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Ivanisevic and Becker Bounced on First Day : Tennis: Croat falls to Zoecke, German to Reneberg in the opening round of U.S. Open.

TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

The lights went out on two of the marquee names in the men’s singles draw at the U.S. Open on Monday.

First, second-seeded Goran Ivanisevic lost to a hard-serving German, Markus Zoecke, in the first match of the day on the Grandstand Court. Then Boris Becker, seeded seventh and on a hot streak that had many convinced he would add this year’s title to the one he won here in 1989, succumbed to unseeded Richey Reneberg in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the last match of the night session. Becker’s match lasted 3 hours 5 minutes and ended with Reneberg’s overhead smash at 12:38 a.m. EDT.

The score was 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), and Reneberg, ranked 48th, said it was the best match he’d ever played.

“This was a pretty good time for it,” he said.

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Becker, who bowed out after fending off five match points, was upset that, in his opinion, the U.S. Tennis Assn. had slowed the Stadium court and used heavier, slower balls, all to his detriment.

“I am very disappointed,” he said. “I thought I had a good chance, and I had prepared so well with matches on hard courts this summer. But I didn’t need to even go play those matches, because everything here was so different, so slowed down.”

For Ivanisevic, the U.S. Open has become an annual soul-searching event. Start spreading the news. It’s New York, so Goran must be confused.

The world’s second-ranked player could not overcome the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Zoecke, who is ranked 68th. Zoecke’s victory was, by most measures of tennis results, a major upset. But, upon second look, this was Ivanisevic at the U.S. Open, which badly alters the test sample.

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Ivanisevic comes to the U.S. Open each year in need of only one thing to improve his game: a psychiatrist’s couch. He has advanced to two Wimbledon finals, but has never made it past the fourth round at the U.S. Open. Perhaps the fact that Sigmund Freud used to live in London is a factor.

Every year since 1989, Ivanisevic has come to Flushing Meadow, faced its demons and been driven out. Others come lacking forehands or great serves. He comes lacking an exorcism.

To his credit, when his stay in his own personal tennis padded cell has mercifully ended each year, he has always addressed the situation head on, refusing to shrink from the blame.

“I did not play tennis today,” he said. “I don’t know what I do here. Not only today, every year when I come to the U.S. Open, I don’t know what I am doing here, you know. Sometimes I ask myself why I am coming here because . . . I don’t know.”

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Soon, the self-analysis becomes a flood.

--"As soon as I come here, it is finished. I don’t know why. It is like I am playing--I don’t know.”

--"New York is a great city. I like it here. It is not a problem with New York. It is a problem with me.”

--"I don’t know, maybe I should try and play some women’s tournament next year. But I’m not sure if I will win that because like this, maybe I win a couple of rounds, but something will happen.”

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--"I am trying, but I am lost a little bit. I see these planes (flying over the stadium) and I saw my place on that flight.”

--"I am not thinking, because I am too scared to think.”

Ivanisevic, it must be remembered, is not given to regular thought processes, even when he isn’t at the U.S. Open. This is a player whose brain waves tend to run southeast and northwest. For example, a few years ago at a tournament in Indian Wells, he met reporters after a match and declared that he would not play again in the desert because, when he went to dinner at night, there were so many old people dining that he was afraid he’d see somebody die of a heart attack.

Some of this, of course, is done for affect. Ivanisevic knows that many of his fellow players are so boring that the press welcomes his frequent zany shows. But Monday’s show and tell was clearly serious.

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What Ivanisevic did not give proper testimonial to was the huge serve and baseline slugging game of Zoecke, who was smart enough to know that he had nothing to lose if he just went for it on every shot.

That got him 16 aces, 53 winners and 28 of 39 points when he came to the net, a 72% average. He didn’t lose his serve until 3-4 of the third set, and then on a forehand drive that just barely zipped wide. He fought off six other break-point opportunities, and barely failed on a match-point opportunity with Ivanisevic serving at 4-5 of the fourth set, when the Croat hit his best shot of the match, an inside-out forehand winner into the deep corner.

Undaunted, Zoecke held at 5-5, then made use of two lucky netcords and a double fault by Ivanisevic at 5-6 to take the match.

Zoecke, as bland as Ivanisevic is wacky, had never won a match at the U.S. Open and had only two prior victories, both in the Australian Open, in four years of playing in Grand Slam events.

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“I was really happy,” he said. “I don’t know, really, but I think I have to see it on TV, maybe, maybe that--yeah, it is a very big win for me.”

For Ivanisevic, the whole thing was just a huge pain. When asked if a recent hip injury he suffered had played a role in his defeat, he said: “No, maybe a brain injury.”


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