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Airing It Out at U.S. Open

Ulihrach got settlement after ATP wrongfully suspended him for suspicion of using nandrolone.

August 29, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — At least his colleagues weren't talking behind his back.

It was duly noted by his peers when Bohdan Ulihrach was scheduled to play fifth-seeded Guillermo Coria of Argentina in the second round Thursday at the U.S. Open.

"I know, somebody told me in the locker room that was the championship of nandrolone," Ulihrach said, wryly.

He was the key figure at the center of the ATP drug scandal, which, oddly, seems to have vanished with remarkable speed. (Coria received a six-month ban in 2001 after testing positive for nandrolone.) Just days after Wimbledon, the men's tennis tour announced that the trainers may have administered to its players the performance-enhancing substance, nandrolone, possibly contained in a contaminated electrolyte.

Ulihrach and six other players tested positive for the banned substance, and the 28-year-old from the Czech Republic paid the heaviest price. He has been the only one of the seven to be identified, and had been banned for two years. After the ATP could not rule out the possibility that its trainers distributed the contaminated product, his two-year suspension, fine and his lost ranking points were restored.

Coria defeated Ulihrach, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, and afterward, the Czech player revealed that he had reached a confidential financial settlement with the ATP and had received apologies from various officials from the organization.

Reputation isn't so easy to repair.

"I'll never be satisfied because people will always think of nandrolone, and I look like a cheater for eight months," he said. "It was the hardest time of my life. I'm just happy I'm able to play again."

He spoke about his feelings of helplessness and despair when he was first notified his first sample had come back positive last year, saying: "I didn't sleep for a few nights." Whether it was the timing of the ATP's announcement, the controversy has hardly resonated after an early splash of publicity. It would be hard to believe such an outcome would occur in most other sports.

"I'll always have strange feelings about the fight against doping," Ulihrach said. "Of course, it's not fair. I'd like to know how many innocent players were punished for something that they have never done. And I'm not talking about just tennis." The Guardian reported in July that World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound had written to the ATP, offering an independent overview. Any threat of legal action from Ulihrach ended when he reached the settlement with the ATP about two weeks after the disclosure.

Ulihrach was gratified, and surprised, by the support he received from his colleagues. Though they did have one obvious question for him.

"Are you a millionaire?" Ulihrach said, of what they asked him about the settlement.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be a typical day at the 2003 U.S. Open if there wasn't a player retiring from the tour. On Thursday, it was Jeff Tarango, who played his final match, losing in the first round of the mixed doubles. Sixth-seeded Janette Husarova of Slovakia and Leos Friedl of the Czech Republic beat the wild-card entry of Tarango and Mashona Washington, 6-4, 6-4.

"I'm going off to the Manhattan Beach sunsets," said Tarango, who was best known for walking off the court at Wimbledon in 1995. "I thought this was the best place to stop."

The American men fared well, with second-seeded Andre Agassi, Taylor Dent, Robby Ginepri and Todd Martin all winning their second-round matches. The lone disappointment was No. 24 Mardy Fish going out in straight sets. Veteran Karol Kucera of Slovakia beat Fish, 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4, saving four set points in the tiebreaker.

Dent is pleasantly surprised by his progress through the draw. He had not played since Wimbledon, and only resumed hitting about 12 days ago because of a wrist injury. He is in possibly the best shape of his career, running wind sprints in the sand and up hills in Newport Beach.

Dent has never reached the third round of the Open and faces Fernando Gonzalez of Chile. His one practice match with Gonzalez in Paris was hardly memorable.

"God, he beat my ... bad," Dent said. "I broke like three rackets."

On the women's side, the biggest surprise was the elimination of 16-year-old Maria Sharapova of Russia. Emilie Loit, despite needing treatment for a leg injury, beat Sharapova, 6-3, 6-4.

The big drawing card at the Open continues to be 46-year-old Martina Navratilova, who, with partner Svetlana Kuznetsova won a first-round doubles match. "It's amazing. I played a tournament in L.A.," Navratilova said of the Carson event earlier this month. "We had about maybe 80 people watching, first match ... You get out here, they're waiting for us to show up."

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At a Glance

Highlights of Thursday's play at the $17.074 million U.S. Open:

- Stat of the day: Mary Pierce's tiebreak victory in the third set of her match with No. 22 Jelena Dokic was the first tiebreak she has won in six tries this year.

- Quote of the day: "You walk into this place. It's not like walking into Cincinnati and Montreal. This is a Grand Slam. This is what tennis is all about." -- Lleyton Hewitt.

- On TV: USA, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., 4 p.m.-8 p.m. (live).

Today's Featured Matches

MEN

Day Session

- James Blake, vs. Sargis Sargsian, Armenia

- Jean-Rene Lisnard, France, vs. Roger Federer (2), Switzerland

Night Session

- Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia, vs. Andy Roddick (4)

- Jan-Michael Gambill vs. Jiri Novak (10), Czech Republic

WOMEN

Day Session

- Lindsay Davenport (3) vs. Melinda Czink, Hungary

- Meghann Shaughessy (17) vs. Vera Zvonareva (13), Russia

- Kim Clijsters (1), Belgium, vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (27), Russia

Night Session

- Daniela Hantuchova (9), Slovakia, vs. Tamarine Tanasugarn, Thailand

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