Medvedev would add color as game's next court jester U.S. OPEN


NEW YORK -- He could fill the void left by the retirements of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, giving a sport that has become the bland leading the bland a top player with an often outrageous personality.

He could become the Ilie Nastase of his generation -- minus the contretemps that marred the Romanian's career -- by mixing one-liners off the court with the magic he can create on it.

And by Sunday, Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine could become something else.

A full-fledged star.

A U.S. Open champion.

"I don't feel the attention of this," Medvedev, the men's No. 8 seed, said early yesterday morning after he defeated 10th-seeded Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in a four-set, fourth-round match. "I am still a normal guy, I think."

There are those who might question that perception, those who have watched Medvedev's rapid rise from an obscure 16-year-old with a ranking of 1007 to one of the 10 best players in the world before his 19th birthday.

He has won three tournaments this year and six in the past two years. He has beaten such established stars as Stefan Edberg in the quarterfinals of this year's French Open and Andre Agassi in the recent Volvo International at New Haven, Conn.

"He's a great player with great instincts for the game," said Agassi, who is familiar with that label.

But the sensation Medvedev has caused over the past few months has also come off the court. He gained some notoriety for giving out autographed pictures of himself to fans in Paris and later in London during Wimbledon.

But it has been at the National Tennis Center, during his run to the quarterfinals of this year's Open, that Medvedev has become the focus of much attention. Love him or loathe him, believe him or not, Medvedev has been hard to ignore.

There was the now-famous news conference after his opening-round victory over Fernando Meligini of Argentina, a memorable half-hour affair spent talking about his misrepresented origins, the sites and sounds of New York, his relationship with the media and, of course, his gripes with the Open facilities.

When asked if he is Russian or Ukrainian -- he is from Kiev, which is in the Ukraine -- Medvedev said, "It [saying he's Ukrainian] is just for the papers. It is BS. I am not just Russian. I am 100 percent Russian. There is not a part of me that's Ukrainian."

L Someone wanted to know if he's been to the Russian Tea Room.

"It is too far from my hotel," he said.

Medvedev went as far as to suggest that the players should receive a percentage of the profits made by newspapers covering tennis, considering how many controversial stories are written about the stars.

"I am just helping you do your job and I think we get hopefully paid, I will talk to the ATP that we should get paid for it," he said with a straight face. "You get huge money and we get nothing but destruction, so we can get a percentage of it. We give you more sensations. I can give you lots of stuff that you can write. But for this you know, we have to get paid. I won't talk for free."

He has been unhappy about any number of things -- from the quality of New York air that "destroys your functions" to the multi-lingual cacophony of the players' lounge where "the Spanish and South Americans, they are very loud" to the bottle that smashed on the court during his second-round match with Richey Renneberg.

Oh, you didn't mind the bottle smashing and the hot dog wrappers floating around, Andrei?

"It was fun," he said. "It was like, you know, after my practice yesterday, I spent the whole day in Manhattan, so I didn't feel any different. It was flying everywhere and that is good. Playing in these conditions are fun."

The biggest complaint Medvedev has had here is the food given the players. In this case, dinner with Andrei is fear of the unknown. "Every meal is so special because you don't know what to expect," he said. "You just eat and think, I hope this time I will be OK. The food in my hotel is fantastic, but the food in the players' lounge needs to be improved. I had spaghetti and it just stuck. I swear to God. And about those crazy New York drivers. . .

"You know, they drive so fast and no accidents, it is unbelievable," said Medvedev. "I was close [to a wreck] 100 times. It is so beautiful that you can't explain it."

There is something beautiful, and inexplicable, about Medvedev's game. He is stiff and mechanical, but at the same time graceful and fluid. At 6 feet 4 and 178 pounds, he is gangly, but not as seemingly uncomfortable going to the net as Goran Ivanisevic.

Many who watch Medvedev are reminded of Miloslav Mecir, a mercurial Czech player who reached the final here in 1986 and the semifinals at Wimbledon and the final at the French Open in 1989 before injuries short-circuited his career. Medvedev disguises his shots as Mecir did, but there is nothing to obscure his personality.

And unlike Mecir, known as "The Big Cat", Medvedev plays with as much power as finesse. "He is a pretty strong guy," Krajicek said after their match. "He has a good serve and he hits the ball pretty hard from the baseline. Those are his two big weapons."

In a world where players seem more interested in their next television ad than in their next match, Medvedev is still a bit naive. He travels with his coach, Alexander Dolgopolov, who along with 5-year-old son Sasha have become Medvedev's personal cheering section. After every match here, Sasha can been seen rushing onto the court and high-fiving Medvedev.

But Medvedev is smart enough to realize the impact of winning the Open, a feat that didn't seem that far-fetched before the tournament began. Now, with the elimination of four of the top five seeds, it is becoming a stronger possibility. Medvedev thinks he has a ways to go.

"Maybe people consider me a very good tennis player, but I have so many things to improve that I can't consider myself a good tennis player," he said. "I concentrate on working; not taking the fame already, you know. So maybe it happens, but I don't think so."

NOTES: Rain pushed back the women's quarterfinals to last night, and in the men's quarterfinals, No. 2 seed Pete Sampras was scheduled to play No. 7 Michael Chang on Stadium Court last night.

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