Gracious in defeat, McEnroe praises opponent, blames atmosphere for loss

January 23, 1992|By ASOCIATED PRESS XTC

MELBOURNE,AUSTRALIA — MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Dead tennis balls, dead air and dead legs wiped John McEnroe out of the Australian Open just as surely as the brute serving power and nearly flawless play of young, freckle-faced Wayne Ferreira.

McEnroe's farewell to Australia, perhaps for the last time, did not come after a match of elegant strokes and dramatic rallies, like his victories over Boris Becker and Emilio Sanchez. He didn't rage at linesmen or throw his racket as he did two years ago.

Rather, he succumbed quietly, almost too quietly, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 last night in a sheer bludgeoning by a South African player he'd barely heard of. Ferreira introduced himself to McEnroe by swatting 15 aces to McEnroe's two, and putting away 30 clean winners to McEnroe's six.

"The bottom line," McEnroe said, "is he just outplayed me."

In the warm, damp and still air of the stadium, with the retractable roof closed for the first time this year, the balls moved heavily and sat up perfectly for Ferreira to blast away from the baseline while negating McEnroe's chip-and-charge tactics.

"The ball just didn't seem to have quite the same zip as it would have in a drier atmosphere," McEnroe said. "It just got stale, and it just wasn't moving quite as quickly."

Ferreira, a 20-year-old ranked No. 46 in his fourth year as a pro, agreed with McEnroe.

"I felt the ball was coming really slowly," said Ferreira, who next meets No. 1 Stefan Edberg in the semifinals. "Every time I was preparing for a shot, I felt that I was a little bit too early for everything. I just got to everything a lot quicker."

Officials decided to close the roof a half-hour before the match after a few sprinkles fell, and the weather bureau reported the threat of more rain. Tournament rules state that the roof "will not normally be closed because of threat of rain," but mandate that the roof should stay closed if it is shut at the start of a match. The rain never came once the match began.

Different conditions might have produced a different result, but there was no doubt from the start that McEnroe would have trouble coping with Ferreira's strength and fearlessness.

Ferreira fought off two break points -- he had only one other the entire match -- at 15-40 in his first service game, then won the game with an ace that skipped off the corner past McEnroe's forehand. It was the first of eight games that Ferreira clinched with an ace, and the first of 10 consecutive games in which he served at least one ace.

McEnroe played decently, yet he was always on the defensive, unable to summon his volleying skills and quickness at the net. He lacked the movement and speed he had demonstrated against Becker, often arriving a half-step too late for solid volleys. When he came in, Ferreira passed him. When he dropped soft, angled shots, Ferreira raced in and flicked them back. When he stayed on the baseline, Ferreira out-slugged him.

McEnroe was broken only once in each set, but, without getting a break back, his cause was hopeless.

"He wasn't overawed by the situation, and, on top of that, he played great tennis," McEnroe said. "He mixed up his serves so well. He was hitting up the middle, hitting it out wide, and I wasn't really able to pick up where he was serving. That made it very difficult to get the break. It just felt like one of those days where it seemed I had to climb the mountain."

McEnroe had two days of rest after his five-set, nearly five-hour match against Sanchez, a duel that was so draining that McEnroe requested an intravenous drip afterward to rehydrate his body.

"When you're winning, all of a sudden the aches and pains don't really hurt too much," he said. "When you start losing, they start creeping back in and it's more difficult to maintain being positive.

"I kept telling myself to hang in there, that something good would happen, because in previous matches this had been the case. I expected sooner or later something would turn around. But I just couldn't get over the hump to break his serve. I don't think I was playing badly. I just wasn't able to kick it up another gear. Maybe I was flat."

McEnroe glared at times at linesmen after calls he didn't agree with, but he maintained the composure on court that he has shown all tournament. He plans to make this year his last full time on the tour, and wants people to remember him for his talents, not his tantrums.

"I think that's pretty important, and that sums it up," he said. "Everyone's always going to talk about what I've done on the court, but, hopefully, they'll focus more on my tennis. It's also something that I prefer for myself. That's the main reason. It's not really because I want people to think I'm a good guy. I've always thought I was a good guy. I have no problem with myself at all. But I did have a problem with some of the things that I did on the court, and that ends up being what they show for five seconds on TV.

"It's like this is all some sort of big entertainment, where I'm the piece of meat that people take advantage of. So I just prefer not to be taken advantage of anymore. I've been taken advantage of enough."

A month shy of 33, McEnroe said that at his age he no longer gets as excited about things that go wrong as he used to. He said he puts as high a priority on his good behavior as he does on his victories.

"I'd rather win a major under those conditions, or actually would rather lose in the quarters or semifinals or finals that way than win like some of the ways I had won in the past."

He lost too soon to satisfy himself in this tournament, but he seemed to regain the respect of fans and fellow players and of officials who had thrown him out on his last visit.

"I'm happy overall with what happened," he said, "so I can walk out of here with my head high."

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