LONDON -- It is often said that the first week of a Grand Slam tennis tournament should be spent on the outside courts. The show courts have the big names and the worst matches. The first week is a time to seek out new names and new faces. There is plenty of time to watch the stars play in the second week.
This Wimbledon has been different. There have been only three places for people to go: the cafeteria, to wait out rain delays, and Centre Court or Court 1 to see if the seeds can make it to the second week.
Friday, the biggest star of this tournament failed to make it out of the first week. And, because of Boris Becker's loss, the second week takes on an entirely different tone. Suddenly, anyone can win. Even Ivan Lendl.
Lendl has done absolutely nothing in his first two matches to indicate he is capable of winning this tournament for the first time. Yannick Noah commented, "I really don't expect him to be around for the semifinals or final the way he has been playing. But who knows, maybe he will get better."
Still, Lendl is still playing and Becker is not. Lendl was not likely to beat Becker in a final here. But now he won't have to. His next match is against Richey Reneberg, a qualifier from Texas, and then he probably will play Johan Kriek. That's a pretty good draw. Henri Leconte in the quarterfinals and Stefan Edberg in the semifinals would be potentially tough matches but, who knows, maybe they will get upset. Maybe this is just meant to be Lendl's Wimbledon, especially after Friday. Paulo Cane, who will be little noted nor long remembered, had him dead. And then let him stay alive.
There are two ways to look at this. One is to be fair to Lendl and give him credit for improving his grass court game. It should also be noted that he came up with two superb returns in the crunch against Cane (pronounced Can-nay). Once he did that, Cane reverted to playing badly. Lendl used to fold in pressure situations himself, but he doesn't do that anymore. He probably would have lost this match three years ago. Friday, he dug in.
The other way to look at it is with disappointment. The players who make tennis great are the ones who create. Lendl's game is absolutely solid, but with absolutely no flair.
The in thing this year is to write about the "new Lendl," the one who wants to play in the Olympics for the good old red, white and blue.
Lendl has made an effort to smile and put on a friendly face. Even so, it is not always easy for him. Friday, he ripped his opponent. He ripped Becker after the French final for picking Mats Wilander to beat him.
If Lendl isn't the people's choice, he is an outstanding player, and for that, he deserves his due.
Becker's loss takes a lot out of the tournament. A third straight title for a player not yet 20 would have been a memorable story. Now, though, the tournament is truly wide open. Lendl can win, but so can Edberg, Pat Cash, Miloslav Mecir, Tim Mayotte, or even Jimmy Connors. Imagine that, Connors in the Wimbledon final at 34. Now that would be something. It also says something about the state of men's tennis that for real excitement, you depend on a teen-ager or an aging star.
But who knows? From the ashes of a first week that has given us rain and Peter Doohan might yet rise a tournament to remember. The 1985 tournament began this way and ended with Becker announcing his arrival to the tennis world.
But if there is to be an announcement like that, it is more likely to come from the women's side. Steffi Graf has blasted through her first two matches and shown she is perfectly capable of handling the grass here.
If she wins, she will be the No. 1 player in the world, on the court and on the computer. That would only be fair. If she can knock off Martina Navratilova here, she deserves to be No. 1.
But that will all come later. For now, there is nothing wrong with mourning the loss of Becker. He brings life to a tennis tournament and now he is gone from the event he enjoys most. He handled his defeat as he has handled his victories, with dignity and grace. "I'll give it a shot again next year," he said. "I'm not yet 20, you know."
We know. And we know he'll be back. But for the next week, he will be missed.