Who's Who and Who's Not at 1997 US Open

The draw at year's final Grand Slam sees an invasion by 'Spanish Armada'

Who's hot? Who's not? This year the US Open seeding committee let the computer make that decision. So there were no walkouts or threats.

Remember last year? The ire of Yevgeny Kafelnikov? The world's fourth-ranked player pulled out in protest after he was dropped to No. 7. Then Austrian Thomas Muster and the entire men's contingent from Spain threatened to cancel their participation. (Grand Slam tournaments can seed the draw according to playing surface.) This year, by seeding players on number of points earned, the richest Grand Slam tennis event has avoided an outcry.

That tranquility will end when the Open begins today. Fans at Flushing Meadows, N.Y., have a reputation. Raucous, fun-loving, shirtless, hot dog-eating, they cheer hard and loud to keep alive the Open's moniker: The obnoxious cousin of Wimbledon.

The tournament runs through Sunday, Sept. 7, when both men's and women's finals are played.

The favorites

Pete Sampras drew an easy path to the quarterfinals. He starts against a qualifier and, in the second round, will play the winner of a match between two other qualifiers. Consistent form this year earned the big-serving Sampras the Australian Open in January and the Wimbledon in July. A victory here will give the world's No.1 player an 11th Grand Slam title, one shy of Australian Roy Emerson's record dozen. The American, a crowd favorite, has won the title four times.

Martina Hingis is in roaring form. This year she has lost just two out of 58 matches while winning 11 titles. The Swiss teenager - the youngest-ever top seed at the US Open - faces formidable opposition in early rounds. She starts against Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, the women's game's biggest server, and along the way will meet former champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Wimbledon winner Conchita Martinez. Like Sampras, Hingis won Wimbledon and the Australian Open this year.

Down the ladder

Can Michael Chang avenge his defeat in last year's finals? The world's No. 2 has the tools - a fine all-court game and good temperament. In the early rounds, he is likely to run into tough opponents: Frenchman Cedric Pioline, who reached the final of Wimbledon last month, and Mikhael Tillstrom, a giant-killing Swede. Thomas Muster's 26-5 match record on hardcourts this year makes him a top contender. But first he must handle rising Briton Tim Henman in the first round.

A two-time champion and a runner-up the last two years, Monica Seles should sail smoothly until the round of 16, where she could run into a possible showdown with the erratic but formidable Mary Pierce. Then what? Seles's form in the big matches this year has been inconsistent.

Dangerous floaters

They are big names with good credentials, yet unseeded. The presence of Andre Agassi, Richard Krajicek, Jim Courier, Andrei Medvedev, and Tim Henman fills the draw with intriguing possibilities. The interesting first-round matches include Patrick Rafter against Medvedev, Muster against Henman, and Todd Martin against Courier.

In the women's draw, the credentials of Iva Majoli, the French Open champion, and Lindsay Davenport cannot be ignored: They are the only ones to beat Hingis this year.

Defending champion Steffi Graf, who has been out due to injury since the week after the French Open, will be sitting this one out. She has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles. Reports in the press say Graf could return to the pro tour by late fall.

'Spanish Armada'

It's obvious that the depth in tennis has shifted across the big pond. This year five Spaniards are seeded at the Open - Alex Corretja (No. 6.), Sergi Bruguera (No.7), Carlos Moya (No. 8), Felix Mantilla (No. 12), and Albert Costa (No. 16). American men, who once dominated the draw, are represented only by Sampras and Chang.

Tribute to a legend

The 23,000-seat, state-of-the-art Arthur Ashe Stadium is the jewel of a $245 million expansion and renovation plan. The new facility is a tribute to Ashe who won the tournament in 1968, its first year as a championship open to both amateurs and professionals. Ashe was also a dedicated internationalist, activist, and promoter who worked hard to make tennis accessible to inner-city youth. Although now relegated to second place, the Louis Armstrong Stadium remains intact.

Web sites:

The official website of the United States Tennis Association, organizer of the Open, will have constant updates and other information. It can be accessed at: www.usta.com

Other helpful sites for tournament-related information:

www.atptour.com

(men's ATP Tour)

www.corelwtatour.com

(women's WTA Tour)

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