NEW YORK -- It has been 13 years since an American-born woman has won the U.S. Open, and 11 years since one has made it to the championship match. Not since Chris Evert won in 1982 and reached the finals in 1984 has the United States had something to cheer about in its Grand Slam tournament final.
The prospects of it happening this year are slim, too, but yesterday, St. Louis native Amy Frazier jolted everyone when she upset No. 6 seed Mary Pierce, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), to be one of five American-born women players in contention after five days of play.
It was a stunning moment on Stadium Court when Frazier, ranked No. 21, won before a boisterous crowd that voiced its mixed emotions. There is no more sympathetic player than Pierce, whose struggles to escape her tyrannical father are well-chronicled. But in the American psyche there is also no more appealing competitor than an underdog like Frazier.
Fellow American Chanda Rubin, 19, was delighted by Frazier's performance as she sat in the locker room waiting for her own match to start. Rubin, Frazier, Mary Joe Fernandez, Zina Garrison Jackson and Nicole Arendt are the remaining American-born women's players. The United States has one other representative in the women's field -- recent naturalized citizen Monica Seles, who was born in Yugoslavia.
"I thought it was a good match up from the beginning," said Rubin, who pounded Gigi Fernandez, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, of Frazier's triumph. "You don't find yourself in situations like that very often and it was nice to see her take advantage it . . . to see someone unexpected win on the Stadium Court."
Rubin will have an opportunity to duplicate the excitement in her fourth-round match when she faces No. 1 seed Steffi Graf in a match that Rubin said she believes she can win.
There were few other upsets yesterday. The biggest of the day came when unseeded Byron Black, a top doubles player, dispatched No. 9 seed Thomas Enqvist, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Last year's men's runner-up Michael Stich finally broke Hernan Gumy in the eighth game of the fifth set to hold on, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
Fifth-seeded Michael Chang and No. 3 Thomas Muster each won in four sets, and second seed Pete Sampras defeated Jaime Yzaga. Sampras faced no break points and fired 16 aces, avenging last year's fourth-round loss to the Peruvian.
"I was looking forward to [the match], just to get a little revenge," said Sampras. "We were going to do battle because what happened last year really didn't sit well with me."
These days, the talk of the women's draw are Seles, Graf and 14-year-old Martina Hingis and Rubin, the young, bright hopes of the future.
And no one talks about Frazier, though it became apparent as the day wore on yesterday, that Graf is a pretty good prognosticator.
After advancing to the fourth round with a routine 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nathalie Tauziat, Graf predicted Rubin would advance in her match against Gigi Fernandez and be her next opponent. She also thought Pierce might struggle.
"Sometimes, you're still not sure how Mary is going to play," said Graf. "Sometimes she plays some great tennis; sometimes she can make quite a few errors. So you are never quite sure of how she can do."
That was certainly true on Stadium Court. Pierce's forehand was consistently long in the 6-3 first set. But then she won nine straight points at the start of the second set to go up a break and seemed in control.
"The first set was like totally swimming up a creek," said Pierce. "Nothing was working. I was missing all my shots that I was going for. Then, after the first set, I felt like I started getting used to the wind a little bit and I started feeling at least I was playing a little bit better. The second set was better. It was close. I felt I probably could have won the second set. Then hopefully start feeling better, better in the third."
But the unassuming Frazier didn't let it get that far.
At the age of 22 she seems to have few tennis aspirations. She skipped the tour in 1990 to graduate magna cum laude from high school and dropped off again for six months in 1993 for personal reasons. She says she is still planning to return to college and become a math teacher and said coming into this match she didn't think about winning or losing.
"I don't dream about winning the U.S. Open," she said. "I mean, everyone here wants to win it, but I don't dream about it because I don't come into a tournament thinking how many matches I want to win or what round I want to get to.
"But it was exciting to play the stadium court at the U.S. Open, being an American. That's something special. That's something that will stay with me always."