Shelton feels like an upset

June 23, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- The match was getting away from No. 2 seed Michael Stich out there on Court No. 2, the site renowned for its upsets.

He bounced balls. He lectured himself. He smashed his racket on the ground. He stepped inside the baseline on several of Bryan Shelton's first serves, just to try to break his rhythm.

And then, in the middle of the third set, with Shelton in the middle of a four-game run, he walked up to the net and asked a question of the man who made it into this tournament as a qualifier.

"Do you feel all right?" Stich asked.

It was a dig. A little bit of psychological warfare, right there for all to see and hear.

There was certainly nothing wrong with Shelton on this sun-drenched day. He simply outplayed Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, for a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

"What can I say?" Stich said. "I played a guy today who -- he could have closed his eyes and he could have hit the ball wherever he wanted to hit it. He had all the luck on his side."

When it was over and Stich had become the 11th player seeded in the top 10 to lose on Court 2 in the past 11 years, Shelton couldn't help recalling Stich's question.

"I tried to dismiss it as quickly as possible," said Shelton, a native of Huntsville, Ala. "It's not something you want to think about. You just want to stay focused on what you're doing and what's been working and stick with it.

"He felt like I was playing really good tennis," Shelton said. "He felt I was playing above myself -- and I did play good tennis today."

Shelton, ranked 120th, has been on the pro tour since 1989 and never been ranked higher than 71st, a position he achieved at the end of the 1991 season.

He has two career titles, winning at Newport in 1991 and 1992. When he won in 1991, he was the first African-American player to win a singles title on the tour since Arthur Ashe won at Los Angeles in 1978.

The farthest he has advanced at Wimbledon was to the third round in 1990 and 1992.

But none of those matches could match the one he played yesterday on Court 2. Not only were his serves and volleys perfect, but also Shelton's mind was working overtime, pumping positive adrenalin.

The 28-year-old had started this season filled with negativity, dreading matches for fear of losing them.

"When you play like that, you don't reach out for your best shots," he said. "You play like you're trying to protect something. You don't leave everything you have on the court.

"But I've surrounded myself with positive people who are goal-oriented, and that's going to rub off on you."

He went into this first-round match determined to turn every negative into a positive, determined to use whatever bothered Stich as a boost to his own game.

"Everyone has seen Michael play and knows he has a temper," Shelton said.

"He gets down on himself. He's so negative on the court, and I used that to my advantage the whole match. Every time I saw him getting upset, I was trying to pump myself even more and just stay up for every point, no matter if I lost the one previous or the five previous points -- just to get ready for the next one.

"I thought he was vulnerable. I thought he was a great player, but I've played [Boris] Becker here twice, [Ivan] Lendl once. I've been close against those guys. I played a great match at the Australian Open against [Jim] Courier and came up a little bit short. I really thought today was my day to shine."

And he did. When Stich asked if he felt all right, Shelton said he knew he was getting the job done.

"It could have been gamesmanship," Shelton said. "Michael was doing something to try to turn the match around, and you can't fault him for that.

"That's the thing about these guys, these champions. They know how to win. They know what to say, what to do out on the court to win."

But nothing worked. When Stich started the third set by holding serve and then breaking Shelton to go up 2-0, Shelton heard Stich's coach, Nikki Pilic, cry out, "Come on, right now!"

Even that encouraged Shelton, as he proceeded to break Stich's serve.

4 That's the kind of day it was for Bryan Shelton.

FEATURED MATCHES

Centre Court * Stefan Edberg (3), vs. Kenneth Clarsen, completion of suspended match

* Boris Becker (7), vs. Arne Thoms

* Sandra Cecchini, vs. Martina Navratilova (4)

* Jim Courier (5), vs. Guy Forget

Court 1 * Patrick Rafter, vs. Sergi Bruguera (8)

Brenda Schultz, vs. Mary Joe Fernandez (11)

Alexander Mronz, vs. Goran Ivanisevic (4)

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