NEW YORK -- Not everyone playing in the U.S. Open is out to win it. Most players don't even think they can.
Those are some of the truths No. 7 seed Todd Martin revealed yesterday after advancing to the third round with a 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over wild-card player Richey Reneberg.
Martin, 29, his hair graying around the edges, has been playing Grand Slam tournaments since 1990. He's never won one and when asked if he thinks he ever will, almost choked.
"It's impossible to predict," said Martin, who will play No. 81-ranked Magnus Larsson in the third round. "It's impossible to say Pete couldn't even tell you if he's going to win another one."
No. 1 Pete Sampras came to the Open hoping to win a record 13th Grand Slam title, only to be forced to withdraw because of a herniated disk.
No. 4 Patrick Rafter came in hoping to win a third straight Open title, but Rafter defaulted in the fifth set of his first match with a rotator-cuff injury.
Conjecture had it that with Sampras and Rafter out, the gates were wide open for anyone to take a shot at this title, and particularly open for anyone in the top half of the draw, on the opposite side from No. 2 Andre Agassi and No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the new favorites.
In the top quarter, Martin, at No. 7, is the highest remaining seed, and No. 5 Gustavo Kuerten, who beat Paul Haarhuis last night, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-2, is the only higher seed in the entire top half.
But Martin insisted his heart did not lurch when he realized two of the top four seeds were gone.
"You know, contrary to popular belief," Martin said, "making it to the finals or the semis of a Grand Slam is doing well. For some players, making it to the third round is a great achievement.
"If our best players didn't have the mike in their faces all the time saying that making it to the finals or semifinals was disappointing, I think you'd realize how important it is and how rewarding it is to do that well in a tournament, albeit not the sweet prize."
Martin was runner-up in the 1994 Australian Open. He's been a semifinalist at Wimbledon twice and here once, also in 1994.
A lot of players don't even get that far.
"I think every one of us has missed opportunities," he said. "I'm glad I've been presented with or provided myself with a number of opportunities to do well. But I just don't think the public gets the point.
"For the guys who have the microphone -- Pete, Andre, Patrick, Yevgeny -- their goal coming in here isn't just to play well and provide an opportunity to compete; their goal is to come in here and win.
"But it's certainly not typical of us all, because most of us don't have the luxury to come in and set our standards so high."
And yet, Martin was just a little testy when someone said: "Probably, most people agree, you're capable of beating anybody that's left in your half of the draw " he broke in, "What about the other half?"
Later, when asked about the other half, he said immediately, "I feel like I could beat everybody in the draw. But being able to and doing it are two very, very different things."
Especially at this Open. It seems almost every day a player defaults. A few days ago it was No. 8Carlos Moya. Yesterday, Jan-Michael Gambill, 22, defaulted with cramps in the fifth set of his match against Frenchman Fabrice Santoro.
Gambill had won the first two sets and the fourth and was on serve at 4-4 in the fifth when he had to stop.
"I cannot move," he said. "Game, set, match."
The score was 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), 4-4.
And even in the first round, Martin gave a perfect demonstration of the surprises that can happen. He seemed well on his way to a quick, three-set victory over qualifier Stephane Huet, who is ranked No. 154, when suddenly he lost his concentration and had to sweat out a five-setter.
"It was embarrassing," he said, "when you're supposed to be a professional and you don't conduct yourself with the professionalism that you've come to expect from yourself.
"You have to compete with the highest intensity possible. That's not my nature not to it was almost inexcusable -- one because I almost lost, and two, because it's a situation where you owe it to the people watching.
"You're supposed to fight through bad conditions on the court and not wimp out and complain. That's what I was doing."
It's not what he did yesterday. And when he completed the match with a serve too big for Reneberg to handle, he reacted with a satisfied balling of his fist.
His personal goal may not be to win this U.S. Open championship, but it is obvious from his attitude that he wants to stay in the running in case fate decides to look his way.
"The L.A. Clippers can always beat the Lakers on a given day," he said. "That's sport. That's why we play and that's why it's impossible to predict.
"But I promise you I will try my darnedest to provide myself the opportunity to win."
Men's singles today
Andre Agassi (2) vs. Justin Gimelstob
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3) vs. Jonas Bjorkman
Marcelo Rios (10) vs. Jan Kroslak
Richard Krajicek (12) vs. John van Lottum
Nicolas Kiefer (15) vs. Arnaud Clement
Women's singles today
Lindsay Davenport (2) vs. Amy Frazier
Monica Seles (4) vs. Ai Sugiyama
Mary Pierce (5) vs. Angeles Montolio
Serena Williams (7) vs. Kim Clijsters
Julie Halard-Decugis (9) vs. Amelie Cocheteux
Nathalie Tauziat (11) vs. Jennifer Capriati
Pub Date: 9/04/99