Modern rackets and a scarcity of grass events weaken the
Shame on gustavo Kuerten, Alex Corretja and French Open champ
Albert Costa for deeming Wimbledon too unimportant to bother with
this year. All tennis players worth their courtesy cars ought to
compete in the four Grand Slams. But will those stars be sitting
out the most significant event on the tennis calendar? No, not
unless they're going to bail on the U.S. Open as well.
What makes Wimbledon unique is also what makes it increasingly
irrelevant: the grass underfoot. Wimbledon's anachronistic
surface transforms a fluid, nuanced game into a mindless shootout
with staccato points. The slick greensward punishes steady
baseline players and bestows an unfair advantage on those like
Goran Ivanisevic--ranked outside the top 100 when he won last
year--who come armed with a serve, a prayer and an ultramodern
Tennis has clay-court and hard-court specialists, indoor and
outdoor players, but by now no pro has been weaned on grass.
Wimbledon is one of the few grass events left. A generation ago
several significant tournaments, including two Grand Slams, were
held on turf. That seven-time champ Pete Sampras--who hasn't won a
tournament in two years and enters Wimbledon in the throes of a
disastrous slump--has been mentioned as a favorite speaks volumes
about just how fluky and specialized "the Championships" have
become. In short, using Wimbledon as the sport's ne plus ultra is
like holding a dunk contest to determine the NBA champion.
No question Wimbledon is dripping with charm, and the venue will
always be "tennis's cathedral," as Sampras calls it. But times
change. If tradition and history were so sacrosanct, the players
taking the court this week would be brandishing wooden rackets.
And the Williams sisters might not be allowed through the
gates. --L. Jon Wertheim
It's time to celebrate a surface that makes everyone equal and
defines the elite
Those weak-minded players who complain about the quick points
and unforgiving surface of Wimbledon (as well as those cowards
who skip the tournament entirely) get no sympathy in this space.
Favoring the courageous serve-and-volleyer, that most noble of
tennis warriors, over an endless brigade of boring baseline
bashers, Wimbledon's lush and venerable lawns are the
aficionado's best friend. True, players rarely if ever compete
on grass during the rest of the season, but really: Should
Wimbledon be faulted for forcing the latest crop of millionaire
athletes out of their comfort zones? How perfect that a
125-year-old tournament has become all about coping with the
shock of the new. Grass, as 1992 winner Andre Agassi says, "is
the great equalizer."
And yet history shows it is also the surface that defines the
elite. The champions of Wimbledon tend to be the champions of all
tennis and of all time: Wills, Tilden, Borg, Navratilova, McEnroe
and Sampras just to name a few. Nor should we forget that the
sport's most memorable match--the epic 1980 final between Bjorn
Borg and John McEnroe--was played on Centre Court.
The oldest of the four majors remains the sport's main bridge
from the past to the present. It is a perfect mix of Old World
values (the Royal Box, the strawberry stalls and commoners
camping out nightly during the fortnight to snap up the few
remaining match-day tickets) and new millennium sport (short
rallies and eye-poppingly fast serves). Those with no respect for
history, who can't appreciate the absence of stadium lights or
rejoice in a rule that players must wear predominantly white
clothing, need not worry. The U.S. Open, with its overpriced
hamburgers, witching-hour tennis and Wall Street royalty, is just
two months away. --Richard Deitsch
The next great American runner bolts Michigan to turn professional
In the spring of 2001, 18-year-old Virginia high school senior
Alan Webb ran the mile in 3:53.43 at the Prefontaine Classic in
Eugene, Ore., obliterating a scholastic record that had been set
more than three decades earlier by Jim Ryun. Webb was given a
standing ovation at Hayward Field and took a victory lap in the
embrace of Moroccan world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj. At
that moment Webb also assumed responsibility for guiding the
sport's domestic future. It was heady stuff.
By then Webb had already announced that he would attend and run
for Michigan, even though the college system, with its demanding
three-season structure (cross-country, indoor track, outdoor
track) and emphasis on team scoring, has been increasingly
criticized as an ineffective way to produce world champions and
Olympic medalists. (Neither Maurice Greene nor Marion Jones, the
U.S.'s top track stars, ran regularly in college.) Other nations
tend to nurture their runners more carefully through more focused
The issue surfaced as soon as Webb broke Ryun's record. As Webb
lay stretching on the Hayward training track after the
Prefontaine mile, U.S. Olympic sprinter Jon Drummond walked past.
"There's Alan Webb, the savior of track and field," Drummond said
to an acquaintance. "Too bad the college system will eat him up
and spit him out."
In a way it already has: Last week Webb announced that he was
leaving Michigan and would reunite with his high school coach,
Scott Raczko, to run as a professional (while taking classes at
George Mason University). Webb had what most freshmen would
consider an outstanding season, winning the Big Ten cross-country
and 1,500-meter titles, but he finished 11th in the NCAA
cross-country meet, fourth in the NCAA 1,500 and missed the
entire winter with an Achilles tendon injury. He did not approach
his times from high school. "I wasn't happy with my performance,"
he says. "I think to be the best at something, you have to do
extraordinary things. Obviously, this is kind of extraordinary,
but the truth is, I considered doing it last year."
College track fans needn't despair, though--this is hardly the
start of an exodus. Webb is the rare teen runner for whom college
is not the only option. His agent, former world-class miler Ray
Flynn, will likely be able to capitalize on the lingering buzz
from Webb's remarkable high school career to negotiate
endorsement contracts. "Whether the college system is right for
other people, I don't know," says Webb. "I just need to go
forward and push myself to get better." --Tim Layden
It takes blood and guts to win a World Cup.... Or does it? Last
week, at venues in Japan and South Korea, 193 teams from 30
nations participated in RoboCup 2002, a soccer tournament for
robots. The competitors ranged from dog robots to five-foot-tall
humanoids. Most of the machines can shoot and dribble to some
degree; some whiz around at six mph. Many are programmed to run
sophisticated set plays. On Saturday the Cornell Big Red,
two-time world champs of the technically advanced small-sized
league (six inches and smaller), beat the University of Melbourne
Roobots 10-0 to reach the semifinals. (The tournament ends on
RoboCup has grown steadily since its 1997 debut. Although
competition gets intense, rival teams often share knowledge
before the event. The hope of all is to advance robotics to the
point where a robots could compete against humans. "The dream is
to field a team that could win the World Cup in 2050," says
Raffaello D'Andrea, the Big Red's faculty adviser. "But that's a
very lofty goal."
$125 Amount the Hawks have pledged to pay every season-ticket
holder if the team fails to reach the NBA playoffs next season.
15.91 Percentage drop this year in the Dow Jones Stoxx Football
Index, which tracks the 35 publicly traded soccer teams in
42 Of the 49 World Cup players involved in ad campaigns for
either Nike or Adidas who had failed to score a goal entering the
48 Inmates who escaped from an Indonesian prison on June 17
because their guards were distracted by the Belgium-Brazil World
Cup match on television.
3 Deaths in high school and college pole vaulting this year,
prompting the NCAA to increase the minimum size of competition
landing pads to 19'8" by 16'5" from its current 16 by 12 feet.
9th Finish for Johannesburg, out of 12 horses in a race at Royal
Ascot in Berkshire, England; after winning seven of seven starts
last year, Kentucky Derby disappointment Johannesburg is 0-3 as a
Intrigue over two Chinese players has the NBA in an awkward
For the past six weeks Mavericks center Wang Zhizhi has been
living in an L.A. apartment. Each day he hits the track at 8
a.m., then heads to the gym to lift weights and work on shooting
and defense. For any other NBA player this would be a commendable
off-season regimen. For Wang, who has ignored two callbacks from
the Chinese national team, "this is a full-fledged defection,"
says a source close to the situation.
After the end of the NBA playoffs the Chinese Basketball
Association (CBA) sent Dallas two letters demanding that, as
stipulated in his contract, Wang return to play for the Chinese
national team. The Mavs pleaded ignorance, saying Wang was
nowhere to be found. In early June the Dallas Morning News
reported Wang was in L.A.; he told the paper he was preparing
for an NBA summer league. Last weekend Wang told SI that
everything has been blown out of proportion and that he has been
communicating twice a week, via fax and phone, with the CBA.
When asked if he'll go back, Wang was noncommittal, saying, "I
never thought about defecting. I just want to get better at
basketball. Playing against NBA players is the best way to do
The CBA's stance is unchanged. This creates a sticky situation
not only for Wang--"If he goes to China after all this, he'll
never be allowed to come back to the U.S.," speculates the
source--but also for Yao Ming, the 7'5" center who's expected to
be the top pick in Wednesday's draft. Getting Yao cleared for the
NBA has already been an arduous process, and as of Monday the CBA
still hadn't agreed to let him go. "The Chinese put their necks
out [to let Wang play in the NBA]," says the source. "They're not
going to want to do it again."
Wang and the NBA insist his situation has no bearing on Yao's
status. Wang says he and Yao haven't spoken lately, but that he
did send a good-luck message to Yao when Yao came to Chicago in
May to work out for the Bulls. Regarding his own career--he'll be
a restricted free agent on July 1, and the Mavs have said they'll
tender an offer--Wang sounds similarly optimistic, saying, "I just
want to be a basketball player, that is all." --Chris Ballard
METS OUTFIELDER TONY TARASCO
Late on April 11 Tony Tarasco went to an empty Shea Stadium and
sprinkled his father's ashes near the outfield fence. Jack
Tarasco had wanted his ashes scattered on the Pasadena field
where his son first played ball, and Tony had done that shortly
after his father died of pneumonia at 74 in April 2001. But
Tarasco, 31, who was then in Triple A ball, saved some ashes for
his return to the bigs. The Mets called him up in April, and last
week he had his best stretch in years, hitting two homers and
scoring a game-winning run. On Sunday he made a superb catch near
a spot where he'd left some ashes. "My father's spirit has been
with me since he passed," Tony says. Adds his stepmother, Juliet,
"Jack would be thrilled."
ORDERED By NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in response to the
March 18 death of fan Brittanie Cecil, new protective measures at
all arenas. Before next season teams must install netting above
the fiberglass walls that border the corners and end zones of
rinks and also ensure that the glass along the sides of the rinks
is at least five feet above the top of the boards. Cecil, 13, was
hit by a puck while attending a Blue Jackets game.
SIGNED By the Red Sox, John Henry Williams, 33, the son of Ted
Williams, to a minor league contract. John Henry, a 6'5",
220-pound self-dubbed "power-hitting first baseman" who has never
played pro ball and is Ted's business manager, will go to Class A
Sarasota. A Sox spokesman says the signing is "unusual," but that
Ted's stature made the team "willing to go beyond the norm."
CONVICTED Of misdemeanor assault, former Jazz center Olden
Polynice, 38, for spitting at and punching 21-year-old Tyler
Swensen on a Utah golf course in July 2001. The incident occurred
after a shot by one of Swensen's partners struck Polynice in the
right arm. Polynice faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000
fine at his July 15 sentencing.
DIED Of a heart attack, Willie Davenport, 59, a four-time
Olympian and 1968 gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles. In '80
Davenport made the U.S. bobsled team for the Lake Placid
Olympics, making him the second man to compete in the Summer and
Winter Games. Davenport, who spent two years in the 509th
Airborne Regiment in the '60s, ran the National Guard Bureau's
Office of Sports Management from '99 until his death.
INVITED By the Heat to their NBA training camp next week, Chiefs
All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, who averaged 6.4 points and 4.3
rebounds as a power forward at Cal between 1995 and '97. The 6'4"
Gonzalez has no plans to give up football and says he's going to
the camp for conditioning. Said Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, "Some
guys like to play golf. He likes to play basketball."
On the Bobble
Meet the man who's made a mint off sports' hottest collectible
No one sets out to become a novelty czar--Malcolm Alexander is
still surprised when he hears himself referred to as the
Bobblehead King. The 43-year-old Australian is the founder and
president of Alexander Global Promotions (AGP) in Bellevue,
Wash., the leading producer of bobblehead dolls. "There's
certainly no straight line in my career path," says Alexander,
who served in an Australian counterterrorism unit before moving
to the U.S. in 1990. "It's all about having fun and being in the
For Alexander that place was on the receiving end of an order
for a San Francisco Giants giveaway in 1999. The team wanted to
honor Willie Mays on a Turn Back the Clock Day by giving out
bobbleheads, those kitschy sports figurines from the '50s and
'60s. Despite having, he says, "no idea whatsoever" what a
bobblehead was, Alexander assured the team that his
three-year-old promotional products company could do it. After
much trial and error in the manufacturing process, AGP
ultimately churned out 35,000 wobbling Willies. The dolls were
such a hit that eight other teams soon put in requests for
bobbleheads. Within two years fans in Seattle were camping out
overnight to get an Ichiro bobblehead, and a craze of Cabbage
Patch proportions had begun. In 2002 AGP will produce more than
12 million dolls at its factory north of Hong Kong.
Every major league team, every NFL team and most teams in the NBA
and NHL has had a bobblehead promotion. While the collectibles
market has suffered lately from the glut--there are 14 variations
of a Derek Jeter bobblehead--Alexander has kept his business
thriving by going international. He sells dolls in Japan (where
likenesses of the Yomiuri Giants are a hit), in Australia
(there's been a run on miniature Aussie Rules Football players)
and in Europe (British soccer stars are big). In the U.S. he's
come up with innovations including a "bobble-armed" Tommy John
doll, a Dikembe Mutombo doll with a bobble finger and a
bobble-scene of Giants' broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper
seated at a desk, which will be the first bobblehead creation to
have a conversation with itself. (There's a 15-second sound chip
Although AGP has made more than 2,500 different models, Alexander
has his limits. The three-year veteran of Australia's Special Air
Service, who led a U.N. peacekeeping team in Iran in 1988,
blanched at the recent request from the Class A Hagerstown Suns
to make an Osama bin Laden doll. ("It didn't seem right," he
says.) He's also refused orders for representations of certain
actresses, whom Alexander would rather not name, created with
their proportions enhanced--and bobbling away.
Alexander says the key to the success of bobbleheads is not the
spring-action parts but the ratio of head to body size. "For some
reason it appeals to people to have these realistic heads and
then these cute, whimsical bodies," he says. To that end
Alexander believes the future of bobbleheads lies in even more
realistic faces. "The next thing we're doing is laser mapping,"
he says, referring to a process in which players' faces will be
digitally reproduced. The result, Alexander says, will bobble,
er, boggle your mind. --Chris Ballard
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
JUNE 28-JULY 4
FRIDAY 6/28 TBS 7 PM
Braves at Red Sox
Once the home of the Braves, Boston is still friendly to NL
East-leading Atlanta--the team is 17-10 against the BoSox in
interleague play, including 9-3 at Fenway.
SATURDAY 6/29A&E 8 PM
Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden: Westminster Dog Show
A look behind the curtains of the Super Bowl of dog shows. In
addition to backstage footage of the pooches getting groomed,
you'll see play-by-play commentator Joe Garagiola explain why
it's O.K. to say, "That bitch had a big night."
SATURDAY 6/29 HBO 9:45 PM
Wladimir Klitschko vs. Ray Mercer
Is the 26-year-old Klitschko (38-1, 35 KOs) the heir to Lennox
Lewis? This bout with the still-dangerous 41-year-old Mercer
(30-4-1, 22 KOs) may help answer that.
SUNDAY 6/30 ABC 6:30 AM
World Cup Final
If you can't be among the 70,000 at Japan's Yokohama Stadium
today, you might as well join the 1.7 billion viewers expected to
tune in for the final act of the tournament.
THURSDAY 7/4 TNT 8 AM
Wimbledon, Women's Semifinals
Last year Justine Henin ended Jennifer Capriati's Grand Slam
dreams with a three-set win in the semis before the Belgian got
waffled by Venus Williams in the final.
THURSDAY 7/4 ESPN2 1-10 PM
Indians at Yankees (1 PM); Astros at Pirates (4 PM); Cubs at
Braves (7 PM)
Celebrate America's birth with back-to-back-to-back doses of the
TUESDAY 7/2 AMC 10 PM
Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey
This 90-minute documentary includes many fantasic fight scenes
and a previously unreleased battle (filmed in 1972) between Lee
and a 7'2" karate killer played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who
warns, "Little fellow, you must have given up the hope of
--A Powerful Buck
--A Trio of Women
--Less than 12 hours after eulogizing his father, Jack Buck, Fox
Sports announcer Joe Buck arrived in Chicago to broadcast last
Saturday's Cardinals-Cubs game. Less than six hours after that
he broke the news of Darryl Kile's death (page 38) to the
nation. After the game was canceled, Buck conducted a
heart-wrenching interview with St. Louis manager Tony La Russa,
who had been at Jack's funeral the day before. Joe's composure
and professionalism were remarkable. Jack would have been proud.
--The documentary Anna Kournikova: SportsCentury debuts on June
28 on ESPN Classic, though the network was rebuffed in numerous
attempts to interview the starlet. (Anna's rep, David Schwab,
says the filming, which took place over several months,
conflicted with her playing schedule.) Even without
Kournikova--who lost in the first round of Wimbledon on
Monday--this well-reported piece brings to life the making of a
marketing phenomenon. Viewers, however, will itch for a
Kournikova response to criticism such as this from Tennis Week
publisher Gene Scott: "It's over for her in tennis as far as
being a serious tennis player. She's a tennis model now."
--As part of its Women in Sports Weekend, ESPN's The Sports
Reporters replaced its usual crew (Mike Lupica, Bill Conlin,
etc.) with a panel of three women--The Boston Globe's Jackie
McMullen, ESPN's Michelle Tafoya and ESPN the Magazine's Roxanne
Jones--who sat alongside host John Saunders. The engaging
conversation (which wasn't limited to women's sports) brought to
the fore some fresh voices, and the show's producers should keep
the trio in the mix. --Richard Deitsch
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN KICKING GRASS Some say Wimbledon's surface, which aids big servers like Sampras, makes the 125-year-old event increasingly irrelevant.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES AHEAD OF THE PACK An astounding high school mile gave Webb unusual options.
COLOR PHOTO: SHIZUO KAMBAYASHI/AP (MAN WITH ROBOTS) METAL WINNERS The goal is to create a team of robots that can beat the best human squad.
COLOR PHOTO: HIROJI KUBOTA/MAGNUM (DOGS) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: KYODO NEWS/AP (WHITE ROBOTS) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (WANG) HOLDING HIS GROUND Wang has ignored requests to return to China.
COLOR PHOTO: MARK LEVINE (TARASCO AT SHEA) SON SHINES Tarasco stays close to dad (right, with Tony in 2000).
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE TARASCO FAMILY [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JAMES DRAKE Davenport
COLOR PHOTO: DANIEL SHEEHAN (BOBBLEHEADS) 'HEAD CASE Alexander (note familiar face to his right) won't do bin Laden.
COLOR PHOTO: AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS Lee kicks Kareem
"If he goes to China after all this, he'll never be allowed to
come back." --ROUNDBALL DIPLOMACY, PAGE 26