WIMBLEDON, England -- Their story lines had been played out for the past week at the All England Club. While John McEnroe was reviving his legend, Jeremy Bates was becoming a British hero for the first time.
It seemed for a while yesterday that McEnroe and Bates were headed for a quarterfinal showdown of Wimbledon long shots. ** McEnroe had beaten Russian qualifier Andrei Olhovskiy in three mostly grueling sets, and Bates was up two sets to one on Guy Forget of France.
You could almost hear the presses starting to crank up on Fleet Street.
You could almost see the tabloid headline -- "Mac the Knife vs. Blaster Bates."
Even McEnroe was getting caught up in the psychology of the match, ready to go from crowd favorite to merely the favorite.
"A guy like Bates, he's been playing for 10 years, and this is by far and away the biggest tournament for him," McEnroe said after beating Olhovskiy, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10). "So he's going to be pumped up. It's a great chance for both of us."
Stop the presses.
Hold the headlines.
After serving for the match in the fourth set, Bates lost the point, the set in a tiebreaker and ultimately a round-of-16 match, 6-7 (10-12), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd that packed shoulder-to-shoulder in to Centre Court.
Forget's comeback was forged among a flurry of net-cord points, about a half-dozen in all, that seemed to turn the match in his favor. The biggest came with Bates leading 5-4, 30-0 in the fourth set, when Forget mis-hit a backhand off the tape.
"That's the way the balls went," Bates said. "Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. He got a few more in the beginning of the fifth set. It's very disheartening, but what can you do?"
Said Forget: "Until the last point, it's not over. You still have a chance. I made one [net cord], and then had another lucky one at deuce. You always need a little luck."
The match between Bates and Forget nearly proved a distraction to McEnroe. After breaking Olhovskiy's serve on the final game of the first set and then winning the second set fairly easily, McEnroe appeared a bit bothered in the third set.
Several times, he stepped away as the crowd at Court 2, `D listening to the Bates' match on their radios, cheered every point of his first-set tiebreaker. McEnroe, who had a running debate with the chair umpire, seemed to lose his concentration several times before closing Olhovskiy out on the fifth set point of their own tiebreaker.
"It wasn't a question of them bothering me," said McEnroe, a three-time champion who last won here in 1984. "The crowd's just closer, and it's a totally different situation, so it's an adjustment. But, I mean, he's unpredictable. He plays very quickly. He goes for the big serve, and then not nearly as hard. It looks like some of the time you almost wonder how into it he is."
Olhovskiy, who came off the plastic courts of Moscow to beat top-seeded, top-ranked Jim Courier Saturday, had his chances to extend McEnroe to a fourth set during the tiebreaker. It might have made a difference, considering the 93-degree heat and that McEnroe is 33.
But after leading 10-9 in the tiebreaker, Olhovskiy lost the next three points and the match. He later accused the umpire, Sultan Gangji of London, of allowing McEnroe to toss his racket around as it were a Frisbee. He used a few choice words as well, without recrimination.
"Yeah, I was upset," said Olhovskiy, 26. "Because everybody, every place, it's the same. The star, he throws [his racket] five times during the match, and it's not a code violation. If I throw it once, I am quite sure it's a violation. He starts serving, he stops. I think he stops to make me nervous."
While McEnroe is squarely in the spotlight now at this year's Wimbledon, the favorites continue to move quietly, though at times unevenly,through the draw.
Two-time champion Stefan Edberg, the No. 2 seed, overcame the relative discomfort of playing on Court 13 to beat fellow Swede Henrik Holm, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (1-7), 6-3. Defending champion Michael Stich, the No. 3 seed, started slowly against Wally Masur Australia before winning, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Though he likely would have won anyway, Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia got through until tomorrow's quarters because his opponent, Ivan Lendl, couldn't make it through their match yesterday. After losing the first set and winning the next two, Ivanisevic watched as Lendl retired with a bad back after one point of the fourth set. Ivanisevic was leading at the time, 6-7 (7-9), 6-1, 6-4, 1-0.
It was evident to Ivanisevic that his 32-year-old opponent was in pain midway through the first set, and was trying to compensate for the injury by tossing the ball lower on his serve. Ivanisevic took advantage of Lendl's adjustments. Finally, after going after a lob to start the fourth set, Lendl signaled that he was through. He was unavailable for comment later, but his 13-year Wimbledon misadventure might have ended for good.