The Alberto Mancini bandwagon arrived at the French Open Tuesday and the curious at Roland Garros Stadium turned out to see if the hottest player in tennis was worth a look.
The crowd at Court 11 spilled out into the aisles and onto the cement wall at one end where they peered around shrubbery, and still others crowded the outside balconies at the adjacent Center Court and craned their necks to watch.
Mancini wears his shorts short, wears his hair curly and wears out opponents by playing a powerful baseline game on clay.
The 20-year-old Argentine is one of the favorites here and he overpowered Simon Youl of Australia, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to the second round.
Mancini’s reaction was one of relief.
“I just said, ‘Thank you,’ ” he said.
That’s because the second round is further than he advanced last year in his only other French Open appearance.
But things are going remarkably well for Mancini now. Since the last week of April, he has won at Monte Carlo, beating Mats Wilander and Boris Becker, and then won again in the Italian Open in Rome, beating Andre Agassi in the final. His ranking is a reflection of his recent success, jumping from No. 31 to No. 13.
Along the way, new fans appeared, some on the court. Becker said he has never seen a player who hits the ball as hard as Mancini on clay.
“Not on both forehand and backhand,” Becker said. "(Ivan) Lendl has a really strong forehand, but his backhand has topspin. Mancini hits very hard even when it’s a high shot. You can’t come to the net either because he will just hit a passing shot.
“If he continues like that, he is going to be very dangerous,” Becker said. “He has a very good future ahead of him.”
The present has been pretty good, too. Mancini’s popularity has soared. The fans and the media flock to him, which he finds both amusing and somewhat disturbing.
“Two months ago, I was just another guy,” he said. “It’s a big change now. Sometimes when the change is so fast, as right now, it’s hard to get used to. So maybe I am more popular now.”
The public is getting used to seeing his handsome face, piercing brown eyes and shock of jet-black hair. He is featured in a four-page photo layout in the current issue of a French women’s fashion magazine.
The pictures tell a story. Mancini smiling in a leather jacket. Mancini smiling with his feet up on a wicker love seat. Mancini smiling with his arms resting on a chair.
Micky Den Tuinder, his agent, said if Mancini’s not a heartthrob, then you haven’t got a heart.
“He’s a great-looking guy, he’s got a great personality, why shouldn’t he be a big commercial success?” Den Tuinder said.
Why not indeed?
“To be successful off the court, you have to have a good appearance,” Mancini said simply.
Back home in sports-crazed Argentina, Mancini has graced the cover of El Grafico, the country’s biggest sports magazine, and he was featured in Gente, the Argentine equivalent of People magazine, all within the last two months.
Because of his new-found fame, Mancini has found it necessary to cut his commitments. He limited his interviews to two for the tournament, except for the general post-match new conferences that all players are expected to attend.
But the grandson of an Italian and the son of a engineer in Buenos Aires said he refuses to be anything else than the same person he was two months ago when he was “a nobody.”
“It’s not important how people look at you, but how you look at yourself,” Mancini said. “For me, it’s a big change now. Everybody knows me. I have to get used to it. I like it. If you make an effort to arrive where I am at now, how can that be bad?”
Michael Chang, the No. 15-seeded player, advanced to the second round with a 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-0, 6-3, victory over Eduardo Masso of Argentina,and credited two weeks of clay-court work with Jose Higueras in Palm Springs. . . . Andre Agassi said he is thinking about playing Wimbledon this year after all, but he didn’t sound as if he really wanted to. Agassi has planned to take three weeks off after the French Open. “Right now, it’s not important to me,” he said of Wimbledon. “Lendl wants to win it, Becker wants to win it, I just want to go home.” . . . Although no American has won the French Open since Tony Trabert in 1955, Agassi said he is aware that many believe he has a chance. “I definitely feel (pressure) a bit . . . (but) people can only expect me to give 110 percent,” he said. “As long as I’m giving it everything I’ve got, people can’t complain or criticize me for losing. If I lose, they’re going to have to carry me out on a stretcher.” . . . Of the 20 Americans in the field, 14 made it into the second round. . . . David Wheaton, 19, the only U.S. qualifier, defeated the youngest player in the field, 16-year-old Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6. Wheaton, who played one year at Stanford, had never been in a five-set match before. . . . Emilio Sanchez of Spain, who was seeded No. 12, withdrew because of a muscle injury and was replaced by Pablo Arraya of Peru, but he lost to Andrei Chesnokov of the Soviet Union.