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Seeds, Newcomers, and Controversy on Crowded Day One
by Christopher Gerby

Anke Huber vs. Silvia Talaja
Women's Singles: First Round
Court 11

These days she may be better known for as the girlfriend of French Open finalist Andrei Medvedev, but Anke Huber is a former Grand Slam finalist herself. Once ranked as high as #4 in the world, Huber has struggled ever since undergoing foot surgery last year. She was unseeded coming into this bout against Silvia Talaja, a promising young player from Croatia. Talaja's powerful two-handed backhand has carried her to #34 in the world and gave her a legitimate shot to upset the better-known Huber.

If Huber and Talaja wanted to shake off any rust early on, they certainly had ample opportunity to do so in the opening game. The windy conditions were clearly bothering Talaja, who double faulted twice in a remarkable five-deuce game which lasted 11 minutes. The game finally ended on a backhand error from Huber. Perhaps still reeling from all the chances she blew in that game, Anke dropped two more games for a 0-3 deficit. She was already looking frustrated, shaking her head and throwing her towel at her chair. Huber was broken easily for 0-4, but finally got on the board with a break and a hold of her own. Talaja was still able to control many of the rallies, though, and her first serves (the few that were good) regularly clocked in at over 100 MPH. She held at love for 5-2 and broke Huber yet again to clinch a 6-2 win of the first set.

When Talaja won two more consecutive games to open the second set, it looked as if she might run away with a fairly easy win. Not so fast -- Huber reeled off five games in a row to take command of the set. She dropped only one point in the following game, serving out a 6-2 win in the set. After 69 minutes of play, Huber and Talaja were all square at one set apiece. Talaja double faulted to lose the first game of the final set at love. She was completely out of sorts by now, whereas Huber was in top form, confidently clobbering every short ball she got from Talaja. She won the second game with an ace and ended the third by killing a backhand winner down the line. Huber made a nifty ballerina-esque move on a backhand volley midway through the next game, which she won for a commanding 4-0 lead.

It was vintage Huber by now, hitting her groundstrokes with authority and coming to the net to put away easy winners. She broke at love for a 5-0 advantage, running her streak to 11 straight games. Talaja looked like she might salvage some dignity with a late service break, taking a 30-40 lead in the set's sixth game. However, an unwavering Huber claimed the next three points, winning the match with one of the many successful drop shots she tried in the final set. It had been a shaky start for Huber, but she finished very strong in her 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 dismissal of a hard-hitting, inconsistent challenger. Next up for Huber is a 2nd Round meeting with gritty Anne Kremer of Luxembourg.

Dominique van Roost vs. Maureen Drake
Women's Singles: First Round
Court 6

With her skinny frame and a desire to hit all her groundstrokes with as much power as possible, Dominique van Roost is forever courting injury trouble. She's had various aches and pains throughout her career, but comes into the '99 US Open healthy and seeded 13th. Her first hurdle would be Maureen Drake, who was sporting one of the most amazing tennis outfits I've ever seen. Her shirt appeared to be made from the same material as football jerseys and it had literally sparkling red and blue stripes on the sleeves. She also wore a sparkling red skirt which looked like something you might find in Las Vegas, rather than Drake's native Toronto.

Wearing comparatively simple attire (a flattering Nike getup with three shades of blue), Van Roost let her tennis do the sparkling early in the match. She ripped a forehand down the line to finish an opening break of Drake's serve, held for 2-0, and broke again for 3-0. The fourth game was a long struggle, with Drake berating herself for the opportunities she was missing against Van Roost's dodgy serve. Despite three double faults, the Belgian ultimately pulled out the game for a 4-0 lead. Van Roost continued to dictate play with her penetrating groundstrokes and even caressed a winning drop shot on her way to a break for 5-0. Drake finally squeaked out a break for 1-5, but played an ugly seventh game to surrender the set, 6 games to 1.

It had been a baseline war thus far, which was bad news for Maureen Drake. During her surprise run to the fourth round of this year's Australian Open, Drake made numerous forays to the net. Not so on Monday, as Van Roost kept Drake pinned to the baseline with deep, accurate forehands and backhands. Van Roost held, broke, and held again for a 3-0 lead in the second set. She was constructing points impeccably, pushing Drake all over the court. Drake had a 40-30 lead in the fourth game, but netted a backhand on break point to trail 0-4. Van Roost notched an easy service hold for 5-0 and stormed out to a 0-40 lead against Drake's serve. Maureen saved the first two match points, but erred on the third, driving a forehand into the net to complete the 6-1, 6-0 rout.

Dominique van Roost graciously signed many autographs after the match. That lasted nearly as long as the match itself! An exaggeration, maybe, but the decisive win was the kind of start Dominique had to be hoping for as she gears up for a potential fourth round meeting with Venus Williams. Let's not get ahead of oursevles, though -- Van Roost will next have to get past Rita Grande, who can be a pretty dangerous player on this surface.

Barbara Schett vs. Tracy Singian
Women's Singles: First Round
Court 10

19-year-old qualifier Tracy Singian was the sentimental crowd favorite in her first round match, but she was a clear underdog against #12 seed Barbara Schett. Schett's been in terrific form over the past 12 months or so. Nerves sometimes get the best of her against Top 10 opponents, but the Austrian generally has an easy time with relative no-names like Singian. It looked like that would be the case here, as Schett rolled through the first four games in pretty dominant fashion. Singian appeared to be quite nervous and Schett gave her plenty of reason to be, smacking impressive winners all over the court. Schett held at love in the fifth game and earned a set point in the sixth. Singian fought it off with a winning forehand volley, but couldn't repeat the trick when Schett got to set point again. Singian pushed a backhand approach shot into the net, handing Schett a 6-0 "bagel" after just 21 minutes of play.

Schett really was on fire, taking the ball early and pummeling it. She scored another break and another hold, winning the set's second game with a lovely touch backhand volley of a tricky high ball. Schett's usually pretty intense on the court, but even she cracked a smile after that winner. Singian laced a backhand winner down the line for 30-30 in the next game and announced, "At least I hit one good shot today." Schett won the game on an ace, however, and broke Singian's serve yet again to jump ahead 4-0.

The young Floridian's Grand Slam dreams were crashing down all around her. She hit a running forehand pass just long to lose the set's fifth game and stared down a 30-40 deficit in the sixth. Schett would not dine on a rare double bagel, however. Singian fought off a pair of match points, finally winning the game on a Schett error. She got a huge ovation from the crowd and responded with a big smile and a few waves. It was a great moral victory for Singian, but it was little more than a minor inconvenience for Schett. Barbara reasserted her dominance, serving out a 6-0, 6-1 victory at love. Her opposition may have been a bit lacking on Monday, but take nothing away from Schett. She could go deep in this draw if she can maintain the devastating level of play she exhibited against Singian.

Sarah Pitkowski vs. Jenny Hopkins
Women's Singles: First Round
Court 17

The U.S. Open was a popular place to be on Monday afternoon. A record crowd of 27,809 was creating some serious gridlock on the outer courts, where even players who are far from household names were drawing capacity crowds. John van Lottum vs. Takao Suzuki, for instance, filled every seat on one of the bigger field courts. I thought my next stop would be Andrei Medvedev's match, but even the generously sized Court 4 bleachers were jam-packed for his match. After stopping at a few other mega-crowded courts, I arrived at #17, where scrappy Sarah Pitkowski was to about to take on a young wild card entrant, Jenny Hopkins.

Pitkowski's not big (officially 5 foot 2 1/2 inches tall), nor does she possess "knock your socks off" power. She wins with guile and guts, keeping the ball in play and running after everything. She clearly wasn't going to outslug Hopkins, a kid from Kansas with a strong serve and a big forehand. After they traded breaks to open the match, Hopkins powered home an ace and a service winner to gain an early 2-1 lead. Whereas Tracy Singian looked overwhelmed out on Court 10, Hopkins looked right at home on 17. If nothing else, she seemed more comfortable than the ball boys. When the umbrella used to shade Hopkins from the sun was turned inside out by the wind, the ball boys struggled mightily to repair it.

Pitkwoski fell behind 0-40 in the next game and slapped her thigh a few times, rather like a jockey trying to get his race horse in gear. It had that kind of effect -- the Frenchwoman rallied to hold for 2-2. They traded holds for 3-3 and Pitkowski took to punching her thigh! Even after victorious points, Sarah had a perturbed grimace on her face. However, she had to perk up a bit after breaking Jenny's serve on her way to a 5-3 lead. Hopkins' play was becoming erratic, but she pulled herself together in the ninth game, holding at love for 4-5. She survived one set point in the following game, hauling off on a big forehand winner. On set point #2, Pitkowski jammed Hopkins with a body serve. The American's backhand return floated wide, putting a 6-4 set in Pitkowski's bank.

I didn't get the impression that Hopkins was rushing things, but she was making plenty of errors. Pitkowski just kept pushing the ball back, breaking and holding for a 2-0 lead in the second set. Hopkins served big in a hold for 1-2 and forced three deuces in Game 4, but Pitkowski came out ahead at 3-1. A pair of easy holds brought the score to 4-2. Pitkowski opened the eighth game by missing a backhand and chiding herself in French, but Hopkins ultimately lost the game with an unforced error of her own. Hopkins was flashing plenty of potential, but the extended rallies were not going her way. Sarah Pitkowski is a feisty little competitor and she wasted no time closing out a 6-4, 6-2 win. The redhead's reward is a second round meeting with the #1 player in the world, Martina Hingis. Next up for Jenny Hopkins is a trip home, I suppose, but hers is a name to remember for the future.

Meghann Shaughnessy vs. Tina Krizan
Women's Singles: First Round
Court 6

Thin, leggy Meghann Shaughnessy became part of On The Line's extended family this year, keeping an online journal for us is January. In the interim, she has become a bit of a doubles specialist, reaching two finals in that discipline while seeing her singles ranking fall to a discouraging #101. Shaughnessy spent much of Monday on the practice courts, toiling out there in two separate sessions. Considering all the time she'd put in trying to fine-tune her strokes, it was amazing to me how flat she looked in the early stages of her match against qualifier Tina Krizan. Shaughnesssy was not moving her feet at all, nor was she doing anything with her service returns. Before long, Krizan was sitting on a 4-0 lead.

The fifth game was competitively poised at 30-30, but the 25-year-old smacked two aces in a row to lead 5-0. Shaughnessy finally put her own powerful serve to use in the sixth game, holding at love. She then played her first truly spirited return game, blasting a forehand winner down the line on break point. Shaughnessy's clenched fist indicated that she hadn't given up on this set, despite still being in a 2-5 hole. She held at love again for 3-5, but Krizan finally halted her momentum, completing the 6-3 set with a forehand winner. Tina had made a good run through the qualifying -- taking out former Top 30 player Florencia Labat in the final round -- and she was looking pretty solid here in the main draw.

Shaughnessy was still serving well -- she rolled through two more love holds, bringing that streak to four in a row. Krizan was taking care of her own serve, though, and stayed on pace at 2-2. With doubles partner Katarina Srebotnik looking on from the stands, Krizan ripped a cross-court forehand winner to grab a crucial service break and a 3-2 edge. An exchange of holds brought the second set to 4-3. A Shaughnessy comeback was still conceivable at this juncture, but Krizan won the eighth game and earned double match point in the ninth. Meghann drilled a forehand long of the baseline, bringing the Slovenian's 6-3, 6-3 victory to a close in just under an hour. It was a pretty dodgy effort from Shaughnessy, who has the tools to be a top player but seemingly can't put it all together in a Grand Slam match.


Jonas Bjorkman vs. Jeff Tarango
Men's Singles: First Round
Grandstand

Men's tennis is being increasingly dominated by powerful serving, but don't tell that to Jonas Bjorkman and Jeff Tarango. They're among the best returners in the game and have used that skill to particularly good effect in doubles, where they've each won multiple titles in '99. Tarango's also one of the oldest players on the tour, but he hasn't mellowed, nor is he going downhill. The fiery Californian won the singles title at a challenger event in July and followed that up by reaching the singles final at the ATP Tour stop in Umag, Croatia. His loss there to Magnus Norman was understandable, as Norman's been among the hottest players on the tour this summer.

Norman's fellow Swede, Jonas Bjorkman, hasn't been nearly as hot. He's been struggling with his confidence of late and has drifted to #41 in the rankings. If he was looking to find the form that previously made him a Top 5 player, the Open was a good place to look. After all, he reached the semifinals here in '97 and the quarterfinals last year. Playing a night match on the Grandstand had to bring back memories for Tarango, though. Three years ago, on this same court, he eliminated Marcelo Rios in four sets.

Tarango won the toss, elected to serve, and won the opening game with an ace. The holds continued to 4-4, both players looking very sharp. Tarango had been absolutely killing forehands in his pre-match practice session with Richey Reneberg and he was doing it here as well. Bjorkman, meanwhile, was venturing to the net often and making athletic volley winners once there. Tarango faced a break point for the first time in Game 9 and responded poorly, sending a forehand long to give Bjorkman a 5-4 lead.

There were several shouts of "Come on, Jeff!" as the players took the court following the changeover, but Bjorkman silenced them with a love hold. After exactly 30 minutes of action, Jonas had a 6-4 set in his pocket. A pair of holds to open the second made it 1-1. Tarango hit a backhand long at 30-30 in the third game, but thought umpire Mike Morrissey had overruled the out call. "Did you correct that? I thought I heard, `Correction, ball was good.'" A long discussion ensued, with Morrissey suggesting that maybe someone in the crowd had said that. Personally, I never heard any "correction" call -- maybe Jeff has voices in his head. Whatever the case may be, Tarango lost that point and lost the next, surrending the service break with a lunging backhand volley into the net.

Tarango battled right back, getting a break point and hitting a great return to set up a forehand pass for 2-2. He held for 3-2, but Bjorkman held at love for 3-3, Tarango losing the last point on a Morrissey overrule. He let the umpire know he was not pleased. "Now you decide who's missing calls? You need to go on a diet anyway." That was a cheap shot, but Morrissey has probably heard worse. His unflappably calm demeanor has earned him numerous assignments of "Tarango duty". It looked like tonight might be a doozy, though. When the very next call -- a close one -- went against Tarango, he exploded. "Now you're only going to overrule clear mistakes?!? That's three calls now...What the hell is that? It's a joke."

Such outbursts would turn most crowds against Tarango, but New Yorkers like their tennis with an attitude. When Jeff finally got back to playing and won that seventh game, the fans gave him a rousing hand. Bjorkman didn't let any this get to him, though. He held for 4-4 and broke for 5-4. Just as in the first set, Tarango had gotten burned by playing poorly in the ninth game. This time around, Tarango rallied to earn a break point, but Bjorkman survived with a backhand drop volley winner. It was a great, clutch shot -- Jonas celebrated it with a double fist pump and Jeff applauded with his racquet. Bjorkman then thumped an ace and won the set when a Tarango forehand landed just wide. Two sets down and one to go for Bjorkman, leading 6-4, 6-4.

At this point, many players might become discouraged and throw in the towel. Tarango, on the other hand, played some of his most inspired tennis of the night, grabbing a 4-0 lead in the third set. He was handcuffing Bjorkman with blistering returns and passing him with hard, flat forehands. Bjorkman was still going for his shots, but his accuracy level had come way down. He netted a forehand to end the fifth game, but benefitted from another overrule in his favor in the sixth game. That one went to deuce, but Bjorkman won it with back-to-back aces. The Swede then fought off a pair of set points in Tarango's service game, but the third was the charm -- Bjorkman buried a forehand return in the net to drop the third stanza by a 6-1 mark.

The next three games went with serve, but Tarango played miserably in the fourth, ending it with a double fault and two wild errors. Game 5 was a long, back-and-forth struggle, but Bjorkman finally won it with his latest ace. Tarango was trailing 1-4 when he came out on the losing end of another overrule from the chair. Jeff pointed to his opponent and raised five fingers, then pointed to himself and made a zero, indicating the number of overrules granted to each player. He then marched up to Morrissey and said, "I would like the press to look into how many times you've been in the chair for my 1st Round match." He walked back to the baseline, but started up again, ranting about "95% to 85% of my matches" and Morrissey finally hit him with a code violation warning for "unsportsmanlike conduct."

When Bjorkman took a 5-1 lead in the fourth set, you had to figure it was all over but the shouting. And there would be shouting, alright, now that Tarango was in one of his particularly belligerent moods. The American broke for 2-5, but trailed 15-30 in the eighth game when a Bjorkman groundstroke appeared to land just long of the baseline. There was no call by the linesman, nor an overrule from Morrissey. Tarango furiously slammed his racquet and laid into the umpire again. "That's embarrassing. That's bad for tennis. You're bad for tennis." A backhand error from Tarango on the next point ended the tumultuous 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 affair after 2 hours and 20 minutes. Tarango engaged Bjorkman in a very cordial handshake but, of course, snubbed Morrissey. While Jonas signed autographs, Jeff left the court to a surprisingly positive crowd response and acknowledged the fans with a few waves of his hand. It was another early loss for Jeff Tarango in a Grand Slam, but one people are likely to remember.