"Zippy" Chipper despite Loss
Sept. 7, 2004
'Zippy' chipper despite loss By Bud Collins, Globe Correspondent | September 3, 2004 NEW YORK -- A couple of the somebodies around here are going to walk away from Flushing Meadow with a million bucks apiece in their petty cash stash. You can call them champ. An overaged nobody out of Israel named Tzipora Obziler is leaving town with $25,000 as a second-round loser in the US Open, and it will mean more to her than breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. The check will keep her solvent for a while, and on the road pursuing her sporting desires, reinforcing the warm memory of what she did yesterday. For 2 1/4 sun-blessed hours, Zippy, as she is known to family, friends, and colleagues, zipped, ripped, and zapped the No. 1 lady in her trade -- Justine Henin-Hardenne -- more than the defending champion cared for. No, Zippy didn't win. (Do you suppose Moses called Tzipora, his roommate, Zippy?) It was 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 for Henin-Hardenne, the Olympic gold medalist, who said: "I was worried . . she didn't give me the opportunity to find a good rhythm . . . but I didn't expect she was covering the court so good . . . she was running all over . . I had to work hard on every point." From a terrible start the former Sergeant Obziler of the Israeli Army was on the march. This was "a dream every player has," Obziler said later, "to play against the best on a major occasion. To see what you can do." That dream seemed unlikely for her. Obziler is 31, an ancient on the female tour. She had dropped off the circuit for a couple of years, out of money, and was earning her keep giving lessons at a tennis center outside Tel Aviv. Somewhat better than the $100 a month in the army, but no room and board. For her, No. 133 among the women, after battling through the brambles of the qualifying tournament, and the first round (four wins), the unexpected occasion was a date with Henin-Hardenne on the Open's principal playground, Ashe Stadium. About 15,000 mildly interested devotees, giving "Who's she?" shrugs when Zippy was announced, were positioning themselves for a swift blowout -- the swifter the better -- as a prelude to their man, Andre Agassi, taking over the territory to beat up a German, Florian Mayer. "I think I prepared well for this," Obziler said. "I got up at 6 Wednesday so I could practice on the court at 8, to get the feeling. I never played in a stadium like that before. But I was nervous anyway, and the first four games went fast." At 0-4, a New York bagel (but without onions) was rolling in her direction. She got out of the way barely. But it looked as bad at 0-2 in the second set. It was there that she peeled away the jitters and decided she should "enjoy" this occasion and really start running after balls. "Running, I do well," said the 5-foot-8-inch Obziler. Running, hounding down Henin-Hardenne's best shots and banging them back confidently, she changed the course of the match. Suddenly folks started paying attention as she climbed back into it. She was soldiering on "because I wanted to stay out there. I liked it. "I could feel the crowd getting behind me. It was great. The support filled my heart." The ex-sergeant was running Henin-Hardenne through a basic training obstacle course. Proficient with an Uzi or an M16 rifle -- "everybody in the army had to be" -- she was firing at the champion with a racket, winning the second set, even at 1-1 in the third. Clad in yellow, Obziler must have seemed like an attack of jaundice to Henin-Hardenne. The champion, recovered not long ago from a serious virus, appeared in need of a bucket of Mama Obziler's chicken soup. "She makes it very good," said Zippy. "Of course." Doing her required army duty, Zippy had a desk job in intelligence. "A lot of classified stuff" is all she would say. But she kept playing intelligently yesterday. Henin-Hardenne had to labor 11 minutes through six deuces to hold to 3-1, and 14 minutes and six more deuces, only to be broken to 4-2. However, Henin-Hardenne, serving miserably (44 percent), pulled herself together to win the last two games. She is one of the somebodies who could make off with the first-prize million. But the nobody, Zippy, was nonetheless happy, pleased with the 25 grand that will keep her going. Billie Jean King had encouraged her to resume her career. "We met two years ago when I played Federation Cup for Israel against her US team," said Obziler. "I was off the tour then, and Billie Jean urged me to return. "I thank her for that. I know I can play with these women, and reach my dream of being in the top 100." Perhaps a modest dream, but being one of the best 100 players on earth ain't chopped liver. © Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.