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Day One at the '99 du Maurier Open
by Christopher Gerby

Vincent Spadea vs. Frederic Niemeyer
Singles: First Round
Court 1

You have to hand it to Canadian tennis fans -- they will come out to support their countrymen, regardless of how low the players in question may be ranked. Frederic Niemeyer is officially the #317 player in the world, but a pretty big crowd (unusually big for an 11 A.M. start on an outer court) was on hand for his first round match against #12 seed Vincent Spadea. The American won the coin toss, chose to serve, and promptly held at love, ending the match's opening game with a pair of aces. Niemeyer was obviously a little anxious early on. He started walking out to the court midway through the opening changeover, only to be ordered back to his chair by umpire Stephane Apostoleu. (I'm not sure what the problem was there -- Thomas Muster often leaves his seat long before the chair umpire calls "time" and I've never seen him admonished for it.) Niemeyer's nerves may have contributed to the double fault which opened game #2, but he eventually held serve. Spadea did likewise, going up 2-1 on another game-ending ace.

The wheels came off for Niemeyer in the following game. Down 15-30, he made a clumsy dive for a Spadea passing shot which whizzed down the line for a winner. The half-hearted dive looked like vintage Boris Becker slow motion. Niemeyer followed that up with an unforced error to fall behind 1-3, but he quickly broke back and then unleashed some big serves in holding for 3-3. Spadea held for 4-3 and took a 0-15 in the eighth game, but Niemeyer wowed the crowd by drilling four aces in a row. A small group of Niemeyer supporters (friends from his hometown) was keeping track of his aces by hanging blue "K" signs on the railing, but they had trouble keeping up with that barrage! After the match, I asked Niemeyer if he'd ever Vince Spadea
hit four consecutive aces before. "Yeah, my record is five," he replied with a smile. He and Spadea then exchanged love holds, taking the set to 5-5.

A number of fans chanted "Break! Break!" at this point, but Spadea was unfazed. As he did many times while preparing to serve, the 25-year-old let out a loud, pensive-sounding exhale. I don't know if Vince is working with a sports psychologist, but he is that kind of player -- very concerned with staying positive and maintaining his focus. He rarely allows his emotions to get too low or too high, even in the aftermath of a big victory. He calmly held serve at love (again) for a 6-5 lead. The big-serving blonde on the other side of the net was anything but calm in the following game, clenching his fists and twice shouting "Come on!" as he served the set into a tiebreak. Spadea earned an early mini-break and led 4 points to 1. Niemeyer won a pair of service points for 3-4, but Spadea answered with an ace, a winning forehand volley, and a big backhand down the line to close out the 'breaker 7 points to 3. It was a very close set, but the more experienced player had come through on the big points.

After Niemeyer held serve to open the second set, Spadea requested a bathroom break and Frederic opted to follow him off the court. The spirited crowd engaged in several rounds of "The Wave" while the players were away and started it up again when they returned. The service holds continued, neither player facing a break point on the way to 4-4. Niemeyer made another unsuccessful dive (at least he really committed Frederic Niemeyer
to it this time) in the ninth game to fall behind 15-30. He then failed to dig out a shoestring volley and was suddenly facing a pair of break points. Niemeyer got back to 30-40 with a big forehand pass that knocked the racquet out of Spadea's hands. The young Canadian decided to chip and charge on the next point, but his approach shot fell harmlessly into the net. Spadea now had a 5-4 lead and a chance to serve out the match. A few fans shouted "We want a third set!" in unison, but the American again proved unflappable. He held at 15, forcing a forehand error on match point. "I think I can be a much better player than I showed today," Frederic Niemeyer vowed after his narrow 7-6, 6-4 loss. Spadea, meanwhile, advances to what could be a very difficult second round bout with Jan Siemerink.

Sebastien Grosjean vs. Mark Knowles
Singles: First Round
Court 2

Since Montreal is a French-speaking city, its tennis fans often get behind the French players. Monday was apparently no exception, as a good crowd turned out to watch flashy Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean play his opening match. I arrived just as Grosjean was breaking serve for the second time to gain a commanding 4-1 lead over doubles specialist Mark Knowles. Grosjean's not a big guy -- he wins because he's quick around the court and can hit a winner from seemingly anywhere. He reached the final in Key Biscayne earlier this year and looked to be in good form today, delivering an ace in his hold for 5-1. Knowles is able to bask in Canadian crowd support while playing doubles with Toronto native Daniel Nestor (that longtime duo is seeded #2 this week), but he wasn't enjoying anything about the Montreal atmosphere on this afternoon. Little kids were running around on the practice court next door, making an inordinate amount of noise and bothering both players. Knowles lobbed a ball over the fence in their direction and tried to quiet them with a forceful "ssshhh!" The chair umpire finally had to intervene, turning around and yelling at the kids.

Peace and quiet restored, Knowles won the next two points. However, that's when another group of children scampered up the nearby Court 1 bleachers. All that foot-stomping drove Knowles to laugh and playfully encourage the fans to join in. "Everybody up!", he shouted, waving his arms. The staid decorum of professional tennis sure was being turned on its head on "Family Day" at the du Maurier Open. Knowles was being a good sport about it, but when he followed with back-to-back double faults, you had to think the distraction had something to do with it. However, he battled back to hold for 2-5 and then took a surprising 0-40 lead in Grosjean's service game. The practice court kids were at it again and now Sebastien was none too pleased, slamming a ball at the fence. He regained his composure, though, reeling off five straight points to win the set 6-2. Knowles was then broken at 15 and was pretty livid, rifling a ball into the corner.

Just when it looked like he might fold up his tent, Knowles got his game back in order. He broke for 1-1, held for 2-1, and found himself up break point in the fourth game. A backhand pass then handcuffed Grosjean, who blocked a volley back into the net and held up his hand against his racquet (congratulatory tennis sign language for "too good"). The man from the Bahamas suddenly had all the momentum -- he held at love and executed a perfect lob on the way to breaking Grosjean for the third time in a row. With little hope of recovering from a 1-5 deficit in the set, Sebastien started swinging very freely. It actually worked, to some extent, as he fought off a pair of set points. Knowles converted the third, however, taking the set 6-1 and squaring matters at one set apiece.

The first three games of the final set went with serve, Grosjean taking a 2-1 lead. Knowles decided it was time for a bathroom break and took a very unusual route off the court, leaping over a fence and walking out through one of the fan entrances. If the bathroom break was meant to throw Grosjean out of his rhythm, well, it backfired. He played one of his best games of the match, breaking at love for a 3-1 lead. He was far from content, though, complaining about line calls even though he was winning the points. After the chair umpire had to overrule an egregious non-call of a Knowles fault, Grosjean started waving his racquet in front of the lineswoman, presumably to see if she was blind. Just to make matters more bizarre, the wind really picked up as the set's fifth game got underway. Knowles came unglued again, shouting "All of a sudden it's blowin' like a HURRICANE!" He lost that game at love, falling behind 1-4.

Grosjean's string of victorious points finally ended in the sixth game, a hold for Knowles. Mark then earned a break point with his most spectacular shot of the match, putting so much spin on a drop volley that it bounced right back over the net to his side of the court. Knowles had a big chance now...but Grosjean brushed the break point aside with an ace. At deuce, Knowles netted an easy backhand volley, leaned backwards, and exclaimed (in a weird, high-pitched voice) "I'm a beginner!" Grosjean immediately won the game with an ace, but Knowles was still thinking about that bad error. He slowly walked to the net, and punched a practice volley into the open court, getting a round of applause in the process.

Knowles was one game away from elimination and, frankly, getting a little goofy. At 15-0, Grosjean lofted a topspin lob and Knowles threw his racquet into the air after it. The ball eluded the racquet and appeared to land just long of the baseline. The linesman (perhaps distracted by the flying racquet) made no call, much to Mark's chagrin. He retrieved the ball and placed it in the spot where he believed it had landed. The umpire was unmoved, however, and play continued at 15-15. Sebastien Grosjean
Knowles double faulted for 15-30 and missed a tough volley for 15-40. He fought off both of those match points with a volley winner and an unreturnable serve, but he wasn't out of the woods yet. Grosjean forced Knowles to lunge for a volley, which landed in the net, setting up match point #3. The topsy-turvy match then came to an end when Knowles coughed up one last double fault. Knowles picked up the ball and placed it in that spot where he thought Sebastien's lob had landed early in the game. It was a quiet protest gesture, capping off a 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 battle which had been anything but quiet. Although many players here are driven around the grounds in golf courts, Sebastien Grosjean chose to walk, signing many autographs along the way.

Michael Chang vs. Jan Kroslak
Singles: First Round
Court Central

On paper, the day's third stadium match was a toss-up: Michael Chang is ranked #64 on the ATP Tour computer; Jan Kroslak is right in his rearview mirror at #69. That would probably come as quite a shock to casual followers of the sport. Kroslak came into this tournament with a five-match losing streak, but Chang's slump is the big story. "It is the most difficult time that I have gone through as a tennis player and also as a person," he said of the slide which has seen him reduced to recently playing a challenger (the minor leagues of professional tennis) event in California. Chang hopes to eventually win another Grand Slam singles title, but for now he has his hands full with relative journeymen like Kroslak. The 24-year-old Slovakian has a very smooth motion on his serve and Chang is still trying to put a lot of power behind his first serve, so this match wasn't the counterpunching display you might expect. In fact, the first five games went with serve, as Chang failed to convert the only break point chance in the early going.

Leading 3-2, Chang got several chances in the sixth game. Three times Kroslak faced break point...and three times he fought it off, getting some help from the net cord on one of those occasions. With Chang now 0 for 4 on break chances, the match settled back into its serve-dominated rhythm, as the scrappy American and his lanky opponent each recorded a pair of easy holds to make it 5-5. Then, all of a sudden, it was Chang in trouble, trailing 15-40 in Game 11. He fought off both break points with service winners, but Kroslak hung tough and scored the match's first break two points later. The next game went to deuce as well -- Kroslak squandered one set point, but cashed in the next with a service winner. Having lost the set 7-5, Michael Chang was facing yet another uphill battle.

The first two games of the second set went with serve, but the third was a real battle. Chang dismissed a pair of break points with an overhead smash and a forehand winner, but finally succumbed when Kroslak ripped a game-winning forehand into the corner. Hitting solid groundstrokes off both wings, Jan Kroslak held for a 3-1 lead and was in control of the match. Chang held for 2-3, but Kroslak matched that for 4-2. Chang ended the set's seventh game with an ace, but failed to capitalize on a break chance in the eighth. Trailing 7-5, 5-3, Chang ripped through an easy service hold and put the pressure on Kroslak. If he was going to take a straight sets victory, he'd have to serve it out himself. The Slovakian responded to the pressure by...losing three points in a row to fall behind 0-40, giving Chang triple break point for the first time in the entire match. Kroslak got back to 15-40 and looked like he might make it 30-40 when he placed a delicate drop shot over the net. Showing off his legendary wheels, though, Chang ran the ball down and ripped a reply back at Kroslak, who was barely able to even get a racquet on the ball. Chang had scrambled back from the brink of defeat; the second set was all square at 5 games apiece.

Suitably fired up now, with help from the crowd, Chang held at 15 to take a 6-5 lead. He ripped a clean return winner to lead 0-30 in the following game and pumped his fist. Kroslak then completely crumbled, netting a forehand and double faulting. Looking like a man in need of the Heimlich maneuver, Kroslak had given away the second set, 7-5. He gamely held his next service game to even the third set at 1-all, but the momentum was squarely in Chang's corner. He held for 2-1 and jumped out to a 15-40 lead in the fourth game. Kroslak double faulted and angrily slammed his racquet to the court. Jan was now a shell of the player who was so solid for the first set and a half. Chang wasted little time putting him away, winning the last three games to wrap up a 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 victory.

Michael Chang
The narrow escape had to be both troubling and encouraging for the one-time French Open champ. If nothing else, it earned him the right to participate in one of the tournament's traditional post-match games. After some Court Central matches, prizes are arranged in the service box and the winning player attempts to hit them with a serve. Whatever the player hits, a child from the stands gets to keep. This has been a Montreal mainstay for as long as I've been attending the tournament (four years) and I've never seen a player approach it in the finicky way Chang did. He walked over to the other side of the court and moved each prize a few inches. He was also very picky about which ball to serve with. Chang is famously committed to doing things for children, so his desire to win some goodies (such as a racquet) for them might explain his serious approach. It ultimately paid off, as Michael ended up hitting three of the four prizes.

Justin Gimelstob vs. Sebastien Lareau
Singles: First Round
Court Central

Monday's evening session at the '99 du Maurier Open was a pretty big one for Canadian tennis. The nation's two top singles players were featured...and both were ranked high enough to get straight into the main draw! While Daniel Nestor was sure to get plenty of crowd support in the late match, Montreal's favorite son remains Sebastien Lareau. Known primarily for his doubles specialist, Lareau has been showing good singles form of late and came in with a very reasonable shot at beating young American Justin Gimelstob. The points Gimelstob earned with a strong semifinal showing in Los Angeles last year just fell off the computer, so the New Jersey native has fallen back to #103 in the world. A win here might be just the ticket to turn around his flagging singles fortunes.

Gimelstob opened on a promising note, ripping a backhand winner down the line to take the first point. However, Lareau served well to win the game. Gimelstob and Lareau each came up with aces to bail themselves out of trouble in the next pair of service games. Another ace ended Gimelstob's love hold for 2-2. Lareau held easily for 3-2 and got to deuce in the sixth game. Justin was still serving big, though -- two conseuctive aces (for a total of three in the game) ended his hold for 3-3. Gimelstob's powerful serves were impressive, but Lareau was having the easier time holding. He took a 4-3 lead and once again forced Gimelstob to deuce before the set was tied once again at 4-all. The set had been a showcase for the best and worst of Justin Gimelstob's game: big first serves and some very nice passing shots, but far too many unforced errors. The far more consistent player on this evening, Lareau held easily for a 5-4 lead and got himself a set point in the 10th game. Yet again, Gimelstob climbed out of the hole -- three consecutive service winners got him to 5-5.

A questionable line call in the following game had an agitated Gimelstob jumping up and down -- quite a sight when the jumper is 6 foot 5. He argued to no avail and lost the game, but dished up his seventh ace in holding for 6-6. The air was ripe with tension as Lareau and Gimelstob settled in for the tiebreak. Justin blinked first, double faulting for 0-2. Sebastien essentially handed the mini-break back at 3-1, letting a Gimelstob passing shot go and watching helplessly as it landed for a winner. Gimelstob's powerful serve would theoretically give him the advantage here, but Lareau was starting to read it. He won two points in a row with beautiful passing shots. The crowd erupted after the second gave Lareau a 5-2 lead in the 'breaker. They had even more reason to cheer two points later, when Sebastien closed out a 7-2 tiebreak to win the critical opening set.

Gimelstob and Lareau exchanged service holds to open the second set. The American appeared to be tiring -- his ace production had fallen way off and he wasn't moving well. The third game ended with Gimelstob sprawled out on the court, having unsuccessfully lunged for the nifty little touch volley winner Lareau employed to break serve. Lareau made the break count, holding easily for a 3-1 lead in the set. Gimelstob double faulted to open the fifth game and had some words with the chair umpire, apparently arguing that he'd been distracted by someone in the crowd. He once again lost the argument and the game. Gimelstob is a player of obvious talent and competitive fire, but he'd gone completely off track by this juncture.

Sebastien Lareau
Lareau was greeted with a rousing ovation as he took the court after the changeover. The fans hoped to spur him onto victory right here and he obliged, holding at love and breaking at 15 to put the finishing touches on a 7-6, 6-1 victory. Next up for the Montreal native is a challenging second round encounter with former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. If Lareau was dreading that match at all, it didn't show. "Krajicek is the kind of player I like to play," he said in the post-match press conference, referring to the Dutchman's serve-and-volley style. He was eventually able to neutralize Gimelstob's service bombs, so the local fans surely hope he can repeat the feat against Krajicek.

Justin Gimelstob mini-interview:

Justin Gimelstob
When he's in a good mood, Justin Gimelstob is one of the most charismatic characters on the ATP Tour -- a lively joker who can fill a reporter's notebook with clever quotes. Suffice it to say, Gimelstob was not in a good mood following his loss to Sebastien Lareau. Nevertheless, here are the three questions I asked him, along with his responses...

Q: You didn't get a chance to play any Davis Cup this year. Is that one of your goals for next season?

A: Sure, yeah, I'd love to keep improving and make the Davis Cup team. That's something I really enjoy and hopefully I'll get a shot at it next year.

Q: Are you in the market for a new doubles partner now that (Patrick) Galbraith is injured?

A: Yeah. I mean, I've got partners pretty much for the rest of the summer, except the U.S. Open. Sebastien and I are actually playing Washington. I think he's a great doubles player. Yeah, if anyone wants to play with me, I'm right here -- bring it on.

Q: Was it a little overwhelming playing against McEnroe and Graf at Wimbledon this year?

A: No. It wasn't the first time I've played on Stadium Court (inaudible) grass. Not really.

Monday's Press Conference Highlights:

Bobby Kokavec on being anxious about the tournament: "I have been nervous, like, all week... It's normal to be nervous; it's a good nervous."

Jim Courier
Jim Courier on getting all the close calls on Monday: "You know how they say it all evens out, that's a bunch of baloney. I would have rather had them in crucial moments in the Grand Slams or Davis Cup. But, you know, today was just one of those days where whenever I needed a close call, I got it; whenever I needed a net cord, I got it; whenever a shank ball went in the court, it was off of my racquet. You've got to feel for Rainer (Schuttler) a little bit -- he didn't get any breaks out there. But I have been on that end of it more often than not this season. So today was my day, what am I going to say? Time to play the lottery."

Michael Chang on how he's approaching his comeback: "For the time being, for now, we will just take things step by step and work at it little by little. You know, sometimes if you look at the whole big pie, it is a little bit more difficult to eat, but if you look at it one piece by one piece, then it is a little bit easier to continue."