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Sergio Takes Center Stage

He met Hingis earlier this year at tennis's Australian Open, where she lost the final to Jennifer Capriati. It was a match made in shoe heaven. "I was in the players' lounge when she walked in, and some Adidas guys introduced us," says Garcia, who like Hingis is an Adidas endorser. The Swiss tennis star, who turns twenty-two this month, took an instant liking to the Spanish free spirit, who stays in shape with weight-room workouts and cutthroat tennis. Garcia's buddy Jesper Parnevik calls him a savage on the court, but Sergio is toast when he and Martina play. "Yeah, she beats me," Garcia says. "She beats me at Ping-Pong, too." They cruise the Spanish coast in his $200,000 Ferrari 360 Modena, which can do 190 m.p.h., and run up world-class cell-phone bills when they're apart.

She says he isn't threatened by her fame. He says she never looks bored when he talks golf, "and that's hard to find in a girl." It is equally hard to think they'll stay together forever, given his reputation as a testosterone factory and her prior short-lived romances, including one with the Florida lawyer who prosecuted a man who was stalking her. But before you write off their romance, watch them together for a few hours. These are young lovers who actually like each other. At a recent awards banquet where they were the youngest people in the room, they sat through hours of speeches. They nuzzled, held hands, fed each other hors d'oeuvres. He made funny faces, she laughed. As the night dragged on, Martina tucked her head against Sergio's shoulder and he stroked her hair. Sergio's game, his English, his celebrity romance—all are works in progress. He may never match Tiger Woods's talent, may have to live with the misfortune of playing in Woods's era, a time when genius wins and mere excellence finishes second. But as the gap between Woods and Garcia has narrowed, some golf fans have found that it's more fun rooting for Garcia.

Jimmy Roberts of NBC met Garcia at the 1998 British Open. "I had heard about this phenom with the mind-boggling lag in his swing. What I found was a kid with a great happiness to him, a sweetness," Roberts says, "and the talent to be the best player in the world. Has he grown up since then?No. And I'm delighted to say that. He is still a kid, and I mean that in the best way, in an envious way."

Greg Norman saw the talent, too, as well as a little of himself in the kid. "I remember when I was having fun out there, being loose and free on the golf course," says Norman. "But even I became a bit cynical and stoic toward the end, as the pressure built up. I hope that won't happen with Sergio."

Sergio the stoic?It's not likely. Garcia may be growing up, but he is in no hurry to finish the process. Asked if we should retire his old nickname and call him "El Hombre," he says no, not yet: "I am not a kid anymore, but I don't think I'm a man. I am right in between."

Last question: Is there an English word that defines golf for Sergio?

"Fun game," he says.

But that's two words—one too many.

He grins: "I bogeyed!"

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