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.