Tennis: US Open's embarrassment

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The Independent Online
The United States Open prides itself on being different. This week it surpassed itself.

We had grown accustomed to some of the tournament's little eccentricities, such as the tradition of sandwiching the women's singles final between the two men's singles semi-finals on so-called "Super Saturday".

But to make a draw for a Grand Slam men's singles championship without first identifying the seeded players is a novelty that takes some beating. It is now a collector's item - the only losers being the US Tennis Association, who had to make the draw again 24 hours later after fierce criticism from players.

Lester Snyder, the USTA president, described the about-face as "embarrassing", for which he can be credited with an ace for understatement. A suspicion that television ratings may have played a part in the affair remains, although Snyder emphasised that "there was no inappropriate action or intent''.

The USTA seeding committee were within their rights in deviating from the ATP Tour world rankings in deciding the seedings, despite the departure from tradition. The move did, however, raise suggestions that Andre Agassi was promoted from No 8 on the computer to No 6 seed to ensure that Agassi and his fellow American Pete Sampras, the world No 1 and defending champion, would not be potential quarter-final opponents.

In the original draw, Sampras and Agassi were on course for a meeting in the semi-finals. Having been forced into making a new draw, the USTA found that Agassi had ended up in the lower half of the draw with the possibility of a rematch of last year's final against Sampras.

Sampras still has Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the French Open champion, in his quarter of the draw. Agassi, the 1994 champion, may face Michael Chang in the semi-finals.

Chang is seeded No 2, having been promoted above Austria's Thomas Muster, who expressed outrage at the USTA's handling of the original draw. "You can't make the draw and then put the seeds in then. It's like cheating," he said.

Andrei Medvedev, the young Ukrainian player, was also upset. "It's an insult to the players and to the ATP rankings and the game of tennis," he said. "Wimbledon has an unusual seeding system, but it's fair - they list the seedings before they make the draw.''

Mark Miles, the ATP Tour's chief executive, said: "Everybody was offended by the sequence of doing the draw before naming the seeds.''

In the opening round, Tim Henman, the British No 1 who advanced to the last eight at Wimbledon, will play Mats Wilander, the former world No 1. Henman had originally been due to play the Russian Andrei Olhovskiy.

Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, will play Germany's Hendrick Dreekman, having been preparing to face Jared Palmer, an American wild card.

Chanda Rubin, the world No 10, has pulled out of the women's event as she is still suffering with the right wrist injury which has troubled her for the last few months.

The 20-year-old American, who would have been seventh seed, was also forced to miss the French Open and Wimbledon earlier this year because of the tendinitis.

Her withdrawal is good news for her compatriot Lindsay Davenport, who had been scheduled to meet the dangerous floater, Karina Habsudova of Slovakia, in the first round.

Habsudova, the world No 17 and the highest-ranked player not to be seeded, moves into Rubin's place in the draw, which means Davenport, the Olympic champion, will now meet a qualifier. Steffi Graf, the defending champion, faces Indonesia's Yayuk Basuki.