Rajeev Ram, if only because he's from Indiana. Everyone else is gaga over Brian Baker.

Last year around this time, we saw two 19-year-old Russians, Anna Kournikova and Elena Dementieva, make it to the semifinals of the year-end championships. This year the new power country appears to Belgium, with Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Personally, though, I still feel Kournikova and Dementieva are better players who just had bad luck this year. Do you see them both finishing in the top 10 ahead of Clijsters and Henin next year? And which one of these four players do you think will be the first to win a Grand Slam? <br />—Steve Tseng, Los Angeles

Right now, I think Clijsters is head and shoulders above the others. Having already come within two points of winning a Slam at the 2001 French, she will be the first to achieve the brass ring. Dementieva had something of a sophomore slump, but she is a fine player. Henin is on short list of entertaining players, but I fear she is too slight to take the proverbial next step. Anyone who saw her match in Munich against Serena Williams knows what I'm talking about. Kournikova, of course, is the great wild card. She has the game to be a top-10 player. One of the sport's burning questions: Can she overcome her injuries and insecurity and finally make her mark on the court?

I've been a huge fan of tennis over the last six years, which brings me to my question: What's your favorite Monty Python film? <br />—Mark, Sydney, Australia

This being Non-Sequitur Monday and all, I feel obliged to respond: Life of Brian.

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.

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Discussion Starter #5
Still railing on rankings

Click here for more on this story <br />Posted: Monday November 12, 2001 11:41 AM<br /> <br /> <br />Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.

If Andre Agassi wins this week's Masters Cup, he'll be the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1. It's a tall order, but consider that the two ahead of him, Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten, have one indoor title between them. ... Ranked No. 74, sandwiched between the formidable Virginie Razzano and Janette Husarova, Anna Kournikova is in South Africa, playing Amanda Coetzer in a series of exhibitions. ... To celebrate a smashing rookie year, last week Andy Roddick moved out of his parents' house into his own pad. ... Sara Fornaciari, one of tennis' true characters, sold her charming Oklahoma City event to a Memphis promoter last week. Word is Memphis will try and host a mixed-gender tournament. ... The Tennis Channel has purchased the rights to more than a dozen men's and women's events, most of them held in the U.S. ... Wake Forest's Bea Bielik and Minnesota's Harsh Mankad captured singles titles Sunday at the Omni Hotels National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships at the Brookhaven Country Club. ... Best wishes to USTA p.r. guru Joe Favorito, who is leaving tennis to take a VP job with those hapless New York Knicks. ... Ultra-talented, ultra-enigmatic Patty Schnyder won her first title in three years last weekend, beating Henrietta Nagyova in the finals of the Pattaya City event. Schnyder dedicated the win to her cat Rudi, who had died during the tournament. ... Until a more permanent sponsor can be found to replace Ericsson, the Key Biscayne event will be known as the [YOUR AD GOES HERE] Open.

I was dreaming when I wrote this. Forgive me if I go astray ...

You have been critical of the tennis rankings, as have others. Is it possible that tennis could adopt something similar to golf's World Ranking? Golf's system is based on results over the last two years and uses average points per event, not total points. There is a minimum number of events, but I don't know what it is. Doesn't tennis' total-points system penalize those who don't play a lot (e.g., Venus Williams)? <br />—Ben, El Paso, Texas

Lots of you wrote in about the rankings conundrum in women's tennis. Kelly Price of Denver was more blunt than you were, Ben. An edited version of her screed: "We all criticize the rankings, but unless we can come up with a better system, we should all shut up." I wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley, but she has a point. It's easy to point out the vagaries and counterintuitive results; it's far more difficult to devise a better mousetrap.

The rankings should reflect the merit of the players. But for the sport to thrive, players also need an incentive. I think most of us are in agreement that, in a vacuum, Venus Williams is the best player in tennis. But if she were to be rewarded with the top ranking while playing an average of only one event a month, tennis would suffer. The question is whether the sport suffers less when rankings don't correspond with common sense.

A few flawed suggestions:

<br />Accord more weight to the Slams. I've heard rumors that the tour is considering imbuing Tier I events like Charleston, Rome, Moscow and the Canadian Open with more value. Bad idea. This will only exacerbate the problem. Ask any player whether she would rather win one Slam or a half-dozen Tier I titles and most would chose the former. The problem: Investing the Slams with even more significance weakens the value of run-of-the-mill tour stops and gives players even less incentive to enter the Amelia Island-type events.

Players get bonus points when they beat a highly ranked opponent; a "quality win," it's called. But how about introducing "penalty points" when top players lose consistently to lower-ranked colleagues? A string of bad defeats and they will eventually lose their spot, no matter how many events they play. Though harsh, such a system would have prevented Martina Hingis from retaining the top ranking even as she lost time and again.

Instead of requiring players to compete in a certain number of events (currently 17), base the rankings, as golf does, on average points per tournament. (Venus Williams, despite her sparing schedule, would be the top-ranked player under this format.) Then institute appearance fees, as the men's tour does, as an inducement for the players to compete frequently. In a sense, this is the free market at its best. The problems: a) Promoters, whose interests the tour purports to represent, would hate it; b) Management groups, already a blight on the game, would only have more power and influence; c) Invariably, the appearance bounty would exact a price on draw sizes and prize money to the detriment of players outside the top 20; d) Ugly accusations of tanking and questions of legitimacy arise when players are paid merely to show up. <br />Will the media rail about Lindsey Davenport being No. 1 the same way they freaked out about Martina Hingis being No. 1. Seems Davenport hasn't won a Slam in two years as well or is it OK because Davenport's an American? <br />—Harold, New York

Your point is well taken, but I'll play Lucifer's advocate. First, Davenport immediately admitted that, on merit, she wasn't the top player in the sport, something Hingis never did. Second, Davenport only came into the top spot last week. Hingis retained her penthouse ranking even after she continued to lose. (The Chuckster is winless in her last 11 Slams and counting, while Davenport is merely 0-fer her last seven.) A few pratfalls at Grand Slams and, provided Davenport is still No. 1, rest assured the skeptics will emerge.

Jack Kramer woodie or the upstart Wilson T2000? Having recently cleaned out my garage, I happened upon both of them. I must say, the Kramer still handles pretty well. Which do you like better? <br />—Doug, Chicago

No contest, Jack beats Jimbo in straight sets. You're not going to overpower anyone with a Jack Kramer model, but I've played with few rackets -- wood, metal, graphite, other -- with such exquisite feel.

What are your thoughts on Belgian Fed Cup captain Ivo Van Aken's comments that the U.S. used fear of terrorism as an excuse to avoid playing on clay? Do you agree that the U.S. is at a disadvantage on that surface? I honestly believe the U.S.'s record in Fed Cup speaks for itself. Also, why would the U.S. fear playing on clay? I'd pick Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles and the Williamses on any surface against any team. <br />—David Nieves, Bronx, N.Y.

A few Fed Cup questions trickled in this week. First things first: A USTA source claims that, against captain Billie Jean King's objections, the U.S. pulled out of Fed Cup before the security support was released. The U.S., the source says, was upset that the event wasn't held on American soil and a game of bluff-calling ensued.

But on balance, I still say Van Aken's remarks were in exceptionally bad taste. Even if he believed the U.S. was using the events of Sept. 11 as an "excuse," those are sentiments best left unexpressed. He mentioned that the U.S. team members were already in Europe for the year-end championships. But, as we discussed before, there is a big difference between competing abroad as an individual and as a member of an American team. I agree with you, too: Even if Davenport and Venus don't play, any combination of Seles and Serena, Capriati and Lisa Raymond in doubles makes for an awfully good team, regardless of surface.

With the World Series just ending, I have a combination tennis/baseball question. Why is it that a pitcher needs a minimum of three days rest (and usually four) before he pitches again, while a tennis player can serve all day in a five-set match and come back and play again less than 24 hours later? Aren't the pitch and the serve similar motions with similar stresses on the arm? Plus, most pitchers don't throw much more than a 100 pitches an outing, while a tennis player may serve for upwards of five hours, in addition to hitting all the other shots. Are tennis players tougher or is pitching a baseball that much more stressful to the arm? <br />—Jeff Trip, Winsted, Conn.

Both. Tennis players, unquestionably, are tougher. Interesting point, though we're essentially comparing apples and oranges. The motions are similar but the big difference, obviously, is that in tennis, the racket is striking the ball (and absorbing a good deal of impact) while in baseball the arm has direct contact with the ball.

If there are any exercise-science types out there, perhaps they can answer the question I've always had: How come pros seldom lose velocity on their serves as matches progress? Time and again, one sees players -- male and female -- bomb in their fastest serves in the waning games of a match.

Is there an unwritten protocol in professional mixed doubles? Does a male player, like Max Mirnyi, try to hit the cover off the ball when serving to the female player as he does when serving to the male player? <br />—R. Aubry, New York

This is one reason mixed doubles is considered the funny cars of tennis, a light diversion devoid of real significance. The basic rule: It's uncool of the male to serve his hardest to the female or to direct a forceful body shot to her at net. One often sees a male serve, say, 125 mph to his male counterpart and take 10-15 miles an hour off when the female returns. All decorum, however, goes out the window when the match gets tight or a male faces a break point. Then every ball is directed at the woman.

From your experience with tennis and the NBA, what is the motivation behind an older athlete (someone like Michael Chang) who continues to play despite meager results? Is it the hope beyond hope that he's still going to achieve what he once achieved? Is it the money? Or is it something else? That said, let me be the first to say that I don't agree with folks who implore athletes to retire. It seems to me that this is a decision an athlete must make. However, when an older athlete's game starts to slow down, you have to wonder what it is that keeps him going. <br />—Scott G., Los Angeles

Good points all. Sad as it is to watch Chang -- once the second-best player in the world -- struggle to beat the most marginal opposition, why begrudge the man his right to work? I don't understand this in the context of Michael Jordan either, but that situation especially stark. It's not like Chang is taking anyone's roster spot (a few wild cards notwithstanding).

Why do athletes hang on when their skills begin to desert them? Some, like Jordan, are "action junkies" who have a narcotic dependence on competing. Others suffer delusions of grandeur and think they can make it back to where they once belonged. Still others, as Pete Sampras showed at the Open, correctly note that even in a state of decline, they can still hold their own on a given day.

In some cases, though, as Nelly might say, "It must be the money." I am not saying he is motivated solely by financial concerns, but consider Chang. What with endorsement deals, clinics, exhibitions and appearance fees (particularly in Asia, where he is still wildly popular), Chang can still make some serious cake, even in a year like this, when he finished the year in 73rd place in the Champions Race.

If your Taco Bell order was to go -- i.e., you're not going to be there to take advantage of the refills -- then you might order a large, if you wanted that much soda. <br />—Chip Hatcher, Ann Arbor, Mich.

A few of you made this astute point. I'll pass it on to Larry. Meanwhile, ponder this: How much more popular would tennis be if fans were rewarded with free chalupas, say, when a player won a set 6-0?

I know that in the downtime between the end of the Masters Cup and the start of the Australian Open, questions may lag a bit. So here is my contribution to the cause: Can you name your top five Woody Allen movies? <br />—Phil O'Donaghue, Florence, Mass.

If you ask me, the Woodman has lost a little something on his fastball. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Small Time Crooks and Sweet and Lowdown all had their moments but were generally formulaic, wait-till-video flicks. Anyway, my votes:

1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (one of the better movies ever made) <br />2. Radio Days <br />3. Annie Hall <br />4. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex <br />5. Hannah and Her Sisters

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.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
this guy pisses me off what do you think about his comments on amanda coetzer and monica seles,

he says amanda coetzer can't even win a tier 3, what an ass*ole, and what about that monica comment, she is in the past, she can only dominate players like nagyova and then ofcorse he backs up all the male players.

this guy is a male sophinist pig, sex racist, pig bastar*.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
yeah he is amuzing but he pisses me off sometimes
 
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