Keil's camera looks beyond baseline

Inspired by Andy Warhol, Mark Keil, a 33-year-old American journeyman tennis professional, bought a digital camcorder and filmed 140 candid hours of life on the tour which he now plans to turn into a documentary, Beyond The Baseline.

Inspired by Andy Warhol, Mark Keil, a 33-year-old American journeyman tennis professional, bought a digital camcorder and filmed 140 candid hours of life on the tour which he now plans to turn into a documentary, Beyond The Baseline.

Keil, the winner of five doubles titles, has one claim to fame as a singles player - a victory against a youthful Pete Sampras in the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's.

This highlight of Keil's career featured in a 12-minute trailer of the film shown during a reception Keil and his partner, Geoff Grant, gave here at the Tribeca Grand Hotel on the eve of the US Open, which starts today.

The only problem Keil and Grant have, apart from finding a producer to fund the $350,000 needed to finish their project, is that Sampras - who plays Martin Damm of the Czech Republic in the first round - is the only player who has not given his permission to be included him in the film.

"We've had releases from everybody except Pete," Grant said. "Actually, we were told by somebody at his agent's office that Pete didn't want to be in it. Basically, they didn't think it would be right for his image."

Keil remains optimistic. "Hopefully Pete will do it," he said. "He's a friend, and the best player who ever played the game. If he doesn't want to be in it we'll understand, but we hope he changes his mind, because we think this film will be good for the game."

The project began to evolve when Keil was on honeymoon in December 1998.

"I was reading a biography of Andy Warhol, and he always had a camera with him. I got interested and bought a digital camera and started filming some of the guys."

Grant, who has shared some memorable moments on the court with Keil, said: "I think tennis is an amazing sub-culture and entertainment vehicle. It's not just about players who win Grand Slams. There are a lot of players involved. The film will show who we are and help people understand our world."

Keil said he has footage that shows Tim Henman, the British No 1, to be "one of the funniest guys in the locker room", and added that "Sir Greg Rusedski, from Montreal, Canada" is not overlooked.

Marcelo Rios, unusually accomodating, apparently told Keil: "Hey, man, you can film me on court, in here [the locker room], anything you want." Anna Kournikova, though, turned camera-shy with Keil in hot pursuit along a corridor.

Keil even managed to get close enough to Sampras and Becker when they played doubles together at Queen's last year to record their conversation during a change-over.

Sampras: "Well, what's going on in your life?"

Becker: "We're having another baby, in August."

Sampras: "Have you picked out a name?"

Becker: "Not yet."

Sampras: "How about Pete?"

Becker: "Pete Becker. Hmmm."

Sampras: "He'd have a big serve."

The baby was born a month later and the Beckers named him Abraham.

It will be interesting to see if Keil's camera is catching the warts and all at Flushing Meadow, where a record $15m in prize money is at stake over the next fortnight.

Andre Agassi, the defending champion and top seed, is drawn to play Sampras, seeded No 4, in the men's singles semi-finals, although Henman, the 11th seed, may be in a position to spoil the American dream. Spurred by his recent run of encouraging form on American hard courts, Henman is projected to play Sampras in the quarter-finals. He meets the Spaniard, Fernando Vicente, in the first round, while Rusedski meets the Swede, Magnus Gustafsson.

Gustavo Kuerten, the No 2 seed, Safin, and Sweden's Magnus Norman are all among the contenders for the title, and Australia's Pat Rafter, the 1997 and 1998 champion, is adamant that his problematic right shoulder will withstand the challenge.

"I don't have any worries about being fit enough and strong enough to play a lot of matches," said Rafter.

The Williams sisters light up the women's singles with the possibility that they will meet in the final. Serena, the defending champion, appears to have recovered from a foot injury, and Venus, the Wimbledon champion, is on a roll of 19 consecutive wins. No wonder they both smiled at Keil's prying lens.

* The British pair Jamie Delgado and Barry Cowan have both come through the US Open qualifying competition. Delgado beat Takao Suzuki of Japan 6-2 3-6 6-4, while Cowan overcame his compatriot Martin Lee 7-6 2-6 7-5. The pair both drew Germans in the first round, with Delgado facing Tommy Haas while Cowan plays Jens Knippschild.

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