Suddenly, O'Brien has a future in New York Wins in New Haven, Open first round boost career; U.S. Open notebook


NEW YORK -- Alex O'Brien could get used to this.

A few weeks ago he was the 280th-ranked player in the world and wondering if he had a future. Today, he's No. 65, the winner of an ATP Tour event in New Haven and into the second round of the U.S. Open.

"For the first time, I feel like I'm legitimate," said O'Brien, 26, a two-time NCAA singles champion at Stanford.

He advanced yesterday with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Nicolas Lapentti.

"I feel like I have a chance to do some damage," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to, just that I have the possibility."

Asked if he is getting bored with giving interviews in his new-found limelight, he shook his head emphatically.

"Never, no way," he said. "This is a good thing. I don't mind fitting this into my schedule at all. I'm not [Jim] Courier."

Certainly the two incidents were not related, but shortly after O'Brien's remarks, word came that Courier had withdrawn from the Open with a "bruised knee." No further word was available, and neither was Courier.

Oncins winner despite loss

Probably the clearest memory anyone has of Jaime Oncins is as the scared kid who stood across the net from Jimmy Connors in 1992. It was the night Connors celebrated his 40th birthday with his last victory at the Open.

By the end of that year, Oncins was in the Top 30 in the world. Then he went home and went to a soccer game with a carload of friends in Sao Paulo, Brazil. That night short-circuited his career.

On the way home with his fiends, a stray bullet from a street fight hit one of Oncins' friends, who slumped onto his shoulder and died. And after that he was very unsure of everything.

Yesterday, he was playing his first Open in three years and though he lost to No. 2 seed Michael Chang, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (8-6), he felt like he won.

"I was thinking about quitting six weeks ago," said Oncins, 26. "Then I start to think, 'Well, this is my life, I love to play tennis.' And my family told me to try because I would be sad if I stayed home. So I said I would give my last try. . . . I think I played my best tennis in three or four years in fourth set today. I was really happy. . . . I can look at you, after that set, and tell you that I believe in my game again. Believe it or not, this match for me, this set for me, it's like almost I win the game, because it was so important to me."

Upsets number two

Unlike Wimbledon, where seeds fell in record numbers from opening day on, only two seeds lost yesterday. No. 6 Anke Huber was beaten by Amanda Coetzer, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2; and No. 12 Magdalena Maleeva lost to Aleksandra Olsza, 6-4, 6-2.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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