HK-bound Rafter vows to focus on what he does best

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 1997, 12:00am

Australian pin-up boy Patrick Rafter is aiming to keep his face on the sports pages and not the fashion magazines when he takes part in next month's US$328,000 Salem Hong Kong Open at Victoria Park.

On his last visit to the territory, for October's Marlboro Championships, Rafter arrived in Hong Kong a day early for a fashion shoot for local magazine B-International.

Although he enjoyed the venture, the 24-year-old resident of Bermuda has no immediate plans to leave the tennis courts for the catwalks of Paris.

'It was a lot of fun,' said Rafter, who made the cover of B-International's January edition which featured six-page spread inside.

'I was a bit nervous at first but the photographer was great and got me to laugh and relax. It was a long day. A lot of fun. But I'll stick to my day job.' Rafter has also been featured on the cover of Cleo magazine as one of Australia's 50 most eligible bachelors.

Rafter won the Marlboro Championships last year and is looking forward to another good performance in the Salem, from April 7-13, which will feature world number one Pete Sampras and Michael Chang.

The Aussie was in fact beaten in last year's Salem by Sampras, losing 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) in the quarter-finals.

'At that time, I was returning from a wrist injury and was just happy to be on the Tour,' he said.

'I played an average match against Pete and still took him to a second set tie-breaker.' In 1994, suffering from fever, Rafter was beaten in straight sets by Chang in the final.

'Hong Kong is one of my favourite places to visit because of the good times I've had there,' said Rafter.

He was also beaten by Sampras in the final of this year's Philadelphia tournament after winning the first set.

'There were a few Aussies in the crowd and they had the flag out,' said Rafter of the Philadelphia final. 'It was a great match, the crowd loved it and so did I. I was playing great and it was tremendous playing in that atmosphere against such a great player.' Rafter also played a major role in Australia's Davis Cup victory over last year's champions France earlier this year.

He came back from 2-0 down to defeat Frenchman Cedric Pioline and was hailed as a national hero by the Australian press.

Hong Kong were beaten 2-1 by China in their second pool match of the KB Fed Cup in Wellington, New Zealand.

In-form youngster Tong Ka-po gave the territory a great start with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Chen Yan before Qian Yijing defeat Hong Kong's Tang Min 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.

The territory were then beaten 7-6, 6-4 in the doubles. Following their upset 3-0 victory over Thailand on Monday, Hong Kong must now beat Kazakhstan in their final pool tie to enter the next round.

Coach Ashley Hobson said: 'Tong is playing unbelievable tennis. She is serving big and making very few unforced errors. Tang had her chances but made some tactical errors. She was 5-3 up in the third set and serving. It was heartbreaking.

'There has definitely been some mental errors. But the girls are doing great, although they are tired. We now must beat Kazakhstan.'