McEnroe, Wilander Bounced; Nos. 4 and 5 U.S. Open Seeds Eliminated in
August 31, 1989
NEW YORK - There were bound to be upsets at the U.S. Open but the stunning pair that occurred in the second round tonight could not have been expected. John McEnroe was defeated in four sets by a qualifier named Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands. Defending champion Mats Wilander of Sweden was upset in five sets by Pete Sampras, 18, born in Potomac and ranked 91st. Sampras broke fifth-seeded Wilander's serve twice in the final set and then held for the match after overcoming four break points and serving three aces. His 5-7, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory was his first over a top 10 player, and a resounding one for the resourceful teenager, who was raised mostly in California.
The last time a defending champion was defeated so early in a U.S. Open was 1973, when Ilie Nastase lost to Andrew Patterson.
"At the start I really didn't believe I could beat Mats Wilander," Sampras said. "But he gave me a couple of opportunities, and I took advantage. It really all depended on how I was playing. I was going to win it, he wasn't going to lose it."
Fourth-seeded McEnroe's season of renewal ended when an old moodiness struck him. McEnroe, 30, had thought he was beyond all this, rising to No. 4 in an extraordinary comeback year. But Haarhuis, a 23-year-old ranked No. 115, accomplished the upset of the tournament, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
"I am too disgusted to think straight right now," McEnroe said.
McEnroe was given perhaps his first realistic chance of victory since he won his last major championship here in 1984 and was a finalist in '85. But he twitched at his shirt, stalked and circled and argued, but could not gain any consistency. He yielded a crucial service break in the 11th game of the final set with a stunning double fault.
Haarhuis went on to hold serve with ease, building double match point, 40-15, with two service winners. When McEnroe lofted a weak running forehand, Haarhuis slapped an emphatic forehand volley and clenched his fist.
"You're always excited to play somebody like John McEnroe," he said. "I'm in the underdog position. I qualified and I won one round. So I can just go out there and have no pressure and play. I have nothing to lose."
Defeat was a far from an unusual sensation for Wilander, who has been mysteriously unambitious ever since he captured the No. 1 ranking with his victory here last year, and so was seeded only fifth.
He has been unable to make a Grand Prix final and has achieved just two semifinals all season as he has dropped to No. 5. He lost in the second round at the Australian Open, in the quarterfinals at the French and in the quarterfinals to McEnroe at Wimbledon.
"It was disappointing to be playing that badly. I've lost in all of the Grand Slams. So that doesn't matter. But the way I was playing, I was disappointed. It was like a 0-0 soccer match. Terrible."
So Wilander probably was ripe for such a defeat, and Sampras was just the player to give it to him. Sampras turned 18 only earlier this month, but has for some time been regarded as a coming player, perhaps behind only Andre Agassi and Michael Chang as an American prospect. He reached a quarterfinal and a semifinal last year. He has a well-rounded game, adept at the baseline but also possesses an array of canny volleys, which he used to Wilander's endless frustration.
"I don't know if he had the desire to win," Sampras said. "I don't know. It's hard to say what's going through his head. I expected him to play better."
Wilander tried desperately to prevent Sampras from serving out the match. In the final game he had a total of four break points, including 15-40. But Sampras killed the first with a service winner and the second with a magnificent ace down the middle. Wilander got another break point with a nailed forehand return at the teenager's feet, but Sampras smothered that with a huge forehand angled winner, and then delivered another ace down the middle for match point. And then he double faulted.
Wilander used the reprieve to hurl a backhand at Sampras's oncoming feet for his fourth break point, but gave it away with a forehand wide of the line with all kinds of open court available. And Sampras then served his third ace of the game, for match point again. Wilander's next return of serve was a drifting forehand wide, and Sampras leaped into the air.
"If there's a time to play Mats, it would be this year," he said. "He's kind of struggled."
Perhaps there was someone somewhere who had heard of Haarhuis, who in January was ranked 460th. Certainly the Netherlands is not known for its tennis. "Internationally, we are not existing," he said.
This was just the most recent of McEnroe's series of early upsets on what are deemed by many his home courts, growing up scant minutes away in Douglaston, N.Y. In 1986 he was defeated in the first round by Paul Annacone. In 1987 he was a quarterfinalist, but a fragile one. Last year he was a second-round victim of Mark Woodforde. He periodically had been absent from the game, a victim of exhaustion and his own temperament.
It will be a duller Open without McEnroe, who finally had seemed to overcome his torments and whose surge this year was a marvel. He made the semifinals of Wimbledon and had lost just five matches before tonight, all to players ranked among the top three. He twice lost to top-ranked Ivan Lendl, once to No. 2 BorisBecker, and twice to No. 3 Stefan Edberg, including that Wimbledon semifinal when he struggled with an injured shoulder.
"I had just played so well, and I had a good year," he said. "I just let the conditions and the situation affect me too much. . . . There is really not much there right now. It's not something I care to share with the world press, to be perfectly honest. "To lose to a guy I hadn't even seen before is pretty bad." Haarhuis turned out to be a smooth, elegant player with some strokes. Statistics indicated McEnroe played less than his most elegant tennis. He won only 59 percent of his approaches to the net, considerably under the 70 percent or so he usually does, with the finest volleying in the world.
"I don't have an explanation," McEnroe said. "I don't need
to say how big a tournament this is, but I just could not get it going.
I couldn't get into it." There is no worse opponent for a seeded player
in the early rounds of an Open than a fearless one. Haarhius was certainly
one of those, and another was Derrick Rostagno, who swept the first two
sets from second-seeded Becker with shocking ease. But Becker was just as
reluctant to be beaten, and profited from a touch of luck when he killed
two match points in their fourth-set tiebreaker to emerge by 1-6, 6-7 (1-7),
6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 in 4:26.
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