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U.S. Open Notebook: Queens mother, daughter high above the action

Sitting high atop the 23,219-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in the last row at the National Tennis Center Monday afternoon were Doris Alleyne-Hall and daughter Donna. While their ticket stubs read Section 331, Row Z, the South Ozone Park residents couldn’t be happier to be present to watch Patrick Rafter and Pete Sampras do battle in one of the most anticipated matches of the 2001 U.S. Open.

“They should give out oxygen tanks so when people reach their seats, they could catch their breath,” joked Doris Alleyne-Hall, a member of the United States Tennis Association, who also has the same tickets for this weekend’s finals. “But it’s still good because there are no bad seats.”

And while their view of the New York City skyline was just about as good as their view of the court, Donna Alleyne-Hall was happy to just say they were present to watch the epic battle, won by Sampras in four sets.

“If we could be in Row A or in the Loge we’d be a lot happier,” she said. “But as long as we can say we were there, it doesn’t matter where you sit. I’m not complaining.”

An All-American Labor Day

It seemed appropriate that on Labor Day, a holiday synonymous with Americana, that three of this country’s brightest stars were featured on center court.

Opening the afternoon was women’s No. 2-seeded Jennifer Capriati, a native New Yorker, who defeated 19th-seeded Barbara Schett of Austria, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals where she will face No. 8 Amelie Mauresmo, who defeated fellow Frenchwoman Nathalie Tauziat in a three-set thriller.

Next up at Arthur Ashe stadium was fan favorite Andre Agassi, who disposed of 13th-seeded Roger Federer from Switzerland, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The second-seeded Agassi said getting such a rousing ovation from the finicky New York crowd was great.

“It’s what makes me want to get out there and play. If the crowd was indifferent, I think I would be,” Agassi said. “Especially here in New York, so many memories — good and bad — difficult and overwhelming. To come back here for 16 years, still feel that connection, it’s a wonderful thing.”

And finally there was the match the overflow crowd had waited several hours for — American Pete Sampras vs. Australian Patrick Rafter. A match between two players who have won six U.S. Open titles between them is usually reserved for later in the week, but because of the luck of the draw, tennis fans Monday were treated to a battle of two of the game’s best.

For just more than 2 1/2 hours, the fans were treated to tennis at its highest level and when Sampras clinched the match with an overhead smash, he celebrated as if it was a final.

“It’s a huge match, playing Pat, who is worthy of a big match, a semi or final here,” said Sampras, who will now take on Agassi in what should also be a classic in quarterfinal scheduled for Wednesday night. “You have to emotionally treat it like a final, at least I did.”

A Supreme Saturday

The U.S. Open is pulling out all the stops for the first ever prime-time women’s final. The 8 p.m. match, which will be broadcast live on national television, will be preceded by a performance by legendary Diana Ross. A 100-member children’s gospel choir and the trumpet section will accompany the former lead singer of The Supremes from the Broadway play, “Blast” when she sings “God Bless America.”

“Diana Ross personifies prime-time and is the perfect performer to mark what will be a historic night for women’s sports and the U.S. Open,” said Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive, Professional Tennis for the USTA.

Following the women’s final, tennis legend John McEnroe from Douglaston will face Germany’s Boris Becker at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the $100,000 winner-take-all Heineken Challenge.

Happy Anniversary

Monday marked the 120th anniversary of the conclusion of the first U.S. Championships, held Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, 1881 at Newport Casino in Newport, R.I.

Harvard University student Richard Dudley Sears defeated William Glynn 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 in the singles final. Only a handful of fans attended the first U.S. Nationals and the four-day tournament earned a total profit of $4.32. This year’s tournament will earn revenues of over $150 million.

Another anniversary was celebrated Sunday as Tommy Roberdo defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1). It marked the 100th time in U.S. Open history that a men’s singles match was decided by a fifth-set tie break, 31 years to the day when the tie-break made its debut in the 1970 U.S. Open.

Quote of the Week

Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic was asked about New York City’s large Croatian population after his straight sets win over Hugo Armando last Wednesday afternoon.

“There are a lot in Astoria,” he said. “That’s the Croatian part of the city. Lots of them. I can’t tell you the exact number.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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