Novacek sends Edberg packing in 2nd round EARLY DEPARTURE

September 03, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The wind was swirling and the mist was falling on the Grandstand Court late yesterday afternoon at the National Tennis Center. Stefan Edberg was ignoring the conditions, ignoring the fact that he was behind two sets to one and down a break in the fourth to Karel Novacek of the Czech Republic in their second-round match of the U.S. Open.

Edberg, the tournament's two-time defending champion, seemed on the verge of climbing back into the match, of keeping his chances of a three-peat alive, of showing the resilience that wasn't part of his makeup for so many years. And when he tied the set at 4-4, nearly everyone else on the Grandstand figured it was going five sets.

said to myself, 'OK, I lost the first set, that is not a problem,' " Edberg recalled later. " 'The second, you are in trouble.' But I never gave up and then I got to the third set and suddenly I had a lot of belief again. I really did. I thought I could come back after that."

He could not.

And as suddenly as Edberg climbed back, he was gone. Out of the Open. Out of the running for this year's championship and his place in theOpen record books alongside John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

Open record books alongside John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

Novacek held serve and, with two crunching service returns, put Edberg in a hole from which he couldn't record. Four points later, it was over.

When Novacek's backhand topspin lob fell over Edberg's head and safely out of reach, a tournament that produced a record-number of early upsets had its biggest upset of all: a 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory for Novacek, a clay-court player who had never made it past the Open's third round.

Asked if this was the biggest victory of his career, Novacek, 28 and ranked 18th, said, "Well, as far as I am concerned, with the importance of the tournament and the kind of player I beat today, yes."

Andrei Cherkasov of Russia nearly pulled off a similar victory over fourth seed Boris Becker later in the evening. But after falling behind two sets to none and waiting out the second rain delay in a first-round match that began Wednesday night, former Open champion Becker came back to beat Cherkasov, 3-6, 6-7 (8-10), 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

"It was disappointing, because I was very close to winning," said Cherkasov, ranked 47th.

Said Becker, through a USTA spokesman, "Thanks to God, I am still in the tournament."

While Becker barely survived, Novacek's victory ended a disappointing year for Edberg, who failed to win a Grand Slam event for the first time in four years and the second time in the past seven.

It marked only the third time in the 26-year Open era that the tournament's defending champion lost in the second round.

As well as Novacek played, Edberg was decidedly flat. He had only one ace, made 52 unforced errors and never really took advantage of the break chances he had. But unlike some of his past defeats here, when he blamed the conditions (see swirling hot dog wrappers, 1989) or his own malaise, Edberg credited his underrated opponent.

"It was one of those days where Karel played a good match," said Edberg, 27, who had struggled to a five-set victory against Olivier Delaitre in his first-round match. "He [Karel] played very solid. I was struggling a little bit today with my timing. But I wasn't feeling bad at all coming in here. I have been hitting the ball pretty well, but didn't really generate any power today for some reason."

Said Novacek: "To beat Edberg, two times champion here, and in this tournament, one of the biggest ones in the world, that is what really counts."

The defeat continued to open a nearly seedless path for forme Open champion Pete Sampras. The tournament's No. 2 men's seed, who earlier in the day defeated Novacek's countryman, Daniel Vacek, has seen three of the other seven seeds in his side of the draw eliminated.

In all, six of the 16 men's seeds have been eliminated, including three of the top six.

Sampras, the defending Wimbledon champion, struggled a bit in a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory, but was into the third round before Becker was barely into the first. Because of a scheduling quirk, and a postponement by rain Wednesday night, Becker was only two points into his opening-round match with Cherkasov when he took the Stadium Court yesterday afternoon.

"If he is going to win the tournament, he has to play seven matches in 11 days," Sampras said of Becker. "That is pretty tough, three out of five back-to-back. I am sure he is going to have to play tomorrow [today]. It is unfortunate scheduling."

Said Becker: "I think it is poor for the tournament to put a guy like Becker on Wednesday night when he was already a week before in town and asking the tournament referee on Sunday to put me on as early as possible. Then I see the schedule and I am on Wednesday evening. I think that is not fair treatment to a guy like Becker, especially since they didn't have any big names on Monday."

As things turned out, Becker was fortunate to have a chance at being a champion on the court again. After restarting the match at about 3:30 p.m. at 15-all in the first set, Becker and Cherkasov didn't get done until nearly six hours later.

Cherkasov, a 23-year-old from Moscow, won the first two sets before Becker seemed to wake up. It was not until the ninth game of the fifth set that Becker forged ahead, breaking Cherkasov to take a 5-4 lead. Finally, after Becker fought off two break points, Cherkasov put a forehand into the bottom of the net.

The match was over.

I= And so was a wacky first round of this year's U.S. Open.

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