Australian Open Tennis : Wilander Wins in 5 Sets; Leconte, Hanika Lose

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Mats Wilander is the No. 1 player in the world. Tobias Svantesson is the 100th best player in the world.

So Svantesson pushed Wilander to 5 grueling sets in their 3-hour 10-minute, first-round match today at the Ford Australian Open.

How in the world did he do it?

“I have no idea,” Svantesson said.


On second thought, he came up with one. “Mats, he never hardly makes any unforced errors,” Svantesson said. “I make millions.”

Wilander got away with a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 victory over Svantesson, a transplanted Swede who played at Oklahoma State and at Flagler College, which is an National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Florida.

Wilander, a transplanted Swede now residing in Greenwich, Conn., said this is something he will probably have to get used to.

“When I was ranked 10 or 15, it was always special to play the No. 1 player,” Wilander said. “Then to beat the No. 1 player, well. . . . “

Opening day at the $1.5-million Australian Open at the National Tennis Center began under a sunny sky and was interrupted only briefly by showers after temperatures had climbed into the 90s.

Svantesson had his chance to pull the year’s first big upset, but he said he tired mentally.

“I think he got fatigued in the fourth set and in the fifth, I think he got nervous,” said Wilander, who believes his No. 1 ranking matches his place on the most-wanted list this year.

“I have to look at that as a challenge,” Wilander said. “The thing is, you need to put a bit of pressure on yourself because if there’s going to be any pressure, I’d rather be the one applying it.”

Seems fair enough. But what happened to France doesn’t seem quite right. The country’s top three players lost, a headlong plunge that got off to a stunning start when Henri Leconte lost in straight sets.

Jan Gunnarsson of Sweden defeated Leconte, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, and tried to count his blessings.

“I’ve beaten top-10 caliber players before, but you can count them on one hand,” Gunnarsson said.

After Leconte, Guy Forget lost to Mark Kratzmann of Australia, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2, and Thierry Tulasne lost the first two sets to Heiner Moraing of West Germany, then got sick and retired.

All in all, it was a pretty upsetting day for the French, but no one was as disturbed as Leconte, who was not especially glad to be answering questions about his defeat.

A sample:

Question--Henri, can you tell us what happened?

Answer--I lost.

Oh. Of course. The interview improved, although the same could not be said about Leconte’s performance on the rubber-coated Rebound Ace surface, which is not fast, not slow, but just about medium.

Leconte listed the problems he had on the surface at Court 2.

“I had no conditioning, no feeling, no concentration,” he said. “I’m not fit, I don’t like the way I am now, I don’t like the way I play.”

Leconte said his feet got too hot on the court and he didn’t have any feeling in them. As the sun shone brightly, Leconte said the heat made the court get softer. This is also the same way he felt later when asked again about his first-round ouster.

“Last year, I lost in the third round, so it’s no big deal,” he said. “It’s not like I was the defending champion and lost in the first round, is it?”

Immediately after the Leconte upset on Court 2, Elise Burgin pulled another one. Burgin defeated Sylvia Hanika, seeded 11th, 6-3, 6-2, by surviving one big scare.

Early in the match, Burgin was just about to hit a volley when a train whistle blew from the nearby tracks.

“I nearly had heart failure,” said Burgin, who has a 4-0 career record against Hanika.

That scare didn’t compare to last March when Burgin had knee surgery, then found herself booted off the Olympic team by the United States Tennis Assn., who took Chris Evert instead. So it wasn’t a great year for Burgin.

“I wasted it,” she said. “But my coach, Lenny Sherman, really helped me. Since the surgery and what happened over the summer, he told me to be kind to myself. I had enough problems.”

Tennis Notes

Eight demonstrators representing the Australian Anti-Apartheid Movement disrupted the start of a match between Cyril Suk of Czechoslovakia and Neal Broad of South Africa. The protesters unfurled banners and shouted anti-apartheid slogans as they walked onto Court 11. The protesters were escorted off the National Tennis Center grounds. The match was delayed for 5 minutes. “The disturbance obviously upset the 2 players who were merely trying to do their best as professionals in a major tournament,” said Brian Tobin, the president of Tennis Australia, the national tennis body that is putting on the Australian Open.

It began raining just after 3 p.m., Melbourne time, and soon after, the huge retractable roof to Center Court was closed. The roof closed in 23 minutes. All matches on the outer courts were postponed.