WASHINGTON -- Mind games.
When the match started, the thermometer attached to the umpire's chair said the temperature was 105 degrees on the court. An hour later, it was up to 106 and Jaime Yzaga had the first set safely tucked away against Malivai Washington.
That's when Steve Krulevitz caught Yzaga's eye and delivered a pep talk from afar in the form of a mimicked quick right hand to the midsection.
The longtime tennis tourist from Baltimore has been coaching Yzaga for more than a year now and, in addition to the usual strokes and grips and strategy talk, there's a lot of discussion about conditioning and psychology.
"That's the thing that usually ends up deciding a close match, psychology," Krulevitz insists. "It can be awfully discouraging to a guy who has just lost the first set to see his opponent fighting like hell for the second set."
The point was brought home to Steve years ago when he was battling the highly regarded Swede Joakim Nystrom at the French Open: "He won the first set and I took the second and third in tiebreakers. He was up 5-1 in the fourth set and I was thinking ahead to the fifth set when I thought, 'No, give it everything you've got in this one. You never can tell. If he wins it and we're all square, he'll be all pumped up and confident.' "
There wouldn't have been a lesson if Krulevitz didn't come flying back and end the match with a thirdstraight tiebreaker victory. He's probably told the story to Jaime Yzaga a few thousand times since. And if the words didn't stick, there was Yzaga losing a big match at Wimbledon to Andrei Cherkasov last month because the Soviet wasn't letting up for so much as a point.
"The strategy in the heat is to put everything you have in the set at hand," said Jaime, like a well-schooled student. Just trying hard wasn't going to beat hard-serving Washington, though. Instead of standing somewhere out on 16th Street taking huge swings at Malivai's bullets, Krulevitz had his man inside the baseline, blocking the ball back.
They got to 4-4 in the second set and, with the temperature back at 105 as the sun ducked behind a cloud for an instant, Yzaga got Washington "nervous" with his chip-and-charge tactics, which elicited a double fault at game point. The set went to Yzaga by the same score as the first, 6-4.
"The reason it's best not to relax and hold back after winning a first set," continued Krulevitz, "is it's inviting a third set and, by
probably be mentally beat up. It's the guy who just won a set who has an advantage."
Besides, a lapse allowing Washington to even the match might have been fatal considering the tools he brings to the court. "He surprised us with his tactics," said Krulevitz. "Anyone with a serve like that [caught at about 115 mph] should be right behind it coming to the net more often."
During his two victories in the Sovran Bank Classic, Washington won 84 percent of his first serves while winning 24 of 25 service games. Back on the baseline either by choice or circumstance, however, Malivai was vulnerable and unsure. "I had trouble getting a rhythm going, but he had something to do with that," he said.
Similar to most of his colleagues, Jaime Yzaga grabbed some time off after the European swing, ducking back to his native Peru. Then slave-driver Krulevitz beckoned him back to Baltimore last week, the two commuting to the tourney site for five straight days of practice during which, Steve says, "I worked his [ahem] off. Guys 23- or 24-years-old can take it, although some of them don't know it."
Yzaga, who has three tourney victories in five years on tour, gets No. 4 seed Richey Reneberg in the quarterfinals today. Top-seeded Andre Agassi and qualifier Johan Carlsson meet in the other half of the top of the draw.