NEW YORK -- Across from the Plaza Gates at the U.S. Tennis Center are the East practice courts, and it is there that the young and eager players of the future have attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open Junior Tournament that will begin later this weekend.
Among the 32 women's entries, eight of whom will qualify for the main Junior event with two victories, is a lone Marylander -- Ellah Nze, 14, of Owings Mills.
Yesterday, she practiced and warmed up for her match against No. 12 seed Katharine Baker with enthusiasm, and very little nervousness.
"I've trained all summer and I like to play," said Nze before the match she won, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. "I think I'm mostly excited."
Nze began playing at age 6 when she grew tired of watching her brother, Amadi, who is now 19 and a sophomore at George Washington University, compete in tournaments.
"I told my mom I wanted to play," she said.
She is taking things one step at a time. She began playing International Tennis Federation matches last April and has transferred from Bryn Mawr to the Junior Tennis Champions Courts, a tennis academy in College Park, so her school work can be coordinated with tennis travel.
Nze, who will play her second qualifying match today, would not say what she believes her strengths are because, she said, she still competes in regional events. But, she did say what she admires in others.
"I like Serena Williams because she is really strong and powerful," she said. "I like Lindsay Davenport's demeanor on the court. And, I like Chanda Rubin. I've just always liked her."
Nze actually looks a little like Rubin and, while practicing here, she's been mistaken for her.
"I just say, 'No, I'm not Chanda,' and go on practicing," she said, smiling.
This season, Nze has earned a ranking of No. 237, with two titles in Guadeloupe and Costa Rica, a finals appearance in Jamaica and a semifinals appearance in Trinidad.
"The first set, I just couldn't get a rhythm," said Nze after her match yesterday. "But after that, I got an early break and settled down."
On her toes
Davenport, the women's No. 3 seed, has eight good toes to stand on. Yesterday, she said, the two that have been affected by a nerve that runs from her heel and along the bottom of her foot, were 100 percent.
And for the second straight round, she wasted little time getting off the court, beating Melinda Czink, 6-0, 6-2, in 42 minutes.
"My foot didn't hurt," said Davenport, who added she will have to have surgery to correct the nerve problem later this year. "It's feeling better every day. The doctors say every day that goes by, the steroid injection kicks in a little bit more and I actually have not felt it since Monday morning."
Davenport, who has been eliminated from this tournament every year since 1999 by either Venus or Serena Williams, said it is very nice to look ahead in the draw and not see their names.
"It's nice not to have to worry about that," Davenport said. "But Kim [Clijsters] has beat me a number of times this year. Justine [Henin-Hardenne] and Jennifer [Capriati] are playing well, too. They're probably not as intimidating as the Williams, but Kim has a phenomenal record against me this year. ... But I like to think I have a chance to win this tournament."
The Open is known for its disruptive forces -- air traffic, car traffic, human traffic. Noise. And if there is one thing tennis players are known for, it's their desire for peace and quiet during play.
But Todd Martin, who has excelled time and again in front of raucous crowds in New York and Davis Cup matches around the world, said it is all a myth -- at least as far as he's concerned.
"We talk about movement and the crowd and noise and all these things and, boy, we need silence and stuff like this," he said. "We don't need silence and we don't need stillness. But if there is noise and if there is movement, it's better if everybody is loud. It's better if everybody is moving. That's how it feels. That's almost easier than silence."
Andre Agassi (1) vs. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (28) Women today
Saori Obata vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne (2)
Jennifer Capriati (6) vs. Emilie Loit
Xavier Malisse, Belgium, def. Agustin Calleri (19), Argentina, 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Dmitry Tursunov, Russia, def. John van Lottum, Netherlands, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
Mark Philippoussis (20), Australia, def. Anthony Dupuis, France, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
James Blake, United States, def. Sargis Sargsian, Armenia, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (6).
Ivo Karlovic, Croatia, def. Hicham Arazi, Morocco, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6).
Sjeng Schalken (12), Netherlands, def. Lars Burgsmuller, Germany, 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.
Alberto Martin, Spain, def. Albert Costa (25), Spain, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Roger Federer (2), Switzerland, def. Jean-Rene Lisnard, France, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0.
Younes El Aynaoui (22), Morocco, def. Rafael Nadal, Spain, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (6).
Rainer Schuettler (8), Germany, def. Nicolas Kiefer, Germany, 6-1, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.
Nicolas Massu, Chile, def. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
Jiri Novak (10), Czech Republic, def. Jan-Michael Gambill, United States, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Flavio Saretta, Brazil, def. Nicolas Lapentti, Ecuador, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0.
Carlos Moya (7), Spain, def. Wesley Moodie, South Africa, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Lindsay Davenport (3), United States, def. Melinda Czink, Hungary, 6-0, 6-2.
Nadia Petrova (19), Russia, def. Amanda Coetzer, South Africa, 6-0, 6-1.
Elena Likhovtseva, Russia, def. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
Amelie Mauresmo (5), France, def. Maria Kirilenko, Russia, 6-4, 6-2.
Paola Suarez (24), Argentina, def. Alicia Molik, Australia, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
Kim Clijsters (1), Belgium, def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (27), Russia, 6-3, 6-2.
Meghann Shaughnessy (17), United States, def. Vera Zvonareva (13), Russia, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Tamarine Tanasugarn, Thailand, def. Daniela Hantuchova (9), Slovakia, 6-2, 6-4.
Arthur Ashe Stadium
(Play begins at 11 a.m.) Day session Amy Frazier, United States, vs. Elena Dementieva (11), Russia
Jennifer Capriati (6), United States, vs. Emilie Loit, France
Andre Agassi (1), United States, vs. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (28), Russia Night session Robby Ginepri, United States, vs. Todd Martin, United States
Louis Armstrong Stadium
Mary Pierce, France, vs. Shinobu Asagoe, Japan
Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic, vs. Lleyton Hewitt (6), Australia
Taylor Dent, United States, vs. Fernando Gonzalez (15), Chile
Paradorn Srichaphan (11), Thailand, vs. Fernando Verdasco, Spain
Anastasia Myskina (7), Russia, vs. Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, Spain