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TENNIS U.S. OPEN : Ivanisevic’s Court Battles Are Minor Ones

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a hot and humid Wednesday, dirty gray clouds hung over the U.S. Open, and the crowd milling around Court 17 near the ice cream cart and the hamburger stand was noisy as usual.

But Goran Ivanisevic was hearing other voices. They were inside his head. It was Day 3 of the tournament, but for Ivanisevic, 19, of Split, Yugoslavia, the fight that mattered was not found on Court 17, but on the streets of his homeland.

Since Croatia began its battle with the Yugoslav federal army in a breakaway movement, Ivanisevic has been receiving phone calls asking him to join the Croatian movement.

Ivanisevic is doing his part--he won’t play in the Davis Cup for Yugoslavia--but keeping his mind on the business of tennis isn’t very easy right now.

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“It is tough,” said Ivanisevic, who defeated countryman Goran Prpic of Zagreb, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4, in a second-round match.

“Where I live in Split, it stinks,” Ivanisevic said. “You cannot go out on the street because the army is all over--my hometown.

“I hope my sister is going to (leave) Split. They are killing everybody over there. It is really bad. You know, I am thinking a lot about it and I am calling every day, and sometimes it is tough.”

Ivanisevic’s sister, Srdana, his father and mother, and a nephew live in Split. The last time he talked to Srdana, Ivanisevic said she told him that she expected the town to be bombed any day and she was hoping to board a boat Friday with the rest of the family to escape to Italy.

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“I don’t know if they are going to go because . . . nobody is allowed to leave, you know, because the army is all over (and) you cannot leave.”

Ivanisevic, seeded 12th, has one last chance to alter the course of a disappointing year in the Grand Slam events. He lost to Prpic in the third round of the Australian Open, to Paul Haarhuis in the second round of the French Open and to Nick Brown in the second round of Wimbledon.

While he has experienced problems on the tennis court, Ivanisevic cannot help but be troubled by events in his homeland that have conspired to sour his game. If everything were equal, he would be back on the streets in Split, working for Croatian independence. But because he is a tennis player, Ivanisevic works with what he has at hand.

“The only way I can help is with my tennis,” he said. “It is tough for me to go in the war now, to take a gun and go. I think my weapon is the tennis racket, you know? And the only (way) I can help (is) that I play good. Maybe then something can help Croatia, you know.”

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Meanwhile, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl breezed through their second-round matches in straight sets. Edberg overpowered Jeff Tarango of Manhattan Beach, 6-3, 7-5, 6-0, and Lendl stopped Patrick Kuhnen, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Michael Chang also had an easy time in the second round with a 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Todd Witsken, which earned Chang a third-round match with John McEnroe in the third round. McEnroe, seeded 16th, defeated Martin Laurendau of Canada, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

The only top men’s player to falter was seventh-seeded Guy Forget, who fell to Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6). Forget complained later about an upset stomach.

There was nothing Ivanisevic could do about his upset head. In a minute, he would leave the interview room, walk beneath the stands of Stadium Court, past the bronze statues outside in the grass and into the quiet, air-conditioned coolness of the players’ locker room.

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Inside, Ivanisevic would search out a private place to use the telephone. He would try to get through to his sister and her small son to ask if they could get out and if the bombing had started.

Thousands of miles away and armed only with a racket, Ivanisevic felt helpless. He was just a tennis player, which meant there was only one thing he could do.

“I wait.”

U.S. Open Notes

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Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, seeded third, won his second-round match without having to walk onto the court when Jimmy Brown withdrew. Brown became severely dehydrated Tuesday after his five-set victory over Alberto Mancini in the first round. . . . All of the top seeded women who played won their second-round matches, including second-seeded Monica Seles, third-seeded Gabriela Sabatini, fifth-seeded Mary Joe Fernandez and seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati. Seles played unevenly, with 18 winners and 30 unforced errors, but defeated Emanuela Zardo of Switzerland, 6-0, 4-6, 6-0, in 89 minutes. “I was never worried,” she said. “I think I have just got to concentrate a little bit more, I think, because I have paid the price for it a few times here.”


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