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TENNIS / BILL DWYRE : It's Ugly, Loud and Raunchy, but That's Why It's So Great

September 05, 1993|BILL DWYRE

NEW YORK — It was ironic that this year's U.S. Open started with a day dedicated to the late Arthur Ashe, who was everything that this event isn't.

Ashe was quiet, cool and calm, uncluttered, never rude or pushy. The U.S. Open is one giant antonym to all that. Perhaps the song is right: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

That's pretty much how it is for the players. This is the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year for them, and the three others have vastly better things to offer--the charms of Australia in January, a trip to Paris and all that comes with that for the French in May, the magic of historic Wimbledon in June and July.

The U.S. Open? How about the crowds and dirt and heat and wind and noise and general claustrophobia of some gigantic concrete stadium across the parking lot from Shea Stadium in some place so fittingly called Flushing Meadow?

Nevertheless, for perhaps those very reasons--plus the fact that it is the last major tournament of the year--the U.S. Open may be the best and most important of them all. Bud Collins, veteran sportswriter for the Boston Globe and network television sportscaster, probably summed it up best Friday when he said: "This is a lousy tournament, and I love it."

Indeed, in many ways, it is as easy to love as it is to hate. It is two weeks of craziness. It is:

--Henrik Holm of Sweden, playing with a cap that has its bill sawed down to half its normal width because a wider bill bothers him, telling reporters that it's the only cap he has like that and that surgery on it was done for him by a friend, and being asked: "Did your friend do it with a knife or scissors?"

--Stefan Edberg assuring everybody at a news conference that, now that he is a father, he does, indeed, change diapers.

--Brad Gilbert, playing Thursday night out on Court 17, cordoning off the court behind him so that people couldn't pass while he was playing--this even though there are green wind screens blocking the view and nobody else who played on that court in the first four days even mentioned any distractions. Gilbert, who wrote a book called "Winning Ugly" and is a wonderful promotion for it whenever he plays, even made players from other courts wait to pass until a change in the odd games of his match.

--Multimillionaire Monica Seles, wearing the same red blouse two days in a row, first to a day of viewing tennis in the hot sun Sunday during the Ashe benefit and then to the hot and sweaty, jam-packed news conference she held the next day.

--Michael Chang at 12:30 a.m., sitting patiently in a large room on a stage in front of a microphone, bright lights turned on for the benefit of one TV camera and three reporters, answering questions from some female tennis magazine writer from Mars: "Michael, is your serve feeling good now?"

--The expensive electronic line-calling system that was supposed to replace human eyes being junked for the moment because, among other things, the shoelace eyelets in some shoes made it beep.

Through all this, the players must persevere to survive. It may have been a boxer, of all people, who got to the heart of this. Said Evander Holyfield, the former heavyweight champion who attended the Ashe benefit last Sunday: "The winner is not always the best player, but the player with the best mind."

Holyfield was referring to sports in general, and boxing in particular. But it certainly applies at the U.S. Open. And it is interesting to see how different minds handle this scene.

Andre Agassi dazzled the fans in the Ashe benefit, then strolled the grounds and greeted the faithful along the way before his first match. When he lost, he looked shellshocked, his reddened eyes vacant, and he disappeared from the scene quickly .

Jennifer Capriati suffered the same first-round fate and had the same kind of distant I-wish-I-were-on-the-moon-now look.

Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion, gave perhaps half of that old 110% athletes talk about and then said he had diarrhea. The man who beat him, Javier Sanchez, when questioned about how big this victory was because of the strong rivalry between the Bruguera and Sanchez families of Barcelona, responded with wonderful denial: "We are just two tennis players who go out to the court to play."

Chang, one of the strongest of minds for any situation on the tour, signed autographs for 15 minutes after his late-night finish Thursday.

Mats Wilander, also known to be tough mentally, handled it with humor. Questioned about why he was back playing in the U.S. Open after drifting away from this scene a few years ago, he said: "I just like to play a few of these local tournaments."

Perhaps the two most interesting minds, five days into the tournament, were Pete Sampras and Boris Becker, the Nos. 2 and 4 seeded players, who could, conceivably, meet next Saturday in the semifinals.

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