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from the New York Times

Non-Americans Give U.S. Open Its Flair

AMERICANS are said to be happiest when watching Americans. However, that sporting wisdom was defied last night, when Old Pete outplayed Andy the Kid, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, in the bustling corral of Flushing Meadows.

The fans were anticipating the emotional bathos of last year's meeting between the homeboys Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. But Sampras totally outplayed Andy Roddick in their quarterfinal match of this year's United States Open.

The big-ticket fans, who save up their time and energy for the final nights and days, had reason to be disappointed with their major capital investment.

As Pete whacked his aces and plunked his neat little drop shots, Roddick slunk around, a youth not ready for prime time on this night. The 90 quick minutes looked more like a first-round match out on a back court.

"I watched what I should be doing--from the other side of it," a gracious Roddick said afterward.


Although Americans are said to generally resist the charms of foreign players, the fans at the evening session would have enjoyed the other quarterfinal between Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands and Fernando González of Chile, relegated to the afternoon session. A terrific five-set tie-breaker victory by Schalken was witnessed by the assorted layabouts and pensioners and hooky players who come to sunlit tennis after Labor Day.

Schalken turns out to be a late-blooming baseliner with a lot of poise, somewhat more articulate in English than some Yanks. There will be more time to discover Schalken against Sampras in the semifinal tomorrow afternoon, with Agassi playing Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the other semifinal.

The collective wisdom, expressed in many places in the past couple of weeks, seems to be that Americans (whatever that means) want to watch their own kind. This must be frustrating when Japanese, Dominicans, Koreans and Venezuelans make the pompous baseball label "World Series" seem a trifle more legitimate.

Jingoism surely comes to no good in hockey, with dozens of Swedes and Czechs and Russians bringing not only skill but also panache and education and maturity to the National Hockey League.
Then there is basketball, the American sport. It seems like only yesterday--actually it was 1990, during the Goodwill Games in Seattle--when a few callow Yank players tried to bully and mock Italian and Yugoslav players as clumsy wild and crazy guys. Fast-forward to the Americans' humbling defeat Wednesday by the cohesive Argentines in the world championships in Indianapolis. Indianapolis! Where Oscar Robertson was nurtured, and Pepe Sanchez prevailed.

It might be a good idea for Americans to take cable TV and the Internet seriously and realize we are all intertwined. As a paying costumer a few decades ago, I derived a great deal of enjoyment from players who did not stuff an American passport into their kit-- Adriano Panatta, Jaime Fillol, Wojtek Fibak, Vijay Amritraj and the lefty with the perpetual lopsided smile, Manuel Orantes.

Later on, as a sportswriter, I have enjoyed covering such gallants as Miloslav Mecir, a big graceful cat of a player, the dreadlocked Yannick Noah, and Stefan Edberg, whom I dare say many men would choose to look like, play like and act like.

The worldly fans at the old West Side Tennis Club seemed to be fine with non-Americans bedeviling home-grown players, and so do the people who patronize the new joint in Flushing Meadows.

More by accident than plan, I wandered into some excellent non-American male matches in the past 11 days. To get out of the hot sun on opening day, I sat in a corner of the old grandstand and watched Marcelo Rios of Chile, ranked 22nd, lose the first set to Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, ranked 50th. His deadpan stare suggested Rios was leaving on the midnight plane to Santiago, but he saw something he could exploit in Bjorkman and won the next three sets--quite enough world-level tennis for one afternoon.


The next day I sat through most of the marathon between Marat Safin, a Russian who came of age in Spain, and Nicolas Kiefer, a German, in Ashe Stadium. After five sets, Kiefer cramped, lost and waved operatically to a crowd that seemed to get over the fact that both lads were not Yanks.

Then there was Guga, the gentle and lanky red-bearded Brazilian, Gustavo Kuerten, against Schalken, in a fourth-round match Tuesday. Kuerten's clay-court wiles were not enough for Schalken's firepower, and the crowd cheered both.

On Wednesday, the day crowd favored the underdog Younes el-Aynaoui, the so-called Rockin' Moroccan, who speaks five languages and plays with heart as well as head, over Hewitt, who is not popular in these parts.

Now there will be one Yank against one non-American in each of the male semifinals, and the crowd's sentiments can be predicted. But the Open is built on the Israelis and Pakistanis, the Argentines and the Czechs who entertained fans for nearly two weeks. It still works.
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