There are now four men left competing for the men's singles title at Wimbledon. Mats Wilander is not one of them. Ivan Lendl is not one of them.
And, shockingly, John McEnroe is not one of them.
McEnroe, three times the champion here and the top-seeded player this year, was eliminated from the tournament today, buried under an avalanche of Kevin Curren's serves. In a remarkably one-sided match that lasted less than two hours, Curren won, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
McEnroe lost his serve five times. He never broke Curren, the eighth-seeded player here and ninth-ranked player in the world. McEnroe had four break points in the match and on only one of them was he even able to get a return into play.
"He just overpowered me," McEnroe said. "I was completely overwhelmed. After a while, I felt very old out there."
There is great irony in that statement. McEnroe is 26 and out of the tournament, a confused player wondering what has happened in the year since he beat Jimmy Connors in the final here in what might have been the best display of shotmaking at Wimbledon.
And who is waiting for Curren in the semifinals? Jimmy Connors, 32 and supposedly too old to win here again. But Connors advanced today by beating Ricardo Acuna, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, to reach the semifinals for the ninth time in 12 years. "I guess I've got longevity," Connors said. "I've been able to keep playing through a number of different eras."
He might be a part of the beginning of The Boris Becker Era. The 17-year-old West German, who has been declared too young to win this year by everyone he has played, moved one step closer to a championship with a 7-6 (9-7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Henri Leconte of France.
Now the youngest male semifinalist in this tournament's history, Becker next faces Anders Jarryd, the Swede who walked to the brink of elimination in the first round against Claudio Panatta, but survived in five sets. Today, Jarryd easily beat Heinz Gunthardt, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
As for the women, tune in Saturday. That is when Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova should meet once again in the finals. Any chance that there would not be an Evert-Navratilova final seemingly ended today when Navratilova beat Pam Shriver, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, and Kathy Rinaldi upset Helena Sukova, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1. That sets up Navratilova against Zina Garrison in one semifinal and Evert against Rinaldi in the other.
For Garrison and Rinaldi, just reaching the semifinals was a major accomplishment. Garrison had to come from behind today to beat Molly Van Nostrand, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, winning after trailing, 3-1, in the second set. Evert, who easily beat Barbara Potter, 6-2, 6-1, today, reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 41st time in 42 attempts, one of the more startling consistency records in sports history.
For Navratilova and Evert, these are warmup matches. For Garrison and Rinaldi, neither of whom has won a set from her next opponent, getting this far is a major achievement.
Center stage today belonged to Curren and McEnroe, who played before a Centre Court crowd that murmured early as Curren smacked his rockets past McEnroe, cheered lustily in the middle and returned to murmuring when it became apparent that McEnroe simply didn't have any answers for Curren's brilliance.
"I knew if I got in a good percentage of first serves and returned well, I would have a good chance of winning," Curren said. "In the past, I've been intimidated against top players and that's been a problem. Today, that didn't happen."
Before today, he had won just one set against McEnroe in seven matches.
Two years ago, Curren blasted 33 aces out on Court 2 and beat Connors, the defending champion, in the fourth round. He was 25 then, an angular, brown-haired South African on the rise.
Now, he has been a U.S. citizen for two months, and has been through a difficult two years, including the death of his father during last year's Wimbledon. His ranking had dropped into the 20s before rising again recently and he had failed to live up to the great promise he showed in beating Connors and reaching the semifinals here.
Today, Curren began with a double fault, but after saving a break point in his first serving game, he found a rhythm he never lost. With his short toss and whip-like motion, Curren serves low and hard. On grass, the ball doesn't come up and can be virtually unreturnable.
As Curren moved McEnroe farther and farther back with radio serves (McEnroe could hear them, but couldn't see them), McEnroe was struggling with his own serve.
He lost it in the fifth game when Curren knocked a backhand return past him and a backhand at his feet that McEnroe volleyed long. He lost it again in the seventh game when Curren ripped two more returns, a forehand and a backhand. By that point, Curren was in a groove, hitting all-out on every shot, even McEnroe's first serve.
"After a while I knew how Jimmy felt two years ago," McEnroe said. "I was surprised at how badly I was serving and I certainly wasn't expecting to be broken as much as I was.
"It was a very frustrating feeling. Everything today seemed to be going against me. I just wasn't as fresh as I would have liked, the way I played, the way I felt. Sometimes, you can snap out of it. Sometimes, you just can't."
Curren began the second set as he had ended the first, breaking McEnroe for the third time in a row. This time, he flicked a topspin forehand over McEnroe's head for the break. McEnroe had a chance to break right back when Curren double-faulted twice to 30-40 in the next game, but he mis-hit a backhand off Curren's volley and Curren served out the game.
"This was the first time I've played him that I've been able to nose in front of him," Curren said. "He's a great frontrunner; he gets confident and starts hitting shots. But today, I played two very good sets and in the third, even though I didn't play as well, I felt as if he thought I was going to win and didn't play as well."
McEnroe certainly didn't give up. With Curren leading the second set, 2-1, and serving at 15-30, he appeared to serve a double-fault. But the ball was called good. McEnroe appealed to umpire David Howie. No luck. It was 30-all. Curren served another winner.
After Curren faulted, someone yelled from the stands, "Don't worry about it John." McEnroe answered: "You're absolutely right."
At that point, Curren walked up to Howie and asked for two serves, complaining that the exchange had interfered with his concentration. Howie agreed. McEnroe did not. He walked to the chair again, complaining. Howie ordered him to continue play. McEnroe argued further. Howie issued him a conduct warning for delaying. McEnroe demanded to see tournament referee Alan Mills.
Out came Mills with Grand Prix Supervisor Ken Farrar. They listened to McEnroe. They listened to Howie. They changed nothing. As they left, McEnroe was a step behind, still arguing heatedly.
"Just a chat," Mills said later. "I didn't think he deserved two serves," McEnroe said. "It's not my fault if someone yells at me from the stands. I was having enough trouble without giving him another first serve."
McEnroe won that point, with one of his few clean winners, a forehand that dusted the line. But Curren served out the game. A few moments later, he broke McEnroe again and did a Connors-like fist pump.
McEnroe was in trouble and he seemed to sense it. Each time he went to serve, he was extremely deliberate, almost as if he was searching for the answer to an unanswerable question.
"The last time I remember feeling that overwhelmed on a tennis court was against Lendl in Dallas in 1982," he said. "It was during that period that I switched rackets to get more power. Maybe I need to think about something like that again. That's not why I lost today, though. He just completely outplayed me."
The racket that could have saved McEnroe today hasn't been invented yet. He stayed on serve until 3-all and then was broken at love, starting with a double-fault, then watching helplessly as Curren teed off on three straight backhands. From there, Curren served out the set. McEnroe saved one match point, smacking a backhand return down the line. But that was the final gasp, the last twitch.
One year ago, in an 80-minute wipeout of Connors in the final, McEnroe was the artist finishing off a masterpiece, very much the victor.
Today, he was the victim.
Curren followed one more serve in and McEnroe's forehand sailed long. Curren waved joyously as McEnroe congratulated him.
"I'm not as sharp mentally as I was a year ago," McEnroe said. "Maybe I've talked myself into feeling the pressure here a little bit. Maybe, the French took something out of me. Hopefully, my competitive desire will resurface and bring me back.
"I'll be back," he said finally. "I'm just not sure when."
And so, McEnroe is gone, having failed to reach the final here for the first time since 1979. Left are Connors, who is supposed to be too old to win; Becker, who is supposed to be too young; Jarryd, who supposedly can't play on grass, and Curren, who supposedly isn't consistent enough.
And yet, on Sunday, one of them will be Wimbledon champion. If he is watching when the trophy is presented, McEnroe undoubtedly will feel an ache inside. "This isn't the biggest disappontment of my career," McEnroe said. "It will be interesting to see how I react to it."