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Spadea Can't Catch Break

Tennis: Struggling American is no match for Rafter. Martin also loses.


SYDNEY, Australia — The tennis gods continued to frown on poor Vince Spadea today on the first day of Olympic competition. In this, the winter of his discontent--as well as the summer, fall and spring--even the computers are out to get him.

The American player, whose ranking is rapidly slipping toward No. 200 in a year in which he has won only twice, got a shocking break when enough other U.S. men pulled out of the Olympics to allow Spadea a spot on the team. That was the good news.

The bad news was that the computer that did the draw for the Olympics matched him with Pat Rafter in the first round of the men's singles.

And so, there he was, 2-24 record and devoid of confidence as a result of that, on center court for the men's opener in a brand new stadium, filled with 10,000 Australians gushing with nationalism and in very good voice. The player across the way, Rafter, is not only a two-time U.S. Open champion, but is beloved here like the Pope is at the Vatican.

On his best day, Spadea had no chance, and this was far from his best day. Rafter took him out in a routine 6-4, 6-3 appearance that included some key missed overheads by Spadea and some pinpoint volleying by Rafter and generally served as a background for a couple of hours of Aussie adulation. The women swooned, the men chanted their "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" and all turned out perfectly for the locals down under.

For Spadea, a guy who must have walked under a bunch of ladders or followed a herd of black cats across a street, this had to feel like a setup, even though he said afterward, bravely: "It didn't feel that lonely out there . . . but, you know, that's the way it goes when you are playing a guy from Australia in Sydney."

Spadea was not expected to lead the decimated American men's team into the promised land here, but he also wasn't expected to have company in the loser's column the first day. But he did, when dependable Todd Martin wasn't. Martin lost a shocker to Germany's Rainer Shuttler, who has been around the tour for awhile but has yet to inspire comparisons to Boris Becker.

Martin lost in 63 minutes, 6-2, 6-0, and said afterward, "This is a pretty long way to come for 14 games."

American tennis fans now turn their lonely hearts to Michael Chang, seeded No. 16 here, but giving the impression the last few years, until his revival to his current No. 24 this year, that he was over the hill and sliding down the other side. Chang's first match is scheduled Wednesday, against No. 125 Sebastien Lareau, a doubles specialist from Canada, who can be a dangerous floater. Also still in it for the American men, mostly because he hasn't played yet, is No. 77 Jeff Tarango, who drew wild-card entrant Diego Camacho of Bolivia.

Actually, the most digestible path for American tennis fans is to follow the women's team, which has the top three seeded players in Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles and is expected to dominate here. Seles began that today with a 48-minute waltz past Katalin Marosi-Aracama of Hungary, 6-0, 6-1.

"It's hard to come out in your first Olympics playing against me," Seles said, genuine in her sympathetic feelings.

Venus Williams was to play later today and Davenport on Wednesday.

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