Jimmy Connors had been through this before. He had been in trouble, he had even been pushed to the edge. But always he had found an escape. He would stare down an upset-minded opponent, almost talk him out of winning with his swaggering, pugnacious approach to tennis.
But not tonight.
In 15 years at Wimbledon, Connors had never failed to reach the round of 16. But this evening, Connors exited Wimbledon in the first round, served out of the tournament by Robert Seguso, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (10-8).
Connors' shocking defeat came at the end of one of the most hectic first Tuesdays in the 100 years of this tournament.
The most astonishing upset before Connors' departure came in the early evening when Pam Shriver, the fifth-seeded woman, lost to Betsy Nagelsen, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Shriver also had never lost a first-round match here and had never lost a set to Nagelsen in seven previous matches. For Nagelsen, 29, recently married to agent Mark McCormack, it was one of the most gratifying victories of a long career. For Shriver, 23, it was one of the most disappointing defeats.
"When I lost the second set, I panicked a little and got down, 4-0, right away," Shriver said. "She just played really well. It's kind of disappointing when you prepare half the spring for one tournament and at 7 o'clock Tuesday you're out of the tournament with nothing to do but wait around and play doubles."
Shriver wasn't nearly as disappointed as John Lloyd, the long time British No. 1 who blew a two-set lead against South African Christo Steyn, lost in five sets and announced his retirement as a singles player. No drive left, Lloyd said. No desire. And no, he had not told his wife, Chris Evert Lloyd, of his decision.
Evert and Martina Navratilova were about the only big names who supplied normalcy today, each making her debut with a straight set victory. Evert beat 14-year-old French Open quarterfinalist Mary Joe Fernandez, 6-4, 6-1; Navratilova whipped past Amanda Dingwall, 6-3, 6-2. There were other mild surprises: Pat Cash, out for most of the last year, beating 15th-seeded Guillermo Vilas three weeks after having his appendix removed; John Fitzgerald taking out ninth-seed Andres Gomez in four sets; Jenny Byrne defeating 14th-seeded Wendy Turnbull; and Bill Scanlon stretching eighth-seeded Anders Jarryd to five sets.
But all of that paled when Connors and Seguso went to work in the early evening on court No. 1. Seguso, 23, is ranked No. 31 in the world and has improved his game considerably in the last six months while working with Lloyd's coach, Bob Brett. Still, he is known primarily as a doubles player; he and partner Ken Flach are ranked No. 2 in the world.
But at 6 feet 3 and an excellent volleyer, Seguso is a threat on grass. Last year, as a qualifier, he reached the round of 16 here, so he is not unfamiliar with winning at Wimbledon. But this was different.
"Is this my best win?" Seguso asked. "Yeah, I would say so. Connors. At Wimbledon. That's pretty good."
Amazing is more like it. Connors had not lost a first-round match in a Grand Slam tournament since the 1973 French Open.
Connors earlier this month returned from a 10-week suspension imposed because he walked off the court during a match last winter in Florida, and he had to retire in the final of the Queens Club tournament in London a little more than a week ago because of a groin pull. But Connors said the injury was "no problem" today.
"Hey, the guy was playing unconscious," Connors said. "He's throwing second-serve aces in there in the tie breaker, just throwing the ball up and giving it a ride. If he can do that, well, good. I was looking for one little opening but he just kept bombing away, 'boom, boom, boom.' "
Connors, two months shy of 34, clearly was not the Connors who has won eight Grand Slam titles. Still, the match appeared for a long time to be just another tough one that Connors would gut out. He was up a service break in the third set and seemingly in command when Seguso began to turn things around.
"I lost to him in the semifinals at Queens, but I felt a lot better in that match than I ever had playing him before," Seguso said. "It was straight sets, but I was in games. I had a chance. I think that helped me today because when I went out on the court I was really confident. I felt great."
Even when he was behind, Seguso thought he had a chance because he was challenging Connors in almost every service game. "I'd have 30-all and then hit a stupid shot," he said. "But I had chances."
He finally played a smart shot -- a chipped return at Connors' feet -- to break back to 4-4. Then they proceeded to 6-all and the tie breaker. There, Seguso first showed signs he had a legitimate chance to win. He began the tie breaker with an ace, jumped ahead, 2-0, when Connors missed a forehand and controlled the rest of the tie breaker with his serve, finishing the set with another service winner.
By now they had played for 2 1/2 hours. It was almost 8 o'clock and few people could believe this was happening.
Connors, considered by many the greatest returner in the game's history, simply had no answers for Seguso's serve. He was jammed constantly, sprayed the ball often and even when he did get into a rally, he was surprised by Seguso's steadiness.
"I think I rallied with him better than I ever have before," Seguso said. "That was just as important as my serve."
Seguso had the only break point of the fourth set, but missed an easy volley down the line. And so, they went to another tie breaker. Again, Seguso served himself into position to win, coming up with a second-serve ace to make it 5-5, then another winner to lead, 6-5. Match point.
Dusk was closing in rapidly, with only about 20 minutes of good light left. If Connors survived the set, they would probably have to finish Wednesday. Seguso didn't want that. Not with the older man having been on the court more than three hours.
Connors served. Seguso chipped and came in. Connors' backhand floated and Seguso had an easy forehand volley. He pushed it wide. "That really upset me," he said. "But I kept control. Usually, I don't."
Seguso had match point two a moment later when he blasted a backhand return down the line. This time, Connors gamely crushed a backhand return and the surprised Seguso punched a tough volley deep. It was 7-7. "I was thinking if I get to a fifth set," Connors said, "I'll be okay."
So was Seguso. "It would have given him a lot of confidence," he said. "I wanted it over there. He was struggling."
He jammed Connors with another serve. Connors netted it. It was 8-7. Match point three. Connors answered with a service winner. But then he pushed a backhand wide and it was match point four. Seguso took a deep breath and served.
Once again, Connors' return floated. Seguso closed and slammed an authoritative backhand volley. Connors stretched, lunged and got his racket on the ball. But it wasn't close. The ball landed harmlessly near the stands. Seguso threw his arms in the air, overjoyed. Connors shook hands while the crowd applauded, the young man for his remarkable play, the older one for his extraordinary career.
Connors talked calmly and clinically about his loss until the English media began pressing him about whether he would retire.
"That's the trouble with you guys," Connors said. "You just don't know what you've got till it's gone. All those years you gave John McEnroe hell, called him every name in the book and now he's not here and you miss him.
"Well, maybe if I don't come back next year you'll miss me, too."