This was all supposed to happen eventually. For various reasons, nobody expected Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier or Michael Chang to be hanging around Wimbledon late next week.
As it happens, they’re already packing, and not one of them won a set Thursday. Nobody expected that.
Edberg, the two-time champion whose grace and dignity have long been cherished by the British audience, lost to a very tall and lucky man, Dick Norman, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Courier, who seems to be slowly distancing himself from the game, fell to talented Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Chang, up against a superior grass-court player, was outclassed by Petr Korda, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Edberg was curiously listless and ineffective against Norman, a 6-foot8 Belgian believed to be the tallest man to achieve something of significance in tennis. This is a man who had already lost at Wimbledon - this year. He was driven out of the qualifying, only to sneak into the main draw as a “lucky loser” when Germany’s Oliver Gross pulled out with a broken foot. Then came another big break, Norman breezing through the first round when Pat Cash pulled up lame.
Norman had never played in a Grand Slam event, having spent his brief career on the Challenger circuit. But he showed up with his long hair in a headband and his rocket service on target.
“He showed no nerves at all, which surprised me,” said Edberg, who lost in the second round here last year as well. “He served me off the court. That’s basically it. If you don’t react to a big serve on a hot (90-degree) day on a grass court, it’s very tough.”
What was it like playing a man 6-foot-8? “He’s like a giant,” said Edberg. “You feel like it’s David and Goliath out there.”
Over the past couple years, Courier often has said there’s more to his life than tennis. The scorecard has reflected his moods, showing alternate moments of brilliance (the Davis Cup and a victory over Andre Agassi in Tokyo) and disappointment (losses to Thierry Guardiola and Carlos Costa).
Pioline is known for his big splashes in ‘93, when he reached the U.S. Open final and Wimbledon quarterfinal. When he’s on, his groundstrokes are the type to inspire poetry. On this day he was vastly superior to Courier, who suffered the bitter humiliation of being called for a foot-fault that gave Pioline a service break and a 5-2 lead in the final set. At the changeover, Courier slammed his racket viciously on the ground three times, and he was muttering to himself as play resumed.
Revelations? Explanations? There were none. When Courier was asked to sum up his feelings, he replied, “Um, not really.”
The rest of the afternoon saw Boris Becker, seventh seed Wayne Ferreira, Steffi Graf, Jana Novotna, Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez advance without incident. There was also a remarkable comeback and a long-awaited Wimbledon breakthrough.
Mats Wilander, who had been in semiretirement since late 1990, gave fans a nostalgic charge with a 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Germany’s Marc Coellner. Wilander vs. Agassi in the quarters? A longshot, but not inconceivable.
Jeff Tarango, who led Stanford to the 1989 NCAA championship, is happy just to be playing. Before this year, he’d lost six straight first-round matches at Wimbledon. Yesterday he knocked off Andrei Medvedev, the Ukranian with the big future but a noted disdain for grass, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Next up: Germany’s Alexander Mronz, ranked 117 in the world.