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I left the whole intro in, but, took out the WTA related questions. This one's for you, Tennis Fool. :D
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Place in history

Becker may have had an underrated career
Posted: Monday July 28, 2003 2:15 PM
Updated: Monday July 28, 2003 2:30 PM


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

Another week, another title for Guillermo Coria. The diminutive Argentine has been gangbusters since Wimbledon. On Sunday Coria won the Kitzbuhel title, beating Chile's Nicolas Massu in the final. Coria has now won 22 straight sets and dropped just 41 games in nine matches (!) since Wimbledon. We'll see how he does when he moves off clay, but he's quietly making a charge in the Champions Race. For more on Slick Willie, see below. ... Speaking of players on a hot streak, Andy Roddick improved to 15-1 since hooking up with Brad Gilbert, as he beat Paradorn Srichaphan in the final of the RCA Championships in Indy. ... In the Indy doubles draw, Andy (Don't Call me Rajeev) Ram and Mario Ancic beat Diego Ayala and Rob Ginepri. ... By the way, the all-expletive team of Damm and Suk (Martin and Cyril) won the Kitzbuhel doubles. ... In Umag, Croatia, sleeveless Carlos Moya beat Filippo Volandri in the singles final. In the doubles, Lopez Moron and Rafael (Real Deal) Nadal beat Tommy Shimada and Todd Perry. ...

On the women's side, Kim Clijsters took advantage of a weak field to beat Jennifer Capriati in the final of Stanford. ... Stat of the week: 11 of Capriati's 12 losses this year have come in three-setters. ... In the Stanford doubles, Lisa Raymond and Cara Black -- two of the best players in the business, but who had never before played together -- joined forces to win the title, beating Yoon Jeong Cho and singles semifinalist Francesca Schiavone in the final. ... Lleyton Hewitt was spotted at Stanford, spending some quality time with his significant other before heading to the Mercedes Cup in Los Angeles (aka the Appearance-Fee Open) for his first match since Wimbledon. He even attended a San Francisco Giants game and met Barry Bonds. (No truth to the rumor that Hewitt bragged to Bonds that he was better than Rod Laver and Pete Sampras.) ...

Admittedly, the following is dripping with home-state bias; but a round of applause for the good folks in Indianapolis. As we mentioned last week, the RCA Championships took a hit from the ATP's decision to schedule the event earlier in the summer. But with true Hoosier spirit and resilience, organizers made the best of the new dates and were, in the end, handsomely rewarded. Roddick, the headliner, made good on his appearance-fee bounty and stayed fashionably late in the draw. The final featured the top two seeds (a rarity on the ATP tour) playing a tightly fought match before Bud Collins and the NBC cameras. The crowds were reasonably strong for a city that doesn't do summer sports spectating very well. Perhaps most important, Thomson Consumer Electronics' RCA brand announced that it will extend its title sponsorship of the tournament through 2006. On top of everything, Roddick committed to returning to the event in 2004. ... Speaking of Indy, nice to see Scott Draper turn in a strong week. The Australian veteran upset defending champion Greg Rusedski en route to the quarters. Also, NCAA champ Amer Delic did himself proud by winning a match and giving Srichaphan a scare. ... At the Indianapolis players' party, Ricardo Mello was the lucky winner of a new Rolex in a random draw. Not a bad door prize for a guy who had won $50,000 for the year entering the tournament. ...

Topspin, the USTA's summer TV show, made its sixth season debut Sunday on CBS. Three more 30-minute episodes, presenting a behind-the-scenes look at the sport and the personalities of its top stars and promising up-and-coming players, will air next month: Aug. 3, 2:30 p.m. ET; Aug. 10, 1:30 p.m. ET; and Aug. 24, noon ET. ... Hicham Arazi had quite an odyssey en route to Umag last week. According to the ATP, Arazi secured a Croatian visa for the tournament. But after arriving at the airport in nearby Trieste, Italy, he was not given passage to Umag through Slovenia, because he did not have a Slovenian visa. Coming to the rescue was tournament director Slavko Rasberger, who chartered a boat for Arazi from Trieste to the port in Umag, bypassing the 12-km stretch of road through Slovenia. Alas, Arazi then lost in the first round. ... Speaking of the struggling Arazi, he has reunited with former coach Thierry Champion. ... Canadians, rejoice. During the Rogers AT&T Cup (known more colloquially as the Canadian Open), the excellent women's tennis documentary She Got Game will make its theatrical premiere. The specifics: Saturday, Aug. 9, at 9:15 p.m. at the Bloor Cinema (tickets are $10 at the door, first come, first served). Those in attendance can rub tennis elbows with some surprise player guests who will attend and participate in a Q&A after the film. ...

The USTA announced that 99 of the top 100 men in the world have entered the 2003 U.S. Open (only the all-but-retired Sampras will be a no-show). The winner will receive a record $1 million check. ... In the past we've spoken of the need for American tennis fans to embrace players who -- get this -- just so happen to come from abroad. The USTA doesn't help the cause when it issues press releases headlined: "Andre Agassi -- World No. 1 and Two-Time US Open Champion -- Tops Men's Field. Roddick, [Roger] Federer, [Juan Carlos] Ferrero, Hewitt, [James] Blake Featured." Granted, this is only a press release, and we mean no disrespect to Blake. But surely there are players more deserving of top billing. (Note to Coria fans: The Grandstand Court abuts Louis Armstrong Stadium.) ... Fans of Lindsay Davenport are in for a treat should they pass through the terminally underrated city of New Haven, Conn., and look west out of their car windows at the interchange between I-95 and I-91. ... Our vote for best movie line of the year: "I am a musical robot. Do I sound like a musical robot?" ...

The WTA Tour's 2004 schedule features several key date changes and tournament improvements. The Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif. (the week of March 8) and the NASDAQ-100 Open in Miami (the week of March 22), both 10-day events, will start a week later than in 2003. The State Farm Women's Tennis Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz. (the week of March 1), will be a combined one-week event with the ATP. The Acura Classic in San Diego (the week of July 26) will be upgraded from Tier II status to Tier I and will expand its stadium. It also will be played a week later than in 2003. There will be three new tournament locations in 2004, in addition to the Olympic Games in Athens (the week of Aug. 9). The Bol tournament moves to Cincinnati (the week of Aug. 16) and Helsinki moves to Stockholm (the week of Aug. 2). The VUB Open in Bratislava (the week of Oct. 18), which is on hiatus this season, returns next year and will be held in a new stadium. ...

Last week a reader asked about Michael Joyce, the subject of a superb David Foster Wallace essay on (among other things) the otherworldly gifts of a run-of-the-mill pro. Turns out Joyce received a wild card to the L.A. event and will play his first-round match against Jan-Michael Gambill. ... Andrew Ilie (remember him? He was a fun-to-watch top-50 player not all that long ago) qualified for the main draw at L.A. ... Marat Safin also is back in action in the City of Angels. ... Finally, a sneak preview: Jeff Sagarin feels our pain. The sports-ratings guru (and closet tennis fan) has graciously agreed to turn his attention to our beloved sport and come up with a new rankings system that makes more sense than either existing model. He will present his better mousetrap here in the next few weeks.

Until then ...

As you know, Boris Becker recently was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Though I think he is a deserving candidate, many tennis pundits seem to talk about Becker as if he is in the same league as Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg. I disagree because of Becker's futility on clay (he never won a title on the soft stuff). Where do you think Becker stands with respect to his contemporaries (Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi and Sampras)? Where would you rank him on the list of all-time greats?
—Josh Silverman, Blacksburg, Va.


We must be hanging out in different circles. I've never heard Becker's name mentioned in the same breath as Laver, Sampras and Borg. In fact, I'd submit that conventional wisdom is that -- in part because of his failings on clay; in part because of an inferior Grand Slam record -- Becker is considered by many to be a tier down from the Lendl/Wilander/Edberg/McEnroe/Agassi cluster. (OK, probably a half-tier, not unlike the floor in Being John Malkovich.)

With that as our vantage point, I would go so far as to say that Becker may have had an underrated career. Becker's raw numbers: six Slams, 10 Slam-final appearances, achieved the top ranking, winner of 49 career singles titles and, to our mild surprise, 15 doubles titles. Other factors: He never won the French (minus), though he did reach the semis three times, which is twice more than a certain curly-haired Californian. His Slam titles span more than a decade (plus). He was self-possessed and a sterling ambassador for the sport -- at least until he retired (plus). Inasmuch as you believe Wimbledon is the sport's crucible, he won there three times and reached seven finals (plus).

Where does he rank on the list of all-timers? Limiting ourselves to the past quarter-century, he is unquestionably beneath Sampras (14 Slams is dispositive), Borg (who even won more Wimbledons than Becker), Agassi (career Slam, still going strong at 33), Connors (more Slams; more than twice as many singles titles), Lendl (more of everything) and McEnroe (only one more Slam, but Mac's 77 doubles titles help the cause). But we'd be inclined to say that Becker stacks up awfully favorably against Edberg (equal number of Slams, but Becker won slightly more titles and had a longer career) and even Wilander (one fewer Slam than the Swede but 50 percent more titles, a far longer tenure as a top player, and three times more in career earnings). Speaking of Becker ...

Just to clarify: I was at the ceremony in Newport. Becker never mentioned the French Open in his speech. In the pre-ceremony press conference, he said the French Open was his biggest disappointment because he never won it; he only got to the semifinals a couple of times. I saw the press conference, so I know he said semis. The media just reported it incorrectly.
—Steve Sadler, Chicago


Thanks, Steve.

I get the impression that Guillermo Coria's success doesn't receive comparable coverage as that of other players. The No. 7 player in the world has played some wonderful tennis this year, and I think his accomplishments deserve more recognition. Has his suspension affected the way he is covered by the ATP and/or press? Should it?
—Sean C., Tallahassee, Fla.


Interesting question, but I don't think a conspiracy is afoot. True, it's hard to address in print Coria's recent success and not at least make mention of the unseemly issue of his seven-month suspension two years ago after testing positive for a banned substance. But he served his time, paid his fine and -- to his credit -- doesn't skirt the issue when asked about it.

That said, I think you're right to note that, at least in the U.S., Coria hasn't received media coverage commensurate with his results. Rather than attribute it to his suspension, I think it's because a) the bulk of his success has come at events other than Slams; b) the bulk of his success has come on clay, at events outside the U.S.; c) quite frankly, he is not fluent in English, many of us are not fluent in Spanish, and it's not always easy to find a translator. With any luck, he will continue his recent hot streak in Cincinnati, Montreal and New York and receive more credit for playing some exceptional tennis in 2003. He sure deserves it.

Have you noticed the strong performances of the young Spaniards on fast surfaces? Juan Carlos Ferrero and Feliciano Lopez both reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, while Rafael Nadal made it to the third. Was this just a fluke or will we actually see a day when Ferrero bags a French Open and Wimbledon in the same year?
—Paul, Jacksonville, Fla.


Predictably, I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between. I wouldn't hold my breath in anticipation of Ferrero winning Wimbledon. But I think it's more than a fluke that three Spaniards lasted so long at the All England. Nadal and Lopez both take big cuts, serve well and deploy less spin than their Iberian forebears. In the case of Ferrero, I would say his game is not as well suited to grass; but anyone who returns as well he does, moves as gracefully and hits with such precision ought to be good for three or four wins regardless of what is underfoot.

It's worth adding that the less specialization that exists, the better it ultimately is for the sport. You hate to see players -- courtesy phone for Thomas Muster -- romp at Roland Garros and then flame out two weeks later in London. (Worse still, you hate it when top players on clay fail to show their faces when the circus packs up in Paris and moves to grass.) But this goes both ways. Just as Ferrero's success on grass cements his status as a top-shelf player, it sure would be nice if some natural hard-court players -- say, Roddick and Hewitt -- could upgrade their results on clay.

Who are some of your favorite players? I think it's obvious from your writing that there are some you like better than others, but who are your top five?
—A. Rothschild, Buffalo


We media types are duty-bound not to cheer and not to play favorites. (Or at least cop to it in public.) But because I'm in a confessional mood, I confess that I secretly have a soft spot for any player who is a) demonstrably shorter; b) older; or c) endowed with more gray hair than I. That said, a U.S. Open semifinal Saturday featuring Agassi, Todd Martin, Davide Sanguinetti and our man Olivier Rochus is my idea of heaven.


Hitting the links
Randy Parker of Brookline, Mass., was kind enough to send in the following. We can't vouch for the accuracy of this, but check out some of Agassi's digits:


Last year I think you touched on the subject of which tour players are the best golfers. Well, using the Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN.com), you can actually track anyone's golf progress. Examples: Jim Courier, Chris Woodruff, Lendl (not current), Agassi (not current), Cliff Drysdale.
 
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