INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — If Michael Joyce continues to play tennis as he did Wednesday in the second round of the Newsweek Champions Cup, his story may become one of riches to riches.
Joyce, ranked No. 82 in the world, outfoxed the very foxy Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, 6-3, 6-4, before the rains brought gridlock to the tournament at midafternoon. Bjorkman, ranked 49 points higher than Joyce at No. 33, is a Swedish Davis Cup player who routed Joyce the last time they played at last year's Lipton tournament.
"It was something like 4 and 1 [actually 6-3, 6-1]," Joyce said. "And I think today he was expecting me to fold so it would be like that again."
Not only did Joyce, a cat-quick 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, not fold. He came back from 3-1 down in the second set and served it out at 5-4 to advance to a third-round match against Pete Sampras, who won by default Wednesday.
The ATP Tour points acquired by winning three qualifying matches, plus a first-round victory over 16th-seeded Gilbert Schaller and Wednesday's upset of Bjorkman, will put Joyce very close to his highest ranking, No. 68 just before last year's U.S. Open. And were he to beat Sampras, that would put him in the magic top 50 that he set as his goal this season.
"I've got a chance," he said. "I'm playing good right now, and Sampras hasn't played at all since he hurt his ankle and dropped out of the tournament last week. Besides, I played him in the Australian this year and won the first set, plus I had some break points later."
Were Joyce to move into the top 50, or even higher, the prize money that would accompany such a move would enhance a lifestyle that Joyce is certainly familiar with. He grew up in Holmby Hills, a Westside area in Los Angeles where poverty is when your tennis court has cracks in it.
Joyce's family is in the movie industry, so his tennis court didn't. He learned the game in the backyard from parents who still play often and well. He went to a high school, St. Monica, where they didn't even have a tennis team, so he went through the Southern California junior program and out into the national junior rankings. When he was 18, in 1991, he was ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 4 in the world.
He reached the semifinals of the French Open juniors and the final of Wimbledon juniors, and turned pro after winning in the first round of the main draw of the '91 U.S. Open. It appeared his tennis life, perhaps much like childhood in Holmby Hills, would be a bowl of cherries.
But Joyce dislocated his left shoulder twice in 1992. The first injury occurred when he fell during a match; the second during USTA training camp, in a pickup basketball game that included Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson.
"He fouled me hard," Joyce said, laughing.
Then, during a long, tiring trip to Asia last April, he came down with mononucleosis.
"I played one match with a temperature of 104, and I won," Joyce said. "But my doctor made me come home."
Now, healthier and happier, Joyce is ready for a breakthrough.
"In the next few months, I've got five or six tournaments where I can pick up some points," he said, "and where I can get into the top 50.
"I could go out right now and play another match. I haven't felt this good in a long time. I'm pumped."