Thursday January 20th, 2005

Some quick notes as Wimbledon begins ...

Sure to get overlooked by Wimbledon news, Amanda Coetzer announced her retirement last week. In an era of power tennis, she was a constant reminder that there was still a place in the game for fitness, fight and indefatigability. Apart from a decade's worth of exceptional tennis -- nine titles, a long-term lease in the top 10 -- she was a total professional, thoroughly respected and an exceedingly pleasant member of the tour. She will be missed. ...

For a quick recap of the grass-court tune-ups go to the si.com results page. But let's quickly acknowledge Daniela Hantuchova for turning in her best results in a looong time last week. Looking decidedly more healthy, she made it all the way to the final of Eastbourne, beating Amelie Mauresmo in the process. Her loss -- a three-setter to Svetlana Kuznetsova -- is nothing to cry over. Hantuchova is a far better player than her WTA ranking (No. 38) would indicate, and one can only hope that she has solved whatever problems derailed her progress. ...

Random asides:

The International Tennis Hall of Fame announced it has acquired one of the most significant privately held collections of tennis-themed objects. Ranging from the Renaissance through the 1930s, the Albert and Madeleine Ritzenberg Collection covers virtually the entire history of tennis. In half a century of travels around the world, the Ritzenbergs have acquired objects related to tennis, building a collection that includes items from the 15th century up to the Art Deco period of the 1930s. Consisting of more than 2,000 items, it is believed to be the most significant private collection of its kind. ...

Does anyone else get a kick out of the breathless AP headlines that stem from Monday's preliminary results? Ferrero, Sanchez, Ljubicic Advance; Kostanic Rolls; Saretta Upset. You know you're a hard-core fan when a headline containing the name "Kostanic" is piquing your interest in the article. ...

Can we agree here and now that The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern is the Pete Sampras of movie reviewers? ...

From the hmmm department: Jennifer Capriati has apparently parted ways with Heinz Gunthardt and is now being coach by Tom Gullikson. .... Guillermo Coria also has a new coach, Gabriel Markus. ...

Boris Yeltsin had this to say to Elena Dementieva at a recent lunch: "Improve your serve." ...

Many of you have mentioned that you are seeking to buy tickets to Wimbledon this year. If anyone is looking to sell tickets, starting June 28 or later, let me know, and I'll post your e-mail. ...

It's always fun to see how many names you recognize in the Grand Slam qualifying draws. As long as you're going to Wimbledon.org anyway, check out the results from the qualies. ...

Happy 35th birthday to Steffi Graf. ...

My colleague Gabe recommends you check out the piece on Boris Becker in the latest GQ Europe. ...

As for our riddle about a player winning an event more than 11 times, many of you pointed out that Margaret Court won the Australian Open 11 times. I thought we were talking about garden-variety tour events, but the point is well taken. ...

Simile of the Week award goes to Serena Williams, who in discussing her relationship with her sister in a People magazine story said, "Me and Venus are like peas and carrots. We're not together as much, but I love being around her." ...

Some questions ...

I'm not sure when it was filmed, so it may just be a case of coincidental timing, but do you think Andre Agassi's participation in the FOX reality show Casino has anything to do with his sub-par play this spring? -- Kevin, Portland

WTHIGOW Agassi, asked in one form or another, was the hot topic this week -- this, of course, after he lost yet another first-round match and then withdrew from Wimbledon. For weeks now, everyone's favorite parlor game has been "When (and How) will Andre Retire?" Every statement he makes is parsed for clues. Every gesture contains deep symbolism. Did that protracted last bow in Melbourne denote that he wasn't returning?

It's well known that age 34 is ancient in tennis years. And it's no secret that Agassi won't go on much longer if he can't get out of the first round. Is it possible, however, that Agassi simply has an injured hip that has neutered his power and movement? And that when he recovers, he will resume playing at the level he achieved in Australia, where he came within a few points of the final? The gossip notwithstanding, Agassi has given little indication the U.S. Open will be his swan song. (In fact, he announced his intention to play Wimbledon 2005, and his camp asserts he will play the European indoor season.) As with Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and the rest of the elite players who have grown long in the tooth, what if we just enjoy them why they're still here and let them exit the stage on their terms?

I agree with the decision to make Serena the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters are out, and Serena is the two-time defending champ so she deserves the top spot. But why not make Venus No. 2? Venus is ranked higher than Serena, and even though she hasn't won a Major since the 2001 U.S. Open, she's been to the finals the last four years and has won twice. -- Matt Whitaker, New York City

Since Venus and Serena ended up on opposite sides of the draw, it is ultimately a moot point. But I don't disagree. Check out Venus' results at Wimbledon this millennium: win, win, runner-up, runner-up. With all respect to both Anastasia Myskina and the WTA rankings, would you really head to Ladbrokes and pick her ahead of Venus?

A few of you registered surprise that Tim Henman -- generally regarded as the best bet after Andy Roddick and Roger Federer to win Wimby -- was seeded fifth, lower than both Coria and David Nalbandian (who withdrew over the weekend). "Shouldn't he have gotten some home cooking?" one of you asked. Remember these seedings aren't totally subjective. They take into account rankings as well as past surface performance. With Coria's and Nalbandian's points lead over Henman, it would have been tough to justify the seeding. Plus Nalbandian's best showing at Wimbledon is a round better than Henman's. (As it stands, Henman was in Nalbandian's quadrant before he pulled out, so it is essentially a non-issue.)

Who do you think is the most talented player in the last 20 years never to reach a Grand Slam final? My vote goes to Coetzer or Kimiko Date (very underrated). And the guys? Henman? Jason Stoltenberg? Guy Forget? It's been awhile since you've included a top-five list in the Mailbag. -- Len, Cork, Ireland

Best player never to reach a Slam final? Good one. Henman is way up there, obviously. Other candidates off the top of my head in no particular order ... Brad Gilbert, Coetzer, Forget, Tommy Haas, Patty Schnyder, Chanda Rubin, Anders Jarryd, I'll give you Date and Tim Mayotte.

Just doing a mental inventory, it occurs to me it is the rare top-five (at least top-10) player who has never made a final, no matter how forgettable their showing once they got there. And let alone the Chris Lewis-type flukes, "losing finalist" isn't a particularly exclusive club. Consider the past five years or so alone: Arnie Clement? Marty Verkerk? Cedric Pioline? Rainer Schuettler?

I have a long-lost siblings suggestion: Boris Becker and Rupert Grint, a.k.a. Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. -- T.J. Martinez, Roy, N.M.

Last week's question about Canadian players got me thinking. Has Sonya Jeyaseelan retired? What about Sebastien Lareau, Jana Nejedly and Maureen Drake? The only Canadian I remember hearing about lately is Daniel Nestor playing doubles with Mark Knowles. -- Theresa Rose, Everett, Wash.

Anthony Alfred, Tennis Canada's regional director for media and public relations, was good enough to help us out. Sonya Jeyaseelan has taken some time off the tour to pursue other opportunities, including furthering her coaching certification. She will play in some doubles matches during the year and serve as a part-time hitting partner for Maggie Maleeva. Jana Nejedly retired from the tour in October 2003 and plans to stay involved in the game as a coach. She is currently coaching in Boston. Sebastien Lareau retired from the tour in January 2003 -- a combination of wanting to spend more time with his wife, Sylvie, and son, Elliott, and two bad injuries, a tear of his patella tendon and bursitis. Maureen Drake is still competing on the WTA Tour.

Also, Marc of San Diego wrote: There are some good young Mexicans coming up. Alejandro Hernandez was ranked around 120, but he has dropped a bit. There are also a few good young guys to keep your eye on, such as Santiago Gonzalez and Luis Flores. ...

Why don't we see more of John McEnroe commentating? I know he did a small amount at Roland Garros. He is surely a notch above all other broadcasters. -- Maureen Callahan, Ayer, Mass.

We're all waiting for John McEnroe to work on his visibility and, you know, emerge from his shell a bit. Two Mac notes: a) His CNBC show, McEnroe, starts on Wednesday, July 7. b) He just did an interview with Sports Business Radio (plug alert: The show airs Sundays from 11a.m. - noon Pacific on Portland, Oregon's 750 KXL-AM) and as they went to break he played guitar for the listeners.

After watching the DFS Classic awards ceremony, a few people in the crowd probably were surprised by Maria Sharapova's and Tatiana Golovin's American accents. Is this a sign of an impending wave of Bollettieri-trained teens? -- Doris Woo, Birmingham, England

No, it's a sign that English is becoming the new Esperanto. Sharapova and Golovin have both spent time in the States, but, in truth, it is the rare player who doesn't speak English. For better or worse, it's almost a professional necessity on the tennis circuit.

Having nothing to do with their language skills, both Sharapova and Golovin are headed for big things. The former in particular. Even with the shackles of age eligibility, Sharapova is on the fringe of the top 10 and is fresh off a quarterfinal showing at Roland Garros. When she a) plays a full schedule b) fills out her frame and c) plays more patiently, does anyone really think there isn't a Grand Slam in her future?

Let's give Coria some credit for making an effort to play on grass after his French Open final loss. He not only honored his commitment to play the Queen's Club event two days later, then after losing there he competed at the Ordina Open in the Netherlands. Whatever he does at Wimbledon, how he fares will not be due to disinterest or lack of effort. -- Aaron Gerritz, Arlington, Va.

Hear, hear. To the extent you guys are representative, Slick Willie took a hit in the court of public opinion for his comportment in the Roland Garros final. For him to honor his commitment and play two grass-court tune-ups immediately after a devastating loss shows an abundance of character. Especially when there has been an unfortunate precedent of clay-court impresarios taking leaves of grass, so to speak. And he didn't do poorly, losing -- predictably -- his first match, but then he reached the finals of the Ordina Open in Den Bosch, Netherlands. (We stick by our pick, however, that he only lasts a round or two at Wimbledon.)

Have a good week, everyone!

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