1st tour of duty, swinging all way

Tennis: A wild-card entry into the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Patrick Osuna, from Crofton, works to get the winning hand that will propel him to the ATP Tour.

August 16, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Patrick Osuna is about to have a first-time experience.

When Osuna steps on the court against journeyman Wayne Arthurs in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, it will be his first time in an ATP Tour event.

"It's pretty exciting," said Osuna, a 25-year-old from Crofton. Osuna earned entry into the main draw, which begins today, by winning the Mid-Atlantic Region's wild-card challenge tournament in June.

"I've been playing satellite and futures tournaments and trying to get enough points to move up," Osuna said. "My goal is to play on the ATP Tour."

For a player trying to make it as a pro, his world is composed of a series of steps set up by the United States Tennis Association. First there are satellite tournaments, then futures, followed by challengers and, finally, the ATP Tour events. To move up the ladder a player has to earn points to raise his ranking.

Osuna will certainly feel as if he's on tour. The Legg Mason Tennis Classic has drawn an impressive field, with five of the world's top eight players in the 56-player field.

World No. 2 Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the tournament's No. 1 seed. Defending Legg Mason champion, No. 3 Andre Agassi is seeded No. 2.

As Osuna practiced on the north side of the William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, players like world No. 7 Todd Martin were arriving in the locker room.

"What he's trying to do is incredibly difficult," Martin said. "It takes an enormous amount of help and luck, not even to mention good fortunes with birth in terms of natural talent."

Martin, 29, smiled. He thought for a moment and remembered he, too, had played more than once as a young wild card.

"It's an opportunity," he said. "It's a chance for someone to chase a dream. He's 25 and in his first event. Most players are doing that at 20 or a little younger. What he has is a rare opportunity for a great experience."

Osuna takes questions about his age and the likelihood of success in stride. He took "the college route," choosing to attend the University of Texas on scholarship instead of trying to turn pro early. In 1997, he was a fifth-year senior, a few hours short of a degree in psychology when he decided he was ready to attempt a tennis career.

Since then, he has been living with his parents, playing "money tournaments" -- he won the Mears Tennis Challenge in Annapolis last week -- and watching old high school friends, like Paul Goldstein, who last week won the singles gold medal at the Pan American Games, move on.

"Paul and David Cauldwell, he's from Virginia, we were all in juniors together," said Osuna. "Paul was a year or two younger, and David and I were always one and two in the junior rankings. When I see them making it on tour, it gives me a boost. I feel I can complete talent-wise. But I have to work on my consistency and my conditioning."

Osuna's coach, former pro tour player Steve Krulevitz of Baltimore, said Osuna "is a shot maker" with a fluid service motion, not unlike that of Pete Sampras, and agrees consistency and fitness are the two on which Osuna should concentrate.

"I think this tournament is good for Patrick," Krulevitz said. "We were practicing at the tennis center, and Mark Rosset [a tour veteran who has been ranked as high as No. 14] was on the next court. We hit for an hour and a half and so did Rosset, then in heat that seemed 110 degrees, Rosset continued on court with his physical training, throwing the medicine ball. It was good for Patrick to see that."

Osuna's practice partner, Paul Harsanyi, 24, won the Mid-Atlantic qualifier a year ago and lost to Osuna in the final this June. He is ranked No. 700, which means he is slightly better off than his friend, who is ranked No. 1,306. But Osuna's wild card got him into this event, while Harsanyi's ranking did not.

Both men admit trying to make it their way is a long, hard process. They also agree it's tough to earn a living. Harsanyi said his tennis income last year was about $10,000.

Osuna admits having other interests, but said, for now, he'll pursue his dream. He practices two to four hours a day, five days a week and works on his upper body and his speed the other two days. But he has only two ATP ranking points, earned in a satellite event in Mobile, Ala.

"It's a very slow process," Osuna said. "I get one point from being in the main draw here. If I could win one match, I could walk away with 14 or 15 points. It could help me move up the ladder, into the larger events. My goal is to crack the top 500. If I could do that, I'd be happy. This tournament could be the break I need."

Pub Date: 8/16/99

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