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Day Two: Rafter Draws a Crowd; Ivanisevic Draws a Blank
by Christopher Gerby

Magnus Larsson vs. Guillaume Raoux
Singles: First Round
Court 1

Among a fairly underwhelming trio of 11 o'clock matchups on Tuesday morning in Montreal, the bout between Magnus "Lurch" Larsson and Guillaume Raoux qualified as the most intriguing. Both are grizzled veterans with solid credentials. Larsson is injury prone and hardly fleet of foot, but his heavy serve and monster forehand make him a force to be reckoned with on any surface. Raoux doesn't particularly look like an athlete, nor is there anything spectacular about his game, but he's got impressive hard court chops of his own. He routed Carlos Moya at the '97 U.S. Open, mere days after Moya won the Hamlet Cup tournament on Long Island.

The first eight games of the match went with serve, rather routinely. Aside from a brief hiccup by Larsson (double faulting twice in the fourth game), both players were getting in a high percentage of first serves and winning a lot of quick points. When Raoux held serve again for a 5-4 lead, it looked like the set was probably headed for a tiebreak. However, Larsson double faulted for 0-30 and Raoux snuck into the net to knock off a volley for 0-40. Suddenly facing triple set point, the big Swede won a long rally, but badly botched a 15-40 volley to give away the set, 6 games to 4. Raoux may have lost his concentration at this point, because he opened the second set with a poor service game, culiminating in a double fault.

Larsson carried the break advantage to 2-1, but got into some trouble in the set's fourth game. He dodged one break point, but was staring down another when -- in the middle of a rally -- chair umpire Norm Chryst called a let. From what I could make out, he did so because a small water bottle in the back of the court fell over. I didn't see it happen and neither player indicated that he noticed it, so it was a questionable ruling. Raoux sure thought so. He argued with Chryst for a while and screamed "Tell me why!" when Larsson got back to deuce with a service winner. Raoux finally lost the game two points later and was still fuming, complaining that "it roll two inches onto the court, nobody see (say?) anything!" Raoux held serve for 2-3, but was STILL arguing with Cryst during the changeover. The embattled umpire motioned toward the end of the court where the let-causing event had taken place, but Guillaume was not buying the explanation.

Larsson held at love for a 4-2 lead and nearly added a second break, pushing Raoux to four deuces before the Frenchman finally got to 3-4. Two more holds made it 5-4 in favor of Larsson. Raoux was still in a pretty foul mood, bouncing his racquet at times and expressing some disgust with the swirling wind. In fact, it was the wind that carried a Raoux service return long at 40-30, giving Larsson a 6-4 set and extending the match. Raoux played a solid game to open the third set, but then dropped three games in a row. Already trailing 3-1, Raoux was in no mood to have one of his serves overruled early in the fifth game. A would-be service winner was called a fault by Chryst. Raoux hung his head sadly for a while, then looked up at the umpire and started reaming him, saying (among other things) "You make me sick." If I remember correctly, Hicham Arazi expressed the same sentiment during his row with Chryst at last year's U.S. Open.

Aside from the Raoux/Chryst disputes, the match settled back into its early rhythm, Larsson taking a 5-3 lead after a series of service holds. Raoux got down double match point in the tenth game, but battled back with two consecutive service winners and eventually held for 4-5. There were several supportive cries of "Allez Guillaume!" Guillaume Raoux
as he took to the court after the changeover, needing a service break to stay alive. At this point in his long career, Larsson really shouldn't be nervous serving for a first round win on an outer court, but I can't think of another explanation for the horrendous game he played here. "Lurch" committed three errors in a love break, giving his fiery opponent new life at 5 games all. Raoux capitalized, winning the set's long eleventh game with an ace. Larsson was not about to let himself drop serve twice in a row, though -- he convincingly held at 15, forcing a winner-take-all third set tiebreak.

Larsson got an early mini-break, taking the first point when Raoux misfired on a forehand. However, Magnus then served up a double fault, a backhand error, and four consecutive unforced errors off his vaunted forehand! This complete meltdown gave Raoux an entire handful of match points. Larsson then floated a backhand past the baseline, losing the third set 'breaker 7 points to 1. It was a rather astonishing conclusion to a very close, generally well played match. Not so astonishing was Raoux's decision not to shake Norm Chryst's hand at the end. Even after fighting off two match points to score a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 victory, Guillaume was still thinking about the calls which had gone against him. He'll need to put all that out of his mind tomorrow, when he faces #9 seed Nicolas Kiefer.

Andrew Ilie vs. Martin Damm
Singles: First Round
Court 1

If you ever want to see a truly colorful, unpredictable tennis player, do yourself a favor and check out Andrew Ilie's act. The Romanian-born Australian is quickly becoming a cult figure on the circuit -- even his fellow players admit they love watching the stocky little firebrand in action. Ilie's offbeat traits are already becoming the stuff of legend. He wears a bandana tied around his hat (to keep the hat from falling off his big head, he explains). He sometimes celebrates a victory by ripping his shirt to shreds (while still wearing it, mind you). He has a persistent, unusual grunt (the sound is something like "Ah-fuh!"). He frequently talks to himself and likes to get the crowd involved. Last but not least, here's my favorite bit of Ilie lore: when Andrew needs a jolt of inspiration during a match, his coach pulls out a furry monkey doll and waves it around. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, folks. I suppose if "Show me the money!" could make it as a catch phrase, Ilie might be able to popularize "Show me the monkey!"

Ilie's game is just as explosive as his personality. He always finishes a match with more winners AND more errors than his opponent, simply because he goes for broke, hitting almost every shot as hard as he possibly can. Ilie's ultra-aggressive style was working early on against the comparatively unassuming Martin Damm. One early service break was all the help Ilie needed in sprinting out to a 5-3 lead. Both players were winning the vast majority of their service points, with Ilie especially racking up a fair number of aces. Damm peppered three double faults into the multi-deuce ninth game, but finally hung on for 4-5. Between that game and the one which followed, Damm managed to save three set points. However, the fourth opportunity was the charm for Ilie. He pinned Damm to the baseline with deep groundstrokes, finally getting the Czech to push a backhand into the net. The opening set went to Ilie, 6 games to 4.

Martin Damm is one of those ATP stalwarts who earns a decent living but never makes a very big impression. He was easily overshadowed in this match, playing defensively while Ilie blasted some of the hardest one-handed backhands I've ever seen (getting a remarkable amount of pace with a relatively short backswing). Damm was doing a nice job taking care of his serve, though, and he took a 4-3 lead in the second set. It nearly became a 5-3 advantage as the increasingly erratic Ilie had to work very hard in a four-deuce service hold. Damm held easily for 5-4 and once again got his teeth into an Ilie service game, only to see a 15-40 lead (and two set points) evaporate. At 5-5, it was Damm's turn to labor, clawing his way out of a 0-40 deficit to earn a 6-5 lead. The parade of aces and service winners had pretty much come to an end -- these guys were engaged in serious baseline warfare now, drilling deep shots back and Andrew Ilie
forth and daring the opponent to blink. Damm got to set point for a third time in the following game, but he was handcuffed by an Ilie passing shot. "Hurricane Andrew" held serve, forcing a tiebreak.

Damm got off to a very good start in the 'breaker, snaring a 4-1 lead with an ace. A service winner got Ilie to 2-4 and some absolutely sizzling Ilie backhands forced an error for 3-4. Damm took the next two points on his serve, though, and now had an imposing 6-3 lead. Ilie fought his way back to 5-6, but he still needed a mini-break. He got it, hitting a great forehand return which caused Damm to miss a tough volley. "Come on!", Ilie shouted as the players changed sides again. He netted a backhand, however, giving Damm his seventh set point. Still undaunted, Ilie knocked off a winning forehand volley for 7-7 and got to 8-7 (his first lead in the tiebreak) when a defensive lob from Damm landed just long. Damm made it 8-8 with a service winner, but an errant forehand put him behind 9 points to 8. A second match point in hand, Ilie hammered several big groundstrokes from both wings and finally forced a weak Damm error to end the match. The Aussie was clearly very happy with his hard fought 6-4, 7-6 win, but his celebration was more low-key than fans might have hoped for. "On Sunday, you rip off that shirt!", bellowed an enthusiastic Ilie supporter, maybe overestimating the Aussie's odds of reaching the singles final.

Goran Ivanisevic vs. Byron Black
Singles: First Round
Court Central

Ilie vs. Damm ended shortly after Jim Courier and Tim Henman finished up on Court Central, so I decided to duck into the interview room for the Courier press conference experience. Jim is among the most articulate, outspoken, darkly humorous athletes in the world, so he surely merited a brief stopover between matches. Alas, I overlooked Courier's status as Male Player Most Likely to Keep the Media Waiting an Eternity. After what seemed like six hours, I finally gave up on Jimbo and checked on #13 seed Goran Ivanisevic, who was laboring against doubles demon Byron Black. Like his brother Wayne, Byron is a scrappy little guy, quite capable of pulling some upsets on a hard court. He'd never won a set against Ivanisevic in their six previous meetings, though, so it was surprising to find the Zimbabwe native leading 6-4, 2-0.

1999 has been bitterly disappointing for rocket-serving Goran Ivanisevic. "Ivo" is having some success in doubles (he appeared in the Los Angeles doubles final just two days before this match), but his singles game remains in shambles and his confidence is basically shot. Goran held and broke to tie the second set at 2-2, but handed the break right back in the fifth game. At his best, Ivanisevic simply does not lose important service games like that. Black held for a 4-2 lead in the set; Ivanisevic hit his 16th ace of the afternoon in holding for 3-4. Black's two-fisted strokes had produced very few unforced errors in this match, but he made a few in the eighth game, blowing a 40-15 lead and getting Ivanisevic back on serve at 4-4. That should have been all the opening the big Croat needed, but he tossed three double faults into the ninth game, the last one closing out a huge service break for Black.

Ivanisevic had his moments in this set, but he was generally at a loss in the baseline rallies. He drove a backhand into the net on double match point, closing out a 6-4, 6-4 win for Byron Black. The older brother of Cara and Wayne was quite upbeat as he arrived for his post-match press conference. I suggested that the draw had opened up for Byron a bit, his next opponent being unheralded qualifier Kevin Ullyett. "Yeah, I have just looked at the next round, actually. I'm playing a fellow Zimbabwean. It says in the draw that he's from South Africa, but he just started playing Davis Cup for Goran Ivanisevic
Zimbabwe. So that is funny, to be playing against each other. There are not too many times when there are three Zimbabweans in the draw."

Like Justin Gimelstob, Goran Ivanisevic is a quotably funny character who disappears into a mumbling, morose shell when he loses. Goran has been fined a number of times for skipping post-loss press interviews and he didn't look very happy to be the guest of honor at this one. Rather than blame fatigue or his sore shoulder, Ivanisevic mused somberly about being in a state of "brain jet lag" for the past eight months, feeling completely clueless on the court. He didn't crack a smile until I asked him about Jeff Tarango taking his advice by playing a tournament in Umag, Croatia last week. "Good. You know, I told him. He was supposed to go to Kitzbuhel and I said, `Man, go to Croatia -- it's nice.' And you see, he played the final, so maybe I should get a percent. Maybe I should be a manager. You know, new job."

Bjorkman/Rafter vs. Gimelstob/Reneberg
Doubles: First Round
Court 1

Never let anyone tell you that tennis fans won't turn out in droves for a doubles match. The biggest crowd control nightmare of the tournament thus far took place as dozens upon dozens of fans stood in line, hoping to get one of the few remaining Court 1 seats for a match pitting Jonas Bjorkman and Patrick Rafter against Justin Gimelstob and Richey Reneberg. Both duos have shared titles this year -- steady partners Bjorkman and Rafter triumphing at the Australian Open; occasional partners Gimelstob and Reneberg winning a doubles title in Scottsdale. It might be a bad pun to say people were hanging from the rafters, but it wouldn't be far from the truth. A long row of fans watched from the crosswalk at the top of the stadium, while roughly 30 more spectators used the top rows of the Court 2 bleachers as a vantage point. Of course, not every member of the capacity crowd was necessarily a doubles afficianado. Judging by the "Rafter Rules!" sign draped over the railing at one end of the court, it's safe to say many of the fans were there primarily to see #1 singles seed Patrick Rafter.

Rafter and Bjorkman squeaked out a razor thin first set tiebreak, finally clinching it 9 points to 7 when the Swede put away a winning volley. The first eight games of the second set were all relatively easy holds, differentiated mainly by the chant of "Rafter! (clap clap clap) Rafter! (clap clap clap)" which started up whenever one of the Aussie's service games got underway. Bjorkman and Rafter finally got within sniffing distance of a break when Jonas perfectly placed a backhand return of a Gimelstob first serve. That clear winner took the game to deuce, but Reneberg clobbered a pair of overhead smashes to procure a 5-4 lead. The tenth game was even more competitive, with the Americans twice getting to set point against Bjorkman's serve. The Swede finally came through after three deuces, though. Reneberg then held for a 6-5 lead, to Rafter's dismay. Undoubtedly hoping to get out of his match in straight sets, the GQ cover boy lightly threw down his racquet when he got to his chair for the changeover. Pat served well in the following game, sending the second set where the first had gone: a tiebreak. Here's how it unfolded...

Gimelstob and Reneberg put up a gallant fight, but they came up just short in a pair of tiebreaks. As the Americans departed, they got a nice round of applause, which Gimelstob acknowledged with a small wave. Rafter and Bjorkman drew an even bigger ovation after sticking around to sign some autographs. Rafter has grown disenchanted with doubles this year (after long best-of-five-set encounters at Wimbledon sapped his energy), but he and Bjorkman are now safely through to the second round in Montreal.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Goran Ivanisevic on a proposed ATP Tour rule which would punish players for skipping Grand Slam and Super Nine tournaments: "They always have some sanction, like communist system. If you don't do what they say, they put you in the jail."