Wilander rides comeback wave Former champion outlasts Pernfors

September 05, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- If it had been Jimmy Connors playing instead of Mats Wilander, Stadium Court would have been packed early yesterday morning. If it had been Connors coming from a two-sets-to-one deficit to beat Mikael Pernfors instead of Wilander, CBS would have stayed with the match through its conclusion.

But by the time Wilander walked off the court at 2:27 a.m. after a 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory over his good friend, sometimes golf partner and fellow Swede, there were fewer than 1,000 fans left at the National Tennis Center. And CBS didn't show a point of what turned out to be a 4-hour, 1-minute match that is believed to have run later than any in recent U.S. Open history.

It didn't seem to matter to Wilander, the former Open champion who has turned his wild-card entry (the one Connors declined) into what has the makings of an interesting run. Wilander continues to deny that at age 29 and rank No. 558 he is trying to make a comeback, but a few more victories might make him reconsider.

"I am playing for fun," Wilander said at what became a joint news conference with Pernfors in the wee hours yesterday. "But obviously I play to win as well."

While his second-round victory wasn't considered a huge upset -- Pernfors, 30, is in the midst of his own comeback from serious knee problems -- it might have showed Wilander something he didn't know -- that he was fit enough to go five sets and hungry enough to not give up when the match's momentum seemed to turn against him.

It marked the first time Wilander, who basically retired in 1991, advanced past the second round of the Open since he won it over Ivan Lendl to become No. 1 in 1988. Not that Wilander's run will take on historic proportions. Even if he beats 15th-seed Cedric Pioline of France today, Wilander likely would have to play top-ranked, top-seeded Jim Courier in the fourth round.

"I have never played Pioline," said Wilander. "I know that he doesn't rally as much as we did today, so it is going to be shorter points, which is good for me. But I am not very worried about the match. I just have to try and feel good for the match physically. I know mentally I think I have a chance because he doesn't have a huge serve or a huge weapon and you get a chance to play."

Against Pernfors, a former top-20 player who is at No. 37 after falling into quadruple digits on the ATP computer, Wilander stayed mostly on the baseline.

But Pernfors noticeably tired as the match progressed, and by the time the remaining fans were doing the wave during the fourth-set tiebreaker, Wilander had more left in reserve.

"It seems that even though he doesn't play, he doesn't get tired," said Pernfors.

Said Wilander: "The thought never crossed my mind to play five sets. I was hoping I didn't have to."

Could he recover for his match against Pioline?

"I don't know that, no," he said.

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