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Los Angeles Tennis Tournament : McEnroe Is Back to His Old Tricks, and Wins

September 20, 1986|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

It was just like old times with John McEnroe Friday night. Back was the deft touch at net, the passing shots, the angry shouting, the arguing. . . .

McEnroe beat David Pate, 6-3, 7-6, in a quarterfinal match at the $315,000 Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles Friday night, and he also resurrected his former on-court personality and his former on-court performance.

Seeded No. 6 here and ranked No. 20 in the world, it is clear that McEnroe has not been playing near to his past form. Those were the days when he was consistently miraculous, especially at the net where his superior reflexes were most apparent.

He played closer to that standard Friday night than he has in some time, at least since he has returned to tennis after a layoff.

Back, too, and as sharp as before, was McEnroe's short fuse.

As 7,176 fans at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA alternately cheered and jeered, McEnroe smacked his racket to the ground, argued with the linesmen and berated people in the stands.

"I feel like, in a lot of ways, this is the best match I have played," McEnroe said. And, for the umpteenth time in this tournament, McEnroe observed, "I'm moving in the right direction."

It was almost as if Pate were not a factor in the match, which was nearly the case in the first set. Excluding one service break, Pate won exactly one point off McEnroe's serve in the first set.

The break came in the fourth game, when McEnroe's first serve wavered, and Pate jumped on the second serve. Of course, a double fault to make it love-40 helped.

But it proved to be a momentary lapse in McEnroe's serve. He had only one other double fault in the match.

Pate broke again in the second game of the second set, but McEnroe was able to bring the match to 6-5. Then, at match point, Pate served an apparent winner that sent McEnroe immediately marching to the unpire's chair.

There was much yelling and arm waving, with the tournament referee and the Men's International Professional Tennis Council supervisor called in to mediate.

"A guy yelled right after Pate served," McEnroe said. "It broke my concentration. I was hoping to get a let played on that point. Especialy when it was match point."

But Pate held serve to send the set into a tiebreaker, and the crowd, which had been fickle, now cheered lustily for Pate.

"I would prefer to get the crowd involved, but that's not what I'm shooting for," McEnroe said. "I think the crowd wants to get its money's worth, and I feel like I'm giving them their money's worth."

McEnroe, however, denied the fans anything longer than 1 hour 41 minutes of tormented tennis. It was the best he could do, which is much better than he has done in a long time.

McEnroe's win, coupled with Brad Gilbert's 6-2, 6-2 win over Pat Cash in another quarterfinal Friday, sets up a rematch of last year's bad blood second-round match here.

McEnroe was struggling with his game at the time, and Gilbert was at a stage in his career when he was trying to establish himself among the top players. To Gilbert, that meant not backing down from McEnroe's intimidating style.

To McEnroe, Gilbert was behaving in an arrogant fashion. McEnroe didn't like it and said so.

McEnroe won, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, and, afterward, both players made it clear why they don't go out for drinks together.

They met again in January of this year at the Master's in New York. Gilbert beat McEnroe when McEnroe was at the height of his frustration with the game. It was after that match that McEnroe quit tennis for 6 1/2 months.

For Gilbert, today's semifinal is just another match. "It's whoever is going to be on the other side of the net," Gilbert said.

Gilbert, seeded second here, advanced without much of a fight from Cash. Gilbert's serve was damaging, and his return of serve was enough to put the Australian on the defensive.

"I felt I really returned well," Gilbert said. "When he missed his first serve, I felt I was in control of the points, even though he was serving."

When Gilbert was serving, Cash could do little. In fact, Cash was able to win only two points off Gilbert's serve in the second set.

"He played very well, he returned very well," Cash said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself by missing so many first serves. Obviously, I'm not in top form. He hit every line he could hit and every net cord. He had all the luck. That's the name of the game."

In other quarterfinal matches, top-seeded Stefan Edberg of Sweden beat Derrick Rostagno, 6-0, 7-5, and Edberg's countryman, Peter Lundgren, beat Jaime Yzaga of Peru, 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.

Edberg's victory put an end to Rostagno's run through this tournament; he had come through qualifying to the quarterfinals without losing a set.

Against Edberg, however, he was going for every shot and just missing the lines. After winning the first set in 11 minutes, Edberg had a letdown in the second, but came back as Rostagno began to hit balls wide.

'Today I was too close to the lines," said Rostagno, who is from Brentwood. "I was aiming three or four feet in but the balls were going wide on me."

Tournament Notes Today's schedule has two sessions. The first semifinal is at 1 p.m., with Edberg-Lundgren and the evening semifinal is at 7:30, with McEnroe-Gilbert. Tickets for both of today's sessions are still available. Sunday's finals are sold out.

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