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From New Balls to New Who?

July 01, 2002|LISA DILLMAN

WIMBLEDON, England — What are Feliciano Lopez and Andre Sa doing in the final 16 at Wimbledon?

We thought they would be getting ready for some clay-court tournament in Europe. Or isn't there some challenger event going on in Chile?

Everyone is chalking up the inclusion of folks such as Lopez, Sa, David Nalbandian, Jan Vacek and Michel Kratochvil in the fourth round as some weird oddity at Wimbledon. Stuff happens, even on grass.

But put it this way: One of these players--Nalbandian, Wayne Arthurs, Nicolas Lapentti or Arnaud Clement--will be in the semifinals at Wimbledon. Nalbandian had never played here, and Lapentti had won only two matches here in five previous appearances. Arthurs and Clement have each reached the fourth round once.

Perhaps the Australian Open in January should have been the first clue, when Jiri Novak and Stefan Koubek landed in the quarterfinals. Surprises were about to become the reality in the men's game, not the exception.

There have been eight different male winners of the last eight Grand Slams, and No. 1-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia is the only one who could prevent it from being nine of the last nine. None of the quarterfinalists at the French Open--Guillermo Canas, Albert Costa, Andrei Pavel, Alex Corretja, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andre Agassi, Sebastien Grosjean and Marat Safin--remain at Wimbledon. Costa, Corretja and Grosjean didn't even make the trip.

Granted, Costa had a valid reason. After winning the French Open, he was married to the mother of his twin daughters, and Corretja was in the wedding.

More and more, players are skipping this tournament for various reasons, or showing up with little or no grass-court preparation as far as tournament play. Wimbledon is in danger of slipping from its lofty status as the world's most prestigious tournament.

The Guardian newspaper ran pictures Saturday of Nalbandian, Xavier Malisse, Clement and Arthurs, asking: "Would you queue all night to watch these players?"

Tim Henman could reach the semifinals with victories over Kratochvil and the Sa-Lopez winner. It doesn't exactly carry the same weight as Goran Ivanisevic having to beat Greg Rusedski and Safin to reach the final four last year.

What the Grand Slams need to do to maintain Wimbledon's relevance is create more space between the French Open and Wimbledon. This is already being considered and could happen as early as next year. Three weeks, instead of the current two, is the time frame being proposed. Four would be much better.

It has always been a significant question: Why are two of the four Grand Slams shoehorned into such a narrow time frame? French Open finalist Ferrero said that a player who performs well at Roland Garros has almost no chance of recovering and preparing properly for Wimbledon. Results have proven him correct.

Every other Slam has a decent lead-in period, and some might say that the clay-court season is too long, anyway. U.S. Open officials are trying to create more excitement around a more cohesive hard-court season, wanting to showcase events combining men's and women's tournaments or tournaments in back-to-back weeks.

Here, with the public's considerable appetite for tennis, a four-week grass-court season leading into Wimbledon could heighten awareness and generate interest. Neither Venus nor Serena Williams played a grass-court tuneup event--which hasn't seemed to hurt them--but a longer season may persuade one or both to show up for a tournament in England, Germany or the Netherlands.

Second-Week Story Lines

Best Possible Men's Result:

* Henman title. No longer would we have to read about Fred Perry being the last British man to win Wimbledon.

* Rusedski beating Henman in the final. This might appeal to the delicious sense of British irony, the Canadian-born man beating the most British of players. Imagine the sense of strife on Henman Hill/Rusedski Ridge?

Best Possible Women's Result:

* Monica Seles winning her first Grand Slam title since the 1996 Australian Open. Seles, even in her prime, only reached the final at Wimbledon once. But we can all have one wish, right?

* A decent final between Venus and Serena Williams. It doesn't matter whether Venus wins her third consecutive Wimbledon title or Serena becomes the first female since Steffi Graf to win the French Open-Wimbledon double in the same year. Quite simply, a hard-fought match would suffice and would end concern voiced by some about Williams vs. Williams hurting women's tennis.

Calling Danielle Steel

There are well-known bad Hemingway writings contests. Today, we offer a new category, bad Harlequin Sportswriting.

Mary Pierce's match against qualifier Laura Granville brought forth this excerpt in one leading British paper on Saturday:

"Beneath the pale skin of tennis's ice queen lies a crackling Gallic spirit just aching to burst through. It's what makes her so exciting to watch. Though she holds herself stiffly and takes long, slow strides, you know that the metamorphosis is just seconds away.

" 'Hit it. Hit it. Hit it,' she shouted as if to a hard-of-hearing schoolgirl. 'Just hit it.'

"And she whacked the ball with all her fury but, as her temper raged, so her precision waned."

There's much, much more. But the idea comes across.



Wimbledon at a Glance



Chanda Rubin vs. Serena Williams (2)

Venus Williams (1) vs. Lisa Raymond (16)

Eleni Daniilidou, Greece, vs. Jennifer Capriati (3)

Monica Seles (4) vs. Tamarine Tanasugarn (20), Thailand


Lleyton Hewitt (1), Australia, vs. Mikhail Youzhny, Russia

Xavier Malisse (27), Belgium, vs. Greg Rusedski (23), Britain

Tim Henman (4), Britain, vs. Michel Kratochvil, Switzerland

Mark Philippoussis, Australia, vs. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands

TV: 7 a.m., TNT; 10 a.m., Ch. 4; 1 p.m., TNT. All delayed.

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