Morocco's threesome of Younes El Ayanoui, Hicham Arazi and Karim Alami are all gearing up for an important week of tennis at the Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida.
96 of the game's biggest stars are entered in the draw at Crandon Park, which implies that each player will be facing tough competition from the outset of this 11-day ATP event.
The friendly rivalry shared by these three men is one of the factors behind the success each of them has enjoyed on the professional tennis tour. According to El Ayanoui, "we talk to each other to see if we can play in the same tournaments. It means we can have dinner together and it's better to be together than alone." This camaraderie also translates into a friendly rivalry between the three countrymen, which provides an added incentive for each of them. "There is a kind of motivation against each other, a little competition. We are great friends, but we like to check to competition," said El Ayanoui.
At the moment, Younes El Ayanoui is leading the race, currently ranked 10th on the Champions Race with 110 points. Arazi (shown in the picture) is not far behind, in 15th place with 89 points, while Alami currently sits in 46th position with 41 points. All three players hope to capitalize on this week's tournament to obtain valuable points and move up in the rankings. The winner of the Ericcson Open collects 100 points.
El Ayanoui, the tournament's number 16 seed, receives a first-round bye by virtue of his ranking. In the second round, he will face either German Rainer Schuttler or Byron Black, the wily veteran from Zimbabwe. Other dangerous players lurking in El Ayanoui's portion of the draw include Andrei Medvedev, runner up to Andre Agassi at last year's French Open and Greg Rusedski, who possesses the best serve in the men's game. Surprisingly, El Ayanoui has already registered 151 aces in 2000 (placing him sixth among all men), while Rusedski is not even among the top ten in the ace department.
Alami, the tournament's number 27 seed, also receives a first-round bye. If he overcomes either American Jan-Michael Gambill or Czech Slava Dosedel in the second round, he would likely meet fifth seeded Swede Magnus Norman in the third round. Arazi, seeded 29th, could face fourth seeded German Nicolas Kiefer (the winner in Dubai earlier this year) in the third round.
230,000 spectators are expected to attend this tournament, formerly known as the Lipton Championships, which has become entrenched as the second largest tennis tournament in the United States. Among the favorites heading into play are top-seed Andre Agassi, second-seed Pete Sampras, current Champions Race leader Yevgeny Kafelnikov, in addition to two Australians: Patrick Rafter (shown in the adjacent picture) and teenager Lleyton Hewitt. Still, the men's draw is wide open and it is quite conceivable that a lower-seeded player will emerge as champion. Last year's winner and 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek will be unable to defend his title, as he is still recovering from a knee injury.
Photos are courtesy of www.1stserve.com 
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )