In his first tournament as a professional, and in his first match in the $315,000 Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles tournament, Kelly Jones drew John McEnroe. So much for the luck of the Irish.
McEnroe proved to be the luckier Irishman--luck being an item he had run short of lately. McEnroe made his debut in this tournament by beating Jones, ranked 518th in the world, 6-1, 6-1, Wednesday night. The luckless Jones had only 1 hour 3 minutes to soak up that professional ambiance, or what was dished out by a wishy-washy crowd of 6,792 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.
The fans were restless for more--more tennis than the McEnroe-Jones match provided and more antics than a calm McEnroe was willing to give. They had to be satisfied with the few times that anger seeped out of McEnroe, mainly when he was dissatisfied with his play.
One such moment came in the fourth game of the second set when McEnroe netted an easy forehand to give Jones the first break point of the match. It also proved to be break point for McEnroe's racket, which he slammed to the court in disgust, then picked up in pieces.
On the next point, McEnroe hit another forehand into the net to give Jones the break. The crowd, which had loudly saluted McEnroe when he waved as he entered the stadium, had now gone over to the other side, hoping for, if not three sets, at least longer games. It took most people 63 minutes just to park.
Jones was doing his best to prolong the evening, as if lingering on a brief but exciting date. In fact, it was Jones' languishing at the baseline before his serves, his methodical bouncing of the ball and his slow-poke pace that irked McEnroe.
"I just thought he was taking a little too much time--it didn't bother me, obviously," McEnroe said.
Obviously. He was so bothered by Jones' serves that he allowed the 25-year-old Pepperdine graduate to hold serve only once. Meanwhile, McEnroe was busy blasting eight aces on his serves while having only one double fault in each set.
Jones has a fine serve under normal conditions. Center court against John McEnroe in your first professional tournament is not normal conditions.
"I felt pretty good when I entered the match--I was serving well," Jones said. "Suddenly, the timing went a little bit. Then a little more. I never got it back."
He never got even close to the form he had in the first set. Jones, who had no double faults in the first set, had six in the second--four to lose games, including a double fault on match point.
"He was returning well--that put pressure on me," Jones said. "I suppose I started speeding up, I felt I was getting rushed. I was nervous. I felt like I was controlling my nerves well. But as soon as my service game went, I got more nervous."
McEnroe said that he, too, was nervous. "When you're not nervous anymore, there's a problem," he said. Seeded No. 6 here and ranked No. 20 in the world these days, McEnroe was no doubt a little anxious about what the night would bring. His return to tennis after a 6 1/2-month layoff has been fraught with disappointment and regrouping.
McEnroe lost in the first round of the U.S. Open and said, among other things, that in his zeal to get into better condition and improve his diet, he had lost too much weight.
"It was too much too soon," McEnroe said. "I've had some tough draws and I had some things I didn't foresee. I'm trying to do the best I can. It's not something I'm used to."
Asked what his training regimen consisted of, McEnroe said: "I change every week. Eventually I'm going to hit on something that works."
His serve, normally a thing of powerful beauty, took a game or two to start working Wednesday night. McEnroe started the match by double faulting on the first point. No matter. He won the game and then broke Jones to jump to a 2-0 lead.
After holding his own serve in the third game, he gave a helpful suggestion to Jones in the fourth. As Jones lined up on the wrong side of the center line to serve at 0-15, McEnroe yelled: "Did you think it was Love-30?" Gallows humor for Jones, a loose night for McEnroe. He won the first set in 30 minutes.
"I think I played pretty well and he had an off day, that was the end result," McEnroe said. "I think I'm going in the right direction. That's really my goal: to get back into competition and play consistently. It's going a little more slowly than I'd like. But every now and then I can see it. I was on top of a couple of balls tonight.
"It's still there. But I don't have it there consistently. My game isn't consistent, that's the difference."
Jones' double faults sealed his fate in the second set. He double faulted at love-40 to lose his serve in the first game and double-faulted on the first and last points to lose his serve in the third game.
His big triumph, and the crowd's biggest thrill, was the break in the fourth game. But even with a broken racket and a failing forehand, McEnroe was simply too much for Jones.
After double faulting at 15-30 in the sixth game to give Jones his second break point of the match, McEnroe bore down. He then served two aces, a service winner and an ace to go up 5-1.
Jones, wearing his nerves on his short sleeves, double faulted at set point to bring a memorable end to his first night as a pro.
It was a thrilling night for Jones, who said he had distributed at least 25 tickets to family and friends who made up in volume what they lacked in numbers.
Jones' brother drove from San Diego to see him play. "It was 2 1/2 hours to get here," Jones said. "Five hours in a car to watch one hour of tennis."
Jones was not discouraged.
"I feel this is a good beginning for me," he said.
In second-round matches, Pat Cash of Australia defeated Todd Witsken, 6-3, 6-2; Jaime Yzaga of Peru ousted Ramesh Krishnan of India, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2; and Peter Lundgren of Sweden beat Glenn Michibata of Canada, 6-0, 6-3.