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Tough Enough for New York : Tennis: Edberg, Graf hope for continued successes as the U.S. Open starts its two-week run off-Broadway.

August 30, 1993|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Open, the year's fourth and final Grand Slam event, begins today on the hard courts of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., where defending champion Stefan Edberg and top-seeded Steffi Graf have something to prove.

Edberg is the two-time defending champion who has rid himself of the label that he was too fragile mentally to survive the grueling two-week tournament. The No. 3-seeded player behind Jim Courier and Pete Sampras, Edberg could have a difficult path to another final.

Edberg plays Olivier Delaitre in the first round and then possibly 19th-ranked Karel Novacek in the second round. Other potential opponents are Alexander Volkov and Michael Stich.

"Winning three in a row is an extremely different proposition," Edberg said. "I'm just happy to have won two. But I feel very confident and very comfortable entering this tournament.

"New York is a tough place to play. There is always a lot going on and the people really get involved, but I think over the years I've learned how to handle things. The key is maintaining your concentration and I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that for the past two U.S. Opens."

Courier plays his first-round match against Marcos Aurelio Gorriz of Spain. Sampras takes on France's Fabrice Santoro and is projected to meet 16th-seeded Andre Agassi in the fourth round.

Graf is a heavy favorite to win her third Grand Slam title of 1993, especially with former No. 1-ranked Monica Seles out, probably for the rest of the year, as a result of being stabbed in the back by a fan during a match in Germany four months ago.

A two-time U.S. Open champion, Graf meets Robin White in the first round and is on track to play Mary Pierce in the fourth round. Second-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario plays her first match against Florencia Labat and third-seeded Martina Navratilova, a four-time U.S. Open champion, opens against 18-year-old Italian Gloria Pizzichini.

Jennifer Capriati, the seventh-seeded player, might have the toughest draw among the women. In the first round, Capriati plays Leila Meskhi, then could meet Katerina Maleeva, Lori McNeil, Gigi Fernandez and Magdalena Maleeva before a potential quarterfinal match against Navratilova.

* NOTEBOOK: John McEnroe, who will not play in the U.S. Open, is still drawing crowds in New York. Monica Seles also showed up. C9

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