Tennis: Dokic in heavy weather

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THE UNITED States Open was in the process of awakening from a year's slumber when the 16-year-old Jelena Dokic arrived on court yesterday morning, determined to build on her astonishing performance at Wimbledon, where she dispatched Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the first round en route to the quarter-finals.

A marked drop in temperature and a swirling wind indicated that Hurricane Dennis was making waves off the coast of the Carolinas, and with the seats filling slowly for an 11am start, Dokic may have felt as if she was about to play in the Grand Canyon rather than the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The Belgrade-born Australian quickly discovered that competing at this level is vastly different to dominating in the juniors, as she did at Flushing Meadow a year ago. Although Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario is smaller than most of the opponents Dokic swept from her path in becoming the world's No 1 junior, few players can match the 27-year-old Spaniard in terms of resilience and experience. Her career prize money - $14,518,363 (pounds 9.07m) - is $15,000 more than the total for the US Open over the next two weeks.

Sanchez-Vicario, the 10th seed, won, 7-5, 6-1, after 70 minutes, in a manner that may serve as an important lesson for Dokic. They had played once before, on slow clay in the quarter-finals in Cairo in April, Sanchez- Vicario winning, 6-3, 6-1, on the way to her only tournament victory of the year. Dokic learned from that match, but not enough to sustain her challenge yesterday.

The opening set was fascinating. Sanchez-Vicario double-faulted to lose the advantage of an early break, enabling Dokic to gain confidence and out-rally the great retriever in several games. Dokic led, 4-2, only to lose her serve in the next game. Sanchez-Vicario then held to love for 4-4 and, even though she lost the opening two points points when serving at 4-5, she looking capable of absorbing any further shocks. Dokic, in contrast, began to spray the ball under pressure.

As the second set progressed, Sanchez-Vicario, making her 13th appearance at the US Open, made Dokic look the beginner she is, generally finding the precise shots to increase the youngster's discomfit. Dokic did well to salvage the fifth game, on serve.

Irina Spirlea, from Romania, is best known for being disqualified from a tournament for swearing and for bumping into the Venus Williams on the way to a change-over during the 1997 US Open. Yesterday, the world No 20 made an impact in a more conventional fashion by defeating Amanda Coetzer, the South African No 6 seed, 6-1, 7-5.

The men's singles began with a sprint by Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion. His serve devastated Philip King, a 17-year-old American wild card, ranked No 703 in the world, 6-1, 6-4, 6-0. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian No 3 seed, steadied his game after a second-set blip to defeat Alberto Martin, of Spain, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Scott Draper, one of the day's losers, was treated as a winner. The Australian's wife, Kellie, 23, died last month, a victim of cystic fibrosis. "Believe me, I didn't want to come here," Draper said after his defeat by the American Paul Goldstein, 6-3, 6-1, 6-0. "My heart didn't want to come. But you're not going to get anywhere in life just by walking away from things."

Draper, the winner of the Stella Artois Championship at London's Queen's Club last year, was married to Kellie, the daughter of his coach, for 19 months. "I think the quality of time you spend with somebody is more important than anything else," he said.

The left-hander from Queensland has not decided whether to continue with his career. "I love the game of tennis," he said, "but the lifestyle, and some of the people that you're surrounded by on the tennis tour, bothers me. I've got to weigh up whether the positives of playing tennis are better than the negatives.

"There are a lot of negatives. Some people are born to travel and be selfish in a lot of ways. I haven't got the right personality sometimes to deal with some things that happen. I need time to figure out if this is what I want to do for the next five, six, seven years. I'm not making any decisions right now, because they're just clouded."