NEW YORK -- It was his first time in Louis Armstrong Stadium, and the kid was acting like he owned the place.
For 3 hours and 3 minutes, he was shoving Ivan Lendl around the court, blowing in 120 mph serves that had Lendl backing off the baseline and swinging from the Long Island Railroad. The kid was slicing backhands and rumbling in for volleys, and here he was now at double match point in the fourth set of the first round of the U.S. Open.
The crowd stirred, making that rustling noise of surprise and delight that is the soundtrack at every upset. Lendl wiped his brow and flapped the back of his French Foreign Legion cap. And Richard Krajicek, the 19-year-old from the Netherlands, the one who was so calm and so perfect only moments earlier, suddenly looked sick, as if he needed to check into "General Hospital."
"I couldn't do anything," Krajicek said, clearly nauseated during a post-match news conference. "I felt everything. All my muscles -- my toes, my neck, my shoulder, my back, my knees, everything. I felt the sun burning right through my head."
The two match points disappeared. So did the game. Then the set. And then the match. Krajicek fell apart yesterday, and Lendl survived, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0.
That's the way it went a day after Andre Agassi and his neon outfit were knocked out of the Open by Aaron Krickstein. There were plenty of brush fires, but the seeds managed to survive the cut to 64.
No. 1 Boris Becker kept berating himself, but emerged with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Martin Jaite. No. 2 Stefan Edberg wobbled against the hard serves of Bryan Shelton, but eventually prevailed, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1. No. 9 Sergi Bruguera won an all-Spanish first-round match against Tomas Carbonell, 3- 6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
Lendl, the eight-time finalist and three-time champion, was sending out an SOS against Krajicek. At double match point, he was in severe trouble.
"I feel good about winning this match, of course," Lendl said. "It's never easy. And if you can hang in there and win one of these, it's always a bonus."
Lendl had to hang in against Krajicek and those serves, the ones that doubled the speed limit of 55, and then some. Krajicek is ranked 32nd in the world, but he isn't too well-known outside the Netherlands. His parents are Czech, but in 1970, they sold their belongings, packed two cars and headed west, settling in the Hague.
Krajicek picked up a racket as a 4-year-old, began banging tennis balls against walls and found his sport. He has become the tennis equivalent of a baseball closer, a player who can serve up heat for short stretches.
Against Lendl, he unloaded 19 aces. He wasn't scared, he said. He wasn't even intimidated. And Lendl was two points from leaving the Open in August.
"I just don't enjoy losing," Lendl said.
So there was Lendl down, 5-6, 15-40, in the fourth set, banging two gorgeous returns, getting into the tie-breaker, and closing the set with one last backhand volley.
Lendl pumped a fist. Krajicek dropped his head in disgust.
"I knew I was one serve away," Krajicek said. "I was rushing. I wanted to get it over. I wanted to finish, to shower, to rest. That was my biggest concern."
All Lendl had to do in the fifth set was watch because Krajicek was running past empty. It took 14 minutes. Lendl staring. Krajicek evaporating in the heat.
"I was dead," Krajicek said. "I couldn't move anymore."
Krajicek said he considered defaulting, but it wouldn't be right. He tried to win, but under the circumstances, that also was a physical impossibility.
"I never felt like this before," Krajicek said. "I really was dead."
And Lendl was alive, still in the running, still in the Open.