NEW YORK — After the preliminaries--which included one drawn-out tantrum, a hefty fine and two-month suspension--the long-awaited match of the U.S. Open finally arrived Wednesday night.
The elements were all there for a great match. John McEnroe versus Ivan Lendl under the lights at the National Tennis Center here. The present No. 1 player against the former champion in the quarterfinals. They hadn't played a complete match since the 1985 Open, in which Lendl wrested the top ranking from McEnroe and hasn't relinquished it since.
Bright lights. Big city. Big zero. McEnroe-Lendl turned out to be nothing more than just a pale imitation.
There were no dramatics on the court, or off it. McEnroe wasn't summoned to the side of his pregnant wife, Tatum O'Neal, in the middle of a fifth-set tiebreaker.
Maybe, though, it would have been better for McEnroe if his wife had gone into labor during his match with Lendl. After all, it might have been more exciting for the record crowd of 21,016 if McEnroe had stopped his labor against Lendl.
Wednesday, McEnroe couldn't even manage a break point against Lendl's serve. He caught the Chris Evert syndrome and double-faulted three times in the seventh game of the match. That gave Lendl a 4-3 lead and he never faltered, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in 2 hours 21 minutes.
The decisiveness of Lendl's victory made it appear as though the two-time defending champion had played one of the best matches of his life.
However, Lendl begged to differ.
"I thought I served well when I had to," he said. "I played solid, but I didn't think it was anything special. I thought I should have returned better."
Then Lendl got to the root of the problem: why the match wasn't one of the better ones of their long series. Lendl stated the obvious, saying that while McEnroe was playing better than last year, he still was far from vintage Mac.
"He's a bit slower," Lendl said. "His second serve doesn't sting you anymore. His volleys sit up, but he doesn't always get to all the balls he used to get."
McEnroe, the eighth-seeded player, was far from distraught after the one-sided loss. Remember, he's getting good at this, having dealt with first-round defeats in recent Grand Slam events. He lost to little-known Horacio de la Pena in the French Open and Paul Annacone here last year.
"I thought he played extremely well and I wasn't able to do much with his serve," McEnroe said. "I felt a little flat for some reason. I don't know why. I left my game in the locker room and you can't afford to do that against a guy as good as he is."
Perhaps a reason for McEnroe's flatness can be traced to his recent on-court exploits. During his third-round match against Slobodan Zivojinovic last Saturday, McEnroe received three code violations, and was merely one tantrum away from being defaulted.
The next day, McEnroe was fined $17,500 and suspended for two months, all of which is subject to appeal. Mr. Turmoil had created a pretty decent mess, and combined with O'Neal's pregnancy, it wasn't exactly the best mental preparation for the likes of Lendl.
In his first three service games in the first set, McEnroe looked crisp, especially in the opening game as he won it at love when Lendl hit a backhand return wide.
Then came Game 7, and the downfall of McEnroe. Some crowd noise disturbed him just before he was going to serve and both players were forced to wait for the spectators to settle in their seats. As it turned out, Lendl didn't have to do much as McEnroe double-faulted three times. The third double-fault came on break point.
"I got distracted when we stood there for three minutes," McEnroe said. "I let it get to me, he didn't."
This is coming from a player who can seemingly play his best tennis when the world seems to be crashing down around him. Now, Lendl is recognized at being the best at blocking out distractions.
Lendl went on to make a break in the second game stand up in the second set, and he did it again in the third game of the third set.
So, Lendl advances to the semifinals against Jimmy Connors, the No. 6-seeded player who defeated No. 13 Brad Gilbert, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, earlier Wednesday. Gilbert had pulled off one of his biggest upsets in beating Boris Becker in the fourth round Monday, but--as usual-- was unable to complete a successful follow-through.
Meanwhile, No. 2-seeded Stefan Edberg and No. 3 Mats Wilander advanced to today's quarterfinals after finishing their respective rain-delayed matches. Edberg beat Jonas Svensson, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3, and Wilander defeated Ken Flach, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6. Others to reach the quarterfinals were No. 5 Miloslav Mecir, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 winner over Mark Woodforde, and unseeded Ramesh Krishnan, who beat Andrei Chesnokov, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Edberg plays Krishnan, while Wilander meets Mecir, the Swede beater.