Rockville's Paul Goldstein finally saw a familiar face across the tennis court tonight at the Pan American Games when he faced fellow American Cecil Mamiit in the men's singles final.
Goldstein beat his friend, who he had played seven previous times, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, to win the gold medal and become the first American man to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games since 1983, when Greg Holmes won in Caracas, Venezuela.
"I play tennis every week, and I compete to win," said Goldstein, 23. "But this is the only time I get to compete for a gold medal, and that's a real neat thing. . . . I haven't won a tournament in a while. That's the thing about tennis -- you can play every week and lose. So to go through an entire tournament and not lose was also kind of nice."
Goldstein and Mamiit also met in the first round of the Lipton Championships in March, with Mamiit winning, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. Goldstein won in three sets when they met in the final of the 1993 USTA national 18-year-old boys championships.
Goldstein did not drop a set en route to the final here, defeating Jamaica's Jermaine Smith, Argentina's Eduardo Masso and Brazilians Daniel Melo and Paulo Traicher. Goldstein needed only 56 minutes to defeat Traicher in the semifinal, 6-1, 6-0.
"It generally takes a while to settle into a tournament," Goldstein said. "Playing at the same site, in the same city, for a few days, your confidence level increases. The further you get, the better you play. I generally am not in [tournaments] this deep."
Goldstein, who attended Sidwell Friends and then played at Stanford University, skipped two ATP tournaments to play in the Pan Am Games. His ranking -- No. 92 -- surely will drop after this event. He is not playing for an Olympic berth. But there was never any question that Goldstein would be here.
"Missing two weeks on the North American hard court tour -- that's a bit of a sacrifice," Goldstein said. "But it was really a no-brainer. The USTA has been so supportive of my career, that when they asked, it was an easy decision. It's not necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it is definitely a unique experience getting to represent your country. And now I'm playing good tennis, too."
The Pan Am Games can be a steppingstone to bigger and better things. Arthur Ashe won a bronze medal at the 1967 Pan Am Games -- the last time the Games were held in Winnipeg.
In March 1995, Chanda Rubin was ranked 38th and skipped the Lipton Championships, one of the year's biggest tournaments, in order to travel to Argentina to compete at the Pan Am Games.
Rubin won the bronze medal in singles and the silver in doubles. A few months later, she advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open. One year later, when Rubin returned to play in the Lipton, she was ranked sixth.
Maybe Goldstein -- who has been pleased with his "efficient and productive" play on the court here -- can do the same thing. He will play in the Legg Mason Classic in Washington later this month and then head to the U.S. Open.
A good showing at the Legg Mason -- in front of his home fans -- and at the U.S. Open would be a nice conclusion to Goldstein's first year on the professional tour. Goldstein reached the third round of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.
"I feel good about where I am," said Goldstein, who made his professional debut at the 1998 Legg Mason. "My confidence level is at a higher level than when I started. I feel comfortable with my decision to turn professional; my periods of down time and frustration are a lot less now."
Goldstein has not had much free time in Winnipeg. His neighbors from Rockville, Dave and Lee Sislen, are here for a quick visit -- sandwiched between a business trip to Chicago and a wedding in Colorado -- to watch Goldstein play. The Sislens arrived on Tuesday, just in time to see Goldstein beat Melo, 6-4, 6-4.
Together, Goldstein and the Sislens watched team handball and were planning on watching judo. Goldstein has made a point of attending other events (such as badminton and volleyball) and interacting with other athletes, even though he is not staying in the village.
"One of the cool aspects of a tournament like this is the camaraderie among the fellow nations," Goldstein said. "I've met people from Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago -- maybe I can vacation in some of those places one day. This is a competitive atmosphere, but it's not the same as the [professional] tour . . .
"One of the things the USTA is trying to do is to get [American] players to foster more of a team atmosphere," Goldstein said. "It's easier to do that at an event like this, where it's more of a team format and you're representing your country."
Pan Am Notes: Saying he was the unwitting victim of a "dirty trick," Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor angrily disputed the positive cocaine test that cost him his Pan American Games gold medal.
"I am innocent," the world record holder told foreign reporters as he left his home in Havana.
In an interview published and broadcast by Cuba's state media, Sotomayor said he doesn't even take vitamins. He pointed out that countless previous drug tests at competitions and by Cuba's official sports doctors had all showed negative results.
"I have only seen that substance in the movies," Sotomayor said about cocaine in an interview with the Communist Party daily Granma. "I am the victim of a maneuver, a dirty trick." . . .
The United States under-18 team won the first gold medal ever awarded for women's soccer at the Pan Am Games with a 1-0 victory over Mexico. . . . Maria Vento became the first woman from Venezuela to win the gold medal in tennis when she beat American Tara Snyder, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, in the final. . . . Cuba dominated the inside play in the second half and beat the Americans, 87-78, in women's basketball to advance to the gold medal game against Canada, which upset Brazil, 56-54.