After Legg Mason loss, Salzenstein out, but not down


August 18, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's said everyone loves a mystery, and Jeff Salzenstein believes that, if that's true, he should have a solid fan following.

"I am a mystery man, that's for sure," said Salzenstein, shortly after losing his first-round match to Michel Kratochvil, 6-4, 7-6 (1), yesterday in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

"As far as I know, I'm going to be 31 in October and this is my best year so far. When most players are beginning to struggle, I keep getting better. At age 30, I'm playing my best tennis."

But who knows Salzenstein? Not Andre Agassi, who was busy beating Paul Goldstein of Rockville, 6-4, 6-2, on the Stadium Court last night while Salzenstein talked on the park bench. And not many others, as Salzenstein has spent much of his time toiling on the Challenger Circuit trying to earn enough points for direct entry into the main ATP events.

"I've never met Andre," Salzenstein said. "But I've seen him in the locker room a lot and I admire him."

In fact, the two have something in common - though Salzenstein said, "Andre and I are at different ends of the spectrum. He was a phenom at 18 and I was going to a public high school in Denver" - they are both excelling late in their careers.

Agassi has always been a workmanlike player, climbing mountains to get into condition for his matches. And Salzenstein, while not physically running up mountains, has nonetheless climbed one.

After ankle and knee operations forced him to miss two prime career years shortly after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in economics, Salzenstein has persevered. He has strengthened his game to the point where last June he became only the second player ever to crack the top 100 after turning 30. He joined Dick Norman, who accomplished the feat at 31 in 2002.

"I'm in admiration of that," said Agassi, when asked about Salzenstein last night. "To see your best tennis at age 30 shows a dedication and commitment few have even in the professional world. It means you've been able to ask more of yourself and been able to keep believing in yourself when circumstances tell you to stop believing."

Salzenstein certainly knows about commitment. Though the ATP Web site will tell you little about him, it does tell you he has career winnings of $517,876 over the past 8 1/2 years. That's about $59,000 a year.

"You don't need a degree in economics to figure out that with travel expenses that run from $60,000 to $100,000 a year, not much is going in the bank," he said. "I know it doesn't add up."

But for Salzenstein, not much does. He should be in an office by now, analyzing stock market reports, instead of pushing a yellow ball around a tennis court. Certainly, he's had opportunities to chuck the game. First there was ankle surgery, then knee surgery in 1998 and 1999.

"But the injuries turned out to be positive events," he said. "They moved me forward. It gave me a chance to evaluate and realize I didn't want to sit behind a desk pushing paper at that point. So here I still am."

In the late-night match, No. 5 seed James Blake lost, 6-1, 6-4, to Adrian Garcia.

(Results, 7e)

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