The Big Breakthrough
Vladimir Voltchkov, ranked No. 237, fought his way into the
second week of Wimbledon
This is an article from the July 10, 2000 issue
Vladimir Voltchkov may have won the Wimbledon juniors in 1996,
but there were abundant reminders at this year's tournament that
he had yet to infiltrate the big time. Before his fourth-round
match on Monday he couldn't find a practice partner, so he warmed
up by going for a run. His minuscule bio in the ATP Tour media
guide incorrectly lists his birthday as July 4 (it's April 7).
What's more, lacking an apparel contract, Voltchkov took the
court in London wearing a Nike top with Adidas shorts. "Actually,
I borrowed the shorts from Marat Safin," he says. "He lost last
week, so I took some of his clothes and his grass-court shoes."
Voltchkov's stature is due to improve after this week. A husky
22-year-old from Minsk, Belarus, he came to Wimbledon ranked No.
237, swept through his three matches in the qualifying draw and
reached the quarterfinals by beating veteran Wayne Ferreira in
straight sets. Though only 5'11", Voltchkov hits a booming serve
and heavy groundstrokes, and though he won just two ATP Tour
matches all last year, he is unfazed by the pressure of a Grand
Slam event. He skunked Ferreira 7-0 in the third-set tiebreaker,
punctuating the win with an ace. "This is some of the best tennis
I've played, especially on the big points," he says. "I've been
waiting for a result like this for a while."
The son of two electricians, Voltchkov turned pro in 1995. Shaky
confidence and a bum right shoulder kept his ranking out of the
top 100, relegating him to qualifying draws and the challenger
circuit. His future looks brighter after his Wimbledon
performance, which guaranteed him a payday of roughly $100,000
and a jump into double digits in the rankings. "In some ways,
there will be less pressure now," he says. "The challengers are
like the survival zone."
A few more trips to the quarterfinals (or perhaps farther) and
Voltchkov may even be able to stop mooching attire from his
friends. --L. Jon Wertheim
U.S. Davis Cup Team
Will Pete Play? Who Knows?
John McEnroe's second act has hit another snag. When McEnroe, who
retired from the ATP Tour in 1992, got the job of U.S. Davis Cup
captain last September, no one--least of all he--envisioned it as a
very difficult task. Both the world's hottest player, Andre
Agassi, and the world's best, Pete Sampras, had committed to
playing for him, which meant that McEnroe had polished off about
90% of his duties before the 2000 campaign had even begun. "I
should've known better," McEnroe said last Friday. "Welcome to
It bites. Again. Facing a difficult tie, on clay against a strong
Spanish team in Santander from July 21 to 23, McEnroe must
contend once more with Sampras's delicate body and ego. It will
be a high-profile test of McEnroe's leadership--and a task at
which the captain is not skilled. After Sampras tore 40% of his
hip flexor at the Australian Open and pulled out of the
first-round tie between the U.S. and Zimbabwe in February,
McEnroe enraged him by suggesting that Sampras, who had redrawn
his 2000 schedule to fit in Davis Cup, had never had any real
interest in traveling to Africa. Sampras considered quitting the
team but returned for the U.S.'s second-round win over the Czech
Republic in Los Angeles in April and an uneasy coexistence with
Sampras's availability--and McEnroe's ability to secure it without
alienating him--is again in question. After suffering tendinitis
in his left shin before his second-round win over Karol Kucera at
Wimbledon, Sampras spent the remainder of the tournament's first
week contending with the injury, which he called "a little bit
painful." He said on Saturday, "I haven't thought much about
Davis Cup." Considering his increasingly fragile body and the
fact that clay is his worst surface, nobody would be surprised if
Sampras opts out of the tie against Spain.
"It's already happened once," McEnroe says. "Let's just say, from
the first experience I learned something. I'm making sure a
couple of people are available. We could field a team at least."
The vise tightens further when you realize that Spain's Alex
Corretja and Albert Costa, who pulled out before Wimbledon in a
suspiciously timed protest against the seedings committee, and
Juan Carlos Ferrero, who pulled out citing a back injury, have
been practicing on clay ever since.
McEnroe's options for singles include Agassi; Todd Martin, who
pushed Agassi to the limit before losing to him 10-8 in the fifth
set at Wimbledon; Jan-Michael Gambill, whose run to Wimbledon's
quarterfinals represents his best Grand Slam result; and perhaps
No. 48-ranked Chris Woodruff. In doubles there's the always
intriguing (to McEnroe, at least) idea of the captain coming out
of retirement. But when told last Friday that Martin had just
declared, "That would hurt us more than help us," McEnroe backed
Said the captain, "If a guy like Todd feels that way, I take it
seriously, and it's best to leave it alone." He sounded as if he
meant it, but with McEnroe you never know. Everyone involved,
especially Sampras, will be waiting to hear what he says next.
Steffi Graf at Wimbledon
She Sits and She Watches
When the match ended on Monday, she broke immediately for the
gate under Court One, escorted by a security guard, moving fast
among the fans as they reached out with paper, photos, books for
her to sign. Steffi Graf grabbed a pen and scribbled but kept
moving, her face wearing its usual slightly panicked expression.
People waved, hoped to get a word. She kept going. "There she
is!" men and women said over and over. There she is: tennis's
Of all the oddities Wimbledon has inspired over the
years--including the streaker who broke onto the court during Anna
Kournikova's doubles match on Monday with the words ONLY THE
BALLS SHOULD BOUNCE emblazoned on his chest--it is difficult to
beat the sight of Graf, arguably the greatest woman player ever,
sitting so passively in Andre Agassi's box. She wears a ring with
a big diamond, though neither party will say if they are engaged.
She claps every once in a while. "Did I think this is the place
I'd be?" she said on Monday. "No, I never expected that."
Yet a year after losing to Lindsay Davenport in her final Grand
Slam match, Graf has thrown her life into supporting Agassi. She
has let her endorsement deals with Adidas and Wilson languish,
because she has no interest in meeting sponsors or signing
autographs. She has done nothing to build a postplaying career:
no TV, no commercials. "She's become a groupie," says a source
close to Graf. "She wants to be around Andre but doesn't know
what else she wants to do. It drives her crazy. You look at her
during Andre's match: She looks like she's in agony--like all
Because of ligament damage to her left knee, Graf can't even work
out or hit with Agassi. Always shy, she tries to think of ways to
foil the photographers. During Agassi's changeovers at this
year's Australian Open, she stood and turned her back to the
court so no one could get a good shot of her. Her face remains
dour throughout. "When you sit there, you know they always look
to see how you react," Graf said on Monday. "So I'm always trying
to be calm. I would prefer to be up in the stands and able to
cheer and root the way I want to, but..."
But no, at 31, she can only sit. A competitor who could never
stay still for 20 seconds, she bounces her leg up and down, up
and down, the only visible sign of the energy that made her a
champion. "It speaks volumes for her interest in my game," says
Agassi. "If it wasn't for me, I doubt you'd see her in the
It is impossible to imagine Graf enjoying such an existence--no
action, no buzz, no winning. But ask if she is happy, and her
face broadens into a giant smile for the first time in hours.
"Yeah," she says. "I am. I certainly am."
Bad Behavior at Wimbledon
It's Jimbo's Tennis Legacy
Jimmy's children descended on Wimbledon last week, settling on
the place like a plague. It was all there again at the besieged
All England Club, everything Jimmy Connors made the sport safe
for--stage-managing tennis parents, boorish players, ridiculous
antics on court and off. It's been awhile since tennis has seen
such a parade of unseemliness, not one moment of it redeemed by
anything resembling Connors's talent and drive. But all the
second-raters who stepped forward to reveal themselves last week
were following Connors's example, for the mind-set displayed was
his: Even in its greatest cathedral, tennis is about me, me, me,
and any thought of history, tradition or decorum isn't worth
On June 28, Anna Smashnova smacked a fan with a ball while trying
to hit the husband of her opponent, Katalin Marosi-Aracama,
during their second-round match. Smashnova later explained that
she'd been "provoked" by the man's "laughing at my mistakes." On
Centre Court, meanwhile, Wayne Ferreira shattered his racket
during a four-set win over Richard Krajicek after screaming at
chair umpire Kim Craven, who had overruled a line call and cost
him a point in the first set, "It was a f------ disgrace. You
guys are so high and f------ mighty."
That same day Jeff Tarango refused to shake Paul Goldstein's hand
after losing to him 12-10 in the fifth set of their second-round
match. Tarango accused Goldstein of gamesmanship and then, angry
that Tom Gullikson, who runs the U.S. Tennis Association's stable
of coaches, had warmed up Goldstein, heatedly charged Gullikson
with favoritism when they met in the locker room. "I don't know
what would have happened if I hadn't come between them," says
USTA coach Scott McCain, who works with Goldstein.
Last Thursday, if you can believe it, things got worse. First
Damir Dokic, the father of 1999 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Jelena
Dokic, smashed the cell phone of a British TV reporter and
declared, inexplicably, "The Queen is on the side of democracy!
The rest of the country is fascist!" Escorted out of the club by
police, Dokic was warned that any future outburst would result in
his banning from the tournament. Later Alexandra Stevenson, who
during her run to last year's Wimbledon semifinals had feuded
with Jelena, shrugged when told of Damir's actions. "I played
doubles with Jelena in Hilton Head," Stevenson told reporters. "I
kind of made amends with her. She wasn't very nice to me before.
We played, and her dad showed up drunk. My mom said, 'You're not
playing with her again.'"
Those remarks were, however, overshadowed by Stevenson's
assertion (made as her mother, Samantha, nodded encouragement
nearby) that French players were "ganging up" on her and her mom.
Alexandra said that French player Amelie Cocheteux had called her
a "piece-of-s--- black girl" during a match between the two in
Strasbourg in May and later "hit me" in the locker room at the
French Open. What's more, Stevenson said, French player
Anne-Gaelle Sidot had pulled down Samantha's hat during an
altercation over a practice court in Strasbourg. The WTA said
last week that it had investigated the incidents and found no
wrongdoing, although it confirmed that Sidot had tipped
Samantha's hat. The WTA also said Sidot had claimed that she had
been verbally abused by Samantha. "She asked me if I called her a
bitch," Samantha said of the alleged incident. "I said, 'No, but
I probably should have.'"
Sidot and Cocheteux denied the Stevensons' claims and did little
to hide their contempt for both mother and daughter. Alexandra
has alienated many on tour since her breakout at last year's
Wimbledon. Last fall she spouted off in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR
WOMEN article about her animosity toward French players, alleged
hostility toward her by fellow U.S. player Lindsay Davenport,
Jelena Dokic's looks, and how she found Spanish player Conchita
Martinez's habit of walking around the locker room naked
"disgusting." The flimsiness of Stevenson's most recent charges
won't help her standing among players. Alexandra doesn't speak
French ("I understood merde," she says) but claims a security
guard in Strasbourg translated what Cocheteux said across the
net. Samantha says she feared Alexandra would be the victim of a
"Tonya Harding incident" because of her clash with the French,
but as evidence she cites nothing more than "a feeling."
"I guess because I've gotten a lot of attention and I have a
personality, they don't like it," Alexandra says. "But that's too
bad. That's me."
Hear that? That, of course, is the song of Jimbo. Connors didn't
invent bad behavior, but he, more than anyone else, made it
acceptable to those in power and somehow got it translated into
personality. Connors was tennis's most consistent draw through
the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and if he called an umpire "an
abortion," well, that was the price a tournament paid to get him.
Connors has always been the sport's ultimate lone wolf,
unresponsive to any appeal to camaraderie or the good of the
That's why, when Wimbledon held its Millennium Parade of
Champions last Saturday, no one was surprised that the
48-year-old Connors turned out to be the only healthy champion
who didn't show. He never even responded to Wimbledon's
invitation. Reached at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., last
Friday, Connors said, "I'll lay it out for you. Tennis isn't what
I do anymore. I have other business activities that occupy my
time. To be honest, I'm not one for pomp and circumstance. I
played. I did it."
So they came together without him, 65 winners and finalists
dating back to 1931. One by one they came into Centre Court,
including 93-year-old Bunny Austin in a wheelchair and Rod Laver
limping slightly two years after a stroke. Bjorn Borg came after
19 years of self-imposed exile and knelt to kiss the grass. "How
could [Jimmy] not be part of that?" said former tennis coach
Lorne Kuhle, one of Connors's oldest friends. "Guys got on a
plane, 80 years old; it's too bad. Jimmy should've been here."
In spirit, anyway, he was all over the place.
Alexandra Stevenson's Slump
Big Hype, Little Game
As Anna Kournikova can attest, a WTA tour player's popularity
doesn't necessarily reflect her match results. Still, the hype
accorded Stevenson is increasingly hard to understand. Owing
largely to her family tree and the controversy she courts,
Stevenson has a lucrative endorsement contract with Nike, plays
regularly on "show" courts and is on the tour's "commitment
list," which gives special consideration to the 20 most
marketable players. Yet since last year's Wimbledon she has not
survived the third round of a WTA tournament. After dropping her
second-round match to Austria's Patricia Wartusch last week,
Stevenson had a 8-17 record for 2000 (compared with 25-18 for the
No. 19-ranked Kournikova). "She gets a lot of publicity," one
U.S. player says of Stevenson, "but, I'm sorry, she's just not
At 6'1", Stevenson is among the tallest players on tour, still
capable of blasting serves the way she did during last year's run
to the Wimbledon semis. Her one-handed backhand also has the
potential to be a weapon. She's too inconsistent from the
baseline, however, and too plodding to attack the net. She also
tires as matches progress, hitting short slices rather than
penetrating drives. "The first thing she has to do," says Nick
Bollettieri, who shares duties as Stevenson's coach with former
top 10 player Brian Gottfried and Alexandra's mother, "is get in
Stevenson's early Wimbledon exit might help her rescue her
foundering game. Her ranking will plummet more than 50 places, to
the mid-90s. Barring wild-card berths, she'll have to win
qualifying matches to reach the main draw at most events. "I need
to keep getting better," Stevenson says. "One way to do that is
to play a lot of matches." Now, away from the bright lights,
she'll get her chance. --L.J.W.
by the numbers
135 Minutes consumed by the fifth set of the third-round match at
Wimbledon between Mark Philippoussis and Sjeng Schalken, which
Philippoussis won 20-18.
35 Age of Gianluca Pozzi, who played in the fourth round at
Wimbledon on Monday and, after the tournament, will be the oldest
player ranked in the top 50 since Jimmy Connors in '92.
10 Qualifiers in the Wimbledon men's draw who won their
9 Argentine men who made the second round of the French Open.
0 Argentine men in the second round of Wimbledon.
6 Jaguar automobiles owned by No. 56-ranked player Jan-Michael
Gambill, who played for a spot in the Wimbledon quarterfinals on
1 Career titles won by Gambill.