Sunday, July 29, 2001

Tennis tourney gets fast start

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Though still a warm-up act, this first week of Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati is an intriguing preliminary to the main event.

        The Seniors mixed doubles event, which begins Thursday, has been known for familiar if not marquee names; add 1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna to that list this year. But the qualifying tournament next Saturday and Sunday has gained star power in its own right — and is more and more closely approximating the quality of the main draw, which begins Aug.6.

  • Seniors Championship: 7 p.m. sessions Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets $8 Thursday and Friday, $12 Saturday.
  • Qualifier: 10 a.m. sessions Saturday and Sunday. Adult tickets $10, kids 14 and under admitted free.
  • Main draw: Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati tournament begins play Aug. 6. Ticket prices range from $18 to $40, depending on the session (tickets remain for all sessions). Call (513) 651-0303 or (513) 562-4949 for info or tickets.
        “It's almost a shame we call it a qualifier,” tournament director Bruce Flory said. “It's better than most main draws.”

        For example: At an ATP Tour event three weeks ago in Newport, R.I. — an International Series event, one notch below the Tennis Masters Series — the total prize money was $400,000. That's what the winner here earns. The No.2 seed in Newport, Germany's Rainer Schuettler, is likely to be in the qualifier here.

        Among the likely familiar faces in this qualifier are Vince Spadea, Chris Woodruff, Todd

        Woodbridge, Byron Black, Jeff Tarango, Wayne Black, Felix Mantilla, Justin Gimelstob and Daniel Nestor. The first four of those were ranked in the top 30 at one point.

        “Cincinnati's going to be a very tough qualifier,” said Robby Ginepri, an up-and-coming, 18-year-old American. “Most of the guys you read off on that list are usually in the main draw. It's a pretty big tournament if you know they're in the qualifier.”

        Thirty-two players will compete for eight main-draw berths. The qualifier field will be announced Monday.

        Many players in the qualifier are rebounding from injuries or dry spells that slowed their careers. Two such men — Goran Ivanisevic and Richard Krajicek, both Wimbledon champs — each had accepted invitations to play in the qualifier before Flory gave them wild-card berths into the main draw.

        The other two wild cards probably will come from a pool of young U.S. talent: Michael Russell, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish and James Blake. The two who aren't picked — and other American young guns such as Ginepri, Cecil Mamiit, Jeff Morrison and Paul Goldstein — will be in the qualifier.

        The qualifier is often a great place to spot future stars. Four winners of this tournament — Pat Rafter, Stefan Edberg, Guy Forget and Peter Fleming — played here earlier as qualifiers.

        “In the old days, people thought, "Qualifying, that's for people who are struggling and can't make it on tour,'” Flory said. “But you watch these guys, and it's hard to tell the difference from the way they hit and the way guys in the top 10 hit.”

        There's a lot on the line. Lose your first match and you get $770. Win twice to make the main draw, and it's $8,550.

        Many don't stop there.

        David Wheaton reached the semis as a qualifier in 1994. Alex O'Brien and Cristiano Caratti in 1996, Spadea in '97 and Jerome Golmard in '98 each won two main-draw matches. Last year, a 19-year-old Dent took Pete Sampras to two tiebreakers in a second-round match.

        SENIORS EVENT: Tourney organizers will set the teams for the Seniors mixed doubles event, a change from previous years when players were paired in a blind draw.

        “We'll try to get all the teams evenly matched with each other,” Flory said.

        The field will include defending champs Gigi Fernandez and Jaime Fillol but will be headlined by the addition of Novotna, who will be playing her first Seniors event.

        Other men playing: Tom Gullickson, Harold Solomon, John Lloyd, Owen Davidson and Mansour Bahrami. Other women: Mary Joe Fernandez, Kathy Rinaldi, Ann Grossman and Catarina Lindqvist.

Future of ATP center up in air


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