Michael Joyce has been operating as some sort of tennis vampire, using his fitness to drain opponents of their will to win and feasting on the victories to bolster his confidence.
His 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 upset victory over third-seeded Jim Courier on Thursday night in the second round of the Infiniti Open was merely the latest in a line of attacks on top 20 players that has brought his ranking into the top 100 for the first time.
The L.A. native, ranked No. 87, gained his first victory over a top 10 player in March at the Lipton Championships, beating Michael Stich. Then he beat Marc Rosset at Wimbledon and advanced to the round of 16.
The victory over Courier, the former No. 1 who is now 14th, can only add to his growing confidence.
“I’ve won a few big matches this year,” Joyce said. “The players go back into the locker room and make excuses. Stich wasn’t prepared at Lipton and Rosset was tired. But I wouldn’t say they take me lightly anymore. The more you win, the more confident you get. This helps.”
Other seeded players advancing in second-round matches at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA were No. 1 Goran Ivanisevic, who defeated Jim Grabb, 6-4, 6-2, and No. 5 Thomas Enqvist, who defeated Cristiano Caratti, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2).
Joyce, 22, has persevered in spite of physical setbacks: twice separating his shoulder and losing nearly two months with a bout of mononucleosis. His injuries have made him a fitness fanatic.
“Winning the first set, I knew I had a shot at winning the match,” he said. “It’s tough to play at home, you want to go out and make a good show and play good tennis. The crowd is behind you.”
Asked what the loss meant, Courier replied, “It means this week is over and I’m going to Cincinnati tomorrow.”
There, he’ll meet Ivanisevic, who will be less than delighted to be there.
When word reaches the State Department of Ivanisevic’s persistent verbal trashing of American cities, travel restrictions may be placed on the voluble Croatian. He’s potentially bad for tourism.
Ivanisevic is well remembered for his phobia of Palm Springs last year, where he said he had difficulty dining among so many “old people,” because, he feared, anyone could drop dead at any moment.
Now, moodily ensconced in L.A., Ivanisevic could not even be perked up by his victory Thursday.
“I was not so happy with the way I played,” he said. “I thought it was a bad match. I didn’t do anything. He did a lot of mistakes. That saved me. I don’t know what happened. I was in a bad mood.”
Grabb forged a 4-2 lead in the first set and might have lengthened it save for two double faults in the seventh game that led to a break of his serve.
Grabb readily admitted his letdown. “I played a horrible game,” he said.
Ivanisevic was equally blunt, if characteristically uncharitable, in his assessment.
“He gave me the match--two double faults,” Ivanisevic said. “A lot of games, when I didn’t have a chance, he got me into the match. Even when I was down 30-0, 40-0, I knew he could lose a few points.”
With Ivanisevic, it’s always something. At Wimbledon, he blamed his semifinal loss to bad luck. During this hard-court season, he has been crabby because he says he dislikes the surface, which is the perfect foil for his huge serve. Only one of his 11 titles has come on hard courts.
Now he’s focusing his wrath on the United States. Irritable that he has not won a tournament in this country, yet compelled by the schedule to play here, Ivanisevic launched into another of his stream-of-consciousness jaunts.
“I never like to play on his surface,” he said. “I don’t know why. I don’t like to play in this country. I don’t know why. I have to change that.
“I will be here for six weeks. I play at Cincinnati and Indianapolis. There is nothing to do. The towns are boring, but the tournaments are good. It’s a good country. I need to get into the mentality.”