Tennis: Rubin swept away by Tanasugarn

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The Independent Online
Big names may come and go, but the first winner in the $254m (pounds 158m) Arthur Ashe Stadium at the United States Open was... Tamarine Tanasugarn. The 20-year-old from Thailand, ranked No 41 in the world, swept past the American Chanda Rubin, 6-4, 6-0, after 53 minutes.

Tanasugarn did not stand on ceremony, chiefly because there was no ceremony. The pomp of inauguration had been reserved for the night session, when Whitney Houston was scheduled to exercise her lungs after a parade of former champions.

When play began at 11am there was barely a quorum in the 23,000-seat stadium, hardly a soul experiencing vertigo reality in the upper tier.

Rubin, noted for her tenacity in winning marathon matches until her progress was hampered by a wrist injury, which put her out of the game for 10 months last year, never looked secure, even when leading 4-2 in the opening set. The 21-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, lost the next 10 games and has now been eliminated in the first round of four of her last five tournaments.

It was of little consolation for the earlybird spectators that the stadium's first winner was born in America. "At that time my dad worked in California," Tanasugarn said. "When I was five I moved back to Thailand."

"It's my first time to play in a big stadium, centre court, so I'm pretty happy.", she said . "I played on Court 1 in Wimbledon two years ago in the junior final at Wimbledon, but this is the biggest I ever played.

"The first time I felt like, `Wow, I'm playing the biggest court in my life,'" she said about her first impression of the towering new facility." But after that, I tried not to think anything. I tried to concentrate on my game."

Enter the 17-year-old Venus Williams to make a bigger impact for the host nation, recovering from the frustration of losing a tight first set against Larisa Neiland, of Latvia, to advance to the second round, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1.

Playing two against one appears to be the latest ploy designed to curtail the 16-year-old Martina Hingis' haul of major titles. It transpires that the world No 1's first round opponent today is pregnant.

"This will be my last tournament," confirmed Tami Whitlinger-Jones, a 28-year-old who lives in San Diego with her husband, the doubles specialist Kelly Jones.

"If she feels light-headed, she'll have to stop," said her coach, Angel Lopez. "Her doctor told her to keep a lot of liquids in her at all times."

Currently ranked No 102 in the world, Whitlinger-Jones won the US Open junior singles title in 1986. She is looking forward to today's challenge of playing Hingis, the youngest Grand Slam champion of the century, who already holds the Wimbledon and Australian titles.

She will not lack support. "Her whole family is coming, so she's got nothing to lose," Lopez said. "She'll have fun and try to beat her."

Mr and Mrs Jones are seeking a wild card for the mixed doubles, which would be the first time they have played on the same side of the court as professionals. Three against two?

The former Centre Court, the 20,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium, was not entirely overlooked on the first day of the new era. Australia's Mark Philippoussis opened the men's singles there with a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win against Karim Alami, a Moroccan whose CV includes a victory against Pete Sampras.

Greg Rusedski replaced Tim Henman as British No 1 yesterday by rising to No 20 in the world rankings. Henman, No 21 in the world, was among the first to congratulate his rival. "He deserves to take over as No 1 the way he has been playing in the last few weeks," Henman said. "He has been playing very well, and it's good for both of us. Hopefully, we can push each other higher and higher."

Henman's coach, David Felgate, has been elected European representative on the six-man board of the ATP Tour, outvoting Guy Forget, of France, Jacco Eltingh, of the Netherlands, and Emilio Sanchez, of Spain. Henman has been elected to the Tour's players' council.

Yesterday, Henman practised with Sampras, who was wearing black shoes with red toecaps. Was the conservative Wimbledon champion in the process of being given an Agassi makeover by his clothing sponsor, Nike?

A representative explained that Sampras had been given the shoes as a birthday present for a joke and was unlikely to wear them in matches, risking a rush on the sports shops. For one thing, only one pair had been made.

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