Among the many ways to lose tennis matches, some players use the conventional straight-set upset method, which is the path Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg followed Thursday.
Then there comes a real trailblazer, someone who finds a way to lose that is so surprising, so novel, that almost no one can believe it.
Take Robert Seguso, for instance.
Here he is playing Andre Agassi in the round of 16 in one of the bigger tournaments in North America and he loses while the third set is still being played. This is colossal bad luck.
In a bizarre ending to a day of upsets at the Newsweek Champions Cup, Seguso was defaulted by chair umpire Richard Ings before a point was played in the second game of the third set.
Seguso, whose serve was broken to start the second set, had kept up a running commentary with Ings during the match, mostly about pro-Agassi crowd noise while points were being played.
With his mouth agape, Seguso listened as Ings counted him out. The swiftness with which he was defaulted perplexed Seguso.
“It was all over in a matter of 10 seconds,” Seguso said. “Everything happened so quick. It was game, default.”
Seguso got a code violation warning for verbal abuse as he walked to his chair at the changeover. Ings penalized Seguso a point for unsportsmanlike conduct when Seguso knocked over some paper cups with his racket and then threw his racket. Seguso walked past Ings’ chair to argue and was then penalized a game for verbal abuse.
Ings called for Men’s Tennis Council supervisor Thomas Karlberg. Once Karlberg reached the court, Ings gave Seguso a fourth code violation for verbal abuse, and the player was defaulted.
Karlberg could fine Seguso a total of $21,000, including $5,000 for each of the code violations and $1,000 for the default. Karlberg said he would announce Seguso’s fine today.
A slightly bewildered Agassi accepted a 5-7, 6-4, 2-0 victory even though he thought it was a pretty strange way to get into the quarterfinals.
“It wasn’t so wrong to default Robert,” Agassi said. “It’s more wrong to let other guys get away with that.
“Like John McEnroe . . . they can’t default John McEnroe, they can’t do that to a tournament.
“If they’re going to default Robert, they should default anybody. I don’t care if it’s Lendl versus Wilander in a Grand Slam. If you have a rule, you should stick to it.”
Seguso said he couldn’t remember if he swore at Ings. Some people sitting in the bottom rows near the court were able to recall quite well, and they said Seguso did.
Others recalled Seguso addressing Ings in a conversation in which the word idiot was prominently mentioned.
Seguso’s explanation: “I have a quick temper.”
On his way to the changing room, Seguso booted a folding chair across a sidewalk.
There were still seats available for Becker and Edberg. The tournament’s Nos. 1- and 2-seeded players lost in surprising fashion, although clearly not as spectacularly as Seguso.
Jay Berger, an unorthodox-serving Floridian ranked 39th in the world, needed just 1 hour 12 minutes to upset the third-ranked Becker in a 6-1, 6-1, shocker that the West German said was the worst defeat in his Grand Prix career.
“I was just flat,” said Becker.
Edberg, ranked fifth, couldn’t have felt much better. Michael Chang, ranked 25th, inflated his own hopes with an equally startling 6-3, 6-2 victory in 1 hour 17 minutes.
“It doesn’t feel very good,” Edberg said.
Still others felt quite well. Jimmy Connors came from 2-5 down in the first set to get past Andrei Chesnokov, 7-5, 7-5, and advance to a quarterfinal match with Tim Mayotte, a 7-5, 6-2 winner over Emilio Sanchez.
Miloslav Mecir ended the run of upsets by wild-card entry Pete Sampras with a withering 6-0, 6-1 rout. Mecir plays Chang in the quarterfinals.
Yannick Noah fought off four match points on his way to an uphill 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory over Jakob Hlasek before a pro-Noah crowd. Friendly voices are a player’s friend, Noah said.
“I feel much better when I have people laughing and pulling for me instead of insulting me and throwing tomatoes at me,” Noah said. “It is a much better feeling.”
Doubtless, but Brad Gilbert could probably have matched it after ousting Argentinian baseliner Alberto Mancini in two tiebreakers. Gilbert’s quarterfinal opponent will be the 22-year-old Berger, who said his victory over Becker was his biggest.
“Playing Boris, I think everybody is a little intimidated,” Berger said. “I didn’t get intimidated and I played good tennis.”
Becker, the two-time defending champion, said he never got a feel for his game. Becker said he felt tired, for what reason he could not say, and that losses, even for him, occur occasionally.
“From time to time, I just happen to lose,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. I lost, 6-1, 6-1. I’ll have to think about that. The worst in my career. There always comes a time when there’s a first time.”
Connors has been most everywhere more than once, especially in finals. He has a chance to extend his record number of tournament championships to 108, and said part of his success is due to his diet, which he said is unchanged from his youth.
“All these other guys are on these eat-to-win diets,” he said. “If I told you what I ate, you’d die.”
If Seguso cannot afford one today, perhaps Connors will offer him one.
Under Grand Prix rules, because of his default in the singles, Robert Seguso was also eliminated from the doubles, where he and teammate Ken Flach had reached the quarterfinals. But a more important consequence will be whether Seguso’s fine affects his appearance in the Davis Cup. American captain Tom Gorman said he believes Seguso’s role in the doubles with Flach may be affected. Seguso could be fined as much as $21,000 for the four code violations and the default. Grand Prix rules state that any player with as much as $7,500 in fines in a 12-month period receives an additional $10,000 fine. There is also a chance Seguso could be suspended. However, he could appeal within 10 days and delay any suspension or perhaps reduce or eliminate a fine. In his defense, Seguso said he did not believe his offense was so grievous. “I’ve seen a lot worse, that’s for sure,” he said. “I didn’t even know I was close to defaulting before it was all over.”