No. 6 seed Agassi loves tennis in N.Y. USTA protects star in draw at Open

August 27, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi always has said how much he loves the U.S. Open and New York, and when U.S. Tennis Association officials made out the seeds for this tournament, they let everyone know they love Agassi, too.

The USTA, as almost everyone knows by now, set off a furor before yesterday's opening rounds by using its system to seed players instead of the standard method of simply following the rankings.

No. 3 Michael Chang was seeded second ahead of No. 2 Thomas Muster and No. 9 Agassi was bumped up to sixth amid speculation that the seeding committee wanted to make sure Agassi would not meet No. 1 seed Pete Sampras before the hoped-for final.

After beating Mauricio Hadad, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, Agassi said he was trying not to get caught up in this controversy, but added that he is not in support of the ATP's making this stand here.

"At the end of the day, you've got to beat seven players no matter where you're seeded," Agassi said. "I know I've been the big beneficiary, from nine to six in ranking to seeding . . . and I don't want to come off sounding like I'm defending what they did for me.

"But the issue isn't about me and what they chose to do with me. I would hope any country would give more support to its own, in the sense of wild cards. But I don't think anyone should go beyond favoritism to the point where it's unfair."

And when Chang found himself in a challenging battle with Jaime Oncins, the USTA was no doubt searching for some painkillers.

Chang, however, held off 186th-ranked Oncins, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (8-6).

"I was nervous through the entire match," Chang said. "But I don't think it was from the change in seeding. You're human. You're going to have times like that.

"But I don't think they should have made these changes," continued Chang. "I still feel I'm No. 3 in the world and Thomas is No. 2, that's fair to say. The difference between two and three isn't that big a deal, but moving Andre from eighth to sixth, ahead of Yevgeny [Kafelnikov], that's not right. Yevgeny is an excellent player on all surfaces and everyone knows that. I think the USTA will think twice next year."

Up until last night, Agassi had not said a word about how he feels about his seeding gift. He and Chang were both absent from the ATP meeting in which the players announced their opposition to the Open's seeding, though Chang said he wasn't there simply because he had not been aware that there was a meeting.

"I fully support the ATP players in this," he said.

Sunday, Kafelnikov, No. 5 in the world and the French Open champion, pulled out of the tournament in protest. Michael Stich said yesterday that he was ready to follow him Sunday and still thinks the ATP Tour players should have staged a one-day boycott.

The Spanish contingent was going to walk if Stich, ranked No. 18, had been given the 16th seed ahead of No. 16 Felix Mantilla. And Stich also was angry, not because he wasn't seeded, but because after an ATP official had told him he would be, no one bothered to come back to him to tell him he wasn't.

Got that?

Much of it sounds like the yips of the spoiled elite. Certainly, the players themselves have complained long and loud about the inequities in the world rankings. But here at the Open they are united against departing from them for seeding purposes, even though it is within the USTA's right to do so.

"I still feel what they did is embarrassing and disrespectful to the players," said Stich, after winning his first-round match against Tommy Haas, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5.

"We've been trying for 10 years to sort out the perfect way to determine the rankings," Stich said. "We're still working on it. But I think the players deserve the rankings they have.

"I know there are those who say Thomas earned his place by playing primarily on clay, but the Americans barely play on clay at all, so you could make the same argument on the other side."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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