Tuesday, September 19, 2000

U.S. tennis stars exit quickly

Spadea, Martin gone in first round

AP Sports Writer

        SYDNEY, Australia — American Vince Spadea blew an overhead on set point, and that was the only break Australian Pat Rafter needed.

        Rafter survived a tough first set Tuesday (Monday night EDT) in the opening round at the Olympics and delighted a partisan crowd by handing Spadea his latest loss in a miserable year, 6-4, 6-3.

        Spadea fell to 2-25 in 2000.

        “It's the Olympics,” he said. “I'm able to say I competed and was able to live out a dream. That's more special than worrying about how the year went.”

        The U.S. men, who are without Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, started 0-2. Todd Martin made his Olympic debut at age 30 and lost to Rainer Schuttler of Germany 6-2, 6-0.

        “It's a pretty long way to come for 14 games,” Martin said. “I wouldn't say I played terribly. It's just that he outplayed me point after point.”

        American Monica Seles played the opening match on center court and beat Katalin Marosi-Aracama of Hungary 6-0, 6-1 in 48 minutes.

        Spadea made the Olympics only because Agassi withdrew and three other Americans turned down a chance to play. He hung with Rafter until losing his serve in the final game of the first set, hitting three errant volleys and then whacking an easy overhead two feet wide on set point.

        “That's the kind of shot I have to make to win big matches,” Spadea said. “I didn't break his serve the whole match, which is disappointing because my return is something I rely on.”

        Rafter, urged on by chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” from the center court crowd, dominated at the net with his typically acrobatic play. He won the first seven points of the second set and raced to a 3-0 lead as Spadea's frustration mounted.

        After falling behind 5-2, Spadea slammed his racket to the court. Six points later, he was out of the Olympics.

        His loss leaves the Americans with just two men in singles, Michael Chang and Jeff Tarango. Sampras decided to skip the games. Agassi, who withdrew because his mother and sister have breast cancer, vacationed this week with his family in Hawaii and played tennis with girlfriend Steffi Graf.

        Rafter, seeded 13th, is a two-time U.S. Open champion but has never won a tournament in Australia.

        “The pressure's there, and I definitely felt it today,” he said. “It's good to get the first match out of the way.”

        French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, seeded second, beat Christophe Pognon of Benin in 38 minutes, 6-1, 6-1. Then they talked at the net, and Pognon took the loss well.

        “He was just pleased to be here,” Kuerten said. “I think he was maybe happier than me today.”

        Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, seeded fifth, beat wild-card Na Li of China 6-1, 7-5. Eighth-seeded Dominique Van Roost of Belgium swept Adriana Gersi of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-1.

        The third-seeded Seles is part of the U.S. women's squad that has touted itself as a dream team. Her teammates are top-seeded Lindsay Davenport, the 1996 gold medalist, and second-seeded Venus Williams in singles. Williams and her sister Serena will play doubles.

        “I couldn't imagine a better team,” Seles said. “Everybody is playing their best, and coming from the U.S. Open, we're all pumped up.”

        Seles, who also competed at the 1996 Games, said she enjoys Olympic tennis.

        “It's a totally different feeling,” she said. “There are few professionals in the Olympics, but it's fun to do every four years, and Sydney is one of my favorite cities.”

        Seles won the first nine games against Marosi-Aracama, a wild-card ranked 108th. When Seles hit a backhand into the net to give Marosi-Aracama a game and make the score 6-0, 3-1, the crowd let out a lusty cheer.

        “She was really nervous,” Seles said. “My next match will be a better barometer of how I'm playing.”

Complete Olympics coverage at Cincinnati.com/olympics

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