They call this an American tournament, but you'd never know it judging by the hometowns of most of the players.
The T. Rowe Price National Intercollegiate Clay Court Championships unfolding this week at the Suburban Club are peppered with foreign players from American colleges.
Only seven of the 28 men who earned automatic berths in the main draw are Americans. In the nine-year history of the tournament, no American male has ever won the singles title.
It is a similar story on the women's side -- only eight of the 28 are Americans. The only player from a local college, Maryland sophomore Thea Ivanisevic, is from Switzerland. A cousin of pro standout Goran Ivanisevic, she led the Terps to their first berth in the NCAA tournament last spring.
There are reasons for foreign dominance in this tournament.
"American kids don't play as much on clay as foreigners, more on hard courts," said Tennessee coach John Kreis, chairman of the men's tournament committee.
"Besides, it's early in the college season and some of the top teams on the West Coast -- the Stanfords, Pepperdines and Southern Cals, which have a lot of the top Americans -- haven't even started yet."
This is a tournament frequently full of surprises. The seedings are based on last spring's rankings, but some players have made great strides in their game through diligent off-season work. Others are freshmen from abroad, and few coaches know HTC much about them.
There is some predictability, however. Three of the four women's semifinalists from last year -- William and Mary's Lauren Nikolaus, Kansas' Kylie Hunt and Arizona's Vicky Maes -- are back. Champion Tzipora Obziler went back to her native Israel in February, but will return to Old Dominion in January.
"This is a solid field," said Syracuse's Jesse Dwire, chairman of the women's tournament committee. "It's pretty much open to eight or nine players. If the big hitters are on, one of them could win. But usually the players with a strong all-around game do well here, like Hunt, Maes and Obziler."
The men's field features Fresno State's Fredrik Giers, who lost to Paul Robinson in last year's title match, and Kentucky's Cedric Kauffman, who bowed to Robinson in the semifinals.
Singles fields of 32 men and 32 women (28 who earned automatic berths and four survivors from four days of qualifying) begin play today.
The second round and quarterfinals are tomorrow, followed by the semifinals Saturday and the finals Sunday.
Pub Date: 9/26/96