Sore lower back a painful match for Lendl in Open

September 02, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- He looks young out there, standing straight and tall on the baseline. The eyes are still cool and calculating under the brim of the white cap that shaded him from the sun on Stadium Court at the U.S. Open.

But at 34, Ivan Lendl, the man who held the No. 1 ranking for a record total of 270 weeks in the prime of his career, knows the sun is setting.

His game can come and go at any moment. He knows it. His opponents know it. And the fans who gathered to watch him play yesterday know it.

But it was still painful to watch one of the game's greatest players come apart, blow by blow.

"It is sad in a way, but it is normal too," said Lendl's opponent, Bernd Karbacher. Karbacher, 26, advanced to the third round when Lendl retired from the match with an aching back while down, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 1-0.

"He has had a great career, but he is 34 years old already," Karbacher said.

Down a set to Karbacher, but leading 5-0 in the second, Lendl began to falter.

Nine set points came and went through sprayed forehands and backhands. The crowd tried to carry him. Fans shouted his name, cheered him and sent up roars of encouragement between points.

And though he took deep breaths, shook his shoulders and massaged his tight lower back muscles between points, nothing worked.

The first serve wasn't there -- only 40 percent were in -- and 51 unforced errors crept into his play in two sets.

The 5-0 lead evaporated, and he eventually dropped the second set in the 7-5 tiebreaker.

"It wouldn't help you to know what I was saying to myself out there," Lendl said with a wry smile.

"But my back, this has been the pattern pretty much this summer, that I would have some good days and some bad," said Lendl.

He has reached a final only once this season, at New South Wales, Australia, in the first tournament of the season. Pete Sampras beat him there. If Lendl finishes the year without a tournament title, it will be the first time since 1979.

His No. 30 world ranking is the lowest it has been since he finished his rookie season in 1978 at No. 74.

Lendl has no illusions.

"At this stage, I just try to play and hopefully enjoy it," he said. "Maybe I'll win a few matches and gain confidence. But mostly it is a health question and that also makes it a question of confidence. You can't have confidence without winning."

Yesterday, he said he felt the stiffness coming early. He asked for a trainer at the end of the second set, but was told he couldn't have one until the next changeover because it was not a new injury.

After dropping the next game, he asked again for the trainer, and was told he would have to wait still another changeover.

"I said I couldn't play another game without a trainer," he said. "They said they couldn't wait and I said I was sorry, I would have to retire. But it was so bad, if the trainer had been there at my first call, it would not have made a difference."

"I wouldn't be playing at 34," No. 4 seed Michael Stich said, "but he loves the sport. . . I think we should all just let him enjoy competing as long as he wants."

Lendl, a three-time U.S. Open champion, was asked what he will tell his grandchildren when they gather around and ask about his career. "I will tell them I am 74 years old and I do not remember anything," he said.


Singles second round

Bernd Karbacher, Germany, def. Ivan Lendl, Goshen, Conn., 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 1-0, ret. Thomas Muster (13), Austria, def. Maurice Ruah, Venezuela, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Marc Rosset (15), Switzerland, def. Nicklas Kulti, Sweden, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2. Richey Reneberg, Houston, def. Jordi Burillo, Spain, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Patrick Rafter, Australia, def. Jan Apell, Sweden, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (12-10), 6-3.

Todd Martin (9), Palm Coast, Fla., def. Andrei Chesnokov, Russia, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Markus Zoecke, Germany, def. Robbie Weiss, Atlanta, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2. Richard Fromberg, Australia, def. Ronald Agenor, Haiti, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. Sergi Bruguera (3), Spain, def. Andrei Olhovskiy, Russia, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5). Thomas Enqvist, Sweden, def. Hendrik Dreekman, Germany, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (7-4), 7-5.

Marc Goellner, Germany, def. Tomas Carbonell, Spain, 7-6 (7-4), 3-2, ret. Gianluca Pozzi, Italy, def. Amos Mansdorf, Israel, 4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. Wayne Ferreira (12), South Africa, def. Marcelo Rios, Chile, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. Andre Agassi, Las Vegas, def. Guy Forget, France, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (7-5). 6-2.

Doubles first round

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