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Draper's thoughts with late wife
Posted: Tuesday August 31, 1999 03:46 PM
By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated
FLUSHING, N.Y. -- On what was otherwise a banner day for tennis, a story of nearly incomprehensible sadness lodged in the craw of the U.S. Open. In body, Scott Draper made it to Court 7 for his first-round match against Paul Goldstein today. But his mind was nowhere near the National Tennis Center in Queens. A 25-year-old Australian player on the make who won a grass-court tournament last year and finished 1998 ranked in the top 50, he had Queensland-sized ambitions for this year. But his ranking, his points defense, his sponsorship deals and his ability to hit a furry yellow ball became non-entities on his priorities list when his wife, Kelli, died of cystic fibrosis in July. Draper knew that his wife had the no-nonsense disease when he married her, but as he said, "You're marrying the person for better or worse. She was still the same person, regardless of what problems she had."
In his second match since the funeral, Draper's thoughts were clearly with his wife. In a contest even more lopsided than the score indicated, he lost 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 to Goldstein -- a nice player, but one whom Draper beats easily under different circumstances. Eerily absent, he toyed around with trick shots, smiled after egregious errors and wasted precious little time between serves.
Afterwards, he told the media what he had already articulated clearly with his desultory play. "My thoughts are very clouded at the moment," he said. "I'm not that sure what I want to do. Right now I could walk away and say, 'I've had enough.'"
The hope is obviously that the tragically young widower can overcome his loss and return to the game on his terms, in the image of the nifty shotmaker who has beaten most of the top players, not as the confused man who lost brutally Monday. Meanwhile, as he "sorts things out," as he puts it, other players would well be served to consider his plight before they cry crocodile tears over missed line calls and disappointing losses.
Despite having lost four of his past six matches, Carlos Moya -- who, hard to believe, held the No. 1 ranking earlier in this year -- looked surprisingly sharp defeating Dominik Hrbaty in straight sets. ... Hamstrung by the age-eligibilty rules, Australian prodigy Jelena Dokic has won only one match since her surprise run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Though she lost today to Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, she'll be a top-10 player once she assumes a full schedule. ... Here's Jim Baugh, president of Wilson Sporting Goods, on the state of tennis: "It's doing better than any other sport I oversee in terms of participation and sales -- better than golf, baseball, basketball and football. The tennis industry is truly growing the sport." ... Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace with our celebrity pick: " Venus Williams. Without Anna Kournikova, I gotta go with Venus." ... Louis Armstrong Stadium, the recipient of an eight-figure facelift, is unrecognizable from last year. Wonder why the upgrade wasn't undertaken when it was the showcase court? ... The price of a smoothie at the food court? $7. ... Riddle me this: Why do tennis fans dress the part when they attend matches? The grounds here are crawling with pot-bellied fortysomethings wearing a Fila outfit, white socks and unscuffed tennis shoes. Listen, Mack, just because Mark Philippoussis pulled out doesn't mean there's a spot in the draw for you.
Jon Wertheim is a Sports Illustrated staff
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