THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 6 : He Might Not Be No. 827 for Long : Ivory Coast Teen-Ager Pushes England’s Castle to 5 Sets in Loss
If there ever was such a thing as a David-and-Goliath tennis match, it was played at the Olympics Wednesday. The kid with the slingshot was named Clement N’Goran N’Dri.
The stone that N’Goran, 19, shot at his Goliath opponent, Andrew Castle of England, veered just off course at the end. When their men’s singles match was over, and Castle had prevailed, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6, 7-5, he looked like anything but a man who had just played the 827th-ranked player in the world.
Going into the match, N’Goran, Ivory Coast’s No. 1 player, looked on paper like a fly waiting to be swatted by Castle, 24, who has played his collegiate tennis in the United States at Wichita State, has acquired a No. 142 ranking and won $76,476 in the 18 tournaments he has played over the last year and a half.
In fact, the very nature of the mismatch drew a fairly nice crowd of 100 or so in mid-afternoon at the Olympic Tennis Center. There seemed to be an unusually high interest level, sort of along the lines of: Will old No. 827 come out with a warped Wilson Kramer? Will he wear basketball shoes and green socks? Just how pathetic will this be?
Well, after N’Goran had taken the first 2 sets from Castle, the only thing pathetic was Castle’s frequent whining. When controversial calls went against him, he sounded like the queen’s maid, asking for the tea to be delivered more quickly from the kitchen.
To his credit, he dug down and used his superior experience to turn the match around and eventually win after quite a scare. Can you imagine how it would look in his press book? “Lost in opening round of Olympics to a player ranked No. 827 in the world.”
And to N’Goran’s credit, he played like anything but No. 827.
“I don’t think I’m really that low a player,” he said afterward. “I’ve got the ranking by playing in some satellite tournaments and I’ll just have to play more and get it higher.
“I’m not going to school. I’m not doing anything but playing tennis. My goal is to be a successful player on the tour.”
It’s a mighty long way from No. 827 to success, but then, N’Goran has traveled a long way just to become competitive.
His country, Ivory Coast, lies between Ghana and Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. It is about the size of New Mexico, and is not noted for Olympic excellence. In fact, the country has won just 1 medal in Olympic history, a silver in 1984 in Los Angeles by Gabriel Tiacoh in the men’s 400 meters in track.
But N’Goran wants to put it on the international sports map with his tennis, and he has a running start on that, despite his low ranking. He has been the No. 1 player on Ivory Coast’s Davis Cup team since he was 16, and his team, under his current Olympic coach here, Kouadio Kouame, beat Tunisia in 1987 and Algeria this year in Davis Cup zone play.
“He is very young and has the chance to be very good,” said Kouame.
Even after he had lost, though, N’Goran didn’t speak much like a player lacking confidence.
“I am living in the States for now,” he said. “It is the way to get the competition. I live and train at the John Newcombe Tennis Center in San Antonio. And I want to keep getting better.
“I don’t think today was my most important match. The Davis Cup matches have been, and every tournament I play from now on.”
He plays a big serve-and-volley game, and he has an especially effective drop volley that had Castle sputtering, “I bloody well don’t believe that. . . . “
Castle, who knocked David Pate out of the U.S. Open in 1987 and extended Boris Becker to 4 tough sets before bowing out in the next match, could not break N’Goran’s big serve from early in the third set until 5-5 of the fifth. And then he served an excellent game for the match, winning it with an ace.
Olympic Tennis Notes
The U.S. men’s top player, No. 2-seeded Tim Mayotte, won easily in straight sets over Song Dong Wook of South Korea. . . . Francisco Maciel of Mexico, the losing finalist to Stefan Edberg in the ’84 Olympics, when tennis was a demonstration sport, lost a marathon first-rounder Tuesday. He was beaten by Diego Nargiso of Italy, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6. They don’t play tiebreakers in fifth sets of Olympic tennis, but there the resemblance between this and Wimbledon ends.