Tennis: Stich in form as Maleeva departs

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The United States Open was able to set aside all the rows over seedings and torn-up draw sheets when tennis broke out yesterday. It was good to see people hitting shots instead of calling them.

Michael Stich, who would have been among the seeds had not the US Tennis Association been reminded of the Grand Slam rules, advanced to the second round after a difficult match against Tommy Haas, an 18-year-old German compatriot.

Haas, a qualifier ranked No 237 in the world, made an impressive start to his Grand Slam career. He led 2-0 in the fourth set, only for Stich to recover his form, forget a sore shoulder, and win 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 7- 5.

Only a fortnight ago, Haas reached the quarter-finals of his first professional tournament, having been given a wild card for the ATP Tour event in Indianapolis. He lost to the best - Pete Sampras.

Born in Munich, Haas is based at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. "I believe Tommy has the potential to be as good as, or better than, any player ever to come out of the academy - and that inludes Andre Agassi," Bollettieri said.

Stich, the runner-up to Agassi here in 1994 and a finalist at this year's French Open, has lost in the opening round of Grand Slam championships on six occasions. Haas saw that his opponent was vulnerable, but experience told at the finish.

The first seed to fall was in the women's singles, Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva, No 12, losing to the 110th-ranked Aleksandra Olsza, of Poland, 6-4, 6-4. Martina Hingis opened proceedings on the Stadium Court, defeating Angeles Montolio, of Spain, 6-1, 6-0 in a hour.

Militancy seems to go with the territory here at Flushing Meadows, which experienced many a chill from the Cold War during its time as the temporary headquarters of the United Nations. That was three decades before the serious business of international tennis took hold of the place with the transfer of the US Open from Forest Hills.

The fresh face of Britain's Tim Henman was to be found among 50 of the world's leading players the other day when the ATP Tour warned the US Open - and the three other Grand Slam championships - that it expects seedings to adhere to rankings in future.

Back in 1988, Mats Wilander was a leading ATP spokesman against the tennis establishement at what was tantamount to a strike meeting in the park at Flushing Meadows, a major development which led to the breakaway ATP tour in 1990.

Wilander did a lot more than talk in in 1988. He won three of the four Grand Slam singles titles (Wimbledon eluded him, as ever) and the Swede's US Open triumph against Ivan Lendl elevated him to world No 1.

After that, Wilander's brilliant career went into decline, but he continues to campaign, aged 32 and ranked No 174. It is to be hoped that a leg injury does not prevent him from competing against Henman in a first-round match that may contribute to the young Briton's education.

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