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NO PLACE LIKE IT : Fans at the U.S. Open Get Away From It All by Going to Court 16

August 31, 1986|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — If tennis has a Siberia, Court 16 is it.

This court is so far away from the rest of the action at the National Tennis Center that even hot dog vendors swing by only on occasion.

The thousands of fans who flow through the gates here at the U.S. Open beat a path to either the Stadium court, which seats 20,000, or the Grandstand court, which seats 6,000. These are the venues for those who seek both comfort and world-class tennis. These are the safe seats.

The adventurous wouldn't be caught dead in the Stadium or Grandstand. They scoff at the sophisticated electronic scoreboard and at seats with backs.

Court 16 is for the Rambo of tennis fans. Court 16 is a no-frills, splinters-in-the-rear, hang-over-the-rails experience.

In return for their labor, fans are able to get as close to tennis stars as is allowed. But the labor is not a small affair.

Court 16 is nestled between two parking lots on the crust of this sprawling tennis complex.

All sidewalks don't lead to Court 16. With good reason. If even one pathway led to this forlorn place, it would be overrun in a minute. It's small, spartan and there is barely seating enough for a few tourists who may have gotten lost on their way to the Boris Becker match.

Certainly the media are not flocking to matches on Court 16. It's a long hike from the air-conditioned press box to the concrete bunker. Besides it's usually the second tier of players who are banished to the outer courts.

Tell Mats Wilander about it. The No. 2 player in the world had a match out there the other day, and when he faced reporters after his win he was asked to summarize the match.

"Yeah, I guess nobody saw it because I was playing on Court 16, so I have to (describe the match)," Wilander deadpanned. "It is really hard for us because we are not used to playing on the outside courts. I just realized today that you don't actually realize how good you are playing. I think it's really tough to get a feel for the ball. It's difficult to know how good you're playing because the area is so small. On center court you really have to hit hard and nothing happens. Here, you hit quite a good serve and it turns out to be an ace every time."

If that were true, more of the top players would request to be scheduled on the outer courts. What the seeded players want is to play where they will likely play in the later rounds, either on the Stadium or Grandstand courts. Like Wilander, most players find the outside courts play faster.

They are also noisier, windier and, despite the no-names, very packed.

Court 16 was packed for Saturday's schedule. First came the singles match between No. 8-seeded Henri Leconte of France and Amos Mansdorf of Israel.

By the 11 a.m. start, the two sets of faded wooden bleachers were filled. People who come out to watch matches at Court 16 dig in for the day. After the pushing and jockeying it requires to get to a seat, you won't find Court 16 fans coming and going. They pack sandwiches and drinks and coffee and snacks.

The fans were breaking out the lunch provisions by the time Leconte won, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

"I like to play on the outside courts," Leconte said. "At Wimbledon I played my matches on Court Two and they say it was a bad court, but I won all my matches there. The Grandstand and the Stadium are different. They are slow."

During the match, Leconte frequently cocked his ear toward the sound of a bell--an ice cream truck that was prowling through a nearby park.

"Did I hear the bell?" Leconte said. "Yes, it was loud."

By the time the second match began, fans had spilled out of the bleachers and were ringing the court, hanging over the low chain fence. Others, three deep, were peering through the green netting at both ends of the court. Gabriela Sabatini was about to play, and most of the males in the vicinity had homed in on Court 16.

Sabatini beat Katarina Maleeva, 7-5, 6-2, much to the delight of the partisan fans. Sabatini said she thought it was just fine out on Court 16, maybe a little loud.

The noise level of her match was nothing compared to the volume of the next match. In the men's singles, Andrei Chesnokov had the misfortune of drawing Marcel Freeman, who is from Port Washington, N.Y. Chesnokov is from the Soviet Union.

That Chesnokov won, 1-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, is a tribute to his concentration. The Court 16 fans did all they could to let the Soviet know which player was the crowd favorite.

Freeman had something to do with it, however, as he had packed the stands with friends and family.

How many Freeman supporters were in the stands? "About two or three million," Freeman said. "I had a a lot of people. I'd say about 20--scattered about strategically. I would hope the crowd was pulling for me; it took me long enough to get the tickets out to those people."

Chesnokov was not shaken by the cantankerous mood of the crowd. "If you have played Davis Cup in Argentina, and won, then nothing is anything to you after that," he said.

Anyone who has survived a day at Court 16 knows what that means.

Open Notes

Fans at Friday night's second-round singles match between Boris Becker and Cassio Motta of Brazil decided to give the two foreign players an American cultural experience; the 20,269 fans began a wave around the Stadium court as Becker was serving. Becker, hearing the noise, stepped away from the baseline, and then pivoted around as the wave moved through the stadium. Becker was mesmerized with the strange phenomenon, as was Motta. Even as the umpire was asking the crowd to "Please, calm the seas," Becker was leaning against a fence waiting for the finish. After the wave faded, Becker and Motta applauded the crowd and continued play. . . . John McEnroe was fined an additional $4,000 for verbal abuse in the aftermath of his default in doubles Friday. He and partner Peter Fleming had already been fined $1,000 for arriving late for their match. They said they were caught in traffic.

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