NEW YORK -- Goran Ivanisevic was in the middle of the second set of his first-round match at the U.S. Open yesterday when his "guys" showed up. He calls them, "Me, Me and Me." They tell him how to play, debate with him on what to play, and, at times, simply leave him in an all-out state of confusion.
"I never know which of me is going to come to play the game," said Ivanisevic, an 11-year-veteran, who advanced to the second round yesterday with a 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2 victory over qualifier Ville Liukko.
"I don't know until I am in the game," he said. "And even then, it is a fight. Today, there was only two of me and the good one won."
The revelation inspired laughter. Ivanisevic, looking like he just came in from an overnight fishing trip, dark stubble forming the outline of a goatee on his face and a "Gilligan" type fishing hat with its front brim turned up, looked a little silly, looked like he might enjoy putting someone on.
And he laughed, too.
"I don't mind telling you about Ivanisevic this," he said, his eyes twinkling. "It makes you laugh and it makes me relax. You have to have fun sometimes, and I am having fun."
And then he proceeded to tell the media gathered for his post-match news conference just what he went through to win. "One guy steps in like in the middle of the second set, and starts to hit," he said, referring to one of his "Me" personalities. "OK, I won that set. Then in the third set, the other one is pulling on the first, `Just sit down, relax, man.' He didn't listen, and we lost the third. Then fourth set, you know, I just came in and said, `OK, now, let me finish this.' This time, the good one of me won."
In other first-round matches, No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov advanced with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 victory over Max Mirnyl.
Only a day ago, it looked like the Open had lost much of its color. In less than 12 hours, No. 1 Pete Sampras was forced to withdraw with a herniated disk in his back, and No. 4 Patrick Rafter, the two-time defending champ, bowed out with a shoulder injury after his serve was broken in the first game of the fifth set.
Then, along comes Ivanisevic to prove there is at least one character left.
Often referred to as the best player to never have won a Grand Slam title, Ivanisevic said he isn't any more inspired with Sampras and Rafter out than he was before.
"I still have to win six more matches," he said. "It's a long way. It's like Mount Everest. But, if I can put my game together you never know with me. It just clicks and the game is there. If I can serve well, the court is pretty quick and anything is possible."
But "his guys" all have to be working together. Yesterday, they were, at times, in disagreement, and it wasn't a pretty picture.
"Sometimes, it's not fun for me and I get confused," Ivanisevic said.
Sometimes, it's not fun for those in the stands either. One fan watching him commit one of his match-high 15 double faults blurted: "What's happened to this guy? He used to be so good."
Across the net, Liukko, the qualifier, was wondering, too.
"I don't know him well, but his personality does seem to change," Liukko said. "Sometimes, he looks so cool. And then, he can lose his temper so fast. His serve is very big, bigger than I thought. He hit some at 130 mph -- I was watching the clock, too. But once I got some of his serves back, he didn't seem very confident on other parts of his game."
That is no surprise to Ivanisevic, who has lost 10 times in the first round of the 19 tournaments he has played this year -- including three of the last four hard-court events leading into this Open.
Those losses have caused his ranking to plummet outside the top 20 for the first time in nine straight years. Currently, he is 39th.
"I'm trying just to win the matches," he said. "The more matches I win, the more matches I play and the more confident I get, I have more clue what I have to do on the court I come here and nobody expects anything. I came here just to try to get my game back."
And, he said, he has so much help with "Me, Me, Me" always in his ear.
"It is too complicated even for the psychologist," Ivanisevic said. "It is not the case where a psychologist can tell me, `Now, hit ace, it's break point.'
"They all talk -- `Concentrate. Keep your mind. Breathe. Breathe.' Then you start to breathe, breathe, but nothing happens."
He sighed. Does he ever say to everybody, `Oh, just shut up' "?
"When I'm confident, I just go there, toss the ball and I feel I have control," he said. "But when you don't have confidence, you don't know sometimes where those balls are flying Nobody can help you."
Against Liukko, Ivanisevic was content throughout most of the match to blast his huge serve and then stay on the baseline and rally. It often seemed as if he was making himself a lot of extra work. Don't any of the "guys" in his head ever tell him to go to the net? Ivanisevic looked pained.