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Missing Sole but Not Heart

After forgetting shoes, Bogomolov wins at the Pan Am Games despite harrowing ride and sickness from heat.

August 07, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — What tennis fan hasn't dreamed of being on the court in the shoes of a top-seeded player?

For one player at the Pan American Games on Wednesday, however, the reverse was true. The dream became a potential nightmare. He found himself on the court in someone else's shoes.

The fact that second-seeded Alex Bogomolov of the U.S. team, a transplanted Russian living in Miami, was able to win his second-round match was an impressive feat considering he had to deal with sore feet, preceded by a grueling match the day before, cramps, dehydration, an intravenous procedure, a wild bus ride through the streets of Santo Domingo and a pair of misplaced shoes.

It began Tuesday when Bogomolov, best known previously as a paparazzi target when seen with good friend Anna Kournikova, defeated Viktor Estrella of the Dominican Republic, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, at the Tennis Center in a 2 1/2-hour match played in steaming conditions. The temperature on the court was 110 degrees, accompanied by heavy humidity.

Although Bogomolov, ranked 117th by the ATP, was playing an opponent ranked 865th, he finished the match suffering from dehydration and cramps.

By Wednesday morning, Bogomolov, who had at first vetoed the idea of receiving intravenous fluids, decided he needed them after all. So while the rest of the team boarded an 8:15 bus for the day's matches, Bogomolov, who was scheduled to play in the second match, stayed behind and had trainer Adam Pecina administer the treatment.

With the first match scheduled to begin at 9, it was assumed Bogomolov was safe arriving at the courts a little past 10. But as he, Pecina and press officer Randy Walker boarded a bus at 9:45 for the half-hour ride, they were informed the first match was halfway through what appeared to be the final set.

Driver Geraldo De Leon, a Santo Domingo resident, was asked to step on it. Nothing unusual about that in the hazardous streets of this seaside town where cars often become unwilling participants in a never-ending demolition derby, where the right-of-the-way at intersections is always in dispute, where traffic lanes are ignored and where any car without a dent or bent fender hasn't been on the road long.

But De Leon went into an even higher gear, cutting right to the chase to arrive just as Bogomolov was being summoned to the court.

Bogomolov quickly threw on his tennis clothes only to come to a horrible realization. In his haste to depart after the intravenous treatment, he had left his shoes in his hotel room.

"What size do you wear?" he asked Walker.

"Normally a 10," said Walker, showing off a pair of standard white Adidas shoes issued to USOC staffers, "but those seemed a little tight, so I got a 10 1/2."

"They'll do," snapped Bogomolov, who normally wears an 11.

Walker whipped his shoes off, Bogomolov whipped them on and there he was, on the court against Pablo Gonzales of Colombia.

Bogomolov won the first set, 7-6 (5), but, with the heat again getting to him, he took a bathroom break.

"I was sick," Bogomolov said. "I didn't think I could come out. I felt slow [in the first set]. My legs were kind of sore. I wasn't into the match. I was not moving well. I was getting tired after every point."

With the sun moving behind some newly arrived clouds, Bogomolov felt refreshed enough to return. He went up, 4-1, in the second set and had a chance at a break point, only to let it slip away.

Gonzales took advantage and tied the set, 4-4.

"I didn't want to have long rallies," Bogomolov said. "I just tried to be aggressive and go for my shots."

He got them, pulling out the second set, 6-4.

"He was so tired," said U.S. Coach Eliot Teltscher, "he was playing on fumes."

Bogomolov gets a welcome day off today and Walker gets to say that, even though he'll never play in the Pan Am Games, at least his shoes did.

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