Polite but slight applause greeted Ramesh Krishnan of India as he walked onto the court Monday morning to play Andrei Chesnokov of the Soviet Union.
Counting the linespeople and ball retrievers, there might have been 200 people in the stands or sitting on the grassy embankment on one side of the Grandstand Court at Hyatt Grand Champions.
There were distinct aromas of sun-tan lotion and grilled hamburgers while Krishnan warmed up.
Several times during his first-round match in the Newsweek Champions Cup, Krishnan had to stop what he was doing because of distractions.
Once, when Krishnan was trying to serve, two young boys not more than 10 feet away were laughing as they put grass down the backs of one another’s shirts.
Another time, a ballgirl fainted and had to be helped to a chair in the shade. People tried to find seats between points instead of waiting for changeovers.
“That’s part of the game,” Krishnan said. “You try not to let that bother you.”
Bother? What bother? It is usually a mark of Krishnan’s stoicism not to react to such intrusions. But he actually kicked a ball after playing a bad shot and later, for a change, dropped his racket and booted it across the court.
Things were not going well for Krishnan and they quickly got worse.
He got a swift kick from Chesnokov, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, in a match that was separated by more than miles from the greatest victory of his career, which occurred only seven weeks ago.
It was different the day Krishnan beat Sweden’s Mats Wilander, the No. 1 player in the world, on a gray Thursday at Melbourne.
How long ago was it? Apparently very long ago.
“I don’t even remember it,” Krishnan said. “One match doesn’t make a difference.”
But it did once.
The stadium court was nearly full for Wilander’s match during the first week of the Australian Open. He would be playing the Krishnan, 27, the best player to come out of Madras, India, since his father, Ramanathan.
Krishnan scored a shocking straight-set victory over Wilander. After punching a backhand volley past Wilander on match point, Krishnan raised both arms in triumph and looked where wife Priya was sitting.
Krishnan said it was the biggest victory of his career. That was Jan. 19. He has won once since.
He lost in the first round at the Volvo/U.S. Indoor to Glenn Michibata. Krishnan beat Marty Davis in the first round at the U.S. Pro Indoor, but defaulted to Jim Courier when he injured his back.
And last week at Scottsdale, Ariz., Krishnan lost in the first round to Emilio Sanchez.
The defeats have begun to run together for Krishnan, and they have come too soon for him to be able to enjoy what he accomplished against Wilander.
“I’ve not been playing enough matches,” he said. “I’ve been struggling to get into form. If I can only struggle and win a few matches, then my form will pick up.”
Krishnan’s life has not really changed since his great upset victory. He should have been recognized anywhere he went, at least for a week.
Jan Gunnarsson of Sweden said this may be one of the funny little tricks tennis plays on people.
Gunnarsson is another player who made an impact at Melbourne. He was a surprise semifinalist and returned home to Monte Carlo in a wonderful mood that has lasted longer than Krishnan’s.
The Swede lost to Brad Gilbert in the first round here, saying it was because he had slept funny the night before and woke up with a sore neck. He smiled anyway and kissed his daughter, Anna.
“Ramesh, maybe there is a lot of pressure on him now,” Gunnarsson said. “Maybe he is not happy enough. I don’t know.
“He is trying to play the same way he did then, but it is difficult to do it.”
Krishnan said he has never been interested in a high-profile life. So, the lack of attention since the Wilander match has not bothered him.
As he said: “I am not a movie star. The question is, can I win matches?”
The answer is, not lately.
After suffering another first-round loss, Krishnan and Priya began to walk to their hotel.
They would pack their luggage for the next tournament at Key Biscayne, Fla. There, things may be better.
Meanwhile, the highest seeded players who played their first-round matches all won. Besides the victory of 10th-seeded Gilbert, 11th-seeded Sanchez defeated Dan Goldie, and Yannick Noah, seeded 12th, defeated Nicolas Pereira, 7-6, 6-3.
Noah fought off four set points in the first, battling both the 18-year-old Uruguayan and tendinitis in his left knee. Noah won the first-set tiebreaker, 10-8.
Noah almost didn’t play here. He waited until last Wednesday to decide that his knee felt good enough to try. Though he played tentatively because of his knee, Noah said it never really bothered him.
“I feel I was a little bit slow,” he said. “I felt like the net was so far away when I was coming in. That’s a bad sign.”
Michael Chang, 17, defeated Alexander Volkov, 6-4, 7-5, and will play Steve Bryan, 18, a wild-card entry from the University of Texas, in the second round. Chang rallied from 1-4 in the second set against Volkov. “I just wanted to stay with him,” Chang said. “It was 4-1, but that’s only one break. He’s the type of player that will make one great shot and then miss one.”