Hard-working Goldstein serves notice to critics

Improving at U.S. Open is goal for Rockville native

August 29, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Rockville's Paul Goldstein goes into the U.S. Open already more successful than tennis experts believed possible.

In one year, Goldstein, 23, has improved his ranking from 312th to 79th in the world. He has won the Pan American Games gold medal and last week made it to his first ATP Tour quarterfinal at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington.

Now, he's going back to the Open, hoping to improve on his initial showing. Last year, he won one round before losing to No. 1 Pete Sampras.

The Open begins tomorrow with Sampras attempting to win his 13th career Grand Slam title. If he does, he'll be the sport's all-time leader, having broken a tie with Roy Emerson.

Sampras will face a heavy challenge with No. 2 Andre Agassi, No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and No. 4 Patrick Rafter, the two-time defending Open champion, all playing in top form.

On the women's side, No. 1 Martina Hingis will try to return to the final to get even for her loss there to Lindsay Davenport. The defending champion, Davenport won her first Grand Slam at Flushing Meadow last September and comes in to this year's event having won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last month.

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, will be seeking their first career Grand Slam titles, and No. 4 seed Monica Seles will be trying to capture her first Grand Slam title since 1996.

Goldstein comes into the Open after stepping up a level this season. This year, he has made it to the third rounds at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He has victories over top 10 players Greg Rusedski and Alex Corretja.

"No one gave him a chance in heck of succeeding, because they looked at his size [not tall], his serve [not booming] and his ground strokes [not consistent]," said Goldstein's coach, Scott McCain, who is also the USTA national coach for touring pros. "But Paul has four things people didn't give him credit for: heart, smarts, determination and a strong work ethic."

At about 5 feet 9, Goldstein needs all of those. But others of his size have had success. McCain draws comparisons between Goldstein and Marcelo Rios, who last year spent several weeks at No. 1 and is seeded 10th at the Open.

"They are both about 5-9, 150 pounds," McCain said. "And Paul is like Rios in that Rios has great timing and takes the ball early."

Goldstein picked up a racket for the first time when he was 8, and he didn't leave town for some big Florida tennis academy.

"I did take private lessons one summer when I was 10," Goldstein said. "I did a little better after that."

He said there was no design for a pro career. His goal, he said, "was just to be better today."

"There wasn't even a little bit of a plan," said Goldstein, who won national 16- and 18-year-old crowns and was a four-time All-American at Stanford. "I wasn't naive by the time I got to Stanford, but I focused on tennis and classes. I didn't worry about the tour, except in the back of my mind."

Now, he's focused. McCain tells this story to show how much.

"He came to train with me in Seattle last winter," McCain said. "We were trying to change his forehand. I had been hitting the ball in the center of the court, and he'd run around it to hit his backhand and run to the net. We worked on stopping that, on making his forehand stronger. Time after time, he'd ask, `Is that what I'm after?' And I'd say, `No. You're going to have to feel it.'

"And he kept at it, up to four hours a day working on just that one situation. It can get awfully boring, but he wouldn't stop until he felt control, topspin and power. He knows that situation can arise 10 or 12 times in any one match. And now he has it consistently."

But Goldstein said he hasn't got it made. Not yet. He still needs to work on his ground strokes, and he needs to get more power in his serve.

"It's funny," Goldstein said. "A year ago, I didn't believe I could be where I am now. But I can see my game improving. It's neat. You work on things and see it cultivate. I'm hitting the ball bigger, not relying on my scrambling ability. That's how I am. I'm always seeking to improve.

That being the case, he said, making the round of 16 at the Open would be nice.

"But it isn't very constructive to set that kind of goal," he said. "I just need to focus on executing each point. Results will come from that."

U.S. Open

When: Tomorrow through Sept. 12

Where: National Tennis Center, New York

Top seeds: Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis

Defending champions: Patrick Rafter, Lindsay Davenport

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