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Rachel Alexander on Wimbledon


Rachel Alexander, The Post's tennis writer, was in London to cover Wimbledon. Rachel was online July 7th to discuss tennis in general and the personalities of the Wimbledon tournament.

Louisville, Ky.: Is Sampras still hurting or is his injury a non-factor this weekend?

Rachel Alexander: Hi everyone sorry to be a few minutes late. We were talking to Pat Rafter, who is very happy after beating Andre Agassi to gain his first Wimbledon semifinal berth.

I'll answer this Sampras question first, since he is playing in the third set as we speak. (Of course, with NBC's schedule, he might not be playing in the United States until August).

Pete is still hurting, but I'm not sure if that means his injury is going to be a huge factor. The inflammation is in the shin, in the muscle that controls the up-and-down motion on the foot. When he first started playing on it he was having problems taking off on his serve, but he seems to have gotten used to throbbing, and he's got it wrapped pretty tight. It certainly hasn't hampered his movement that much, as several of his opponents have noticed.

That all being said, Pete has yet to play a seeded player in this tournament. His draw has been wide open. So assuming he serves out this match, as he is about to, his final date with Rafter will be his first real big test.

Upper Marlboro, Md.: Why does Chris Evert's commentary on the play of the Williams sisters have such a negative slant; such as "thinker vs. athlete?"

Rachel Alexander: Watching the matches live, I haven't heard Chris' coverage, so I can't really talk about that. Still, you may find it interesting that Venus said yesterday that when she first came on tour she knew "no strategy" and that now she has a much better feel for the game. I think that the Williams sisters greatest attributes have been their physical talent, the same way the backbone of several other players' games have been their physical gifts, but that doesn't mean the Williams sisters aren't also strategy players -- they are adding more and more of that to their game.

Sterling, Va.: What has been the most exciting and competitive match this year at Wimbledon?

Rachel Alexander: I think the match Agassi and Rafter just played was pretty incredible. I'm not sure what time it's on television over there, but if it's still coming up, I'd definitely recommend it. Each played an extremely varied game, lots of touch, lots of momentum swings. I also thought Venus Williams' match against Hingis was fun to watch, not only because of the occasion but also because Venus' reaction at the end was so genuine.

Silver Spring, Md.: Assuming that women tennis players are an equal draw, there is no question they should get equal prize money -- if they performed for as long as the men. But why should they be paid the same prize money when they continue to play best 2-of-3 versus the men's best 3-of-5. We're long past the days when female professional athletes are assumed to be too "fragile" to play more than 3 sets, aren't we?

Rachel Alexander: That's always the question of course -- why does Mike Tyson make millions of dollars for a 38-second fight when WNBA players only make a couple of thousand for two or three hours of work? Usually compensation is based on demand, and the WTA's argument is that television ratings for women's tennis are higher right now than the men's.

John McEnroe's famous line on this was that the men should agree to equal prize money now while someone is still offering it to them, because in a couple of years, no one will want to watch them play.

Arlington, Va.: Rachel, any Fedorov sightings or is Anna concentrating on her game? Her tennis game, that is.

Rachel Alexander: Ah...here we go...the reason why those television ratings are higher. Sergei is here, staying with Anna and her mother. Anna, incidentally, was knocked out of the doubles this morning when she and Natasha Zvereva were defeated by the Williams sisters.

Mercersburg, Penn.: With a new training program and a redesigned serve gradually becoming more reliable, Monica Seles seems to have rediscovered her passion and commitment for the game. As an observer of the women's field, do you feel she will win another slam or is her time over?

Rachel Alexander: Monica still has the tools to win another Slam, but her training still needs to improve a bit -- she ran out of gas in that quarterfinal against Lindsay the other day, losing 6-0 in the third. I do think her heart is in it more than it was maybe a year or so ago, and that her new coach has helped her immensely.

Reston, Va.: Am I the only tennis fan who thinks that watching the men at Wimbledon is incredibly boring and one dimensional because big serves virtually eliminate any lengthy points or court strategy? Do the powers that be in professional tennis really think this kind of play is intriguing and produces well rounded players?

Rachel Alexander: Now I need back-up from our Silver Spring friend...I do think some of the men's matches can be boring with swat, swat, swat, but that a lot of the matches are quite compelling. As I said, the Agassi-Rafter match was really terrific, lots of touch, great volleys -- you should see some good sparks between Rafter and Sampras as well.

Washington, D.C.: There have been grumblings by Mr. Williams that there was a conspiracy in the seedings of his two daughters--namely that the "man" does want two black women in the finals. How much is that talked about behind the scenes?

Rachel Alexander: I have heard all sorts of things from Richard over the last few weeks, and certainly over the last few years, but a conspiracy in the seedings is new to me. Sorry.

Bethesda, Md.: I was listeining to the "Today" show this morning, when Katie Couric was interviewing some sports reporter on the Venue-Serena Williams match. I disn't catch the whole thing, but I thought I heard someone metion that it was a surprise that Serena lost the match, since had been been playing consistently betterf than Venus at Wimbledon. That person intimated that perhaps Venus was "encouraged" to win the match so that both sisters would end up in a Grnad Slam Final (Serena winning the U.S. Open last year). Any thoughts on this?

Rachel Alexander: Serena was playing better than Venus coming in, but playing your big sister is different from playing anyone else. Do I think she tanked the match? Absolutely not. Do I think playing Venus is mentally more difficult for her than playing, say, Lindsay? Absolutely. Anyone who has a sibling should be able to understand the years of built-up emotions there. Hopefully, this will change as they progress in their careers.

Rachel, I was appalled by the questions asked of Serena at the post-match news conference yesterday. Okay, so rumors have been flying that Papa Richard might have wanted Venus to win since Serena "already had her Grand Slam," and it is probably proper to report those rumors. But, while dressing it up a bit, the reporters were basically asking Serena if she tanked the match. Don't you think that was a pretty unfair line of questioning, especially to a very emotional 18-year-old?

Rachel Alexander: As the Bethesda reader pointed out, people are talking about this. Australian great Pat Cash came right out and said Richard was going to dictate the outcome; Lindsay Davenport implied it in a press conference and then backed off a little the following day. I think the question can be asked and answered, but then you need to leave it alone, because as I said, I don't think there's any truth to it.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Rachel,

Great coverage of Wimbledon so far. I grew up in Spokane, Wash., and went to high school with Jan-Michael Gambill. I saw that Sampras called him "the future of American men's tennis" after their match. Isn't 23 a bit old for someone to be called the future of tennis? Anna Kournikova is being called a washout already, and she's still a teenager.

Rachel Alexander: Thanks much, although if 23 years old is ancient, we're all in trouble. Seriously, 23 is still a developing age for a male player. I don't think Jan-Michael is ever going to become a Pete Sampras one day -- we would have seen more flashes of that already -- but I do think he's made some serious strides recently and could be one to watch.

Glen Allen, Va.: Have you seen any TV coverage? I think Martina Navratilova is excellent, but Jim Courier needs work. Comments?

Rachel Alexander: Again, we don't get American television over here. (Which is very sad, by the way, if you know anything about the evening programming on the BBC.) I would assume, though, that Jim is going through what a lot of former players do -- in their first few stints commentating, they don't have a great sense of when to criticize their former peers. Let's also remember that some people train for years to go into broadcasting, so it's not shocking that it takes athletes a few years to pick it up.

That being said, there are some former athletes who are on television pretty regularly and have never gotten the hang of it, so we'll have to wait and see whether Jim turns out to be another McEnroe or whether he needs to be locked in a closet over at Turner somewhere.

Washington, D.C.: Personality wise, who is more interested in the limelight and who is more into the actual game of tennis (i.e. not caught up in the fame) between Rafter, Agassi and Sampras?

Rachel Alexander: At this point, all three are 27 or older, and I think all three are interested in getting in as much tennis as possible. Agassi's off-court life grabs the most headlines, of course, although Pete is giving him a run with the news of his engagement to a former Miss Teen USA.

Florida: I know you said earlier that you did not hear Chris Evert's commentary on the Williams v. Hingis match, but it was truly bias in favor of Hingis. You would think that she would favor the American instead of the Swiss on the 4th of July. Aside from that, what did you think about the Williams match yesterday? Do you think Serena gave it her all, or was something amiss?

Rachel Alexander: I think Serena did try her best *and* that something was amiss -- her confidence was nowhere to be found. Hopefully she'll come out firing again when the American hardcourt summer starts. She's definitely a great talker when she's on her game.

Vienna, Va.: Really like your spots on the Tony show.

Is Bud Collins really that good a guy, or does Tony just like him because he has less hair than Tony does?

Rachel Alexander: Bud is terrific and he can go hair follicle to hair follicle with Tony. What more could you ask?

Washington, DC: I agree that women's tennis is much better right now, partly because of Anna, but won't the public get tired of this blond bombshell if she doesn't at least make it to a final?

Rachel Alexander: Eventually, Anna's moment in the spotlight will fade if she doesn't improve her tennis, but you have to give her credit for wangling all the fame she has so far. She is a very good player, she just hasn't reached the elite yet -- in the meantime, she has proven more expert than most presidential candidates at capturing the media and the public. Perhaps Gore and Bush should show a little leg.

Manassas, Va.: is alexandra stevenson a one-tournament-wonder and what do you make of the stevensons' allegations? from reading other reporter's perspectives, the consensus seems to be that her mother is desperately seeking attention for her. i believe that if the accusations are true (which is highly possible), the way the stevensons bring them to light make themselves lose credibility completely.

Rachel Alexander: If Alexandra can find some consistency, she can be a very good player. She's young, so she has time to learn, and she has a monster serve. As for her allegations of racism on tour, I'd be shocked if some of them *weren't* true. It would be pretty naive to think there is no racial prejudice out there, especially when you've got people from other countries where there is significantly more racial unrest than there is even in the U.S.

That being said, are the specific allegations she made against the French players at Wimbledon true? I wasn't on the court at the time, so I can't say. It appears to be one player's word against another's, and the WTA has determined that there is no proof, so they won't issue any punishment.

D.C.: Is Pat Rafter the best looking thing to ever hit tennis?

Rachel Alexander: According to many of my male colleagues, Pete Rafter's *girlfriend* is the best-looking thing to hit tennis. You should have seen the drool they had to clean up at Centre Court after his match. As for Rafter himself, both my fiance and my boss insist I keep my eyes on his racket. :)

Arlington, Va.: Back to the important matter ... Sergei's staying with Anna AND her mother?

Rachel Alexander: Oh boy.

Laurie: I have found Jim Courier very entertaining and engaging -- he has done a great job of working around Marv Albert.

At what point do you think Pete Sampras will retire?

What is the consensus on Martina Hingis? Do others find her to be a bit of a brat? It was great to see Venus win that match against Hingis.

Rachel Alexander: As I said, I haven't heard him. He certainly had plenty to say as a player. As for Sampras, I think he's got a few more years in him, depending on how long his body holds up. He wants to rack up as many Grand Slams as possible -- he'd like to break Emerson's record and then have his own stand for quite some time.

Washington, D.C.: I think it's remarkable that Richard Williams could coach Venus and Serena Williams this far. Will he continue as their coach indefinitely?

Rachel Alexander: Serena and Venus plan to keep their father as coach for the indefinite future. They say no one knows their game better, and Venus said no one else could keep her interested in tennis -- she has too short of an attention span.

Baltimore, Md.: What's the score in the Sampras match?
Is he doing OK with his injury?

Rachel Alexander: Sampras won in straight sets -- Voltchkov played a great first set, but he got a tough net cord in the tiebreak and then dumped an easy shot into the net. That seemed to deflate him. He kept battling, though, giving Pete a solid third set.

Arlington, Va.: I have two questions:

What is going on with NBC not showing the games live! Every news organization is posting the result before we even get a chance to see the game.

What happened to the old system of mens rankings and which system determines who is number one in the world.

Rachel Alexander: I think some of the matches conflict with time NBC has already sold to syndication -- otherwise you're going to have to talk to the network. As for the rankings, the old system has been re-named, now called the "entry system." The new rankings are called the champions race, which is basically the same kind of system the NFL goes on, a record for the year. They don't necessarily tell you who the best player is, especially during the beginning of the season, but they tell you who is playing the best right now.

Los Angeles, Cal.: Haven't been able to see the tape of the Agassi match yet, but can you tell if this Wimy loss will deflate his confidence any, heading into the hardcourt season and to Sept.'s US Open?

Rachel Alexander: Andre was reflective after the match. He seemed frustrated but thoughtful. Hopefully this will spur him on, not wreck his confidence. At the French Open, Magnus Norman said Andre has lost that look in his eye that told you he wanted to win -- he seems to have gotten some of it back here.

Alexandria, Va: What will Martina Hingas need to do to her game in order to contend with the more poweful type player such as Linday Davenport or the athletic Williiams sisters?

Rachel Alexander: I think Martina has already done a lot -- increasing her gym work, etc. Unfortunately, she can't grow any taller, which would really be her most strategic move.

Her best shot at this point is to try to out-think players like Lindsay or other hard-hitters -- she's got amazing court sense and a mind that usually works two or three points ahead of anyone else.

Okay all -- that's going to do it for me. Thanks for the chat and for your questions. Hope you enjoy the rest of Wimbledon.

washingtonpost.com: Our thanks to Rachel for her time and insights. Stay connected with Rachel's coverage in The Post and on washingtonpost.com.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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