There was a race to the exits of the All England Club here Tuesday, led by John McEnroe, a mere ghost of his old Wimbledon self.
In a match that began in bright sunshine and ended under clouds, McEnroe, 31, lost his first-round Wimbledon match. The last time that happened was during his second trip here, as a 19-year-old in 1978.
Twenty-four-year-old Derrick Rostagno of Brentwood, a shaggy-haired, drum-playing, 129th-ranked free spirit who drives a van to his matches in the United States, beat McEnroe, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, on Centre Court, then tried to walk off without bowing to the Royal Box.
Not until McEnroe tugged at the sleeve of his warmup did Rostagno acknowledge the Duchess of Kent and those sitting with her.
Rostagno explained his reluctance.
“I only bow to my mom and dad,” he said.
But, Rostagno said, he is willing to make a compromise.
“I’m happy to give a hello,” he said.
Actually, this was a day for a goodbys. Besides the fourth-seeded McEnroe, other losers included No. 5 Andres Gomez of Ecuador, No. 6 Tim Mayotte, No. 12 Pete Sampras and No. 14 Petr Korda of Czechoslovakia.
Third-seeded Stefan Edberg lost the first set to Australian Brod Dyke, then moved quickly into the second round, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Michael Chang, seeded 13th, followed the same path. He defeated left-hander Jose Francisco Altur of Spain, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
Gomez was the first to fall, losing to 26-year-old Jim Grabb of Tucson, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Only two weeks ago, Gomez won the French Open, but that was on clay, a surface far more friendly to him.
The suddenness of his defeat enabled Gomez to make swift travel plans.
“I’m going to take a plane and go home and relax and watch the matches on TV and pretend I never was here,” Gomez said.
His disappearance will come as little surprise, except possibly to Fred Perry, who only hours before Tuesday’s match had appeared on English television and chosen Gomez as a dark horse. Gomez now has four first-round losses at Wimbledon, where his best finish was the quarterfinals in 1984.
Grabb, ranked No. 49, or 45 places below Gomez, is known more as half of a doubles team with Patrick McEnroe. They won the French Open and the Nabisco Masters last year.
Grabb didn’t consider himself an underdog against Gomez.
“I’m a Grand Slam (event) winner myself (in doubles),” he said.
A first-round Wimbledon loser for the first time, Mayotte was upset by South African Gary Muller, who now lives in Los Angeles. Muller won, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6, 6-3, cheered on by actor Richard Harris, who is starring in a West End production of “Henry IV.”
Said Muller: “His performance is better than mine.”
Sampras, who lost in the first round last year in his Wimbledon debut, matched his 1989 result in a straight-set defeat by South African Christo van Rensburg, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).
Korda’s 6-0, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 loss to Israeli Gilad Bloom cleared McEnroe’s quarter of any seeded players, although it was too late to do McEnroe any good.
The three-time Wimbledon champion was successful only in his arguments with British chair umpire Steve Winyard. McEnroe protested a call and Winyard ruled that the point must be replayed. McEnroe wanted the electronic service line machine turned off and Winyard pulled the plug.
Rostagno blamed Winyard, not McEnroe.
“He’s supposed to be impartial,” Rostagno said. “Perhaps he’s afraid of him.”
In a 2-hour 22-minute display, McEnroe’s once-feared grass court game seemed feeble. He was a step slow getting to balls. His volleys fell short, not deep, and he broke Rostagno’s serve only once.
But it was Rostagno who received a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct when he suggested how Winyard should treat McEnroe.
“Kiss him,” Rostagno said.
Winyard immediately gave Rostagno the code violation warning. Rostagno responded by blowing a kiss to the fans.
Serving for the match, Rostagno arrived at match point with a bit of irony. His forehand approach shot clipped the net cord and fell over. Rostagno, who broke into a smile, said he remembered his match in last year’s U.S. Open when Boris Becker hit a net cord winner when down a match point.
McEnroe saved one match point when Rostagno double-faulted to 40-30, but sent a backhand return into the net to end it.
So, at 6:12 p.m. on a muggy early summer evening, McEnroe ended his stay at Wimbledon. He said he thinks he will be back.
“I’d like to think this is the beginning,” said McEnroe, ranked No. 10. He was No. 1 when he won here for a third time in 1984.
Lack of activity hurt him, said McEnroe, who was playing only his fifth match since being sidelined in mid-February because of what he called a shoulder injury.
“If I take a couple of steps in the wrong direction, in my opinion, I’ll be out of the game in six months,” McEnroe said. “But I don’t expect that to happen.
“You wake up at some point and realize that you’d like to give it 100%,” he said. “Instead of being like No. 5 in the world or eight in the world, whatever, 10 in the world, it’s time to sort of do it. Do the best you can.
“It’s not something I’m accustomed to because it came so naturally to me for so long. So I haven’t really done a good job of giving it my best. That’s why I stopped playing three months ago. It wasn’t really because I was really injured.”
McEnroe was fined $6,500 at the Australian Open and defaulted for an on-court tirade during his fourth-round match against Mikael Pernfors. The sum of his fines put him only $1,000 short of a 12-month limit that would disqualify him from playing in his next Grand Slam event. Fear of fines kept him from playing in the French Open and also affected his play here, McEnroe said.
“When your first goal is not to get defaulted at the (U.S.) Open, it takes away from what you are trying to accomplish in terms of winning,” he said.
So it was a tight-lipped McEnroe who played his match. He argued with only one linesman. A woman calling the service line was making her calls too loudly, he said.
And on his best behavior, McEnroe lost. He remembers other days, such as in Australia, when his behavior was not so good.
“If I knew the answer to why I did those things, I’d probably be, you know, senator of New York right now, at the minimum, if not the President of the United States.”
What next for McEnroe?
“Go home and get my act together,” he said. “It’s a long-term project. It’s a lot of act to get together.”