Burned Gilbert out for final day in sun


WASHINGTON -- It isn't easy being the No. 3 seed at the Sovran Bank Classic tennis tournament, but it might have gotten a little easier last night.

No. 1 Andre Agassi and No. 2 John McEnroe have been the center of attention, leaving Brad Gilbert to wander around the Fitzgerald Tennis Center in near anonymity.

But last night, 19-year-old Luis Herrera upset McEnroe, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, thus pushing Gilbert closer to the limelight.

Still, it has been Agassi and McEnroe who had been awarded the prime-time matches. They play at night, out of the glare of the sun and the sweltering 105-degree heat that visits these tennis courts during the day.

And that doesn't change today. Agassi will be the drawing card tonight, facing qualifier Johan Carlsson at 7. Gilbert will once again sweat it out in the afternoon sun.

In tennis love means nothing and being the No. 3 seed means little more.

Yesterday, Gilbert played the Stadium Court to near emptiness, while the outside Grandstand Court was packed for a match between Jimmy Arias and Markus Zoecke.

Zoecke, who won 6-3, 6-4, will face Herrera tomorrow afternoon.

"I think everyone, including Brad, would agree there are more promotable players," said tournament director Josh Ripple. "But there are a lot of things that go into the scheduling."

Popularity is one.

A concern for the "stars" is another.

Gilbert, 29, is neither a teen-age heartthrob nor an aging legend. He is the 20th-ranked player in the world, but he has not played well in four months.

He has been a loyalist here, competing seven times and making the finals twice, losing in 1989 to Tim Mayotte and in '87 to Ivan Lendl. But loyalty is like being No. 3, it doesn't count for much.

"What are you going to do?" Gilbert asked. "Those other guys are drawing in the crowd. If I was running the tournament, I'd be running it the same way, too."

Gilbert, who finished his Wednesday match after 11 p.m., was back on the court yesterday afternoon, defeating Grant Connell, 6-3, 6-2.

Last night he caught something of a mixed blessing, he and Malivai Washington falling in doubles, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 2-6, to Herrera and Guillume Raoux. Thus, he will only have singles to concentrate on.

"As the promoter, yes I'm interested in protecting the players who are the drawing cards," Ripple admitted. "It doesn't behoove me to put my top drawing card out of the tournament quickly. If I can, in any way, move my drawing cards into a position that is more comfortable for them, I will try to do it."

In McEnroe's case, it didn't help. He felt stiff when he went onto the court last night and seeing the speedy Herrera across the net didn't help.

"I didn't have any natural emotion," said McEnroe, who has never advanced past the third round here. "I was a little flat-footed and I took myself out of the match. I gave him confidence . . . seeing him moving so fluidly made me feel stiffer than I actually was. I didn't have the after-burners to chase anything down."

"It's a terrible feeling to know you beat yourself, and that's what it came down to. I knew what I needed to do and couldn't do it."

So far, Gilbert has been doing everything he has to. But the only ones who know it are the men he has beaten.

"It doesn't matter," Gilbert protested. "It's just nice to be here, nice to still be in the tournament."

But Wednesday night, the Stadium was sold out. The crowd was in its seats until after McEnroe won the early match, then fans headed for the exits en masse, as Gilbert and John Sullivan came on court for the nightcap.

It was late, but it also was late last night, when Agassi came on court for the second match of the night. No one budged as he took apart Chuck Adams, 6-2, 6-2.

"You simply can't get focused on the crowds," Gilbert said diplomatically. "If there is 12,000 or 12 there, you have to do what's inside the white lines. If you get to the semis or finals, there will be a lot of people there."

Right now, all Gilbert is trying to do is win each match as fast as he can.

"I'm playing day and night,", he said. "I'm trying to conserve as much energy as I can."

His quarterfinal match today is against Korda and the last time they met, Gilbert recalled "he whacked me good. But he's like a microwave, he's either totally hot or cold as ice."


McEnroe said he'd like to return to the Sovran Bank Classic next year if his schedule allows.

"If I can arrange it, I like to go to tournaments where I've never done well or where I've never been," he said. "It's a much more interesting challenge."

Agassi said his match felt good right from the start, but refused to admit the tournament had gotten easier for him with McEnroe's loss.

"There are two matches to go and just getting to the finals is hoping for a lot," he said. "Once you get to the finals, it almost doesn't matter who is across the net, because you're both going to be going for it. [But] if I do get there, then, maybe, I might say I'm glad it's not John over there."

* There is one qualifier left in the tournament, Johan Carlsson, who beat Shuto Matsuoka, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-1), to reach the quarterfinals.

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