NEW YORK — The John McEnroe post-mortem continues apace. Barely was the ink dry on the headlines in New York's tabloids Wednesday--"McEnroe's Open is Closed," "McEnroe KO'd at U.S. Open," "Mac's Down and Out"--when opinions began to pour in as to the precise nature of McEnroe's failure.
His loss to Paul Annacone Tuesday in the first round at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow left no player at a loss for advice.
"The talent is there, and he can get it back--if he wants to put the work in," Martina Navratilova said. "I haven't seen him, but I hear he looks very thin. You can lose weight but that doesn't mean you're in shape in the lungs. I know if I had six months off, I'd be in the best shape of my life."
Tony Trabert, a former player and now a CBS-TV analyst, agreed that the success of McEnroe's return to the tour after a 6 1/2-month layoff is entirely in McEnroe's mind.
"He can do it, but the question is, does he want to do it?" Trabert said.
Other players agreed with McEnroe's own assessment that he timed his return incorrectly.
"I feel sorry in his particular case," Boris Becker said. "He was trying to make a comeback, and it's very difficult after six months. Maybe he started his comeback a little bit too late."
Mats Wilander, seeded No. 2, is himself considering applying to the Men's International Professional Tennis Council for permission to take a prolonged break from the tour.
"Tennis is the only sport in the whole world where you have to play every month of the year and you can get one, two weeks off but that's all," he said.
"I think it's good for every player to take a little break. I think that seven months that John did is maybe too long."
McEnroe is still in the tournament. He and partner Peter Fleming are the 14th-seeded doubles team and have yet to play.
Perhaps the most stirring first-round match Wednesday was between Elizabeth Smylie of Australia and Lori McNeil of Houston.
Smylie finally defeated the 22-year-old McNeil after nearly three hours, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6.
There were 16 service breaks, with each player losing eight service games. The difference was that McNeil, who had plenty of chances to win, double-faulted or made unforced errors in the more stressful situations.
McNeil was serving for the match at 5-4, before a packed gallery on one of the outer courts, when her serving motion seized up.
She double-faulted at 15-30 to bring up the first break point. She hit a running forehand passing shot to hold off one break point, but Smylie smacked a cross-court passing shot on the next point to break even.
McNeil, who trains with Zina Garrison, is having a good run through tournaments this summer. "We have really been working on the mental aspect of the game, using imagery to help me keep my head on the court," McNeil said at the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles tournament.
Her match experience was clearly lacking in the tiebreaker. McNeil was up, 4-2, but watched in frustration as Smylie ran off four straight points.
Becker, seeded No. 3, advanced after some initial problems with Glenn Michibata, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, in a first-round match.
He had a more difficult time at the postmatch press conference, however, fending off reporters' questions regarding his diving style of play.
In Wednesday's match, Becker took one diving roll. He was asked if he is careful not to roll on concrete courts. Becker interpreted the question as asking why he didn't dive more often.
"They are my bones, and so far I didn't get hurt," he said. "Of course, I'm going to dive more at Wimbledon. Why do you want me to dive? When I am in the hospital, then it is my mistake."
Becker also remarked that the wind and noise on Stadium Court were greater factors than in any other Grand Slam tournament.
"On the court at Wimbledon, you (the fans) have to be quiet, otherwise they throw you out," Becker said. "Here, you can do just about what you want. You can play a saxophone in the stands and nobody cares."
Third-seeded Steffi Graf had little trouble beating Becker's former girlfriend, Susan Mascarin, 6-0, 6-1, in 40 minutes. Mascarin did not once hold her serve but managed to break Graf in the fifth game of the second set.
"I think I was playing pretty good tennis," Graf said. "She was not such a tough opponent, but I think today I was playing pretty well."
Graf said she is happy to be here, in one piece. The 17-year-old West German had a successful early summer and an unhealthy late one. She missed Wimbledon because of a virus and played only briefly in the Federation Cup after a table fell on her toe and broke it.
"I was really hoping to be able to play here," Graf said. "After the broken toe, it was not so sure. But it healed pretty fast so I am really happy about playing here. I think it's one of the best tournaments I like to play."
All male players here will undergo mandatory drug testing, in accordance with the 1986 drug-testing rule passed by both the players' organization and tennis administrators. The women have no such rule. Chris Evert Lloyd, president of the Women's International Tennis Assn., responded this way when asked Wednesday why there is no testing among the women: "Well, we don't recognize . . . I mean, we recognize that we don't have a problem. But I can only speak on behalf of the women. I don't know why (the men are) doing it or how they came to that decision. But I just know that on the women's behalf we don't feel we have a problem. We're not going in for the testing. But maybe next year we will, so that doesn't rule it out."