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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TENNIS

Success, Naked Truth From Washington

Tennis: Questions about streaking incident just won't die even as he wins again, 6-7, (9-7) 6-0, 6-2.

July 29, 1996|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

ATLANTA — The streaking continues for American tennis player MaliVai Washington. He is also winning a lot of matches.

Sunday at the Olympic tennis venue was pretty normal stuff for the man climbing rapidly toward a spot among the world's top 10:

--As a highly seeded player, his current No. 12-ranking converting to a No. 4 spot in the bracket here, he gets prime time, prime courts and primed audiences. His was the leadoff match on Court 1 Sunday, and drew an enthusiastic, packed house.

--He battled back from a first-set tiebreaker letdown to beat Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark, 6-7, (9-7), 6-0, 6-2, gaining the quarterfinals. He is the only seeded player in his half of the draw.

--And afterward, in his news conference, he tried to lay bare an issue that has needed further undressing for some weeks now. In fact, when asked about it, he answered like a person clearly needing to get something off his chest.

The only similarity between Wimbledon and the current Olympic tournament, Washington said, was the frequency of rain delays.

"Other than that, no, there are not too many similarities. I haven't seen any streakers," he said, wanting to stifle a grin, but failing badly.

For those with short memories, Washington and his opponent, Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, were standing ceremoniously at midcourt for photographers before starting this year's Wimbledon final, and were captured on film at that very high-profile moment, with huge grins on their faces.

For as the cameras clicked away, a young woman who had spent her days in the Wimbledon cafeteria, probably topping off the mashed potatoes with gravy, dashed across the hallowed court, clad only in an apron.

As she crossed in front of Washington and Krajicek, she lifted her apron, presumably in a salute to their fine efforts in making the final. One of the photographers snapped the moment, and although the picture did not reveal so much that it couldn't appear in papers worldwide, it did reveal more than enough of the looks on the faces of the two players. A pair of cheshire cats, one might say.

And so, after taking out Carlsen Sunday, Washington seemed more than willing to take off on the streaker, providing, as it were, the real skinny.

Question: When you were standing there and the streaker went across, what did you say to Krajicek, or what did he say to you?

Answer: I don't think either of us spoke for about 10 minutes. Our minds were just blown. Or his wasn't. I mean, I . . . geez.

Q: The streaker cost you the Wimbledon title?

A: No, no, no. That didn't cost me, that just cost me my mind. Richard cost me the title. That was just the whole--that was really a weird situation. I think we were both stunned.

(Editor's note: The photo showed dual states of mind leaning more toward "All right!" than "Oh, no!").

"People don't ask me about Wimbledon anymore," Washington said. "They ask me about the streaker, how she was, what did she look like. It'll be nice, once the streaker thing dies down."

He tried, but could not suppress another grin.

But then, he had plenty to grin about in his victory over Carlsen, a hard server, who rallied from 3-6 in the tiebreaker before caving in to Washington's more complete game. After dropping the first set, Washington ran off eight straight games and finished out the match with a huge ace.

"After the first set, his level went down and mine stayed the same," Washington said. "That was pretty much the story."

Some reporters wanted to flesh it out but most were willing to take it as it came, stripped to the bare facts.

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