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Protest Sends U.S. Open Back to Drawing Board

August 23, 1996|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

The U.S. Open tennis tournament, always controversial for reasons ranging from New York's heat and inhospitality to Andre Agassi's hair, is already ahead of the curve. It got controversial five days before the event's scheduled start.

Because of a swell of protest, the draw that was done Wednesday had to be redone Thursday.

The original 128-person draw in men's singles was made without the 16 seeded players put in the brackets. Later, the 16 seeded players, in order, were announced and put in the brackets according to normal placement procedures.

That created controversy on two fronts. First, the U.S. Tennis Assn., which runs the event, had decided to depart from procedure in following regular men's tour rankings for its seedings. That meant that No. 2-ranked Thomas Muster of Austria, who normally would have been at the extreme opposite end of the bracket from No. 1 Pete Sampras, was, instead, seeded No. 3 by the USTA in favor of American Michael Chang. The rationale was that Chang is a better hard-court player than Muster, thus deserving of a better position in the draw.

The second area of controversy was the perception that the USTA could have done the seedings after looking at the draw, a violation of the rules and a perceived advantage for some American players.

Les Snyder, USTA President, told the Associated Press, "After talking to players, agents and a variety of interested and informed people, we decided to redo the draw, but not change any of the seedings."

So although the order of the seedings stayed the same, the placement of many of those seeded players changed dramatically, with at least two interesting results.

Originally, the No. 6-seeded Agassi, the 1994 champion, had ended up in the same bracket as Sampras, while No. 5 Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, this year's Wimbledon champion, was on the other side. In the redraw, Agassi went to the bottom half and Krajicek to the top, meaning Agassi can now avoid playing Sampras until the final, should both go through, while a Krajicek-Sampras rematch of a Wimbledon quarterfinal would have to occur at the semifinal level.

The other twist involved veteran Stefan Edberg of Sweden, playing in his last Grand Slam tournament before his retirement. In the first draw, Edberg would have played No. 8 Jim Courier, in the first round. That daunting draw looked palatable after the second one. Edberg got Krajicek as his first-round opponent.

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