Monica, Mac, Jimbo leave Open lacking New identity sought with 3 on sidelines

August 30, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Monica Seles returned to the National Tennis Center yesterday, as a spectator rather than a two-time defending champion. John McEnroe was here, too, hamming instead of haranguing. Jimmy Connors will arrive this morning, ever the master of self-promotion.

Three of the most dominant personalities in tennis will play different roles in this year's U.S. Open, which begins its two-week run this morning. But none of these former champions will be playing, and their absence looms as heavily as the air above Flushing Meadow.

Seles, sidelined since being stabbed on court in Germany four months ago, will hold an afternoon news conference to describe what her life has been like and what her plans are. It marks the first time since 1975 that a men's or women's champion couldn't defend the title.

McEnroe will be analyzing the tournament for the USA Network, and Connors will be here this morning to pitch both his endorsement contract with Reebok and the new seniors tour he has organized. It marks the first time in 22 years that neither four-time winner McEnroe nor five-time champion Connors will compete at the Open.

Seles was at yesterday's exhibition to raise money for the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, the foundation started by the former tennis star before his death from the disease last March. Seles, who has lost her No. 1 ranking to Steffi Graf, received a standing ovation from a crowd of 13,000.

"It's a very special day," Seles, who sat in a courtside box with friends and family members, said while making her first public appearance in 121 days. "I wanted to be here because I loved Arthur and I wanted to support his foundation."

McEnroe joked his way through a tiebreaker with friend and protege Andre Agassi, but was solemn in talking about the day's event. "It's sad that it had to come to Arthur dying to have something like this," said McEnroe, who has taken over Ashe's role in the Safe Passage Foundation.

Without McEnroe and Connors, the men's draw is left in need of new personalities to breathe some life into a tournament that was their personal property for its first seven years here and what became the stage for their grand finales the past couple of years. Without Seles, the women's draw is left lacking somebody -- anybody -- who can beat Graf.

"It doesn't mean that everyone has to have the same personality," said McEnroe, who hinted that his playing days are over. "[Bjorn] Borg and I were different, and that's what made it work."

Put it this way: Aside from Jim Courier and Pete Sampras slugging it out for No. 1, the most significant story here is whether Sweden's Stefan Edberg can become the first player since McEnroe and only the second in history to win three straight Open titles.

McEnroe's gamesmanship apparently has continued into semi-retirement. Asked how many players could win, McEnroe listed Edberg among "about five or six guys" but added, "It's a longer shot for Stefan probably, because he's won it two straight times and there's more pressure on him than on the other guys."

Edberg, seeded third, certainly has an easier road ahead than either the top-ranked Courier or No. 2 Sampras. Except for a possible tough quarterfinal against former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, Edberg should have an unobstructed run through to the semis.

Courier has a potential Round of 16 matchup with hard-serving ** Richard Krajicek, the 10th seed from the Netherlands, and his side of the draw also includes fast-rising eighth seed Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine, as well as former champion Boris Becker. Sampras, another former champion, could meet Agassi in the Round of 16.

"I'm not looking that far ahead," said Sampras, who will be looking to regain the No. 1 ranking he recently lost to Courier. "That's the attitude you have to have."

Said Agassi: "It's not ideal, because I feel my ability is higher than the No. 16, but sooner or later you're going to have to face the top guys. At this level, it's which way the ball bounces."

One thing is clear: The balls won't be bouncing any way for Seles, McEnroe and Connors at this year's U.S. Open. Their absence looms heavily.

* Andrea Leand of Baltimore, who received a wild-card entry, will make her return to the Open after a two-year absence when she plays Elena Likhovtseva, a qualifier from the Commonwealth of Independent States, in an opening-round match today. Pam Shriver is scheduled to play tomorrow against Amy Frazier.

FEATURE MATCHES

Matches today on the show courts and others involving

seeded players in the $9.2 million U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, N.Y.:

STADIUM COURT

Day session

Steffi Graf (1) vs. Robin White; Petr Korda (9) vs. Wayne Ferreira; Patrick McEnroe vs. Marcos Ondruska.

Night session

Conchita Martinez (4) vs. Sandrine Testud; Paul Haarhuis vs. David Wheaton.

GRANDSTAND COURT

Day session

Gianluca Pozzi vs. Aaron Krickstein; Gloria Pizzichini vs. Martina Navratilova (3); Alexander Volkov (14) vs. Jonathan Stark.

Night session

Chris Woodruff vs. Chuck Adams.

OTHER SEEDED PLAYERS

Anke Huber (9) vs. Karin Kschwendt (Court 16, second match); Magdalena Maleeva (10) vs. Marianne Werdel (Court 17, second match).

Note: Matches on all courts begin at 11 a.m. Night sessions begin at 7:30 p.m.

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