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The 1999 US Open "Pre-Show"
by Ken Kamlet
Ken Kamlet is freelance writer who has written for numerous publications on and off the Internet ranging from the Washington Post to Spotlight to America Online. He currently has two feature stories in the US Open issue of TENNIS magazine and previously caused all kinds of havoc for On The Line Tennis Magazine with his diatribe about Pete Sampras. He may be contacted at KKamlet@aol.com.


Sssssh, New York’s Best Kept Secret!
While New Yorkers and visitors alike hustle frantically for the last remaining nosebleed tickets to the maindraw sessions for the 1999 US Open, it is the savvy and experienced tennis fan who knows the best kept secret in tennis … the qualifying event which begins each year in the midweek preceding the start of the tournament. During this exciting preview week you are likely to see gritty and exciting matches as the caliber seems to increase yearly as the ATP and WTA tours experience breathtaking depth in talent. The crowds are sparse affording you choice viewing on almost any court with matches in progress. Practice courts feature unknowns and star level players in last minute preparation for “the big show”. The old Stadium Court and the Grandstand Court are usually reserved for the very biggest names to practice on and the USTA allows spectators to watch their favorites “up close and personal”. Most players even accommodate with autographs and posing for pictures when their workout is done. Only the new and overwhelming Arthur Ashe Stadium has restrictions … spectators cannot get closer than the lower section of the upper promenade (where the players resemble tiny ants and are indistinguishable). Such a climb hardly seems worth it to view even your favorite player from so far away. But the best part of all of this is … its FREE! Absolutely FREE. Just walk right through the side gates and you are invited to mill about the grounds between 11am and 6pm (or until the last match is completed). A number of concession stands are open, but of course they are far from free. This year, an order of French Fries is $6.75. Bottled water is $3.50. T-Shirts start at $21.00. Bring your own lunch and your camera (film on the grounds is $7 per roll) and where else in New York are you going to get this much excitement and star gazing without having to consider taking out a 2nd mortgage for the price of admission?

The Draw

The 1999 Qualifying draw featured a number of familiar names … a terrific mix of former top 40 players struggling for a comeback, new youngsters working their way up to the big leagues and the lower level of rank-and-file players hanging on to the fringes of the main tour. Familiar names in the women’s draw included Lindsay Lee, Maria Alejandra Vento, Rika Hiraki, Alexandra Fusai (doubles partner to top 10 player Nathalie Tauziat), ATA champ Erica Adams, Florencia Labat, Nicole Arendt, Asa Carlsson (who handed Gabriela Sabatini her final grand slam loss at the US Open), Katarina Studenikova (who once pulled a huge upset over Monica Seles at Wimbledon), Linda Wild (who supported former WTA President Patricia Hy Boulais in an attempt to overthrow the Board of Directors), Joannette Kruger (just about 1 year ago ranked in the world top 20), Sandra Cacic and Adriana Gersi.

The men’s draw included 2-time mixed doubles grand slam champion Max Mirnyi, Michael Sell, Marcos Ondruska, Jonathan Stark, “the Haitian Sensation” Ronald Agenor, Martina Hingis’ new beaux Ivo Heuberger, Javier Sanchez (brother of Arantxa), Xavier Malisse (who has received quite a buildup as a future ATP star), doubles great Leander Paes, Australian Open quarterfinalist Nicolas Escude, Todd Woodbridge and Neville Godwin (who reached the 4R at Wimbledon in 1996).

And The Winners Are …

With the combination of depth, nerves and the inconsistency of the lower ranked players, the matches featured numerous upsets, surprising breakthroughs and disappointing setbacks in the three round event. The following are the players who made it through to the maindraw:

Men:
Fredrik Jonsson, Sweden
Axel Pretzsch, Germany
Lorenzo Manta, Switzerland
Cyril Saulnier, France
Stephane Huet, France
Georg Bastl, Switzerland
Nicolas Escude, France
Takao Suzuki, Japan
Lars Burgsmuller, Germany
Xavier Malisse, Belgium
Julien Boutter, France
Michael Kohlmann, Germany
Ivo Heuberger, Switzerland
Ville Liukko, Finland
Peter Wessels, Netherlands
Cristiano Caratti, Italy
Note: Also making it into the maindraw are “Lucky Losers”. After the maindraw is set, if a player withdraws before the first round (i.e., because of injury) their place is taken by the highest ranked player to lose in the final round of qualifying. Men’s Lucky Losers this year are: Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia; Max Mirnyi, Belarus; and Laurence Tieleman, Italy.

Women:
Tina Krizan, Slovenia
Jelena Kostanic, Croatia
Anastasia Myskina, Russia
Tina Pisnik, Slovenia
Asa Carlsson, Sweden
Jana Kandarr, Germany
Magdalena Grzybowska, Poland
Adriana Gersi, Czech Republic
Sandra Kloesel, Germany
Maria Alejandra Vento, Venezuela
Lisa McShea, Australia
Anca Barna, Germany
Catalina Cristea, Romania
Tracy Singian, United States
Janet Lee, Taiwan
Tatiana Poutchek, Belarus
Note: As of this writing there have been no withdrawals from the women’s maindraw leaving no slots open for Lucky Losers.

One Singian Sensation

The American contingency (the largest represented country in the qualifying draw) had a surprisingly disappointing week. Tracy Singian was the only American to earn any of the totaled 32 qualifying slots in the draws. Once again, it seems that the player development team from the USTA must go back to the drawing board.

M.I.A.’s

The most disturbing late withdrawal of the event came from Thomas Johanssan (world #18) who withdrew from both the Hamlet Cup and the US Open as he rushed back to his home in Sweden to receive further treatment after being diagnosed with a serious heart ailment. Also, #11 seeded Mark Philippoussis of Australia continues to be sidelined by a knee injury suffered in July when he seemed on the verge of stunning eventual champion Pete Sampras. Philippoussis’ spot in the draw was filled by Spain’s Felix Mantilla who will be officially listed as the #17 seed.

The most notable absences from the women’s draw are world #4 Steffi Graf who announced her immediate retirement earlier this month and fan-favorite Anna Kournikova who withdrew because of a stress fracture in her right foot. Those withdrawals allowed for 1999 Australian Open runner-up Amelie Mauresmo and 1994 Wimbledon Champ Conchita Martinez to be moved up to the #15 and 16 seed positions, respectively.

Practice Makes Perfect

Many star names were seen milling about, darting in and out of the crowds as they made their way to and from practice courts. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario tried in vain to sign autographs as a burly, overexcited security guard with major power-issues bruskly eschewed her admirers. I’m sure the six year old he nearly gave a fat lip to posed some sort of danger. Arantxa looked disappointed but clearly didn’t want to deal with this New Yawker with a ‘tude.

Gustovo Kuerten, usually very fan-friendly, copped a bit of an attitude and didn’t need help avoiding spectators as he seemed to not notice them anyway.

On the same afternoon he crashed out of the Hamlet Cup, Yevegeny Kafelnikov put in a practice session on the grounds of the US Open … Anke Huber flung racquets with each error as she tried to outslug her more steady hitting partner, Barbara Schett (seeded #12). Natasha Zvereva looked tense and concerned during a Saturday afternoon workout with her coach. On The Line Tennis Magazine’s Meghann Shaughnessy had a friendly hit with Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia.

The New York area was hit with a torrential rainstorm early on Thursday morning. The unusual force of the storm brought all of New York City transportation to a hault and caused flash flooding which caused tournament delays not only at the US Open but also at the Hamlet Cup on Long Island and the Pilot Pen Championship in New Haven, CT. Local news broadcasters actually described the storm and the ensuing chaos as “Armageddon”. By mid-afternoon the courts became playable again and despite constant predictions for rain throughout the remainder of the week there were no further delays, the players enjoyed more sunshine than clouds and the qualifying was actually completed on Saturday leaving the tournament with a day to spare.