Westwood Racquet Club was buzzing Monday. Children scurried, players griped, parents worried and officials acted officiously, humorlessly. Everyone was waiting. Watching and waiting.
The whispering began Monday. "How good is this Hu Na?"
"Hu knows?" went the joke.
It all seemed like so much hoo-hah after Hu Na lost in a women's satellite tournament, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, to Mexico's Claudia Hernandez Monday night.
Hu, displaying quickness at the net and a sharp volley, bowed in 1 hour 19 minutes because she lacked a good serve and imagination from the base line. "I did not have confidence in my serve," she said later.
After the shouting of the press conference died, the lithe, agile Hu excused herself. She was found crying in the players lounge.
Hu's emotional reaction was understandable after the afternoon's hoopla.
When she arrived at the club the USTA designated Britain's Shelly Walpole as a practice partner. And to make room on Court 2, officials interrupted a match between Kathleen Cummings and Shelby Torrance.
"This is stupid," Walpole said. "I can't believe they're making them change courts. I mean, she's just another tennis player."
Other players, hanging around the vending machines, watched in disbelief. "This is too much, much too much," Carol Bertrand said. "The girls have to agree to this. I wouldn't have agreed."
"She's just a normal, average player," Carol Coparanis griped.
During Hu's 50-minute practice session, a Millcreek Township policeman was stationed next to the court. No one else was allowed within breathing distance.
"I'd feel funny if a cop watched me practice," said Bertrand.
A half-hour before the big match, some of the tournament staff lugged white, plastic flying saucers to the entrance, as part of a giveaway to the patrons.
"What are those, Hu Na Frisbees?" cracked Jill Beck, one of several exasperated players.
Hu Na Frisbees would have flown perfectly in the frenzied two days in Eriesistible Erie (that's the city's semiofficial slogan), a quiet industrial town in northwestern Pennsylvania, a town that has seldom seen as much excitement since John F. Kennedy stopped at the Hotel Lawrence during his 1960 presidential campaign.
"This is a lot of hoopla for Erie," said Cindy Bargielski, who was minding the front desk at Westwood.
"Nothing much happens around here," said Herschel Sontheimer, a social studies teacher. "Biggest thing is the snowstorms."
Hu created a blizzard of her own when she first practiced on Sunday.
All three networks, four Taiwanese TV stations and several out-of-town newspapers and radio stations helped create a carnival atmosphere surrounding the 20-year-old from Chengdu, who defected last July and was playing in her first tournament since that time.
The passel of Taiwan or Taiwan-affiliated press corps was attributed to the sensational style in which she defected.
"Everyone in Taiwan is interested in her motive, what's going on with her, what she's going to do," explained Vivian Yang of China TV. "Everyone is just crazy about it."
What did Hu think of all this attention? "I like the press," she said, smiling.
The press waited in vain for an in-depth interview with Hu. Yang had spoken to her privately previously. "She's a very bright girl who wants to make friends. When her coach (Bob Huang) isn't around, she wants to talk more freely.
"I asked Huang about Hu's ankle, and she interrupted: 'Don't ask him. Ask me; it's my leg.' That's just like a little girl."
Westwood Racquet Club, built 11 years ago by Phil Levick, right off West 27th Street and Zuck Road, near the K-Mart, seemed an unlikely place for this zany attention.
But Levick remembers when Renee Richards won the First National Bank/Michelob Light satellite women's event here four years ago.
"I took Renee out to dinner and people were pushing to get her autograph. She caused a tremendous amount of interest."
On Sunday, Frank Clark, the tournament chairman, beefed up security around the club by hiring a policeman, at $9 an hour, in case of trouble.
Westwood wasn't exactly Fort Westwood, but owner Levick wasn't taking any chances. "Last week I had a lady come in who said to me: 'Why should we let a girl who defected play?' It's hard to answer people like that."
"Why shouldn't she play?" asked Dorothy Andrews, busy with the accounting. "They let Martina (Navratilova) play and she defected."
Levick observed that there are crackpots in the world.
"I'm nervous about playing her," Hernandez, a 17-year-old from Guadalajara, admitted before the match.
"But when I get out on the court, I'll forget about all the press and other stuff."
Amidst the fuss, several players stopped by the front desk to pick up the red T-shirts provided by the club.
Does Hu get one? a visitor asked.
"I think we forgot her," Bargielski said with a twinkle.
Hu's forgettable performance against Hernandez did not merit a T-shirt.