LA QUINTA — This was bound to happen. Just when organizers of the Pilot Pen tennis tournament were beginning to regard last year's fiasco (when top-seeded players collapsed like cardboard boxes) as only a distant nightmare, the whole thing started again.
It might be called Black Friday, if it weren't for the oppressive heat and glaring sun. It was the day top-seeded Mats Wilander wilted and lost to 10th-seeded Thierry Tulasne, 6-4, 6-3, in the quarterfinals of singles play. It was the day third-seeded Boris Becker gave in to fifth-seeded Joakim Nystrom, 7-6, 6-2.
It was the day that tournament officials were happy they had sold nearly all the tickets for the remainder of the tournament.
About the only positive note for Becker was he didn't receive any code violations--either for language or coaching. The West German had complained Thursday that officials were picking on him.
Friday, neither his coach, Gunther Bosch, nor his manager, Ion Tiriac, sat in their usual seats so as not to draw fire from the referee.
No amount of coaching could have saved Becker from Nystrom Friday. Nystrom, a Swede with a two-handed backhand, a vicious forehand and deep reserves of patience, wore Becker down.
Becker, who is playing in doubles here as well (so is Nystrom), said he was simply too tired.
"Perhaps I was not used to the heat," Becker said. "Yesterday evening I was feeling very tired. I played a long doubles match and singles. I told my coach I did not feel well.
"This morning my legs were burning. I could not move well. I couldn't find my rhythm. That's his game, not making mistakes and waiting for you to make one. I had some good shots, but I played pretty bad."
Even on a bad day Becker served 10 aces. His serve is still a potent weapon, but Friday it was an inconsistent one. Becker doublefaulted three times and had trouble getting his first serve in.
Still, Becker broke Nystrom's serve in the first game of the match. Nystrom, who rivals Jimmy Connors for having the best return of serve on the tour, broke back in the fourth game. He prevailed in the tiebreaker.
Nystrom broke in the fifth and the seventh games of the second set to win easily.
"In the second set I played well," Nystrom said. "If I would have lost the first set it would have been tough. I felt pretty good. I felt he would miss some balls. Usually with Boris you have to do that (be patient). I think I played better today than I did at the (U.S.) Open."
It was there that Nystrom derailed the much-anticipated John McEnroe-Becker confrontation in the quarterfinals with a win over Becker.
What Nystrom may have gained from that win was greater insight into Becker's game and the knowledge that the 18-year-old is still just a teen-ager whose game is vulnerable.
"I saw two things today," said Bosch, Becker's coach. "His adversaries are seeing patterns in his game now. Boris does not put away his first volley. Many of the players try to place their second shot low (near the net), so they can pass Boris.
"The second thing is Boris has lost the fun of tennis. His happy-go-lucky attitude has disappeared. He seems to react to pressure much more, not positive. He approaches the game with less enthusiasm."
This is the second tournament for Becker since the Masters, where he lost a tough final to Ivan Lendl. Since then, Becker was eliminated in the third round in a tournament last week in Florida, losing to Milan Srejber, No. 69 in the world.
"You cannot imagine the pressure on Becker," said one European journalist here. "In West Germany, they are crazy for him. He can't go near his home."
Becker won't be going home anytime soon. He and his Davis Cup teammates are heading for Mexico City next week in a first-round match against Mexico.
Tulasne's win was an upset, but not to tennis insiders. Many have seen this coming. The 22-year-old Frenchman is ranked No. 21 in the world and has beaten Wilander, No. 3, two times in the last four months.
"In the last four years I have been working very hard to change my game," Tulasne said. "Now, I try to get my second serve in better so they do not come in on it.
"I also think I have better confidence against Mats since I beat him before. In the beginning of the second set, he seemed to miss a little bit. I think he was tired. He became more careless."
Tennis Notes Fourth-seeded Yannick Noah survived a scare from Mikael Pernfors. Noah won, 7-5, 7-5, and will play his countryman Tulasne in today's semifinal. . . . Jimmy Connors, the No. 2-seeded player, beat David Pate, 7-5, 6-4. Connors plays Nystrom today.