NEW YORK -- To some players, it is such a friendly place. Even the name, Flushing Meadow, sounds serene and peaceful.
But to Goran Ivanisevic, it is a frightening place.
Surely the fans who packed the Grandstand Court on the opening day of the U.S. Open heard Ivanisevic's knees knocking.
The No. 2 player in the world, a Croat who is known for his huge, punishing serve, was powerless yesterday in the first round of the year's final Grand Slam tennis tournament.
"I was too scared to think out there," said Ivanisevic, who dropped the first two sets and eventually lost to Markus Zoecke, the 68th-ranked player on the men's tour, 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
As recently as the week before this tournament began, U.S. Open officials feared losing four of the top 16 seeds. Eventually, Pete Sampras (left ankle), Ivanisevic (hip), Jim Courier (burnout) and Petr Korda (groin) all decided to play.
But yesterday, No. 16 Korda withdrew before his opening-round match with Cedric Pioline and Ivanisevic lost to Zoecke.
And, to make matters worse, in last night's late match, seventh seed Boris Becker of Germany lost a fifth-set tiebreaker to unseeded American Richey Reneberg, who won, 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5).
"He slowed down in the fourth set and saved his energy for the fifth," Becker said. "The balls here are heavier and softer. That suits his game very much. He's a counter-puncher."
The good news for the tournament was that unseeded Andre Agassi breezed through his opening-round match against Robert Eriksson, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, and No. 6 Michael Chang made quick work of Andrei Cherkasov, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
"I can't think here," Ivanisevic said. "I am not thinking. Every year I come here hoping that I am going to play good, but it is only hopes. I come and I say, 'OK, now I am going to do good.' I am always hoping. Maybe, maybe.
"And this is so bad. I mean, you can lose a first-round match. But this? I didn't play tennis. I don't know what to do here. Not only today, every year when I come to the U.S. Open, I don't know what I am doing here, you know? I didn't play anything. He hit some winners, but that is it. I didn't play. I just stand there, put two balls in the court and the rest were 10 meters long and the serve was terrible. I am lost. I am like a lost man here."
"I hear the planes overhead and I look up into the sky," he said, "and I see my place on the next flight out."
Usually it is Zoecke, a 6-foot-5, 26-year-old from Germany, who is taking the next flight out of town. In each of his two previous appearances in the Open, he had lost in the first round, so he had some sympathy for his failed opponent.
But only a little.
"He was nervous today," Zoecke said. "I could see that. Usually, I'm the one who is nervous, but in this match, he didn't serve very well and even when I didn't nail it down in the third set, it didn't bother me because I thought he started to just give the match to me. It seemed like he didn't really try anymore and because of that, I didn't press."
It is not an unusual complaint against Ivanisevic, the runner-up at Wimbledon last month.
In that final against Sampras, Ivanisevic lost the first two sets in nail-biting tiebreakers and then was swept away 6-0 in the third.
Yesterday, he got his serve together and dominated the third set. And he kept himself in the fourth set, on serve, through the first 11 games.
But then, losing 6-5 and serving to force a tiebreaker, he let it slip away. Ivanisevic lost the first point, then got beat by a let cord that landed on the baseline. He won the next point, but didn't chase a cross-court shot that appeared within reach, bringing Zoecke to match point. On match point, his first serve betrayed him, and when he rushed to the net on his second, Zoecke fired a backhand cross-court that hit the net, but passed Ivanisevic and landed safely in the backcourt.
Long after Ivanisevic fell to Zoecke, Reneberg closed the show with an overhead into an open court that Becker couldn't reach.
"It was the best set of tennis I ever played in my life in the fifth set," Reneberg said. "No way I can play any better than that. I never have and probably never will again.
"My forehand, my backhand, I did everything well. I just went for my shots and I was making just about everything. . . . You're in a zone."
There were patches when Becker was brilliant: He served 10 of his 20 aces in the fifth set. But there were other times when he seemed destined to lose: He hit 29 of his 59 unforced errors in the first two sets.
Becker was coming off tour victories in Los Angeles and New
Men's singles, first round