Fernandez's mental game a tiebreaker U.S. OPEN

September 01, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- This time last year, Mary Joe Fernandez was recovering from surgery and rediscovering how much she loved playing the pro tennis tour.

Yesterday, as she was putting every ounce of strength she possessed into the physical on-court battle with Patty Fendick in a second-round match at the U.S. Open, it was her mental determination that got her through it.

Fernandez, down 3-2 in the third-set tiebreaker, rallied and went against character by deciding to serve and volley on what turned out to be the last two points of the match for a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4) victory.

"I don't know if it was a thoughtful choice, but it worked," Fernandez said. "I decided, well, I'd rather have her come up with a big shot to beat me than just run around the baseline. Fortunately, I was able to knock off the volley."

At the French Open in May 1993, Fernandez thought she was about to make a breakthrough. She had made the biggest comeback in her career. After trailing 1-6, 1-5, she fought off five match points to defeat Gabriela Sabatini, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 10-8, in the quarterfinals and went on to upset Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the semifinals, before losing to Steffi Graf in the finals.

Then came the illness, endometriosis, and inactivity.

"It's going to take a little time now to get back to the point where I was competing with the top players," said Fernandez, who has won one tournament this year. "It is a little bit like starting over. I have to get back the mentality of playing aggressive. I think that's tough, but I feel healthy now and hopefully starting here, it's going to bring a long streak of good luck."

Sampras supreme

No. 1 seed Pete Sampras is so much in control these days, he wins matches and then comes to the post-match interviews and asks himself questions.

Struggling into a pullover shirt behind the microphone, the hardest thing he had to do all day, he didn't wait for questions.

"How is my ankle feeling?" he said. "And has the long layoff hurt me? The ankle is just feeling fine. It's obviously been a long layoff for me and disappointing not playing the summer. Getting matches under my belt would have been good for me. But I just have to make the best of it."

He did yesterday, beating Kevin Ullyett, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.

It didn't feel that bad

After losing the hard-fought three-setter to Fernandez in a tiebreaker, Fendick was asked: "How much are you disappointed?"

"I am going to go back to my hotel room and commit suicide," Fendick said sweetly. "I'm on the 31st floor, and if I look down, I've got this slide toward the Chrysler Building. I think I can get a little bit of an arc. . . . I've never been much of a diver, so I will probably go for the full cannonball. Does that answer your question?"

Happy birthday

No. 8 seed Andrei Medvedev defeated Gilbert Schaller, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, in his first-round match yesterday, but what made him happier was turning 20.

"Now when I meet a girl, I can say I'm over 20," he said. "Of course, that is not as important as it used to be because I have a girlfriend now. But still, when I meet someone I no longer have to say I'm a teen-ager."

The fact that Medvedev was thinking about other "girls" evidently unsettled No. 14 seed Anke Huber, his girlfriend, who went out later and was upset by Leila Meskhi, 6-2, 6-2.

McNeil withdraws

Wimbledon semifinalist Lori McNeil, upset in her first match here Tuesday by Anna Smashnova, withdrew from both doubles and mixed doubles yesterday due to patellar tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon in her right knee).

Chang out-duels Washington

Michael Chang and MaliVai Washington, a pair of quintessential counter-punchers, staged another U.S. Open slugfest, with Chang earning a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) victory.

"A few points here and there and it could have been Mal's match," Chang said after three hours of baseline bashing.

Two years ago, Chang beat Washington in a thrilling five-setter in the close confines of the Grandstand.

Last month Washington beat Chang at the Canadian Open.

"It's a good rivalry," said Washington. "It's hard not to like a guy like Michael because he's a class act."

Playing favorites

After losing his singles match Tuesday to No. 15 seed Marc Rosset, Mark Woodforde took a swing at the tennis umpires.

"Rosset threw his racket after losing the first two sets and I was wondering when the umpire was going to grab control of the match and start penalizing my opponent," said Woodforde. "I'm sick to death of having so-called professional umpires sitting in the chair and letting guys get away with it.

"As far as I'm concerned, there are two rules: one for the top guys and one for the rest of us . . . it gets pretty demoralizing when they're allowed to do things like that."

Later, Michael Stich, one of those top guys, agreed with Woodforde.

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