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A Day To Snooze At The U.S. Open

August 29, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Stuck with a day of awful matches, fans at the U.S. Open should have gotten a money-back guarantee, a rain check good despite a sunny afternoon, a free lunch or at least a prize in the $6 French fries.

Most of the 20,685 fans sensibly stayed out of the stadium Wednesday and wandered the back courts to get close-up looks at players, even if they didn’t know who they were.

This was a day when a $20 grounds pass was a lot more valuable than a $225 courtside seat in the stadium.

Those few thousand diehards who persevered in the stadium yawned through a sleepy show devoid of drama: Gabriela Sabatini beating Ann Grossman in straight sets, Lindsay Davenport doing the same against Henrietta Nagyova of Slovakia, and Todd Martin going to four boring sets before beating Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco.

Even the late addition of an extra match in the stadium, Barbara Rittner’s 6-2, 6-1 upset of No. 13 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, was as bad as it gets. Schultz-McCarthy sprayed 41 unforced errors. Rittner had only six, mainly because she didn’t have to hit many balls thanks to Schultz-McCarthy’s wildness.

The grandstand court next door had a bit more excitement when one obscure South African, David Nainkin, upset his volatile countryman, Wayne Ferreira, the No. 9 seed, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.

Ferreira played and felt as if he were burned out by too much tennis.

``I felt like I’ve been playing tennis every day for the last five months,″ Ferreira said. ``It was a very difficult day for me.″

And more so for the fans.

Midway through the day, the night schedule took a hit when Monica Seles’ match was canceled. Seles received a walkover to the third round because her opponent, Laurence Courtois of Belgium, came up lame with a left knee injury.

The replacement for that match, No. 4 Conchita Martinez vs. Nathalie Tauziat, turned out as one-sided and mediocre as the day matches. Martinez won 6-1, 6-3 as Tauziat spent almost as much time arguing about calls as she did making mistakes.

The night went from bad to much worse when No. 2 Michael Chang, playing decent if not inspired tennis, utterly humiliated Neville Godwin 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Godwin, so frustrated by his poor play, offered to surrender his racket to a fan early in the second set, figuring she could do better. The fan didn’t take the racket, though that would have been more entertaining than Godwin’s performance.

Wednesday’s weak menu of matches could be blamed on loading up the big names on Tuesday _ Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Stefan Edberg vs. Richard Krajicek.

The leftovers had all the appeal of a day-old hamburger, which goes for $6.50 and tastes two days old.

The best action could be seen by strolling away from the main courts and wedging in with the crowds in places like court 19, where No. 17 seed Felix Mantilla of Spain beat Brazilian Fernando Meligeni 6-1, 6-7 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.

Or at court 16, where unseeded South African Amanda Coetzer followed up a first-round victory over No. 9 Anke Huber by beating another South African, Mariann de Swardt.

Or, going farther away to court 21, a good match could be glimpsed between two unseeded players, Karol Kucera of Slovakia and Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. Bjorkman won that 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.

Rather than watch wipeouts in the stadium, fans even seemed to prefer doubles in the hinterlands of court 18, where the No. 2-ranked team of Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva labored to beat Janette Husarova and Dominique Van Roost 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

On that court, at least, the players put on a show and the fans had some fun.

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