Two aces beat the wild card as top pro Jim Courier barely edged top collegian Alex O'Brien at the U.S. Open on Monday night in a four-set showdown.
For most of the 3-hour, 18-minute match, there was little difference between them except Courier's cap. The same age, the same size and similar in style, Courier came from the school of hard groundstrokes, and O'Brien from Stanford to meet before 20,000 fans in a packed stadium.Courier barely avoided becoming only the third top-seeded man to lose at the Open since 1950, beating O'Brien 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) on the strength of a few harder shots and a pair of providential aces in the tie-break.
The first ace, which drew a look of disbelief from O'Brien, gave Courier quadruple match point. O'Brien fought off three of them, but Courier closed it out with his 16th ace of the match.
O'Brien, ranked No. 185, came in as a wild card after winning the NCAA championship. He and Courier, a finalist here last year and a double Grand Slam winner this year, share the same coach and manager.
"I had no idea what he's ranked," Courier said. "He's a better player than that."
Courier recalled playing O'Brien often in juniors as young teens.
"We'd play on the baseline, run each other ragged," Courier said. That's about the way they played Monday, except that O'Brien showed a clever and adroit use of touch volleys that Courier has never mastered.
"I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of drawing Courier in the first round," O'Brien said. "Then again it is a great opportunity. It's a great match to play because I have nothing to lose. I wish I would have played the big points a little better and maybe concentrated throughout the match a little better, but that comes with experience. He has been there."
If equal pay for equal work were the only issue in the prize money, women wouldn't have a case at the U.S. Open with Monica Seles and Steffi Graf taking off in a hurry.
Jimmy Connors drew more attention practicing on an outer court, the crowd packed 10 deep around him, and he stayed around almost as long as they did.
The 21,000 fans during the afternoon got more ambience than tennis, more kiosks than courts, and they searched everywhere in vain to match the excitement of last year's opening day. No one could even find Court 3, once a pleasant view from the stadium ramp, now a food court. And thanks to a new format that spreads out the first round over three days, the program lacked a marquee match.
Seles was on and off in 45 minutes, nice and neat, a 6-1, 6-0 winner over Audra Keller, who opened eyes only with her blood red dress.
Graf one-upped Seles, saying goodbye in 42 minutes, 6-0, 6-2 over Halle Cioffi.