Tennis Identity

L. Jon Wertheim. Addicted.

L. Jon Wertheim In 1997, the ink still drying on his  J.D. from U. Penn. Law, Jon Wertheim went to work for Sports Illustrated.  Hired as an investigative reporter, his first assignment was covering John Lucas, the fired NBA coach turned tennis coach to Lori McNeil, ranked 93 in the world. Since then Wertheim has written legions about sports,  the game of tennis and the identities that play for a living. Covering tennis is a passion that started with Wertheim's own love for the game. The guy says he doesn’t play enough anymore – a busy/city life makes it challenging – but any chance he gets, he takes. Here’s what makes his personal game tick:

Who got you started? "Lin Loring, the long-time Head Women’s Coach at Indiana University is someone I should thank. His connection to the bigger game, the culture, the pros and gear added excitement to hitting balls out of a cart at summer camp. He knows Billie Jean King and had great stories to tell. "

Why do you play? "Personally I love individual sports. I love the beauty of tennis, the mental component, and the athletes. Having grown up playing, I know how hard it is to play well consistently. I can relate to players when they struggle or choke."

Did you play competitively as a junior? " I think I peaked talent-wise at 16. At that time, my USTA ranking in the State of Indiana was around 9 in doubles and 30 in singles."

Favorite surface? "Clay, although I grew up on hard courts like most American kids. Sliding adds an extra element of fun to the game."

Singles or doubles? "Doubles"

Best stroke?  "Forehand and the occasional drop shot."

Baseliner or all-court? "All court. That’s what makes the game most  interesting."

On court style? "Totally casual, a tee-shirt and cargo shorts or whatever. That new Dri-Fit fabric is nice though."

Stick? "Because of what I do, I’m offered quite a few top-of-the-line racquets to check out. Funny thing is, no matter what I try, after 15 minutes of “trampolining” the ball,  I always go back to the 200 G Dunlops in my bag – left overs from my college roommate, Marc Howard,  who played #1 at Yale.  It’s a comfort thing. I like the feel of that old racquet."

Male pro you can most relate to? "Fabrice Santoro. I’m like a hobo version of Santoro: slices, junk, drop shots. I’m never going to hit a 140 mph serve, but I’ll keep you guessing."

Female?  "Since I have an all-court game, there isn’t one anymore.  I’d like to see the women’s game evolve from the baseline hit it has become."

Ever hit with a tour pro? "I took a clinic with Todd Woodbridge and hit with Mal Washington once. Makes you realize what a ridiculously different level the pros are at."

On on-court coaching: "I’m not a fan. I really like the idea that you are out there trying to figure it out on your own."

Watch for Wertheim's new book on the Federer/Nadal rivalry, Strokes of Genius coming out in May.