PETE AND SERENA FIND WHAT SUITS THEM
Styles make fights. That old boxing adage is never more true than in tennis, and especially so at last week’s U.S. Open. Pete Sampras—sorry about that colostomy bag joke, champ—has said over and over that Andre Agassi “brings out the best” in him. The problem for Agassi is that he doesn’t return the favor. When Sampras brings his A-game, he completely dictates play whether it’s by hitting winners—84 of them in 277 points—or making unforced errors (nobody on tour mishits more balls). On Sunday, Agassi must have felt like Jeromy Burnitz facing Randy Johnson. In the wake of his shades-of-1990 performance, Sampras’s “I deserved to win” admission during the trophy presentation was not only refreshingly candid, but right on the mark.
Still, Pete (and his friends at the USTA and CBS) ought to send a thank-you note to Gustavo Kuerten. The three-time French Open champ dismantled 2000 winner Marat Safin, then had the decency to lose to journeyman Sjeng Schalken.
If Safin or Kuerten—instead of the weaponless Schalken—had survived to play a shaky Sampras in Saturday’s semifinals, it’s likely that Pete’s dinner with Andre would have been canceled. Let’s also put this so-called rivalry in perspective. Sampras has won twice as many slams as Agassi, leads the series 20-14, and is 4-1 in grand slam finals against Andre, with Agassi’s one win coming at the 1995 Australian the week that Pete found out that his coach, Tim Gullickson, had what would turn out to be a fatal brain tumor. I guess it’s hard to call it an upset when the best player in history wins a grand slam, even if he’s on the down side of 30.
And speaking of one-sided rivalries, let’s talk about the sisters Williams. At least Serena’s total domination seems to have put to rest the ridiculous allegations that the outcome of their matches was predetermined. They simply play lackluster tennis against each other because their games are so similar, and the pendulum has swung so quickly and decisively from Big Sister to Little Sister.
Since dropping the first set to Jennifer Capriati at Roland Garros, Serena has won a mind-boggling 32 consecutive sets in grand slams. (For you trivia buffs, the other set she dropped this year was to Vera Zvonareva of Russia.) Skeptics will note that Richard Williams‘s final two predictions—that his daughters will be numbers one and two in the world and Serena will be better—have come to pass. Tennis fans can only hope that his concerns about the lenient treatment given to Serena stalker Albrecht Stromeyer (“The bail is so low, I think that encourages him to keep doing what he’s doing,”) and the tour’s lax security as the Monica Seles stabbing recedes into memory (“It makes me wonder, ‘Could he hurt Serena?’ “) aren’t validated.
The only suspense in Serena’s matches at Flushing Meadows centered on the what-will-she-wear question. Serena’s black Puma catsuit was the focus of much cattiness in the press room and elsewhere—”hideous” is a word that was bandied about a lot. Unlike Tommy Haas‘s sleeveless shirt (tournament referee Brian Earley made him change in his first round match against David Sanchez), which reeked of a Nike-driven publicity grab, Serena’s outfit seemed designed to make a more profound statement: It celebrated a brilliantly functional body that doesn’t conform to the Anna Kournikova straight-outta-FHM mold.
“But the catsuit—I feel like a cat,” she told reporters, contrasting this sleek and chic fashion triumph with a demure soccer-inspired outfit she wore at the French. “I can go fast. I feel really, really, really serious in [this] outfit.” Jehovah help the rest of women’s tennis when Little Sis feels that way. —Allen St. John
THERE’S NO ACCOUNTING FOR THIS OWNER
O tempora, O Moores! After threatening to sit out next season in the event of a strike, hawkish Padres owner John Moores got his way: Baseball’s new labor agreement, reached on August 30, means more big-market handouts for losing teams like his. On the same day, however, his IT company, Peregrine Systems, was delisted from NASDAQ—the SEC is investigating whether the firm’s accounting practices were fraudulent, while the House committee that targeted Enron and WorldCom now has Peregrine in its sights. Two weeks ago, the company admitted it had “overstated” its revenues by $250 million over a 33-month period—during which Moores and his family cashed in their stock for a cool $482 million (causing Fortune magazine to rank him fifth on its recent “Greedy Bunch” list).
Meanwhile, Peregrine has fired almost half its employees to cut costs. So it’s hard to care if Moores is losing $20 million a year on the Pads, as he glibly claims—his stock proceeds would cover that for the next 24 seasons. (Which may be how long it’ll take the club, with one of the league’s lowest payrolls, to win the World Series again.)
The feds also investigated Moores last year over a San Diego corruption scandal. Even as the City Council debated whether to approve a new $450 million stadium for the Padres, Councilmember Valerie Stallings accepted gifts from Moores, then voted for the ballpark. She pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, resigned, and was fined $10,000—but she’d already pocketed $11,261, on the day of the stadium vote, via the IPO of one of Moores’s companies. Moores, by contrast, was charged with nothing.
Since then, the team has built little of the copious commercial space it promised the city to help finance the ballpark, expected to open in 2004. Right-winger (and Padres board member) George Will once opined that Moores should be MLB’s next commissioner. People of America, you have been warned. —J. Yeh