The Newsweek Tennis Classic, under way in Rock Creek Park in Washington today, contains a fine field, including defending champ Petr Korda and the finalists in the tour stop in Boston yesterday, Ivan Lendl and Todd Martin (the "giant killer" of Wimbledon). Still, what the success of the tourney and 56-players field comes down to is Andre Agassi.
Sure, the kid carries only a No. 22 ranking (because of being out with injuries) and maybe you don't like the "image is everything" style about him, but he is very close to being the only "show" in men's tennis these days. And make no mistake, Andre knows he is a show, allowing, "People come to see me for other reasons, not just my tennis. It's been that way for a long time."
Three and two years ago, Agassi won the tourney without dropping a set. Even his early-round matches were packed. Last year, coming off his victory at Wimbledon, he pulled a fast fade. He was not prepared for a tough tourney in 90-degree temperatures here coming off the cool, wet weather of London and days of celebration after his first victory in a major.
He's faced with a far different situation this time, however. A wrist injury suffered in May finds him under-matched and in dire need of victories to get his ranking up so that he's not too far down in the seedings for the U.S. Open.
* One of the complaints heard most often in "CitoGate," the failure of All-Star Game manager Cito Gaston to allow Mike Mussina of the O's to finish off last Tuesday's game, was that it robbed a "hometown boy" the opportunity to pitch before the adoring masses here. What a joke.
OK, if you're talking about Brooks Robinson and Baltimore, Al Kaline and Detroit, Ernie Banks and Chicago, Stan Musial and St. Louis and Carl Yastrzemski and Boston. That would constitute an outrageous snub of a local institution. But, apparently, those one-city, one-ballplayer days appear to be gone forever in baseball.
When he qualifies for arbitration, Mussina will be as dogged as anyone who ever sat down at a negotiating table. And come the day he qualifies for free agency, don't be too shocked if Mike ends up changing his Russell Street address. Sentiment's nice, but nowadays it has no place in the game (unless you're looking to base a ticket-selling campaign around the closing of a ballpark).
* It certainly was great to see the smiling face of Charlie Finley in the papers during the weekend, the former A's owner cheering the dumping of huge-salaried players by the San Diego Padres. "It's the future of baseball, teams unloading unjustified astronomical salaries and going with young players," he says.
In his heyday, not too many people agreed with the way Finley did things, but he proved an astute businessman and judge of talent while taking the woeful A's of Kansas City to Oakland and the top of the diamond heap. Charlie was hamstrung by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn and referred to him as "the village idiot" while he tried to dump salaries and rebuild just as free agency was coming.
To this day, there's been no satisfactory explanation for Kuhn's actions toward Finley, who was simply trying to get some return om his investment as it was a foregone conclusion that many of his stars were going to flee, leaving him high and dry. Clearly, Finlay foresaw the future of the game much better than Kuhn did; nevertheless, he was forced out.
* Somebody, somewhere has to do something about what goes on in boxing. No, this is not yet another plea for government intervention. When's the last time Washington straightened anything out.
The latest farce involves a promoter, Frank Maloney, arranging a potentially mildly interesting bout between WBC champion Lennox Lewis and WBO champ Tommy Morrison. Only trouble is, if Caesars Palace in Las Vegas doesn't agree to clear Nov. 5 for the show by tomorrow, Maloney says the field is off until early 1994.
Meanwhile and while Lewis is free to fight fellow Brit Frank Bruno, Morrison can be held inactive as a contract states his next fight be Lewis. Maloney's maneuvering keeps Morrison from the clutches of Riddick Bowe and his manager/promoter Rick Newman.
Tentatively, Maloney sees Lewis fighting Bruno, followed by Morrison, followed by Evander Holyfield, then Bowe. Four fights in less than a year's time, a pipe dream. So what's left for Bowe? Very little.
What's bad about all this is by way of contracts, promises, bonuses and heaven only knows what else, a promoter ties up half the heavyweight division with options, and the best ring matchups sometimes don't reach fruition. Boxing organizations control the promoters, not vice-versa.
When: Main draw begins this afternoon; finals are Sunday.
Where: William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, 16th and Kennedy streets, NW, Washington. From Baltimore, take Interstate 95 South to Capital Beltway West. Take Exit 31 (Georgia Avenue) south to 16th Street. Take 16th Street south to Colorado Avenue. Parking on-site is limited, but free shuttle service is available from the Silver Spring Metro station, Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. until one hour past the completion of the last match of the session. A shuttle also will operate from St. John's School (2607 Military Road, NW) and Rock Creek Park picnic groves #6, #7, #8, #13, #14.
Surface: Deco Turf II
Players: The 56-man field includes Andre Agassi, defending champion Petr Korda, Ivan Lendl, MaliVai Washington, Aaron Krickstein, Brad Gilbert and Todd Martin.
Prize money: Minimum $625,000
Tickets: Available at the FitzGerald Center box office or through TicketMaster at (202) 432-7328. Single-session prices range from $6 to $35.