NEW YORK — Their weapons of choice are tennis rackets, not guns. They're sportsmen, not soldiers. And they're angry and scared and even a little confused.
They want to be at the U.S. Open, but they also want to be in Yugoslavia. They play for money in the United States and Europe and Asia. But back home, others are playing for greater stakes in a percolating civil war.
Excuse Goran Ivanisevic and Goran Prpic for bringing politics and passion to the U.S. Open yesterday. They are Croatians who by the quirk of a draw were placed on the same back court in Flushing Meadow while thousands of miles away their homeland in Yugoslavia was under siege.
Ivanisevic won this second-round match, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4. But really, what did it matter when back in Split, Ivanisevic's sister Srdana was worrying about the bombs that might be dropping in her back yard?
"She said that the army bombed one city near my hometown and they are supposed to bomb my hometown today or tomorrow or any day," Ivanisevic said. "It is pretty bad, you know. Now I am going to call her and see what is happening."
Tennis may be the most international of sports, but sometimes it appears that the jumble of globe-trotting Swedes and Soviets and Czechs and Americans comes from the country of Boca Raton, Fla. Yet when trouble strikes at home, the national identities surface.
So what if all the big names passed through the second round of the U.S. Open? How can a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) loss by No. 7 seed Guy Forget of France against Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands compare with the anguish expressed by men and women whose country was coming apart? Worse things can happen than Barbara Paulus' twisting her left ankle, retiring on match point and losing to defending women's champion Gabriela Sabatini, 6-3, 4-6, 5-1 retired.
For a teen-age player like Monica Seles, a Yugoslav of Hungarian descent who lives in Florida, the civil war is merely a distraction in a long summer of controversy. She says, "I just have to put it aside because otherwise I just can't play tennis."
But for Ivanisevic and Prpic, the battle at home involves family, friends and honor. In a gesture of political solidarity with Croatia, Ivanisevic and Prpic will not play for the Yugoslav Davis Cup team in a match in France, Sept. 20.
"I don't find any reasons to play for the country because it does not exist," said Prpic, who lives in Zagreb.
Prpic said he will return to Yugoslavia when the U.S. Open ends. A former soldier, he said others have asked him to fight against the federal army.
"It is very hard to go there to kill, to fight against someone who six months ago or a year ago, you were a friend with," he said. "Maybe that friend is on the other side. I think it is very stupid and very crazy what is going on."
But Prpic said there are few alternatives to civil war.
"I don't see a solution," he said. "I can't find any way out. It is very hard. It is getting worse and worse."
Ivanisevic is a powerful server and the No. 12 seed, and he could actually win the Open. But he says it is difficult to concentrate on victory.
"The only way I can help Croatia is with my tennis," he said. "It is tough for me to go in the war now, to take a gun and go. I think my weapon is a tennis racket."