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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
JMP: I was waiting for you to post the mailbag, but got impatient...You should continue doing so, it's a lot of fun to read.

(Edited for ATP stuff only).

Riding Roddick

Detractors aren't giving young American a fair shake
Posted: Monday July 21, 2003 12:37 PM

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday. Click here to send a question.

The sport is still recovering from a post-Wimbledon hangover, but a few events were held last week. In Stuttgart, Guillermo Coria played terrific tennis, dropping just 19 games over five matches, including a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 whitewash of Tommy Robredo in the final. ... In the doubles, Czech mates Tommy Cibulec and Pavel Vizner beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Kevin Ullyet in a three-set final. ... In Amersfoort, Chile's Nicolas Massu won the Dutch Open, beating hometown favorite (Everybody Loves) Raemon Sluiter 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 in the final. "The numbers on the scoreboard don't lie. He deserved to win," Sluiter said. In doubles, Devin Bowen and Ashley Fisher won their first ATP title with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Chris Haggard and Andre Sa. ...

In Manhattan to attend the premiere of Mandy Moore's new movie, Andy Roddick got some nice run on the Mike Sweeney, er, Conan O'Brien show last week. On the topic of Roddick's record-tying 149-mph serve, the redheaded host asked, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could use your powers to rid the world of crime?" ... Just asking: Has anyone not written to Mark Miles in the past month expressing his/her disapproval of Miles' negotiating tactics? ... Nice coup for Octagon last week, signing Justine Henin-Hardenne. ... Ron Woods, the USTA's director of community tennis programs, submitted his resignation last week. ... If you're in the market for a mellow, off-the-beaten path CD, check out Boyd Tinsley's True Reflections. Tinsley is best known for playing assorted instruments in the Dave Matthews Band, but -- no kidding -- he is also the sponsor of the USTA Challenger event in Charlottesville, Va. ... Ah, the sweet smell of success: Swiss livestock owner (and Wimbledon champ) Roger Federer launched his own line of fragrance last week with the clever name RF. (Oh, we get it!) ... Not to be outdone, Andre Agassi was in New York last week for the launch of a new fragrance. (As several of you pointed out, the fragrance was, in fact, Aramis, rendering our contest from a few weeks ago moot. Sorry, my screwup. Thanks to all who wrote in. Another chance to win swag will be coming soon.) Aramis, by the way, is the lead global sponsor of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation. ...

Onward ...

Last week you called Mark Philippoussis "a pretty one-dimensional player who battles impatience and has never been known as a strategic genius." I'd argue that this applies equally well to Andy Roddick. Roddick has two weapons: a serve and a forehand. He's not a great service returner, his backhand is suspect at times, he's sort of lost around the net, and he's prone to mental meltdowns. I'd argue that Philippoussis has at least as great a chance as Roddick to bag a Slam, if we limit the scope of argument to the next three years or so.
—Sandy Cash, Durham, N.C.

Just by virtue of having Brad Gilbert as a coach, Roddick has distanced himself from Philippoussis in the "strategically suspect" category. Roddick's serve and forehand are, unquestionably, the twin pillars of his game. But I think he competes better than most people think. You mention a propensity for "mental meltdowns," but with the exception of the match against Lleyton Hewitt two years ago at the U.S. Open, I can't think of too many losses that can be attributed to volatility or runaway emotions.

Your suggestion that Philippoussis might bag his first Slam before Roddick is legit. But I'd counter that Roddick is a superior athlete, has a healthier body, a more adaptable game, a better coach, and isn't as dependent on his titanic serve. No disrespect to Philippoussis, who did himself proud at Wimbledon and deserves credit more generally for having resurrected his game. But I just think Roddick -- in addition to being six years younger -- is a more likely player to string together seven straight wins.

As long as we're here, a quick question about Brad (Master of Puppets) Gilbert. The guy demands that Roddick lose the campy visors because they don't project an image of professionalism. But Gilbert is allowed out in public with that ridiculous floppy Metallica lid? Where's the "Justice for All" in that? Speaking of Roddick ...

Why is Andy Roddick placed in the same category as Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero? He hasn't won a Master Series tournament yet, let alone reached a Grand Slam final. And all his titles came in smaller events, where the fields were not impressive at all, except maybe for the last one, in which he beat Andre Agassi and Greg Rudeski. I like the guy, but all this pressure and hype seem to be going to his head and making it difficult for him to deliver.
—Allan, Exton, Pa.

We received a few questions on this, though I'm not sure if they were directing the question at me specifically or media coverage more generally. Surely, there is some old-fashioned red, white and blue American bias at work here. Roddick is the brightest American prospect, which counts for a lot, especially with the ATP Tour making its North American swing these next eight weeks. (We're guessing that Conan O'Brien won't be inviting Ferrero to his show anytime soon.) Yes, it would be nice if American fans could simply appreciate the tennis and root for players who didn't by accident of birth grow up in this country. But the reality is that it's not happening in the near future. And Roddick -- a Man Show-watching, movie-star-dating, backward-baseball-cap-wearing Steve Stiffler lookalike from Nebraska via Texas -- benefits immensely from this.

But apart from that, I think Roddick's tennis and his youth conspire to put him on the short list of stars. You're right that he's never won a Master Series event much less a Slam. But let's cast our lens a bit wider. The kid -- and he is a kid -- doesn't turn 21 until later this summer; yet he has reached the semis of two of the last three Slams, he's a solid top-five player, he's won on all surfaces, and he's tied the record for the fastest serve. There's no question that Roddick's real apotheosis doesn't come until he wins a Slam; he can't just create a stir with big serves and a hyper-visible coach. But outside the players you've mentioned, I'm not sure there's another pony I'd rather being playing.

My tennis buddies and I are preparing for our annual journey to the RCA Championships in Indianapolis. The RCA is a great tourney with national TV coverage, an intimate stadium court, scenic grounds, and many hotels, restaurants and bars close to the tourney site. The event takes place three weeks earlier this year and, to me, this change seems like a demotion. The field is smaller.
—Kyle Anderson, St. Louis

I'm in the great state of Indiana as I answer this question, so the issue has particular resonance. There's no question that the Indianapolis event -- despite a clever marketing campaign -- has taken a hit from the date change. (Lars Burgsmuller is a seed. 'Nuff said.) And there's no question that the Midwest and "flyover country" is currently overlooked by both tours. At least the men provide us with Indianapolis, Cincy and Memphis. As things stand, there really is no significant WTA event in the U.S. between the two coasts. No one is lobbying for the Sheboygan Open. But it's a travesty that fans in, say, Chicago or Texas have to pray for an exhibition or get on a plane to watch the Williams sisters play. (We should add that there is talk of making Cincinnati a mixed event.)

Anyway, ironies abound. One is that the Midwest is disproportionately well-represented on both tours. Over the past 20 years, Michigan alone has produced a roster of pros to rival California and Florida. More saliently, the tennis boom of the 1970s and '80s was owed largely to the sport's popularity in the heartland. There will always be tennis fans in Miami and Scottsdale and Palm Springs. But if there are no events within driving distance of major markets from Chicago to Denver, the sport will lose those casual fans. Even supposing there were promoters in Middletown, USA willing to put up the big bucks, I don't think either tour is looking to add events to the calendar. But it would be nice if both the WTA and ATP took a closer look at the geographic diversity of their events.

I was just rereading David Foster Wallace's fabulous essay about the Canadian Open in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Whatever happened to Michael Joyce?
—Jeff, Lexington, Ky.

Though his ranking is not even within shouting distance of the top 60 -- where, as I recall, he resided when DFW wrote the article -- Joyce is still out there beating the bushes. Last week he played a Challenger in Granby, Quebec, losing a third-set tiebreaker to the euphoniously named Sanjin Sadovich. The 30-year-old Joyce made $520 for his efforts. As long as you brought it up, that essay might well stand as the best-ever piece of tennis writing.

During Boris Becker's Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he mentioned he played in "two finals" at the French Open. What "two finals" was he referring to? Doubles? Mixed doubles? Juniors? He certainly wasn't in any men's singles finals. Perhaps he misspoke and meant semifinals?
—Joe Estanich, Bridgeport, W.Va.

Yeah, we got a few questions on this point. Hey, if there's ever a time and place to take a few liberties with your career accomplishments, it's at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Seriously, we're guessing he probably misspoke and meant semis.)

The so-called problem of the overreliance on the serve in men's tennis could be addressed with a simple rule change: One foot must remain on the ground during the serve. Compare vintage film with that of today's game. Prior to an earlier change, the server had to keep at least one foot on the ground. Ask your physics expert, but I am sure this would knock several mph off the serve.
—Gary Risley, Bloomfield, N.M.

My suspicion is that Gary Risley is a nom de plume and this question was planted by a member of Sjeng Schalken's extended family. But we tossed this to Howard Brody (the Mailbag's answer to Dr. Sanjay Gupta). Here's his response:

Going back to the old foot-fault rule would not directly reduce a given server's serve speed, but it would reduce the window of acceptance of that serve. Today, an elite tennis player is six inches to a foot off the ground at ball impact time. This increases the impact height at which the ball is hit by the same six inches to a foot. This will open up the window considerably, which increases the probability of a serve being good. Since the serve probability is also inversely proportional to the serve speed, a server who is required to keep a foot in contact with the ground may opt for lower serve speeds to keep his/her serve percentage high. ... The present foot-fault rule makes it much easier on the linesperson to call foot faults compared to the old rule, which did allow you to loose foot contact with the ground only after the ball was hit.
Is it safe to say that Robby Ginepri is the next bad boy of American tennis? He has all the elements: a solid game, scruffy, long-haired look, sleeveless shirts and a famous girlfriend (Minnie Driver). He needs some marketing gurus to jump on the bad-boy image and sell, sell, sell.
—Eric Mittenthal, Atlanta

Nice call. We can quibble over whether a true Bad Boy can be named "Robby," but if Ginepri -- Rob Ginepri, that is -- can play well on the hard courts and get a little run-up going, he could receive a lot of attention at the Open. Especially if his decidedly older belle is in his box.

Recently you ran a photo of Roger Federer's girlfriend, Miroslava Vavrinec. Federer and Vavrinec played Hopman Cup together in 2002, but after that she sort of disappeared. The WTA doesn't have her listed as an active player for Switzerland. What is her story?
—T. Sebastian, Louisville, Ky.

From a WTA spokesman: "Vavrinec has been injured for a while, but we haven't heard for sure that she has given up."

England has asked John McEnroe to help develop its tennis players. Does this qualify as sad, pathetic, ironic or all (or none) of the above?
—Greg Beyer, Naugatuck, Conn.

We'll go with ironic and leave it at that. Maybe it's from being in the heartland, but I'm not feeling all that cynical right now.

8,699 Posts
Originally posted by Tennis Fool
JMP: I was waiting for you to post the mailbag, but got impatient...You should continue doing so, it's a lot of fun to read.
I'm sorry I dropped the ball, Tennis Fool. :eek: ;) I checked earlier today and, just like last week, I didn't see it. I'm glad you posted it. You're right. It is fun to read. :)

Jon wrote about a lot of players and issues we've been discussing here lately. One thing we haven't discussed is the foot-fault serve rule. I heard one of the guests in the broadcast booth at the Newport tournament suggest going back to the old rule. I'm against it. I like the fast serve and players coming off the ground on the serve and their back/fore hands.

I like Ginepri's macho style. But, I don't want him to be the "bad boy".

Jon didn't seem ready to back off in the Mark vs Andy debate. He also didn't admit that the reason Americans don't really root for foreign players more is because the American media won't showcase them.

McEnroe helping the LTA got as much play in his column as it did when I posted the article on this board. :lol:

26,225 Posts
Tennis Fool said:
You mention a propensity for "mental meltdowns," but with the exception of the match against Lleyton Hewitt two years ago at the U.S. Open, I can't think of too many losses that can be attributed to volatility or runaway emotions.
Then I guess Wertheim wasn't watching Roland Garros this year.

9,580 Posts
Oh boy, throwing a
racket like countless people have done is a meltdown.
How dangerous!
Their favorite players do that and worse but that's not an issue.

3,455 Posts
Well about Mirka.
She's still having problems with her left foot. Sometimes it's even bothering her when walking. And that despite having had surgery last year. So she's going to have an other surgery sometime this year. (don't know when though)
But if she'll ever be back - honestly I doubt it.
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