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Poet with backhand is a Moroccan hit

June 3, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Hicham Arazi, a surprising quarterfinalist at the French Open, is making big news in his native Morocco.

``In taxis, in boutiques, everyone is talking about Arazi,″ said Mohammed Meguid, president of the Royal Moroccan Tennis Federation.

The player’s picture was on the front page of the Moroccan daily newspaper Le Matin Tuesday, with the headline: ``Arazi, sports power.″

Many Moroccans left work early to watch his fourth-round match on TV Monday, when he beat Marcelos Rios of Chile to become the first Moroccan quarterfinalist ever in a Grand Slam. Cafes were filled with spectators watching the lunchtime match.

Arazi, who relaxes by reciting poetry with his coach, has lived in France since age 2.

``His victory is a miracle,″ Meguid said. ``He is incredibly mature and calm.″

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FASHION UPDATE: Gustavo Kuerten and Yevgeny Kafelnikov made a colorful pair on Center Court for their quarterfinal match Tuesday.

Kuerten wore his usual outfit of blue and yellow shirt, blue shorts, yellow socks and blue shoes. In a gesture to tournament officials who asked him to wear something white, he swapped his yellow bandana for a predominantly white one.

Kafelnikov, who is sponsored by the same clothing manufacturer, wore a blue, white and yellow shirt, blue shorts, white socks and yellow shoes.

French Open officials are meeting this week to adopt stricter rules on what players can wear.

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TENNIS, WHAT TENNIS?: With no French players left in the tournament and a bunch of no-names remaining in the men’s field, the French sports daily L’Equipe has relegated the French Open to the inside pages.

The front cover and the first eight pages of Tuesday’s paper featured coverage of the Tournoi de France, a four-team soccer tournament involving France, Brazil, Italy and England.

Even a story about France’s handball team was displayed before coverage of the tennis.

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WORD OF MOUTH: Diane Medecin, a translator at news conferences at Roland Garros, says Chile’s Marcelo Rios is the toughest to understand.

``He doesn’t articulate at all,″ Medecin said. ``In English and Spanish, he speaks very softly. Fortunately, he doesn’t speak for very long.″

Martina Hingis is also difficult to translate.

``She talks while laughing and doesn’t express herself very well in English,″ Medecin said. ``Even the stenographer has a tough time understanding her.″

Monica Seles presents another problem.

``She speaks so fast, like a machine gun,″ Medecin said.

As for Pete Sampras, ``He has typical New York expressions.″

Medecin’s favorites? Steffi Graf and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

``Steffi’s English is very good and very clear. She articulates. Kafelnikov is a joy.″

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BOUNTIFUL BLACKS: As if Marcelo Rios didn’t see enough Blacks when he beat brothers Byron and Wayne in the first two rounds of the men’s tournament, he could face another in the near future in mixed doubles.

The Blacks’ younger sister, 18-year-old Cara, is in the junior tournament. She is the 11th-ranked junior in the world and was the junior doubles winner at Wimbledon in 1995.

No need to ask. Black’s coach is her father, Don.

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