Tennis stars nervously move to Miami as war looms in Iraq -
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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old Mar 18th, 2003, 07:15 PM Thread Starter
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Tennis stars nervously move to Miami as war looms in Iraq

Tennis stars nervously move to Miami as war looms in Iraq
March 18 2003
By Agence France Presse

Top tennis stars are worried about traveling and playing major events while the United States launched a war in Iraq but so far are not concerned enough to change their plans.

World number one Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and his top-seeded girlfriend Kim Clijsters of Belgium won titles here Sunday and will join such rivals as Andre Agassi and Serena and Venus Williams in Miami starting Wednesday.

But that 12-day WTA and ATP Masters Series event and others that follow in Europe and the United States next month could become targets of terrorism in the wake of US military action in Iraq.

"I have the same concerns as anyone," Hewitt said. "But as professional athletes, there is not much we can do about it. We have to travel."

ATP and WTA players go to Estoril, Portugal, in early April. The men's tour has events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. The women have events in Casablanca and Budapest but also three US tournaments after Miami.

The memory of September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington remains vivid for Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, who admits that players are nervously following the news about events in Iraq.

"We were all scared after September 11 and what happened in New York when they destroyed everything," Kuerten said. "We are still a little bit scared and we are following the news to see what is going to happen.

"But it is out of our hands. It is best to just trust the people who are dealing closely with it and pray it doesn't get to a situation that will take war. Hopefully they can solve everything through talking."

US players have some fears of becoming targets with crucial French Open tuneup events coming in Europe over the next two months.

"I am concerned about safety," American Vince Spadea said. "We are going to Europe pretty soon. We have to cautious and know the risks associated with Americans travelling overseas.

"We will just have to see how belligerent things become."

American Robby Ginepri is going to listen to his coach.

"I really don't worry about it," said Ginepri. "But I can't speak for the others. I listen to my coach and if he says we are going here then I go."

Extra security precautions have already been taken at sports events in the Miami area.

French golfer Thomas Levet was followed by plain-clothes security guards at a Miami PGA event last week after he was heckled over France's anti-war position.
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War looms, game on at Key Biscayne
March 18 2003
By Charles Bricker

KEY BISCAYNE · Somewhere in Kuwait, tens of thousands of American servicemen were wondering whether they will be dead or alive at the end of this week.

At the Nasdaq-100 Open on Monday, a couple hundred tennis players had nothing more important on their minds than their opening-round opponents.

The dichotomy wasn't lost on a few of these athletes. There was a worried look on the face of Jonas Bjorkman, the introspective Swede who prides himself on balancing his fantasy life (tennis) with what goes on in the real world.

"Can you guess what the security will be like here if there is a war," Bjorkman asked grimly. "This is an international event."

But Roger Federer seemed closer to the mental frame of mind of most of these men and women. "What's the news? I don't know too much because I've been traveling," said the Swiss star, who is No. 4 in the world.

What's the news? Roger, war is imminent.

For Federer and others, the concentration was not on international politics, but on the draw, which was carried out shortly after noon.

Andre Agassi, who gets a bye along with 31 other seeds on the opening days of Wednesday and Thursday, plays either Michael Chang or Nicolas Kiefer in the second round -- either on Friday or Saturday.

Defending women's champion Serena Williams probably will open against No. 37 Francesca Schiavone, whom she beat at Wimbledon in 2002.

Sister Venus' opening match likely will be against left-hander Magui Serna, whom she has whipped three times without the loss of a set.

There was the usual paucity of attractive first-round matches with 95 percent of the "name" players drawing byes, though big servers Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, and rising American Taylor Dent will square off in the first round.

And there are some intriguing matches down the line. Boca Raton's Andy Roddick probably faces Ivan Ljubicic in the second round. The last time they played, at the 2002 Australian Open, Roddick had to quit with an ankle injury.

Roddick also is on target for a fourth-rounder against Rainer Schuettler, who has beaten him twice this year, including last week in the quarters at Indian Wells.

But, as usual, things don't heat up on Key Biscayne until Day 3, and by then who knows how hot things will be in the Middle East.

"I do think about the war when I get back to the hotel," said young Australian qualifier Peter Luczak. "But at the courts I try to take my mind off of it. You don't really want to be thinking stuff like that when you're playing."

Maybe that sounds unfeeling to many, but, like so many of us on Monday, Luczak was simply going to work.

He's not unsympathetic, having been slipped out of Communist Poland at the age of nine months by his parents, who were given plane tickets by the Australian government to emigrate to Melbourne.

"If the U.S. begins a war tomorrow ... I don't know how different things will be," Luczak said. "Will they attack the U.S. back? I know that Australia is behind the U.S. because, if we ever got into trouble, we know the U.S. would be on our side.

"I'll watch the news tonight and probably read the paper in the morning. But I've a match to play, too. How do you shut all this out? I'm not sure. It's real hard to say how you comprehend such a big issue as war, but I guess you just have to deal with it."

Luczak shouldered his racket bag and headed for the locker room, passing several players from France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and The Netherlands.

There may not be a sport as global as tennis, but, somehow, all these men and women seem less preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein and more focused on their livelihood.

They came here to play, not to politic. It's a wonder how they do it.
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