Brad Pearce was trying not to think about it too much, but Monday was the start of something new in his tennis career. Fame.
With an ease suggesting that he was to-the-spotlight born, Pearce smoothly answered reporters’ questions at the Volvo tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.
Questions such as: Who are you? Where did you come from?
All the 19-year-old from Provo, Utah, could do was smile and be polite. He’ll soon be known as the unseeded player who blitzed tour veteran Peter Fleming, 6-2, 6-4, in the first round of the $315,000 tournament.
Before, Pearce was known, by few, as an amateur who had played in maybe eight pro tournaments. He also played No. 3 singles on UCLA’s tennis team last season, although he allowed as how that might change this season.
“Sure, I’m very, very excited right now,” Pearce said, grinning. “But I’m also trying to keep my head on and look ahead. I’m trying to stay in the tournament.”
Fleming, who was harder on himself after the match than Pearce was during it, described his performance as pitiful.
“I played like an old lady,” he said. “I played like a wimp.”
Actually, it was more that Pearce played the way Fleming was supposed to. The 6-foot 5-inch Fleming has made his reputation as a powerful serve and volley player with excellent net coverage.
That pretty accurately describes Pearce. Even at a compact 5-9 and with tree-trunk thighs, he scoots around the court with a combination of agility and power. At net, he dives for what he can’t reach.
Pearce almost didn’t enter the qualifying round of the tournament. After a full collegiate season and three weeks on the pro tour in Europe, as an amateur, he was tired.
“After the long summer I went home to Provo,” Pearce said. “I didn’t play tennis for two weeks. I came down here two days before the tournament started to get in some practice.
“I really wasn’t playing well enough to get a spot in the qualifying. Then, a friend of mine said he was going back to Provo on a private plane. I told him I wasn’t going to enter the tournament and I’d meet him at the airport.”
Pearce never made it. He was asked to appear at a clinic on Sunday and, on the spur of the moment, signed up for the qualifying round Saturday morning. He entered the tournament less than an hour before it began.
“They gave me a wild-card spot into the qualifying, luckily” Pearce said. “I signed in at 9 in the morning and I was scheduled for one of the first matches. I walked on the court without having warmed up. Still, I played the best matches of my life in qualifying.”
His first-round match Monday kept him on the roll. Pearce took advantage of Fleming’s sluggish start and inconsistent first serve to break Fleming in the third and seventh games and take the first set.
Fleming, an American who lives in London, got rattled in the second set. With Pearce serving at deuce and leading 5-4, a lineswoman at first called a serve long, then reversed herself. Fleming, in obvious frustration, shouted, “Great choke, lady!”
Fleming was given a warning for abuse of official.
In his postmatch remarks, however, he directed his abuse at himself.
“I was sluggish,” he said. “My serve was not great. I just didn’t have the fire in my belly. All the energy ended up on my side of the net. He was emanating strength and I wasn’t. That was obvious to anyone who watched the game.”
Fleming had reason to be astonished. Here was a player ranked 409th on the computer trouncing a player ranked 52nd.
Not surprised were Wayne and Carol Pearce, Brad’s parents. Wayne, who last year stepped down after 18 years as tennis coach at Brigham Young University, had a hunch his oldest son was going to be good.
“He’s always been a tough competitor,” he said. “He’s always been capable of coming up with the big shot. He really has no weaknesses.”
After three difficult matches in qualifying and Monday’s 1 1/2-hour match with Fleming, Pearce has today off. He’ll need it. He’ll face the winner of tonight’s first-round match at 7:30 between unseeded Mark Dickson and second-seeded Stefan Edberg of Sweden. Edberg is ranked ninth in the world.
In other first-round action Monday, fourth-seeded Johan Kriek defeated Bob Green, 6-4, 7-5; Ramesh Krishnan defeated Mike DePalmer, 6-3, 7-6; Bud Schultz defeated Shahar Perkiss, 7-6, 6-4; Mike Leach defeated Brett Dickinson, 6-4, 7-5, and Tim Wilkison defeated Tom Cain, 6-2, 7-5.
In today’s matches, third-seeded Scott Davis, seventh-seeded Jimmy Arias and eighth-seeded Paul Annacone all will play in matches beginning at noon.
In addition to the Dickson-Edberg match tonight, Vincent Van Patten will play Brian Teacher in singles.