Lendl's default gives Woodforde a title

February 22, 1993|By Jon Marks | Jon Marks,Contributing Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Mark Woodforde walked out of the Spectrum into a snowstorm exactly the way he came in: a virtual unknown.

Had it been Andre Agassi, Jim Courier or one of tennis' other glamour names, he probably would have needed security to get past a line of squealing fans. Woodforde, 27, who arrived in town without fanfare at No. 41 in the world, is used to obscurity.

Even if he happened to be leaving as champion of Comcast U.S. Indoor Tournament. But his greatest individual moment in a 10-year career was somewhat tainted. That's because Woodforde became the winner after his more celebrated opponent, fourth-seeded Ivan Lendl, had to retire after pulling a muscle late in the first set.

"When he was running for the drop shot I hit, I noticed him grab his back and pull up," said Woodforde, who earned his first title outside of Australia and $96,000. "Then I saw him grimace a little bit.

"I wanted to move him about but not actually injure himself. But I'll take it. I'm not bothered by it. I'm ecstatic to end up the winner."

Woodforde, who also upset No. 6 seed Francisco Clavet and No. 3 Michael Chang, is best known for his success in doubles. Yesterday's victory might serve notice that in the tradition of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe, Australia perhaps has another bright light on the horizon.

"If it had crossed my mind to question if I could win in singles, I'd probably have retired from singles to concentrate on doubles," said Woodforde, who, with countryman Todd Woodbridge, forms

the world's finest doubles team. "Some people tell me about my age, but I don't think it's a problem.

"I've had the opportunity to hit with Laver out in the desert, and I'm still shaking in my boots thinking about it."

Through the years, Lendl has had a lot of men on the other side of the net shaking in their boots. But at 32, while still dangerous, he's no longer the force that dominated tennis for 157 consecutive weeks atop the rankings in the late '80s.

That's why Woodforde, who beat Lendl last last year after four losses, including a five-set marathon at Wimbledon in 1988, believes Lendl's injury might have speeded up the inevitable.

"Had he not injured himself, I feel I was a lot more settled into the match," said Woodforde, who became the first Australian to win here since Laver in '74 and the first unseeded player to take home the top prize. "I don't know what would've happened, but I know the first set would've been crucial to the flow of the match."

But after losing serve the fifth game of the match, Woodforde broke right back and seemed to be holding his own with Lendl. He was serving at 4-4 when the injury occurred as Lendl tried to chase down a drop shot at game point. He called out the trainer during the next changeover, then attempted one feeble serve before retiring.

"I'm very disappointed it happened again," said Lendl, who won the '86 tournament here when Tim Mayotte was injured warming up for their scheduled final and had to withdraw, in a prepared statement. "I moved forward to the drop shot, and I just felt it go."

Woodforde watched Lendl receive treatment. "I was hoping he'd default," said Woodforde, who will surpass his previous career-high ranking, No. 34, as a result. "You sort of think this is your chance."

But it's still an uphill fight in the battle for recognition.

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