New York Away from the antics of an abrasive tennis dad and the muttering of fans unhappy about a new statue at the U.S. Open, Magnus Norman labored like a forgotten man in pursuit of the No. 1 ranking.
For all the attention Norman commanded, he could have been a qualifier searching for his first victory and a shoe contract. Certainly, the drama lay elsewhere Wednesday.
There was Jelena Dokic's father, Damir, getting tossed by police from yet another tournament, this time for berating a players lounge cafeteria worker over the price and size of the salmon she served him. Bobbies kicked him out of Wimbledon in June after he went into a drunken rage, but they let him back the next day. U.S. Open officials won't be so lenient, banning him for the rest of the tournament.
There were the fans who were offended or confused by the statue in the new Arthur Ashe Commemorative Garden, a 14-foot bronze that doesn't look like Ashe, doesn't have a racket and isn't wearing any clothes.
There was the parade of popular players moving ahead smartly Martina Hingis, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles among the women, Mark Philippoussis and Pete Sampras among the men.
Then there was Norman.
Norman projects none of the charisma of Andre Agassi, none of the power of Pete Sampras, and has none of the Grand Slam titles that they possess.
Yet, in the quirky way the ATP Tour rankings work, Norman could take over the top spot in the year-end race without even winning a major tournament. In fact, only Norman and Sampras are in position to pass No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten, a first-round loser, when the U.S. Open ends. Agassi could win his second major of the year and still not be No. 1.
Norman, No. 2 in the race at the moment, took his first step back toward the top spot he briefly held last spring, beating Paul Goldstein 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
It was a sweet performance, filled with fine touch shots, long rallies, quick sprints, and a nice blend of groundstrokes and volleys.
For those few thousand fans who bothered to watch in mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium, Norman gave them a show, hustling to chase down shots and eliciting the kind of oohs and aahs that are regularly heard when a player like Agassi or Sampras or Patrick Rafter play.
"I'm very confident," said Norman, who is seeded for the first time at the open No. 3 and is coming off a victory in a tuneup tournament. "I feel very honored to play on the center court today. It's great to be appreciated more in the States than maybe somewhere else."
For all the top players in action, it was a day of routine second-round victories.
No. 1 Hingis breezed crushed Kristina Brandi 6-1, 6-1; No. 3 Williams beat Kveta Hrdlickova 6-1, 6-1 in 48 minutes; No. 6 Seles beat Anne Kremer 6-3, 6-4; No. 8 Nathalie Tauziat beat Maria Alejandra Vento 6-3, 6-1; No. 9 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beat Sonya Jeyaseelan 6-4, 6-1; No. 11 Sandrine Testud beat Iroda Tulyaganova 6-4, 6-3; and No. 15 Capriati advanced 6-2, 6-2 against Henrieta Nagyova.
Among the men, No. 6 Marat Safin beat Thierry Guardiola 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4; No. 10 Cedric Pioline beat Sargis Sargsian 6-3, 6-3, 6-1; and No. 15 Philippoussis downed Albert Portas 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
Sampras, a four-times U.S. Open champ served 13 aces in a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Justin Gimelstob.