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Original Issue

Spoiled Sport

Inclement weather marred the Lipton Championships, but not as much as players' whiny behavior

Today's tennis player has obviously been doing too much fancy resort living. That was apparent throughout the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., where the only thing more miserable than the weather was the behavior of some coddled tennis stars. Yes, it rained and the wind blew, and yes, the weather wreaked havoc with the stadium court, forcing several top seeds to play—egads!—on back courts.

Through it all a few hardy souls persevered. Pete Sampras beat MaliVai Washington 6-3, 6-2 for the men's title on Sunday, and Arantxa Sànchez Vicario upset Steffi Graf 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 for the women's crown on Saturday, and never once during the tournament did any of the four finalists act as though he or she had been forced to live in a cardboard box. "A couple of times I could have packed it in, but I didn't," said the second-ranked Sampras, who survived a painful case of shinsplints in addition to numerous rain delays. "I didn't play great tennis: I just hung in." Graf's semifinal victory over No. 3 seed Gabriela Sabatini was interrupted by rain five times. After the match she said, "Going out on the court six times—that's a lot. But both of us have to sit around and wait, so it's the same."

Like Sampras and Graf, Washington, a 23-year-old from Swartz Creek. Mich., displayed a serene disposition that served him well. This was his third Lipton, but he had never before won a match in the tournament, which this year included nine of the world's top 10 male players. "It's nice to make the final of a tournament everyone was in." said Washington, who's ranked No. 18 but didn't have to face a higher-ranked player until the championship match. He then added, "I don't know what everyone was griping about."

What everyone was griping about was everything, but especially the weather. Rain fell on seven of the Lipton's 10 days, and drastic temperature changes caused the hard court in the stadium to buckle, making the court unplayable for the better part of two days. Tournament referee Alan Mills said the event was unlike any he had seen in his 17 years on the circuit.

Still, the surliness and halfhearted play of some of the world's most gifted and well-compensated athletes was unconscionable. Most of the 96 men and 96 women in the field, trapped by the rain in the locker rooms—or in their $200-a-night hotel suites—felt compelled to share their every complaint with one another and the press. Besides weather, they whined about the food, the facilities and the fans. "It all starts with the rain," Mills said. "They sit around, miserable, with nothing to do but think of the negative."

Here are a few of the top tantrums of the tournament:

•Boris Becker left the grounds without striking a ball. As the fourth seed, he was granted a first-round bye, and his second-round opponent, Gianluca Pozzi of Italy, withdrew after an attack of appendicitis. Finally, after six days, Becker lost patience as he sat through a rain delay before he was to meet Sweden's Nicklas Kulti in the third round. As soon as the match was suspended, Becker stormed out of the locker room and proclaimed, "This is ——." The next morning he called in sick—with a temperature of 99°, according to a tournament doctor. Becker earned $8,400 for his time.

Becker has become something of a fragile flower. The Lipton was the third tournament this year that he pulled out of because of illness. Becker, incidentally, was a no-show for one other engagement. He was one of the chairmen of a benefit gala for the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS on the first weekend of the tournament. He did not attend.

•Top-ranked Jim Courier was able to restrain himself until the fourth round, in which he was upset by Mark Woodforde of Australia. Trailing in the third set, Courier became furious over a line call. Courier, who's usually a reasonable fellow, then gave a forearm shiver to the umpire's chair, rattling Dana Loconto in his scat and spilling soda out of Loconto's cup. Afterward Courier refused to apologize, saying, "We all do things in the heat of the moment. I don't regret anything."

•One player forced to slum on an outside court was No. 8 seed Andre Agassi. After being upset by Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in the fourth round on one of those courts in the boonies, Agassi said. "I can count on one hand the times I haven't played on center court."

•Jana Novotna, the sixth-seeded woman, bad-mouthed the players' lounge, the linesmen and the fans after falling to Sabatini in the quarters. "Everything was against me," Novotna said. She called the playing conditions and the accommodations "the worst I have ever seen." She also suggested that linesmen favored Sabatini because she lives in Key Biscayne and because, as an Argentine, she is popular with Latin Americans in South Florida. "The whole community wants her; they are obsessed with her," Novotna said.

•Guy Forget of France, Marc Rosset of Switzerland and Michael Stich of Germany also voiced criticism. "They could just improve everything in this place," Forget said. "Our practice facilities, the locker room, the rest rooms." After Rosset lost to Patrick McEnroe in the round of 16, he could hold his tongue no longer. "I've been able to shut it out until today, but no more," said Rosset. Stich said he was almost relieved when he lost to 48th-ranked Marcos Ondruska of South Africa in the fourth round. "On the one hand, it's a mental test and you want to win," said Stich. "But on the other, you're glad you don't have to wait around anymore, wondering. When is this going to end?"

•Then there was the really immature snit of Tracy Austin, who didn't last long enough in Key Biscayne to endure bad weather. Austin, who is attempting a comeback after 10 largely inactive years, lost in the first round to Stephanie Rottier 6-3, 6-1. When a security guard who did not recognize her (shudder!) asked if she worked there, Austin snapped back, "Yeah, like I'm a maintenance person."

What the gripers needed were a couple of reminders. Apparently it did not occur to them that while the facilities in the players' lounge were not quite up to snuff, some people in Miami were still sleeping in tents because their homes had been destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. In fact, if the players had merely looked, they would have seen damage from the storm all around them. The pampered divas also seem to have forgotten that they were being generously remunerated for waiting out all those rain delays. As Washington said when asked if he minded actually playing tennis after all that sitting around. "It's what I'm paid to do."



In Key Biscayne the rain came down and the court came up, but Sampras rose above it all.



[See caption above.]