NEW YORK -- When the 16 men's seeds were first announced for the U.S. Open tennis championships that begin here Monday, an initial response from many was, "Where are Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe? There must be some mistake." But there was no mistake. Connors's world ranking is in the 80s and McEnroe's is in the mid-20s, so, unless the U.S. Tennis Association did some serious fiddling, neither player could be seeded.
Almost half the men's seeds -- seven -- are American, led by Andre Agassi at No. 4 down to Jim Courier at 14, with U.S. citizen-to-be Ivan Lendl No. 3. The top three seeds -- Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Lendl -- are where they should be. Connors, who said he won't play after retiring from a weekend match with leg cramps in addition to an injured wrist, would have been in position to meet Edberg in the third round -- if he'd survived 1985 Wimbledon finalist Kevin Curren in the first. McEnroe is also in Edberg's quarter of the draw, and if he just plays tennis and keeps his mouth shut he should reach the round of eight.
The other half of the draw offers a can't-miss first-round match between Dan Goldie and 12th-seed Pete Sampras, a bright 19-year-old from California. Another floater in this section is Tim Mayotte, also unseeded. Agassi's quarter has Derrick Rostagno, recent winner at New Haven, Conn., and another must-watch first-rounder between 11th-seeded Michael Chang and Mikael Pernfors of Sweden by way of the University of Georgia. France's Henri LeConte, one of the sport's flashiest shot-makers, is a possible third-round opponent for Chang or Pernfors.
But the featured first-round match is 1988 Open winner Mats Wilander against eighth-seeded Brad Gilbert. Amazingly, Wilander is unseeded amidst one of the most bizarre drop-offs of the Open era. The Swede, who lost his father to cancer this past spring, is in a slump that shows no sign of ending. Gilbert should win.
The newcomer to watch is 15th-seeded Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia. He is easily the most exciting fresh face, and this left-handed string bean with lasso-like strokes is slated to meet his Wimbledon semifinal opponent, Becker, in the round of 16. Becker will have his hands full.
The women's seeds have no anomalies, excepting the absence of Pam Shriver due to recent shoulder surgery. Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Zina Garrison and Gabriela Sabatini are seeded one through five. That established, the next inquiry is predictable: Where is Jennifer Capriati? Well, she's seeded 13th and in Graf's portion of the draw -- exactly where she was at Wimbledon two months ago. And I suspect the same results will ensue. Graf's too strong for this prodigy of the MTV generation.
Capriati's understudy is 15-year-old Chanda Rubin, an accomplished black player and honor student from Lafayette, La., who received a direct acceptance into the draw. Rubin plays a wild-card entry in the first round to meet 1989 French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the sixth seed, in the second.
On paper, Navratilova's draw looks easy until a likely fourth-round matchup against Debbie Graham, 1990 NCAA champion. Sabatini has 6-foot-1 Helena Sukova in the round of 16, the winner to possibly meet Seles. And, oh yes, if you haven't seen Seles since last year's Open, she's now 5-9, and still growing.
If for no more than curiosity's sake, an interesting first round is Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva against older sister Katerina. The oldest sister, Manuela, is married and in the other half of the draw.
I'm predicting Graf-Navratilova and Edberg-Becker in the finals. They are clearly, for now at least, the class of their lineups.