The Austin Chronicle

Coach's Corner

Odds and Ends

By Andy "Coach" Cotton, June 12, 1998, Columns

Professional tennis has undergone a flip-flop. It's been in the making for several years now, not hard to see if I were looking, which I wasn't. It took the unexpected, and I hope not fluky, reappearance of the sport's most star-crossed champion, Monica Seles, and her emotional run to the French Open finals to refocus my attention. I'd written the women's game off for dead many times, and rightly so, as always the domain of one or two alpha females, who ruled the pack with a ruthless efficiency, snuffing any serious competition in its infancy. The past five years has been particularly difficult - the fruit pie who stabbed Seles during a changeover five years ago in Hamburg didn't kill her, but he accomplished his goal nevertheless: The object of his twisted affections, Steffi Graf, now operated in a power vacuum where she was the only source of energy. Without Seles, Graf owned all the Grand Slams. This kind of solitary domination is bad for any sport, but it's disastrous for a second-line sport like tennis.

Suddenly, the women's game appears reborn, while the men's game - void of any personality whatsoever - is as dull and grinding as an August day in Dallas. Personalities are emerging on the women's tour. Monica Hingis, a surgically precise, petulant, eye-rolling teenager from Switzerland, is the new number one. But the Williams sisters - brash, strong, athletic, creative, and American - produce just the kind of contrast in styles the public loves. Then there's the hot, but bitchy, aloof Russian, Anna Kournikova. Seles, with her entertaining, take-no-prisoners, hit-the-shit-out-of-the-ball style, though she seems much older, is only 24. The reappearance of the pesky, 26-year-old Sanchez Vicario is a surprise. Does the now chronically injured Graf, herself just 28, have anything left? Meanwhile, on the men's side, below a badly slumping Sampras (burned out at 27?) who's not the most magnetic personality on his best day, is nothing but a humdrum bunch of guys from distant nations. It seems to be the unfair fate of tennis for its two halves never to be healthy at the same time.

Time was, baseball brawls were not much more serious than recess pile-on. The few punches thrown were pretty half-hearted. Baseball players understand that you can't bat with a broken hand. The intensity and frequency of fights is picking up, though. They're almost always in the American League. A basic cause-effect relationship is at work, the direct result of baseball's worst rule change: the DH. When a pitcher understands that if he goes headhunting, he'll soon be the hunted himself, it's a most effective deterrent. In the AL, pitchers, who never bat, throw at hitters willy-nilly, whenever they get a little pissed off at whatever: a double bogey on the 8th hole yesterday, the transmission's out on the Rolls, whatever. Walk a few batters; throw at the next guy. Give up a homer; knock the next guy down. Batters in the AL must feel very frustrated knowing the pitcher never has to pay with his own head. What other recourse do they have but to go after the chicken-shit pitchers? Knocking guys down is a sometimes necessary, long-time practice. I'm okay with that. Throwing a hard ball at a guy's head for no reason at all, other than that the pitcher's irritated about something, isn't. Wild brawls in the AL will continue until the DH is abolished.

Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.