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Heat On and Off Court As U.S. Open Begins

August 26, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Michael Chang’s dubious No. 2 seeding didn’t make his first round any easier as the U.S. Open began Monday amid lingering anger over the draw, sweltering heat, and the strictest security in the tournament’s 115-year history.

Chang, bumped up a spot ahead of No. 2-ranked Thomas Muster, struggled to a 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (8-6) victory over No. 186 Jaime Oncins in a match that made the seeding committee seem even sillier than it did during the unprecedented re-draw last week.

Looking nothing like the second-best hardcourt player in the world, Chang very nearly faced a fifth-set showdown when Oncins won a disputed point to take a 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker. Chang lost the debate over the point, but it turned out not to matter much. Serving for the set, Oncins double-faulted, then dropped the next three points to lose the match.

Chang dodged that potential danger, and didn’t avoid the controversy over his seeding. He said he stood with the other players who objected to the departure from the ATP Tour rankings, even if it helped him in this tournament. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, seeded No. 7 despite a No. 4 ranking, pulled out in protest.

``I don’t feel they should have done that,″ Chang said of the seeding. ``I agree with the players. Yevgeny won the French, and he was great on clay, but all the players know he’s a good hardcourt player, too. I think the USTA will think twice about doing this next year.″

Michael Stich spoiled the Grand Slam debut of highly regarded German compatriot Tommy Haas 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5, then took aim at Open officials for the seeding decisions.

``I feel it’s embarrassing what happened,″ Stich said. ``I was about to fly home tomorrow. I was about to pull out yesterday and say, `That’s it.‴

Stich was upset at the seedings in general, and at the way officials first indicated he would replace Kafelnikov when he pulled out, then took that spot away and gave it to Felix Mantilla.

``They did it without notifying anybody,″ Stich said. ``I felt it’s so disrespectful to anybody playing in this tournament, that I felt I should have gone home. There are so many reasons for playing, especially spectators and the kids who come out here and want to enjoy watching tennis, that I decided to stay.″

Stich said he favored some sort of protest, ``maybe not show up today, start the tournament tomorrow to get a stronger message through.″

Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington, seeded No. 11, had just as much trouble as Chang and Stich before beating Moroccan Karim Alami 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. Washington next plays one of the hottest players on the tour, Alex O’Brien, who beat Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador in four sets.

Jim Courier, runnerup in 1991 and a semifinalist in ’92 and last year, withdrew because of a bruised left knee. He will be replaced in the draw by David Skoch of the Czech Republic.

The women’s draw had none of the controversy the men had, but it lost three players on the first day.

No. 9 Mary Joe Fernandez withdrew because of tendinitis in her right wrist. She was replaced in the draw by Tina Krizan of Slovakia.

No. 6 Anke Huber of Germany lost 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 to Amanda Coetzer of South Africa, and Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva, No. 12, lost 6-4, 6-2 to Poland’s Aleksandra Olsza.

Russian Anna Kournikova, coach Nick Bollettieri’s latest prodigy, won her first match in Grand Slam play. The 15-year-old beat Ludmila Richeterova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

As court temperatures soared into the 90s, scoreboards flashed warnings to fans to stay in the shade and drink plenty of fluids to ward off heatstroke. Several fans, who may not have heeded the warnings, fainted.

Fans stood in long lines while guards inspected all bags _ including the big tennis bags of the players _ at entrances to the National Tennis Center.

Uniformed police, plainclothes officers and security guards roamed the grounds in a show of authority exceeding even the usually high level of Wimbledon, where IRA terrorism is an annual worry. Here, in the aftermath of the TWA 800 explosion and the Olympic pipe bomb, officials took every precaution possible.

``I feel bad that things have come to the point where people have to give up the freedoms that they would take for granted because of some perceived threat,″ tournament director Jay Snyder said. ``But we need to reassure our public that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that they are safe and secure.

``We’re taking security checks very seriously. Even I couldn’t get in the locker room today because, when I put my tie on, I left my credential on my desk here. Even though they know who I am, I got stopped at the door. I said, `I’m pleased that you’re doing your job.‴

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