LONDON, JUNE 24 -- They put the big names on the show courts at Wimbledon today. But none of them stayed long. Martina Navatilova took 32 minutes; Chris Evert and Steffi Graf took 42. Mats Wilander, Yannick Noah, Jimmy Connors and Tim Mayotte needed more than an hour, but they had to play three sets.
The drama today, as is so often the case in the early rounds, was on the periphery. On a day when the sun came back to England, bathing the grounds on a breezy afternoon, the courts out back were packed. There was plenty to see.
Not that seeded players were having trouble anywhere. By day's end, all 16 men's seeds were in the second round -- the first time since 1976 that has happened -- with a total loss of three sets. All 13 women's seeds who had played had also won -- without the loss of a single set.
In short, the chalk was flying. Navratilova wiped out Claudia Porwik, 6-1, 6-0, winning the last game of the match in exactly 53 seconds by hitting four clean winners on her first serve. "I can't remember ever doing that before," she said.
Graf won, 6-0, 6-2, over Adriana Villagran; Evert 6-1, 6-0 over Sara Gomer, and Pam Shriver 6-2, 6-1 over Soviet qualifier Natalia Medvedeva. The top men had almost as easy a time: Wilander whipped Gary Muller, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4; Connors beat Marty Davis, 6-1, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3); Mayotte hammered Jean Fleurian, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3; Henri Leconte gave a lesson to 17-year-old American Andre Agassi, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, and Miloslav Mecir beat Mike DePalmer, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
That made it a day for no-names, or at least lesser-names such as Robert Seguso and Mikael Pernfors to provide the suspense. They came through. As did Amos Mansdorf and Gilad Bloom, who became the first two Israelis to reach the tournament's second round, each winning in straight sets.
Vijay Amritraj, who was the only non-British wild-card entry in the field, justified that choice with a straight-set win over Damir Keretic. And the English had reason to cheer for a second straight day, Jeremy Bates winning three straight tie-breakers from Peter Fleming to become the fourth Briton in the second round.
But the best story of the first full day of tennis here this year unfolded on Court 3, where Pernfors and Seguso took their audience on an all-day roller-coaster ride.
Although Pernfors is the highest-ranked nonseed in the tournament, a loss to Seguso would not have been a shock. Seguso has a grass-court game and Perfors does not. One year ago, Seguso upset Connors in the first round, so beating Pernfors would not have been so stunning.
This has not been an easy year for Seguso. He underwent knee surgery last fall, and since coming back has been bothered by calf problems. His ranking, as high as No. 23 last year, is down to No. 44.
Off the court, things have gone better for Seguso. He is newly engaged to Carling Bassett, who was on the balcony today for almost the entire 3 hours 39 minutes that Seguso and Pernfors were on Court 3.
For Bassett, as for Seguso, it was an agonizing afternoon, Pernfors coming from behind in the last set to win, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (6-8) 10-8. "I had chances," Seguso said. "Boy did I have chances. But I just never felt in control out there. Every time we changed sides, I had no idea what I was going to do out there: play a great game or a horrible game."
He played both. The match was a seesaw, Seguso overpowering Pernfors early, then getting finessed, coming back to save a match point in the fourth set, then leading, 4-2 and 15-40, in the fifth before cracking.
"I played well," Pernfors said. "He's a grass-court player and there were some times when he just overpowered me. But I just hung in there all day long."
He had help. The crowd, which took up every inch of space in the grandstand, on the steps, on the stanchions and on every inch of available space around the court, was very much pro-Pernfors. Several fans had their faces painted in the colors of the Swedish flag. Seguso, who has played Davis Cup doubles away from home in front of highly partisan crowds, was surprised -- and upset.
"I didn't know what the hell was going on out there," he said. "I felt like I was in Sweden or something. I don't know why they were all so against me, but they were. What really bothered me was when they were clapping for my double faults. I mean, what was that all about?"
Seguso gestured angrily at the fans on several occasions and was clearly baffled by what he saw as an anti-Seguso sentiment. In truth, it was more pro-Pernfors. With his spiky haircut and baby face, Pernfors is not your prototype Swede. He plays the whole court, diving and lunging for balls, his emotions on his sleeve.
Naturally, the crowd relates to that. Naturally, it will pull for a 5-8 fireplug against a 6-3 powerhouse who serves 16 aces for the day. Intellectually, Seguso could understand all this. Emotionally, he could not. "If I had been playing well and my concentration had been good, it wouldn't have bothered me," he said. "But I wasn't and it did."
Seguso didn't give up, though. Down, two sets to one, he righted himself to go up a break in the fourth. But Pernfors, who can unload some remarkable topspin passing shots when he is rolling, did just that to break back. They moved to a tie-breaker. Pernfors had a match point at 6-5. Seguso saved it with a gorgeous drop volley, then won the set a moment later with a crosscourt forehand.
After almost three hours, they were even.
As in the fourth set, Seguso got the early break. Leading, 4-2, he had a pair of break points to go up, 5-2. Pernfors saved them both. "That was the key point in the match," Seguso said. "I mean if I go up two breaks, I'm not going to lose. I just let it get away."
Even after Pernfors held serve, Seguso served for the match at 5-4.. He got two points from victory, but never any closer. "I was surprised," Pernfors said, "that he served two doubles."
The double double fault evened the match again. They went to 7-all. Again, Seguso had a chance, playing three strong points to get to 0-40. Pernfors saved all three break points, the second one with a backhand crosscourt lob that landed on the line.
"I thought sure the ball was going out," Seguso said. "I couldn't believe it when it landed on the line."
Neither could Pernfors. "I was just hoping," he said.
His hopes were answered and he held for 8-7. Two games later, Seguso lost the match.
On the balcony, Bassett, who saved four match points before losing her first-round match on Tuesday night, was distraught. "This is the most depressing tournament I've ever been to," she said with a sigh. "Robert is really going to be bummed out tonight."
"A long day for nothing," Seguso said. "I need matches to get back in shape. But you can't get matches unless you win."
At least, Seguso still has the mixed doubles to look forward to. His partner is his bride-to-be. TODAY'S MATCHES Centre Court
Paolo Cane, Italy, vs. Ivan Lendl (2), Czechoslovakia; Todd Nelson, San Diego, vs. Paul McNamee, Australia (to finish); Tine Scheuer-Larsen, Denmark, vs. Steffi Graf (2), West Germany; Mel Purcell, Atlanta, vs. Stefan Edberg (4), Sweden; Robin White, San Jose, Calif., vs., Helena Sukova (4), Czechoslovakia.Court No. 1
Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, vs. Etsuko Inoue, Japan; Ricky Osterthun, West Germany, vs. Anders Jarryd, Sweden (to finish); Boris Becker (1), West Germany, vs. Peter Doohan, Australia; Dianne Balestrat, Australia, vs. Manuela Maleeva (7), Bulgaria; Miloslav Mecir (5), Czechoslovakia, vs. Mark Woodforde, Australia. Court No. 2
Stephen Shaw, Britain, vs. Jimmy Connors (7), Sanibel Harbour, Fla.; Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Laura Golarsa, Italy; Slobodan Zivojinovic, Yugoslavia, vs. David Pate (15), Las Vegas; Marcella Mesker, Holland, vs. Jo Durie, Britain.Court No. 3
Gigi Fernandez, Puerto Rico, vs. Katerina Maleeva (14), Bulgaria; Tim Wilkison, Asheville, N.C., vs. Jim Pugh, Palos Verde, Calif. (to finish); Mats Wilander (3), Sweden, vs. Jan Gunnarsson, Sweden; Chris Bailey, Britain, vs. Brad Gilbert (12), Piedmont, Calif.