Pro game a big step up for college champ O'Brien Ex-NCAA star wins in NationsBank

July 14, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The stars of the game are here -- Agassi, Lendl and McEnroe -- but they haven't come out at the NationsBank Classic at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. Instead, yesterday was left to the 1992 NCAA champion to provide the afternoon -- and late-afternoon -- entertainment.

Wildcard Alex O'Brien needed three sets and two tiebreakers, but he finally ousted unseeded Chuck Adams, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-4) last night.

"I pretty much was playing like a [wimp]," said O'Brien. "I moved like a sloth. I'm not concentrating. I'm looking at all the people walking around in the stands. I think I've gotten kind of a bad attitude, and it's worrying me a little bit."

For O'Brien it was another lesson in the differences between college and pro. At Stanford he was nearly invincible, winning the NCAA's "Triple Crown" -- team, individual and doubles titles -- the first player to do it since the team tournament was established in 1977.

"I'd win the first set and then I'd start looking around the crowd for pretty girls," O'Brien said, smiling. "I've discovered if you do that here, they'll crush you. You can't play a loose point and get away with it."

Just last week, O'Brien got a wake-up call. He returned to Newport, R.I., where he won as a qualifier in 1991, only to be beaten by his former Stanford teammate, Jon Stark in the first round.

"I always beat Jon in college, no problem," says the 6-foot-1, 22-year-old. "I probably was thinking about that and he just thumped me."

Yesterday, while he was playing like that sloth, Adams let him know he'd pound him too.

Up 4-2 in the first set, O'Brien suddenly found himself the first set loser, 4-6.

He moved better in the second set, and won the tie-breaker, but in the third with a break point opportunity and a chance to go up 4-2, O'Brien hit an easy overhead into the net. A couple of serves later, he double faulted to even the set at 3-3.

"I'm new at this and I should be hungry, but I can't seem to concentrate right now," he says. "I did come back to win this match. I simply got tired of the way I was playing."

Today, the old star Bjorn Borg will play on Stadium Court at 7 p.m., but for anyone who wants to see another of the big names, they'll have to wait until tomorrow, unless they want to watch a doubles match.

No. 1 seed Petr Korda will team up with No. 3 Ivan Lendl against Markus Zoecke and Arne Thoms on the Stadium Court in the third match this afternoon.

Jim Grabb ousted Brian MacPhie, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in a late match, to move into the second round against O'Brien.

Grabb's victory was the seventh of eight matches to go three sets yesterday, during the tournament that ran two hours behind schedule.

The majority of the 7,347 fans who showed up for the evening session was still in their seats, when Bjorn Borg and Niclas Kroon came on court to face Gilad Bloom and Amos Mansdorf at 11:45 last night.

The only match that carried any surprise was a mid-afternoon affair between 11th-seed Zoecke and 117th-ranked Martin Damm. A year ago, Zoecke, the 60th-ranked player in the world, made it to the semifinals here before being ousted by eventual champion Andre Agassi. But this time around, Damm rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory, and will play the winner of today's match between Jimmy Arias and Chris Pridham.

Also yesterday, veteran Kevin Curren struggled to a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 opening-round victory over German Alexander Mronz. Curran will play Wimbledon champion Agassi tomorrow.

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