There will be a time for Boris Becker and John McEnroe. But it will not be this year at the U.S. Open.
The dream match become nothing more than an apparition tonight when Joakim Nystrom, who twice served for the match against Becker at Wimbledon only to lose in five sets, knocked Becker out of the Open.
Nystrom's stunning three-hour, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory hardly could have been more dramatic. In the final two games, he had six match points. In the last game, Becker had Nystrom, 0-40, with three chances to even the set.
But he could not convert. Finally, on his sixth chance, Nystrom did. He hit a topspin forehand that landed on the base line. Becker thought the ball was going out and didn't play it. When it landed on the line, Becker, who had been fighting back tears for much of the fourth set, dropped his racket in anguish.
Nystrom, usually a placid individual, leaped in the air and shook his fist with joy.
"At Wimbledon, I played the best grass court match of my life and he still beat me," Nystrom said. "Because of that, this really feels great. I think Boris felt the pressure. It was very difficult for him."
Becker, who had flounced around the court dropping his racket and acting like a 17-year-old for much of the match, was an absolutely gracious loser.
"You have to say well done to Joaky," Becker, the Wimbledon champion, said. "He played good tennis. For the first two sets, I wasn't even on the court. The last two sets I played much better, but it was not good enough."
With his twilight victory, Nystrom advanced to a Wednesday quarterfinal match against top-seeded McEnroe, who defeated Tomas Smid, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2, in a match notable only because McEnroe was as tempestuous as he has been all year.
The other men's winner this afternoon was sixth-seeded Anders Jarryd, who saved three set points in the first set, five set points in the second set and went on to a 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 victory over Tim Mayotte.
Tonight, after the melodrama of the early evening, third-seeded Mats Wilander overcame a 1-5 deficit in a first-set tie breaker and saved two set points in the third set in defeating Greg Holmes, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, 7-5.
But that was the sideshow. Today was when McEnroe and Becker were to be formally paired. The warm, sunny day began with McEnroe hot. His tennis was hot -- he won the first four games of the match -- and so was his temper.
McEnroe feuded with the line judges, feuded with chair umpire Herb Kosten, called for tournament referee Bob Howe to complain about the way the service line machine was malfunctioning and argued with several spectators.
"I think all that stuff might have helped me in the long run because I was pretty lethargic out there for a while," McEnroe said. "I'm still not playing all that well and I needed something to get me going today. My concentration wasn't good."
McEnroe got himself going in what has been his trouble set this tournament -- the second -- when he served while trailing, 4-5. At 30-all, Smid had three chances to put the ball away and each time McEnroe ran it down. Finally, McEnroe chased Smid's backhand into the corner and hit a gorgeous forehand winner down the line.
"I'm glad to get to the point where my next match is the one everyone has been talking about," McEnroe said. "If I play my best, I don't expect to lose."
The reference was to Becker. As with everyone else here, the thought that Nystrom would beat Becker hardly crossed his mind.
Whereas McEnroe rolled, Becker knew he would be in a close match and was clearly nervous at the start. Nystrom, 22, returns serve as well as almost anyone in the game.
Nystrom broke Becker in the second game of the opening set and served out to win the set. The second set was similar to the first. This time Nystrom's break came late. With Becker serving at 4-5, Nystrom slammed a backhand winner to get to set point. Becker then followed a backhand in and watched helplessly as yet another hard two-hander flew past him.
In the third set, Becker lost his serve in the opening game, and it appeared Nystrom would end the match quickly. But Becker immediately broke Nystrom back at love and slowly climbed back.
Becker broke Nystrom in the 10th game of the set when Nystrom, leading 40-15, made two errors for deuce and Becker snapped a backhand volley for set point. On set point, Becker came in behind a backhand and Nystrom netted a backhand.
Becker, to open the fourth set, again lost his serve. And this time, he never caught up. There were chances. After Becker saved three more break points at 0-2, he had a break point in the next game. But he netted a backhand return and Nystrom served out the game.
Devastated, Becker began walking in circles, talking to himself. He pushed tears from his eyes as he began serving the next game.
And yet, even crying, Becker hung in. Serving at 3-5, he faced four match points. He saved all four, the last one with an extraordinary diving, backhand volley that Nystrom could not run down.
When he came up with two service winners to win the game, the crowd was screaming in amazement. A moment later, when Becker reached 0-40, the din was almost deafening. But Nystrom got to deuce and then had a fifth match point when Becker, who left the court with his knees full of blood, dived for a forehand, got it back, but couldn't scramble to his feet in time to run down Nystrom's volley.
So, it was match point five. This time, Becker slapped a reaching backhand volley for a winner. Nystrom shook his head.
Nystrom got a sixth match point with a backhand volley that hit the net and rolled in for a winner. And then Nystrom hit his forehand, Becker stared and the crowd groaned for a second before finally rising to applaud the remarkable efforts of both players.