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U.S. Open Notebook: Bombshell Kournikova eliminated after 44 minutes

Much like the cable network E! says about the “Anna Nicole Smith show” in its trailers about the new reality show, the Anna Kournikova show Monday at the National Tennis Center wasn’t supposed to be funny, but that didn’t stop the overflow crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium from laughing, cheering and finally booing the Russian tennis diva in her embarrassing 6-3, 6-0 loss to unseeded Angelique Widjaja.

Kournikova, who was also unseeded, had the distinction of being the only player to sell out Armstrong Stadium Monday in her first U.S. Open singles match in three years.

But the crowd, featuring more than a few male Anna-maniacs, dwindled soon after Kournikova dropped the first set, 6-3. Forty-four minutes and 40 unforced errors later, Kournikova’s 2002 U.S. Open was over and what was left of the crowd let the blonde bombshell hear it with a loud chorus of boos.

“I didn’t play well at all. I wasn’t in the match,” Kournikova said. “I was just not there. I didn’t play well. It was just a very bad match for me.”

Amazingly, the first set was tied at three before Widjaja, who had one winner the entire match, reeled off nine consecutive games and sent the crowd to the exits. At one point during the match, Kournikova rushed the net ready to nail a forehand winner only to see the ball smack off the wall behind the baseline. What was left of the crowd roared in laughter.

In a break in the action, one fan gave his impressions of the match to a friend on the other end of his cell phone.

“She’s losing to some Indonesian chick ranked lower than her. It’s horrible!,” he said. “But yeah, she looks great.”

But not everyone left disappointed.

“I don’t care if she loses, she’s hot,” said 15-year-old Jason Moss.

Another player who draws a lot of attention because of her looks is 17-year-old American Ashley Harkleroad. The blonde, who drew Kournikova comparisons because of her racy outfits at last year’s Open, also fell in the first round Monday. Harkleroad lost in straight sets to No. 24 Iva Majoli, 6-3, 6-3 on the Grandstand.

Marshall a Williams fan

Among the thousands who were cheering for top-seeded Serena Williams Monday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium was Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, a U.S. Open veteran.

Marshall cheered loudly for Williams when the Wimbledon and French Open champion was introduced before her opening round match with Corina Morariu and continued to clap favorably for her throughout the match.

Marshall, who sat behind Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former Mayor David Dinkins, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and New York Fire Department Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and in the same section as Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, stopped cheering for Williams briefly, just long enough to say a quick hello to Astoria native Tony Bennett, who was part of the stirring “Salute to Heroes” before the night session.

A Heroic effort

The fans may have wanted Serena Williams to win — and the women’s top-seed obliged in straight sets — but they also gave a warm ovation to Morariu, who made her triumphant return to Grand Slam tennis after being diagnosed with leukemia in May 2001.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be back here,” said Morariu as she battled back tears after the match. “There are days when you feel so bad and things get so difficult that you don’t think you’ll be able to do the things you used to.”

Morariu’s return meant a lot to many on the women’s tour, who supported the former top doubles player in the world throughout her life-threatening illness.

“I remember being here at the Open last year and she had no muscle, obviously had no hair and was very frail,” said Lindsay Davenport, herself making her Grand Slam return after a knee injury. “You see her now, it’s almost like that didn’t really happen to her last year. It’s really amazing.”

Even Williams felt a little bad about having to spoil Morariu’s comeback.

“It’s very courageous to come back after all that she’s been through,” Williams said. “It takes a lot of courage and character to do what she’s done.”

A perfect pro debut

Her first day as a professional tennis player started like many others for Bea Bielek from nearby Valley Stream, L.I. She woke up in her own bed, drove to the familiar National Tennis Center and promptly won her first professional match, beating Renata Voracova, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the U.S. Open Monday.

The NCAA champion out of Wake Forest, who entered the tournament as a wild card, closed out the match in style, ripping four straight aces past Voracova.

“Being in that situation, to serve out the match, I knew that I wanted to put some pressure on her to come up with the winner,” the 21-year-old said. “I knew if I came up with some deep first serves that I would be on the offense. Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with returns.”

Quote of the Day

Corina Morariu, who was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2001 puts her first round loss to Serena Williams in perspective.

“There were definitely a lot of emotions. When you have a tough time walking up the stairs in your house, it’s tough to imagine you’ll be able to play or compete against Serena Williams.”

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

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