NEW YORK — If John McEnroe remains true to his word, a person who hasn't arrived in this world could have the biggest impact on his prospects in the U.S. Open.
The tournament will open today at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow and McEnroe is scheduled to start, too. But his wife, Tatum O'Neal, is expected to have their second child during the second week of this Grand Slam event. Actually, her due date is Sept. 11, two days before the men's final.
Aware of possibilities, McEnroe issued the family plan last week: When Tatum begins her labor, he will stop his.
Thus, the tennis world could be waiting for a possible McEnroe-Ivan Lendl quarterfinal confrontation that will never happen. One contraction, Mac insists, and he's history. Even, from all accounts, if he were to reach the men's final Sept. 13.
Anyway, he figures to be OK for now, and, barring a premature birth, will begin his bid for a fifth Open title when he plays Matt Anger of Pleasanton, Calif., this afternoon in a first-round match on the Stadium Court.
Anger, ranked No. 71, is also a serve-and-volley player. Although he has dropped off from No. 23 in early 1986, Anger can come up with superior performances against the highly ranked. Lendl needed to win a fourth-set tiebreaker before he could subdue him at Wimbledon last year.
McEnroe is on a path that could lead to a meeting next week with No. 1-ranked and two-time defending champion Lendl, who will open the men's competition on the Stadium Court this morning against South Africa's Barry Moir. Moir, ranked No. 122, is not expected to provide much of a test.
What could be a stiff test for a top player in the men's field will occur tonight on the Stadium Court. West Germany's Boris Becker, fourth seeded, faces Tim Wilkison of the United States. Wilkison, ranked No. 51, beat Yannick Noah in an exciting third-round match here last year and also beat Becker at Atlanta in 1986.
This time, Becker should be ready because he's trying, and needs, to make amends for his second-round departure at the last Grand Slam event, Wimbledon. Other intriguing matches today in the men's field include 13th-seeded Brad Gilbert of Piedmont, Calif., playing Peter Doohan of Australia and 11th-seeded Henri Leconte of France against American Andre Agassi.
Doohan, of course, caused Becker's premature exit from Wimbledon. Gilbert beat Becker this summer, too, at Washington, en route to his runner-up finish there.
Leconte has been struggling to find his form since having back surgery after suffering an injury at Indian Wells, Calif., in February. Agassi is the player known for his youth, forehand and funky hair, not necessarily in that order. Agassi, 17, pushed Lendl to three sets at Stratton Mountain, Vt., in early August, after upsetting Wimbledon champion Pat Cash in a previous round.
Lendl offered an assessment of Agassi before they played, delivering this scouting report:
"A haircut and a forehand."
And, Lendl could have included: Does well at Stratton and so-so everywhere else.
Today, against Leconte, the 70th ranked teen-ager from Las Vegas can make his first move to get the last item corrected.
Like Leconte, Hana Mandlikova of Czechoslovakia has been trying to get herself righted since her foot injury before Wimbledon. Until Mandlikova played a tournament in Manhattan Beach in mid-August, she hadn't played a match since losing to Nathalie Herreman at the French Open. At Manhattan Beach, Mandlikova lost to Gabriela Sabatini, and then, a week later, she fell to Barbara Potter.
Today, though, the fourth-seeded Mandlikova gets a chance to avenge her defeat to Herreman. It should be one of the better opening women's matches, since defending champion Martina Navratilova is a heavy favorite against Kate Gompert of Rancho Mirage, Calif., in the second match on the Stadium Court.
One other interesting match-up is sixth-seeded Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia against Melissa Gurney of Palos Verdes. Sukova won just five games against Katerina Maleeva--little-known outside her native Bulgaria--at a tournament last week in New Jersey. The Gurney-Sukova match is also worthy of attention because Sukova is in Navratilova's half of the draw.