Play began at the U.S. Tennis Open on Monday, but only after a seedings debacle that generated talk of a men's player boycott and led to questions about the integrity of the U.S. Tennis Association poohbahs. The USTA made a number of boneheaded moves. First, it didn't make public its decision to change the Open seeding method. Instead of a down-the-line adherence to the ATP Tour rankings, the USTA used a more subjective approach, which took into account recent results and history of hard-court performance—a procedure similar to the one used at Wimbledon, the only other tournament to employ such a system. The players came to New York believing they would be seeded according to the computer rankings and were angry when they learned otherwise. Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, the French Open champion and a solid hard-court player, who was questionable to begin with because of a rib injury, left in a huff after discovering he had been seeded seventh instead of fourth, his current ATP ranking.
Second, on Aug. 20 the USTA picked the 16 men to be seeded but didn't assign them their exact seed. It then conducted the draw for the unseeded players and put them into the pairings grid. Only after that did it assign numbers to the 16 seeds. The conclusion drawn by some players was that the seeds were arranged to favor American players and, by extension, CBS, which has an estimated $31 million per year contract to broadcast the Open through 2000.
Andre Agassi, for example, was plugged in as the sixth seed, thus guaranteeing he could not meet top seed Pete Sampras before the semis. Had Agassi been at his ATP eighth spot, he could have met Sampras in the quarterfinals. That would have meant a weeknight matchup on USA Network instead of boffo weekend semifinal or final coverage on CBS.
Reaction from some players was swift and furious. "It's like cheating," said Austria's Thomas Muster, who is ranked second by the ATP but was made the third seed behind Michael Chang of the U.S. "It's just so Agassi won't face Sampras in the quarters." In response to all the clamor, the USTA held a redrawing, and nothing came of a rumored boycott. But the seedings stood. And on Sunday, even Sampras didn't rule out the possibility that the USTA was looking ahead to a marquee matchup. "If that's the case, and the USTA wanted to put us on opposite sides of the draw," Sampras said, "I don't agree with that."
USTA president Les Snyder was being either monumentally stupid, naive or disingenuous when he said last week, "It really hurt to hear people say I would let commercialism influence my decisions." Snyder's two-year term ends on Dec. 31, not a moment too soon.
He Just Can't Sit Down
Among the major leaguers scheduled to tour Japan and play a series of games against professional teams in the off-season is a certain Baltimore Orioles shortstop. We just want to let you know, Cal, nobody will call you a slacker if you change your mind.
A Victory Dance for Taipei
By 7 a.m. last Saturday morning, nine hours before the start of the 50th Little League World Series final, the 14 players from the city of Kao-Hsuing in Chinese Taipei were already at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., where they began the first of two 90-minute pregame practice sessions. Their opponents that afternoon, from Cranston, R.I., were not due for a wake-up call for another hour. "But that's their culture," Cranston manager Mike Varrato said later. "They have to win."
There was little doubt that they would. Kao-Hsuing had outscored its four previous opponents 49-6, and on Saturday they beat Cranston 13-3 for Chinese Taipei's seventh title in 11 years. "I've never seen anything so beautiful as the way they play baseball," Cesar Nicolas Felipe, manager of the team from San Isidro, Dominican Republic, said after Kao-Hsuing beat his squad 7-1 in last Thursday's semifinal.