Three-Set Thriller and Comeback Kid Headline Day Two
by Christopher Gerby
Angeles Montolio vs. Olga Barabanschikova
Women's Singles: First Round
Sunday's New York Post annointed Olga Barabanschikova one
of the players likely to make male hearts pound at the
1999 US Open. It takes more than a navel ring and a
flirtatious spirit to win matches on the WTA Tour,
however, and "the Belarussian Bombshell" ranks considerably
lower (#68) in those rankings. She's a powerful player
with a big serve, but she hasn't quite lived up to her
potential. Maria Angeles Montolio (who apparently
dropped her first name) doesn't seem to have that same
kind of innate talent, but she's having a fine season and
has actually passed Barabanschikova in the world
rankings. Montolio's greatest claim to US Open fame: she
faced Martina Hingis in the first Center Court match of
the '96 tournament.
The Spaniard secured an early break, good for a 3-1 lead
in the opening set. Barabanschikova badly missed two
volleys in blowing a 40-0 lead in Game 5. She got on
track in the following two games, though, breaking for
2-4 and staving off three break points for 3-4. The
eighth game was also close, with Barabanschikova resorting
to some moon balls just to change up the pace. It worked
well enough for her to even the set at 4-4, but
Barabanschikova was less than pleased with her play in
Game 9. She made a loose forehand error on break point,
lobbed a ball into the sky, and stuck her finger in her
mouth (the international signal for vomiting). Olga
battled in the following game, but finally lost the 6-4
set on a backhand error.
It was an indisputably pro-Barabanschikova crowd, but
Montolio was quietling them by playing the more consistent
tennis. Angeles won't blow anybody away, but at least she
was careful about not beating herself. She jumped out to
another 4-1 lead in the second set, capitalizing on
numerous Barabanschikova errors. Olga was opting for her
familiar changeover routine, listening to music on a
little walkman during those 90-second breaks. She also had
a stuffed animal sticking out of her bag -- a furry shark
doll which I imagine was on hand for good luck. It didn't
seem to be helping at this point, but Barabanschikova
got back in the match by breaking Montolio in the set's
long, tense sixth game.
Montolio's left thigh was heavily taped, but she was
moving well. In fact, she flipped a running backhand past
Barabanschikova to earn a break point. Olga then double
faulted, falling behind 2-5. Just when it looked like
Montolio was home free, she dropped serve again (this
match was a veritable break-a-palooza) for 5-3. Olga hit
an ace and a service winner in a surprisingly confident
hold for 4-5. Momentum was on the Belarussian's side as
she stuck a forehand winner for a 15-40 lead in Game 10.
However, Montolio just would not go away. She dodged
both break points, earned a match point, and prevailed
when Barabanschikova sent a backhand just long.
Coming out on the wrong end of that 6-4, 6-4 loss had to
be bitterly disappointing for Olga Barabanschikova,
especially considering how close she'd come to turning
the tables late in that second set. Nevertheless, she
stuck around to sign quite a few autographs for the fans
who had cheered her on. She may be a party girl, but she's
got class. What Montolio has is a solid array of
groundstrokes and a second round date with Paola Suarez
Vincent Spadea vs. Jens Knippschild
Men's Singles: First Round
Andre Agassi once called Vince Spadea a "classic
journeyman," but that was before Spadea beat him last
summer and won his first six matches against Top 10
players in '99. When recently asked who -- besides
himself -- returns serve particularly well, Agassi said
the first name which came to mind was Spadea. Having
gone from "journeyman" to "giant killer," Vince is
suddenly being taken seriously as one of the best young
American players. He's even getting some gigs as a writer
-- the daily journal he kept during the tournament in
Cincinnati a few weeks ago was such a hit that Spadea
was hired to write a US Open version for a popular web
site. Would he have a happy tale to tell on Monday?
Spadea's first round match against Jens Knippschild was
well underway when I arrived. Vince had a 6-3, 6-7, 7-5,
4-1 lead and was just two games away from surviving what
had apparently been a first round scare. Spadea returned
from a bathroom break at this point, but Knippschild
just about sent him scrambling back to the john,
blasting two aces and a service winner in a hold for
2-4. Spadea had to come up with some big serving of his
own to dig out of a 15-40 hole in the following game. He
got to 5-2, though, and the main reason for his commanding
lead became clear when the match statistics were posted
on the scoreboard. Knippschild had committed a whopping
97 unforced errors, compared to just 36 off Spadea's
Knippschild (whose thinning hair is no longer dyed
the white/blond it used to be) thumped his 20th ace in a
love hold for 3-5, but he was still behind the eight ball.
The American cruised to a 40-0 lead in Game 9 and won
the match on an errant Knippschild return. It had been
no picnic -- two very close sets and a total match time
of 2 hours, 23 minutes -- but Spadea passed his first
round test. Next up for him is a bout with Guillermo
Canas, the man who shocked Tim Henman on Tuesday.
Knippschild, by the way, departed to a pretty hearty
round of applause which he really seemed to appreciate.
Rainer Schuttler vs. Christian Ruud
Men's Singles: First Round
Newport champion Chris Woodruff and Harvard alumnus
James Blake filled the Court 7 stands before even
arriving, so I ended up at nearby Court 9 instead. A
considerably smaller crowd was there, watching former #1
player in the world Rainer Schuttler. Huh? Number One?
Well, sort of. According to the half-baked ranking scheme
the ATP plans to foist on the fans next season, all
players will start with zero points on January 1st.
Their "ranking" (the one the ATP wants us to accept,
anyway) will be determined by the number of points they
accumulate from that point forward. Schuttler surprisingly
won a tournament in the first week of the '99 season, so
-- had the goofy new system been in place -- he would have
been the world's top-ranked player for a short time.
Schuttler is a somewhat flashy shot-maker, but he'll
never be close to #1 under a real ranking system. I got
to this first round match just as Christian Ruud was
breaking serve for a 6-4, 6-3 lead. The players were
dressed almost identically -- white hat, white shirt,
dark shorts, white shoes -- but Schuttler was the one
wearing his cap backwards. The first four games of the
third set were fairly routine holds. Both players hit
two-handed backhands, but Schuttler will sometimes take
one hand off to hit a slice. Those little sliced shots
were ending up in the net more often than not; Ruud
capitalized with a hold for 3-2. As if being down two
sets wasn't discouraging enough, the cooler behind
Schuttler was empty. He walked over to Ruud's
cooler, grabbing a drink and asking the court attendant,
Schuttler and Ruud exchanged convincing holds again for
4-3. The German kept scrambling from behind in the long
eighth game, but finally lost it on back-to-back double
faults. That gift was presumably all Ruud would need.
The graceful Norwegian upset a 2nd-seeded Alex Corretja
at this year's Australian Open and can play some pretty
impressive tennis. But Ruud's backhand really let him down
as he tried to serve out the match -- Schuttler won the
game with a drop shot. Christian still led 5-4, though,
and he closed out the match with an impressive love
break. Schuttler made a hasty exit, but Ruud stuck around
to conduct a post-match interview with what I'm assuming
was a Norwegian reporter. The 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win sends
him into a second round bout with the guy who was winning
in the background, Chris Woodruff.
Karina Habsudova vs. Lenka Nemeckova
Women's Singles: First Round
Not all that long ago, Karina Habsudova and Lenka
Nemeckova hailed from the same country -- Czechoslovakia.
However, that country's split makes Habsudova a
Slovakian and Nemeckova a representative of the Czech
Republic. Habsudova is possibly the most mercurial player
on the entire tour. She cracked the Top 10 in early 1997,
but has spent most of her time since languishing in the
60s and 70s. When she's on, she can give any player fits.
When she's off, she sprays errors all over the court.
She plays a low-percentage, low-finesse game, but it's
been paying dividends lately. Habsudova finally broke
through to win her first WTA Tour singles title this
Habsudova got off to a rough start, losing the first
three points. Nemeckova broke her there and held at love
for a 2-0 lead. A pair of matching holds made it 3-1, but
Karina got into her groove after that. She slugged her way
to a break in Game 6, getting back even at 3-3. She closed
out a hold with a service winner and broke at love with
her punishing groundies. Habsudova had no difficulty in
the ninth game, closing out a 6-3 set which went from
tricky to routine when the Slovakian's powerful shots
started landing inside the lines. Karina appears to have
lost some weight since I last saw her and that's
probably been a factor in her improved play.
Habsudova picked right up where she left off in the
second set, breezing to a 4-0 lead, thereby running her
streak to nine consecutive games. Nemeckova was playing
purely defensive tennis at this point...and not playing
it all that well. She held for 1-4, however, and took a
0-40 lead in the sixth game. Undaunted by the triple
break point chance, Habsudova knocked off a pair of
forehand volleys on her way to a hold for 5-1. Down
match point in Game 7, Nemeckova sent one last backhand
into the net. Lenka generally looked like the #103
player in the world she is, while Karina once again
showed how dominant she can be when her big backhands
and forehands are dialed in. Habsudova will face Ai
Sugiyama in the second round -- a rematch of the
topsy-turvy encounter they had in the 1997 US Open.
Maria Antonia Sanchez Lorenzo vs. Janet Lee
Women's Singles: First Round
Maria Antonia Sanchez Lorenzo, like Karina Habsudova,
recently earned her first singles title (at a small
tournament in Belgium). And like Olga Barabanschikova,
she was named in that New York Post blurb about the
sport's "hunks" and "babes." As the quality of Sanchez
Lorenzo's play has increased, so has the amount of
attention paid to her striking beauty. (She reportedly
had the boys "swooning" last week in New Haven.) Maria
seems like a fairly low-key, demure woman, but she's
not exactly been downplaying the sex symbol image this
month. As this first round match was about to get underway,
Sanchez Lorenzo removed her warmup jacket to reveal a
tight, sleeveless, low-cut top. It had different colors
from the tight, sleeveless, low-cut top she wore in last
week's match against Venus Williams -- I guess Nike has
been supplying her with a whole assortment.
Back to the actual tennis: Sanchez Lorenzo hits with two
hands off both sides, switching her grip every time
she goes from the backhand to the unorthadox forehand.
She doesn't generate the power and angles you'll see from
fellow two-fister Monica Seles, but she's no pushover
either. Sanchez Lorenzo handily won the opening game
against Janet Lee of Taipei. Lee held for 1-1 and both
players hit a pair of aces in holds for 2-2. By the time
Lee and Sanchez Lorenzo got to 5-5, this was becoming a
bit of a rarity -- a serve-dominated women's match.
In Game 11, Sanchez Lorenzo double faulted for 30-30
and netted a backhand for 30-40. Her first serve on break
point was ruled a fault by a chair umpire overrule.
Sanchez Lorenzo doesn't feel comfortable enough speaking
English to conduct interviews in that language, but she
sounded fluent enough arguing the overrule. "You saw
that far? Are you sure? It was right on the line. So you
see better than her (the lineswoman)?" Perhaps a bit
unnerved, Sanchez Lorenzo erred on the next point to
surrender the match's first service break and trail 5-6.
Lee, who is perhaps the tallest Asian on the women's
circuit, took full advantage of the opportunity. She
whacked an ace and three service winners in a love hold,
wrapping up a 7-5 first set victory.
Sanchez Lorenzo and Lee continued to look very evenly
matched, dueling to 3-3 in the second set. The Spaniard
then reeled off three consecutive games: an easy hold,
her first break of the evening, and a love hold to snare
a 6-3 second set. The match was being overshadowed --
figuratively and almost literally -- by action on Court
7 (where the Jensen brothers inspired quite a bit of crowd
noise) and Court 4 (which became very loud indeed when
Alex Corretja and Wayne Arthurs battled into a fifth set).
However, Sanchez Lorenzo and Lee were waging a compelling
battle of their own and a growing number of fans showed
up as the third set unfolded.
The first two games of Set 3 went to deuce, Lee and
Sanchez Lorenzo both working hard to squeak out holds
(the latter having to fend off four break points).
Sanchez Lorenzo got a break point in the next game and
won it with an unreturnable cross-court forehand. However,
the dilligent Lee struck right back with a break for 2-2.
Games 5 and 6 also went to deuce as this remarkably
close, tense match advanced to 3-3 in the final set.
The seventh game was yet another long one and it featured
some of the evening's best rallies, both players forced
to scramble all over the court and make creative shots.
Lee finally held for 4-3 with another ace. Sanchez
Lorenzo matched her at 4-all, but she had to go to deuce
to do it.
Sanchez Lorenzo smiled after hitting a roundhouse smash
like Jimmy Connors for 30-30 in the set's ninth game.
Naturally, it went to deuce, just like every previous
game in the set. Neither player was giving an inch and
they were both coming up with dramatic winners in the
clutch. Lee twice got the advantage with winning forehand
volleys, but both times failed to convert the ad. She got
a third game point with a winning backhand down the line,
but Sanchez Lorenzo replied with a down-the-line winner
of her own to force another deuce. Sanchez Lorenzo put up a
perfect lob, which Lee smashed just long to bring up
break point. Sanchez Lorenzo was finally equal to the
task, driving a deep shot cross-court to set up an
easy forehand winner.
It took a lot of hard work and perseverence, but the
Spaniard finally had a winning lead, delighting fans who'd
been shouting "Vamos Maria!" for more than two hours.
Rather than disappoint them with a late letdown, Sanchez
Lorenzo confidently served it out, slamming an ace on
match point to complete a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win over an
equally gutsy Janet Lee. Sanchez Lorenzo was grinning
from ear to ear as she lobbed a ball to her supporters.
Her work is far from over, though, with 11th seeded
veteran Nathalie Tauziat on her second round itinerary.
However, you could excuse Sanchez Lorenzo if she savored
the moment a bit, signing many autographs and accepting
many congratulatory wishes.
Amy Frazier vs. Anne Miller
Women's Singles: First Round
A year ago, a talented youngster from Michigan named
Anne Miller earned an entire crop of new fans after a
well played, refreshingly friendly third round US Open
match against Monica Seles. And just like that, she
vanished from the tennis scene, starting a new life as a
college student at the University of Michigan. While
stopping short of ruling out a comeback at some point in
the future, Miller was adamant in the belief that she was
not "going through a phase" and would not come quickly
crawling back to the WTA Tour. She made good on her word
for nearly 12 months, playing zero matches and completely
losing her computer ranking in the process. However,
she was granted a protected injury ranking and popped up
in the '99 US Open draw, facing fellow Michigan resident
Miller fans will probably be glad to hear that she did
not gain the infamous "Freshman 15" during her year at
Ann Arbor. She came into the Open as fit and trim as ever
and was striking her groundstrokes very well in a
mid-afternoon practice session. However, a lack of match
toughness apparently cost her at the start of her first
round match. When I arrived (making the short walk over
from Sanchez Lorenzo's win on Court 6), Frazier already
had a 6-2, 2-1 lead. Miller hit a great drop shot in the
set's fourth game and smiled broadly. She won the next
point to take the game and was still smiling! Miller used
to be one of the most self-critical players in the world,
always badgering herself with sarcastic comments in the
heat of battle. Annie has turned over a new leaf, however,
and has finally learned to enjoy herself on the court.
Miller had a small but vocal group of guys rooting her on
from a few rows behind her chair. When one of them
excitedly pumped his fist after Miller won a point in
Game 5, she looked over and shot him a sheepish grin.
The wind had died down a bit by now, but it was still
strong enough to play havoc with Frazier's unusually high
ball toss. She double fauled a couple times in that
game and lost it on a backhand error. Miller gave the
break right back for 3-3, but Frazier double faulted to
end Game 7. Miller held for 5-3 and got another big
round of applause from her fans (let's call them "The
Annie Miller Testosterone Brigade"). She looked over to
them again, smiled, and shook her head, almost seeming to
indicate that they were taking all of this more seriously
than she was.
Frazier simply could not get her serve under control.
Two more double faults in the ninth game helped cost her
the set. Miller was now all even at 2-6, 6-3 and would be
playing a third set in her comeback match. The Testosterone
Brigade gave her a standing ovation as she strode to her
chair, hiding her mouth with her shirt before unveiling
another gleaming smile. The final set got underway with
two holds, followed by two breaks. At 30-40 in Game 5,
Frazier leaned into a backhand winner down the line, good
for a 3-2 lead. Amy solidified the break, holding at love
for 4-2. Miller scored a shutout hold of her own for 3-4,
but Frazier pulled out a close game to extend her lead to
Miller won the first point of Game 9, but a double fault
and two errors put her behind 15-40. Frazier squandered
the first match point, hitting a lob just barely long.
Miller sent a backhand just wide on match point #2,
though, and Frazier finally had a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win under
her belt. Amy's been one of the better American players
of the past decade, but her conservative game and low-key
personality have garnered her relatively little attention.
That was the case again here, as the autograph seekers
and well-wishers all gathered around Anne Miller instead.
Frazier moves on to a second round match against fellow
veteran Natasha Zvereva. Where does Miller go? Read on.
"I don't know if it was an official retirement or an
official comeback," Miller cryptically stated after the
match. But seriously, where does she go from here? "I
haven't fully made that decision -- the options are open."
Specifically, she is still enrolled at the University of
Michigan, where classes resume on September 8th. One
idea Miller's considering is spending the fall semester
there, then returning to the WTA Tour in early 2000. She
does sound genuinely torn between college ("I had a great
time...I love learning") and tennis ("There's only one
chance in my life to do this, so why not?")
Even if she's still about as decisive as Hamlet, Miller is
at least a happier person now than she was in '98. "The
year off helped me grow up a lot, gave me perspective
about what's important in life." For instance, the
"negative attitude" which used to dog her is a thing of
the past. Speaking of the Frazier match, she said "I had
fun and that makes me happy. I came off the court feeling
like a better person than I used to feel after matches."
She was realistic about her first round effort: "It
basically came down to not playing matches...My return
was off." She admits that she won't be back in top form
until she starts playing full-time again.
The fact that Miller is speaking about a full-fledged
return to the circuit (whether it's now or in the next
millennium) should be a relief to her fans. But there's
still one matter left to tackle -- what's the deal with
her first name? "Most of my friends call me Annie, but I
started seeing Annie in the draws and I wasn't
comfortable with that either," since her given name is
Anne. Basically, she's sick of talking about it. "Either
way is fine." Call her Anne, call her Annie, but don't
call her retired. "I don't think that ever came out of
my mouth, the word `retire.'"