The men of clay ruled the hardcourts of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, French Open champion Thomas Muster enduring the antics of the wildest wild card and runner-up Michael Chang making a joke of his embarrassed opponent.
Muster, a stranger to green surfaces despite his No. 3 seeding, arrived jet-lagged from winning the oddest of tuneup tournaments on clay in Croatia on Sunday. Every other top player practiced on hardcourts for at least a month before the U.S. Open. Not Muster.
Clay is where Muster makes his living and earns his ranking, and if he could pick up some extra bucks and extra points in Croatia, that’s where he was going. That trip close to a war zone paid off in his 10th title on clay this year.
Against Luke Jensen, the clown prince of tennis, Muster didn’t need much practice to walk away with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-0 victory. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as Chang’s 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 rout of Gianluca Pozzi - the most lopsided men’s match in the Open since 1987 - and it did nothing to convince Muster he could actually win this Grand Slam event.
“That would be fantastic,” he said. “But being realistic, I am in the second round. I am facing Mark Woodforde, who I have never beat on hardcourt, so it is a very difficult draw for me. Let the favorites be the favorites.”
One notch below Muster in the seeding, but a stronger favorite to win, is 1989 champion Boris Becker, who beat fellow German Carsten Arriens 6-1, 6-3, 7-5.
One of the women’s favorites, top seed Steffi Graf, played a mediocre match and still won easily, beating 96th-ranked Rita Grande 6-1, 6-3 in 44 minutes.
Jensen, his ponytail flying, certainly was the crowd favorite in his match against Muster, serving lefty and righty, screaming and pumping his fist and doing his best to rouse the fans.
“It was his show, my win,” said Muster.
Chang delivered the worst beating since Ivan Lendl’s shutout of South African Barry Moir eight years ago. Pozzi won only nine points in the first set, 11 in the second and nine in the third as Chang took him apart from the baseline and the net in just 63 minutes.
Unlike Muster, Chang doesn’t mind venturing onto hardcourts despite his success on clay. The 1989 French champion and victor over Andre Agassi to win the AT&T; Challenge on clay in May, Chang also was runner-up to Agassi in the ATP Championship on hardcourts, at Cincinnati two weeks ago.
In other men’s matches, No. 8 Michael Stich beat Javier Sanchez 6-2, 6-3, 6-0, and No. 12 Richard Krajicek defeated Karel Novacek, a semifinalist last year, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Krajicek next plays Justin Gimelstob, who gained a wild card into the tournament by winning the USTA boys 18 championship.
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the women’s No. 3 seed, beat Joannette Kruger 6-4, 6-3; No. 6 Mary Pierce crushed Tatyana Jecmenica 6-3, 6-0; unseeded 14-year-old Martina Hingis upset No. 8 Magdalena Maleeva 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; No. 9 Gabriela Sabatini routed Naoko Kijimuta 6-2, 6-1; No. 14 Mary Joe Fernandez downed Sabine Hack 7-6 (7-3), 6-3; and No. 15 Helena Sukova lost to Chanda Rubin 6-1, 6-3.
Hingis, a month shy of her 15th birthday, became the youngest winner since Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WEDNESDAY’S GLANCE Men’s singles, first round: No. 3 Thomas Muster, No. 4 Boris Becker, No. 5 Michael Chang, No. 8 Michael Stich and No. 12 Richard Krajicek advanced. Boris Becker (4), Germany, def. Carsten Arriens, Germany, 6-1, 6-3, 7-5. Women’s singles, second round: No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 3 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, No. 6 Mary Pierce, No. 9 Gabriela Sabatini, No. 12 Natasha Zvereva and No. 14 Mary Joe Fernandez advanced. Upsets: No. 8 Magdalena Maleeva lost to Martina Hingis; No. 15 Helena Sukova lost to Chanda Rubin.
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