By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov
So there was Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten, the popular Brazilian tennis player, gracefully sleepwalking his way through an early-round match against Robby Ginepri last week at the Mercedes-Benz Cup tennis tournament at UCLA. With his rag-doll limbs and mop of curly hair, the three-time French Open champ is something of an anomaly in the men’s game, which is increasingly populated by machine-tooled giants who would not look out of place on a basketball court. Guga isn’t small — he’s 6 feet 3 inches tall and 167 pounds — but there’s nothing remotely bionic about him. He’s tennis’ Inner Child, a sweet-tempered purveyor of silken groundstrokes, the epitome of happy-go-lucky youth. When he walks to his chair during changeovers, he does so with the eccentric, musical gait of a poet. Watching him makes people feel happy.
Guga’s free-flowing, artistic game, which will later draw gasps of admiration from the crowd during a losing effort against Andre Agassi, is all the more striking for the hard-nosed commercialism in which it is embedded. From the Mercedes logos sewn into either side of the net to the orange Earthlink fans handed out to the crowd, the tournament’s backers have colonized almost every available space. “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven,” said Jesus, in a passage (Matthew 6:1-2) that should be memorized by all corporate sponsors. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do . . . Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
Verily, They do. The clubhouse and all the best seats, for a start, but until the semifinals, they don’t bother to actually drive out to UCLA and sit in them. On a weekday at a minor tournament like this one, the audience is made up mostly of aficionados, and the bleachers are half-empty under a blazing sky. All age groups are represented, from wrinkled retirees in floppy white hats that look like bandages to child prodigies only slightly taller than their tennis rackets. There are a lot of athletes, or would-be, or used-to-be, or someday-will-be, athletes. There are a lot of sporty middle-aged women, usually in pairs, wearing ankle bracelets rather than wedding rings. There are hulking guys, all Ray-Bans and five-o’clock shadow, and strapping gals in slinky summer dresses. It’s a very body-conscious crowd.
After Ginepri extends the first set to a tie-breaker, Kuerten calmly raises his game and wins the second set easily. The next match is between Marat Safin, the 21-year-old Muscovite who demoralized Pete Sampras in last year’s U.S. Open final, and Xavier Malisse, a slick, ponytailed Belgian who looks like trouble and used to date it in the form of Jennifer Capriati. Safin, who’s a symmetrical 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, is reputed to be a wit but plays like a robot that’s been incorrectly programmed. When he’s “on,” as he was against Sampras, he’s untouchable. Today he’s moody and bored, a tennis-court Hamlet: “Balls, balls, balls.” Several times he flings his racket to the ground in disgust, but as Goran Ivanisevic has helpfully suggested, if you’re going to smash a racket, smashit. Safin never does. Even his petulance is ambivalent, and Malisse beats him in straight sets.
Since there are always seats available in the early rounds, you can watch a few games, and then go catch a doubles match or check out the practice court, on which massive power-players fine-tune their 140-mile-per-hour serves. During one session, 18-year-old American Andy Roddick hits a ball so hard it pops through the chainlink fence and almost removes a spectator’s head. Since the spectator in question is yours truly, I repair to the food court for a beer.
On my way I pass a gaggle of kids waiting outside the entrance to the players’ section. They’re collectively willing Guga to come out and sign some autographs, despite having been told by the security guard that Guga’s already left the grounds. The kids wait patiently anyway, clutching pens and giant yellow tennis balls covered in the black scrawl of hastily scribbled player signatures. An hour later, they’re still there, and the guard can’t get rid of them. “Guga left. Guga no here. Guga go home,” he tells them with amused exasperation, trying to wave them off with his arms. “Guga got in a car and Guga go away.”
Reluctantly, two or three kids pick up their stuff and walk off. The rest remain. “Guga! Guga! Guga!” they chant. I almost join in.
Onstage at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo, left to right: transparent Lucite podium (with matching microphone-and-MC ensemble), 8 feet of empty stage, two high-back chairs (red), another 8 feet of stage, four judges of equally mixed and alternating genders (the females wearing tiaras) seated behind name plates at a foldup table.
The 61st Nisei Week Japanese Festival Baby Show contestants have been divided into two social categories: Boys and Girls. Each “Boy” and “Girl” has been assigned to one of three age-specific competition categories: Tiny Tots (ages 12 to 23 months), Romper Stompers (24 months to 3 years, 11 months) and Jet Setters (4 years to 6 years, 1 month).
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