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US Open plot twist: young men steal the spotlight

At the end of each summer, promising young court starlets flock to the US Open tennis championship the way aspiring actresses converge on Hollywood. This year, it was a cinch that teen-agers Andrea Temesvari and Carling Bassett would be the ones knocking on the door marked ''Budding stars apply within.'' In a switch, however, two young men strode onto the grounds of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow and captured the limelight.

As most of the game's superstars were advancing with the greatest of ease, a pair of amateurs, 20-year-old Greg Holmes of Danville, Calif., and 16-year-old Aaron Krickstein of Grosse Pointe, Mich., were giving the proceedings some much-needed texture. Not since amateur Arthur Ashe won the first US men's crown of the ''open'' era in 1968 had no-dough boys made such a big impact at this pro-dominated event.

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Holmes, the reigning collegiate champion, knocked off sixth-seeded Guillermo Vilas 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 on Saturday. The following day Krickstein, the National Junior champion, became the youngster male to ever reach the Open's fourth round by upsetting 15th-seeded Vitas Gerulatis 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 with a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

As the latter match wore on, Gerulaitis may have buckled some under the pressure of upholding his reputation against the world's 489th-ranked player, double faulting three times in one game during the final set.

Krickstein's low ranking is more a reflection on his lack of Grand Prix experience than his talent. No one excels in the intense crucible of junior-level tennis these days without being a hardened competitor, and Aaron is certainly that. He has played ''up'' in junior circles, meaning in an older age bracket, and still done well, winning the 18-and-under National Indoor as a 15 -year-old last November.

And in following that up outdoors in Kalamazoo, Mich., he beat Patrick McEnroe, the younger brother of three-time US Open champion John McEnroe.

Holmes, the 450th ranked player out of the University of Utah, upset a troubled Vilas, who can play during an appeal process, but feels his career is threatened by a one-year tour suspension for allegedly accepting appearance money. Before meeting Holmes, he pulled out a shaky five-set victory over little-known Tom Cain. Greg, therefore, knew just how beatable Vilas was, and took full advantage by going on the attack.

In his own quiet way, Holmes had good reason to feel confident. Though a loser in the Open's qualifying rounds last year, he was tremendously improved. The NCAA championship, which capped a 48-4 sophomore season (a considerable step up from a 32-12 freshman campaign), was proof of that, as were his good results playing satellite events in Canada and the singles gold medal he won at the Pan-American Games before coming to New York.

Holmes utilizes a rather unusual style, swinging with both hands on all ground strokes in the manner of 11th-seeded Gene Mayer (upset by Heinz Gunthardt) and retired doubles specialist Frew McMillan. Though this two-fisted technique limits a player's reach, Holmes is quick enough to cover the court and he rushes opponents with his knack of pouncing on returns a la Jimmy Connors.

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The third-seeded Connors, incidentally, is one of big hitters who spent the Open's first week trying to make a mockery of the early rounds.The defending men's champion dropped a set to Ramesh Krishnan, but lost only 10 games in his next two matches as he moved into the quarters against Gunthardt. The New York crowds, Jimmy said, always rev him up, and when Connors is playing macho tennis he stands as good a chance as anyone to win, despite a lackluster year.

McEnroe too has cranked up his game since experiencing some brief jitters in a fine-punctuated first-round match against Trey Waltke, which went five sets. But if anyone has breezed on the men's side it is second-seeded Ivan Lendl, who won his first three matches with almost embarrassing ease.

But like Martina Navratilova among the women, he hasn't faced anyone of note. The lack of significant competition could be a source of trouble to these players later on.

Third-seeded Andrea Jaeger, who narrowly survived a scare from Mima Jausovec, said after her escape, ''Martina cruises with so many easy matches that when it gets tight she may feel the pressure of having never won (the US Open title).''

Navratilova, who played beat-the-clock in ousting her first three opponents, feels the real key to breaking her decade-long Open drought is to reach the finals. She's gotten that far only once, losing to Tracy Austin two years ago, but more recently she has learned to successfully finish most everything she starts. Victories in 37 of 39 finals during the past 24 months makes that clear. With her new instructional book, ''Tennis My Way,'' on the market, a breakthrough would be a nice boost for sales, not that she needs the money.

Her chief court nemesis is Chris Evert Lloyd, who has spent a fair amount of time cheering on her husband John, who is enjoying a tennis revival here, when she isn't straight-setting another victim. The Lloyds both have taken a ''now or never'' approach, Chris convinced that she needs to beat Navratilova or fall further behind and John convinced he needs to reforge his career or drop it.

While Navratilova and Evert Lloyd continued along their collision course, the women's draw wasn't totally without its surprises. Two came when the aforementioned teen sensations were upset. Temesvari lost to French and Wimbledon junior champion Pascales Paradis, while Bassett fell to yet another teen, American Zina Garrison.

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