Thursday, August 10, 2000

Norman struggling at top




By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Magnus Norman
(Gary Landers photos)
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        MASON — The pressure of the world's top tennis ranking is serious stuff. In recent years, players such as Carlos Moya and Marcelo Rios flew like Icarus to that height, only to melt and spiral out of the top 20. No sooner had Yevgeny Kafelnikov reached No.1 last year than a seven-match losing streak dropped him from the top spot.

        The latest to struggle in the spotlight is Magnus Norman. He has led the Tour's new point system — the ATP Champions Race — seven weeks this year, and his 6-7 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 loss Wednesday to Slava Dosedel was symptomatic of the stress.

        “All the recent success I had has put a lot of pressure on me,” Norman said. “That's something I'm not used to.”

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Slava Dosedel
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        By contrast, a player such as Dosedel — so happy-go-lucky he has a smiley face stenciled onto his racket strings — often excels in the absence of expectations.

        “In the second set, I saw he was done physically,” Dosedel said. “He looked ex hausted, and I felt good.”

        Norman, who entered play Wednesday 50-15 this year — the most victories on the Tour — is No.2 in the Champions Race, having lost the top spot Monday to Gustavo Kuerten by a single point.

        Norman is just 2-3 the past three weeks. A clay-court specialist, Norman normally needs time to warm up to the pace on hard courts.

        Dosedel, a native of the Czech Republic who will turn 30 Monday, has had a steady career. He has finished every one of the past seven years in top 75, with career earnings of $2.26 million.

        When the match ended Wednesday, Dosedel crumpled, holding his head in his hands in apparent disbelief.

        He should have been able to comprehend it, as he's now 3-0 lifetime against Norman. But the prior matches were two and three years ago, when Norman wasn't yet a top-20 player — let alone No.2.

        “I've gotten better on hard courts, and it's important to beat a player like Magnus when he is so highly ranked,” Dosedel said.

        Dosedel is a vegetarian who played the lead role last year in an educational film called Life Water, about the life of 19th Century naturalist Vincenz Priessnitz. While Dosedel will enjoy a rare Round of 16 berth, Norman will attempt to regroup.

        “This (high ranking) is what I've been fighting for, so I'm absolutely not complaining,” he said. “It just takes time to get used to the changes that happened to my life.”

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