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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | TENNIS

Unlikely Tarango Is Sole Survivor

September 20, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — While Jeff Tarango improbably inherited the duty of upholding the U.S. men's tattered honor in the Olympic tennis tournament, Lindsay Davenport is simply hoping her sore left foot holds up well enough for her to defend the gold medal she won in Atlanta.

Tarango, better known for his tantrums than top-notch tennis, became the de facto flagbearer today when he cruised past Bolivia's Diego Camacho, 6-0, 6-1, in his first-round match and wild-card entrant Sebastien Lareau of Canada defeated 16th-seeded Michael Chang, 7-6 (6), 6-3, at the Olympic Tennis Centre. Todd Martin and Vince Spadea of the U.S. were eliminated Tuesday.

"I'm just excited to get this chance to play on the Olympic team, and hopefully, I can fight through another one," Tarango said. "I think I can carry it for a little while."

The top-seeded Davenport overcame a tender left ankle and a tepid start to defeat Paola Suarez of Argentina, 6-2, 6-2, on center court. Davenport double-faulted five times and was effective on only 53% of her first serves, but she found a smooth enough rhythm to overpower Suarez in a baseline battle. Only one point was won at the net in the 49-minute match.

"It was just different being back at a big tournament," said Davenport, who broke Suarez in the third, fifth and seventh games of each set and was broken only once in each set. "Sometimes, I'm a little bit of a slow starter and I have some lapses. . . . This surface is a little bit tricky too. It's a little sticky. And 11 a.m. is a little early. I'm not used to playing that early."

The weight of playing in the Olympics seems to have brought out the best in Tarango, a Manhattan Beach native ranked 77th in the world.

"It's been a long time coming for me to play this type of match, so I wanted to do the best I could," said Tarango, who will next face Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina, a 6-7 (8), 6-4, 7-5 upset winner over 12th-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile.

Chang fought back from a 1-5 deficit against Lareau in the first set and led, 6-5, before Lareau sent the match to a tiebreaker. Chang fought off a set point but lost the tiebreaker when he missed a service return.

Lareau led the second set, 4-3, and broke Chang in the eighth game when Chang netted a backhand from the baseline. Chang fought off one match point, when an overeager Lareau netted an overhead, but he lost when he netted a backhander on the run and Lareau delivered a service winner.

"The past few days, I've been hitting the ball pretty good. Then to come out and play a match like today, I can't even find words to describe it," Chang said. "I didn't have one time where I felt comfortable. . . . It's incredibly frustrating and discouraging."

Davenport said she had a tougher time getting emotionally acclimated here than getting physically prepared. "We had such a big tournament, bigger than other sports, a couple of weeks ago," she said, referring to the U.S. Open, where she lost the final to Venus Williams. "I think that showed with Todd Martin [who lost his first-round match to Rainer Schuttler of Germany]."

However, it never occurred to Davenport to skip this chance to defend her title. If Martina Hingis and others didn't care enough to participate, Davenport considers that their loss.

"The Olympics have always meant so much to me. Winning in '96 is one of my best memories," said Davenport, who will next face Paraguay's Rossana De Los Rios. "I've been looking forward to this for four years."

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