NEW YORK -- The grunt was muffled. Honest. It was like somebody turned the sound down at the U.S. Open.
Monica Seles was out there on the stadium court, but she left her voice back in the locker room.
Forehand. Silence. Backhand. Silence.
If you really listened closely, ignored the squeals of the nearby trains and the noise made by fans so bored they were heading to the exits, you could hear Seles belt out a grunt on a serve. But if you want to know the truth, the red outfit worn by Seles' opponent, Audra Keller, was a lot louder than Seles was yesterday.
Fact is, Keller even out-grunted Seles.
"Somebody from my hometown paper called me before the match and asked me if I would complain about Monica's grunting," said Keller, 20, of Memphis. "I don't know how I could. I'm loud out there, too."
That's what Day 1 of the U.S. Open was reduced to: listening to Seles as she ran through Keller, 6-1, 6-0, in 45 minutes.
Beautiful weather. Lousy schedule.
The opening round will last three days. And that's without rain delays.
Jimmy Connors practicing for tomorrow night's 40th birthday party match against Jaime Oncins drew a crowd 10 deep, while only serving fanatics watched that eagerly awaited Olympic rematch of Goran Ivanisevic ousting Marc Rosset, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, on stadium court.
The disappearance of Court 3, turned into another National Tennis Center shopping arcade stocked with $25 T-shirts and $3 cups of lemonade, was more mysterious than the predictable triumphs of the seeds.
No. 1 Jim Courier had a scare but outlasted Alex O'Brien, the NCAA champion from Stanford, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), in a late match. The women's No. 2 seed, Steffi Graf, crushed Halle Cioffi, 6-0, 6-2.
The rest of the stars were taking the day off.
So the spotlight fell on Seles. Naturally.
She is the defending champion, No. 1 seed at the Open and No. 1 in the world, a tough, two-fisted swinger who is still a teen-ager, for goodness sakes.
And all anyone wants to talk about is the grunt. You'd think she was Axl Rose, or something, the way people in tennis react to Seles.
"I never thought I won or lost matches because of my grunting," she said. "I still felt that it shouldn't get so much attention. But I guess it does."
It started at Wimbledon. Of course. The tournament referee, Alan Mills, casually mentioned that he had given permission for chair umpires to warn Seles for excessive grunting. Something like a tennis misdemeanor, or revenge. Remember, Seles skipped out on Wimbledon in 1990, and the English were not amused.
The British tabloids went wild with this grunting stuff. It was huge. They set up a "Grunt-O-Meter" at Seles' matches. Bombarded her with questions about her noise-making during news conferences. Someone even asked her about the size of her rear end.
It got worse. Somebody named Nathalie Tauziat of France started complaining about all the noise Seles was making, and one of the umpires issued a warning. And then Martina Navratilova whined about the Seles grunt, likening the racket coming from the other end of the court to the noise made by a "stuck pig."
Funny, Seles has been grunting since she was 12 years old, grunting through all those Grand Slam titles, but Wimbledon was the first time she was ever issued a noise pollution warning.
"I didn't hear what Martina said, until a friend of mine called me," Seles said. "I still didn't believe it, that she said that."
Seles decided to seal her lips, and her grunts, during the final. The plan backfired. Graf routed her. Ever since, Seles has been looking to regain her confidence, without the grunts.
Entering the Open, Seles is 0-for-the-summer. Her last win came at the French Open.
She blames a sprained ankle, sustained in the Canadian Open final against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and not the lack of grunting, for her recent problems.
"I just didn't feel like I was playing my game," Seles said. "I wasn't Monica on the court."
Yesterday, she showed flashes of her baseline power game, sending Keller wide on serves, running her around with all these two-fisted ground strokes.
"She really gets her body and her weight into those shots," Keller said. "She'll just blast it."
Without the grunt.
"I get different experts, sending letters, both sides saying grunting is great for the game, grunting is bad for the game," Seles said. "I don't think everybody knows the real truth. If I do grunt, that's great. If I don't, that's great also. I don't want to make an issue of this."