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For pros, U.S. Open loss hurts ego, perks

Of the several hundred professional tennis players who began matches at the U.S. Open two weeks ago, all but eight -- two men and six women playing in two finals and one semifinal Sunday -- have lost.

They have done so without ceremony and seemingly without breaking a sweat, as Alexandra Panova did on the first day of main draw play when she fell to top seed Victoria Azarenka, 6-0, 6-1, in 50 minutes; and in matches that stretched over hard-fought days whose end had the gravity of a state funeral, like Andy Roddick's career-ending 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 fourth-round loss to Juan-Martin del Potro.

All these losses share certain logistics, as David Brewer, the tournament director, explained one afternoon last week.

It starts, he said, shortly after the player leaves the court, when he or she must face the media, something most do within the hour. Doping tests may follow.

Then, 48 hours after the loss, the player's credentials expire, along with those of any coaches, parents or friends. While still valid, these keys to the kingdom carry perks like a $35-per-day meal allowance and chauffeur service to and from the Queens tennis center.

Three days after the loss, each player's $230 per diem expires. By then, the tournament will usually have wired the player's prize money. A first-round singles loser this year earned $23,000; whoever loses in the final Sunday may suffer regrets, but can wipe away the tears with $950,000.

Besides, the Open offers one final perk to all who lose in the main draw -- free car service to the airport.

Many of those who lost are headed to more tournaments, albeit lower-profile and smaller-pursed than the Open, that start this week in Canada and Uzbekistan for the women, across Europe and China for the men.

An informal survey conducted over the past two weeks seemed to confirm that -- starting with John McEnroe, who spoke for many when the announcer said, recounting his playing days, "If I lost, I was out of there."

"I hate to stay in a tournament when I lost," agreed Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, who lost in the second round to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt. Much of the time, he said, he can't bear to watch the tournament on television, let alone live.

"You see the guy you lost to and had a match point on, and you're thinking, 'I could be there, that's my spot.' So I just focus on myself and keep on practicing."

Ditto for American journeyman Bobby Reynolds, who lost a five-setter in the first round of singles play and days later in doubles by a third-set tiebreaker.

"Sayonara," he said. "I'm out of here when I'm done talking to you."

Even Melanie Oudin, the bubbly 20-year-old American who reached the quarterfinals here in 2009 but lost in the first round of singles and doubles this year, said that in most cases it's best to simply "move on."

But she quickly reconsidered her answer.

"I like watching matches at the Slams," she said. "There's such an energy at the U.S. Open with the crowd. It's pretty cool."


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