Young Players Show Stuff at US Open
As Edberg plays final Grand Slam, rising talent poses challenge to top seeds
FLUSHING, NEW YORK
It takes more than a high ranking to win at the US Open.
As the last of the year's four Grand Slam events enters the second and final week of matches, nine of the top men are out, as are six of the top-seeded women.
More talented young players are pushing up the rankings ladder with their play here. And, along with fancier sneakers and bigger rackets, they pack a lot more power and a more varied arsenal of weapons than ever.
"I just think the game is getting better," says Andre Agassi, the No. 6 seed, and still a contender. "You can't just do one thing well and expect to win. You have to do a lot of things well now. Just like you see Michael Chang serving bigger, or you'll see me come in a little bit more. You've got to keep adding things to your game."
Along with Agassi, Chang (No. 2) and Pete Sampras (No. 1) are still in the running, but all three have been pushed to the limit. Agassi was down 6-3, 5-0 to Leander Paes of India in a raucous match on Thursday, before fending off five break points in the sixth game of the second set and winning 18 of the next 19 games.
Both Sampras, who has won three Opens, and Chang had to play five-set matches on Saturday. Unseeded Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic came close to defeating Sampras, and Vince Spadea nearly upended Chang.
Sampras faces another tough challenge in a match scheduled for today from Mark Philippoussis of Australia, who holds the record for a powerful serve - at 137 miles per hour.
"The players are in a lot better condition now than say 15 or 20 years ago," says John McEnroe, who won four US Open titles and three Wimbledons in the early 1980s. "It's the same tennis game, but being played a lot faster. The average height of guys in the top 10 is 6 ft., 2 in. You see a lot bigger guys and more depth [to the game]. More players are now capable of doing well in any tournament."
Although some of the top seeds have been challenged handily, others are breezing through. Thomas Muster (No. 3) from Austria, Goran Ivanisevic (No. 4) from Croatia, and Thomas Enqvist (No. 13) from Sweden have had pretty easy runs.
Ivanisevic's biggest challenge came Sunday - not from his opponent, the German Hendrik Dreekmann - but from a linesman. The score was 9-8 in a third-set tiebreak. Ivanisevic served an ace for the match, but the linesman called him for a foot fault. Ivanisevic, notorious for his unruly temper, didn't say a word, but gave the linesman a look that could have withered the potted caladiums decorating the court.
"I didn't tell him anything," Ivanisevic says, a boyish grin lighting his face. "It's a good thing I stay calm. I hit an ace the next point and won the match." Ivanisevic, in the second week for the first time, plays Andrei Medvedev from Ukraine today.
Also into the second week, to the delight of the crowds here, is Stefan Edberg, a two-time US Open champion who is hanging up his racket the end of this season. Edberg has received gracious introductions and an extended standing ovation at the end of each match. The shy Swede, known for his graceful playing style and sportsmanship, is showing more emotion than usual - arm pumps when he scores a big point and big waves to the crowd after his matches.
Edberg disposed of Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek (No. 5) from the Netherlands in his first-round match. Today he meets Tim Henman from Great Britain, who beat No. 12 seed Todd Martin Sunday.
Fewer seeds fell on the women's side of the draw, but they were big ones: Lindsay Davenport, picked by many to get to the final, was beaten Sunday by unseeded Linda Wild. A New-York-crowd favorite - Argentine Gabriela Sabatini - fell to young Asa Carlsson from Sweden in a three-set, third-round match.
The women slugged it out from the baseline in marathon-length volleys in front of a packed Grandstand. "It just doesn't get any better than this," said Jonathan (his dad didn't want him to give his last name), a very preppy 10-year-old sporting Oakley sunglasses who could hardly sit still in his seat.
Another young player - 15-year-old Anna Kournikova from Russia, seemed unfazed as she handily beat Barbara Paulus (No. 14) Saturday night before some 20,000 tennis fans. Kournikova served in the 100 m.p.h. range, had a great return of serve, mixed up the play by coming to the net, and made some big drop shots.
Kournikova was to meet No. 1 seed Steffi Graf at presstime yesterday. She didn't seem at all daunted by the draw. "It definitely was my dream to play Steffi. I think I'll have to have a little bigger serve than I did [Saturday], and I'll just try to do my best."
The women's top three - Graf, Monica Seles (No. 2), and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (No. 3) - have had fairly easy matches so far. But Sanchez Vicario was to meet another rising star - Martina Hingis (No. 16) - from Switzerland on Monday. Hingis also has breezed through her matches and seems totally comfortable in front of the large New York crowds.
Seles is still the big favorite here. She is more settled than last year, when she returned after a two-year absence after a stabbing by a Graf fan in Germany. But she continues to wow the crowd with her hard and gutsy play, and spends a good deal of time after each match signing autographs.