LONDON -- How much can you stand to know about Peter Doohan, the man who bopped Boris Becker out of Wimbledon? Let's start with the pronunciation: "Dune," like the buggy. He's 26, born in New South Wales. He went to school at the University of Arkansas, no doubt living the dream of so many Australians. He's ranked 70th now, his best ever; four of the last five years, he had area code rankings -- like 101, 281 and last year's 301, which might explain why he was staying at a YMCA and not the Savoy when the tournament began. Then again, why would he care about the overnight rate, since he figured to check out the opening afternoon; he'd played four Wimbledons before and never once lasted into the second round. And for you medical oddity devotees, there's even a report that he once had his eyelashes surgically shaved because of a persistent irritation -- although they've since grown back -- which may explain why he didn't blink when he drew Becker.
We bring you this information now because Peter Doohan, nerves notwithstanding, is still in this tournament. And let me take this moment to tell you all how close you came to reading, instead, about the 166th-ranked player, Leif Shiras. Shiras, 27, is Milwaukee born and a Princeton grad with a degree in English literature who said he was actually disappointed at playing Doohan because, "I wanted my shot at Boris, and I've never played on Centre Court before." Monday, he went five sets with Doohan, 4 hours and 24 minutes in 85-degree heat, before losing, 12-10, in the fifth. "We were both sort of in the 15th round there: two boxers slashing away until the clock runs out," Shiras said. "He got in a few more good blows." How amazing is it that Doohan went to 9-7 in the fifth against the 114th-ranked player, Alexander Antonitsch, and to 12-10 in the fifth against the 166th, and that his easiest match by far was against Becker!
Shiras (pronounced SHY-ris, son of a writer at Life magazine, a journalist of sorts himself, contributing to World Tennis, but don't get me started on his biography -- he lost, he's gone) is best remembered, if he's remembered at all, for beating Ivan Lendl in the first round at Queens Club three years ago. That was an upset of stunning proportion, although not quite in the same universe with Doohan's victory over Becker. Shiras went all the way to the final of that tournament before losing to John McEnroe -- remember him? Anyway, Shiras has some sense of what Doohan is going through now, what a monster win can do for a player's attitude, and it is a mixed bag. "You gain a great sense of confidence," Shiras explained. "You're not worrying about mistakes you make. If you're down, you still feel you can win. By the same token, you feel the pressure of being the player that people are coming to see. You don't want to let them down."
Indeed, the people came. They stacked around Court 14 like toothpicks in a box, and when the single grandstand was similarly stuffed, they stood on the stairways and the parapets and queued up five deep and 50 yards long like it was giveaway day at Disney World. "They didn't come so much to see me, as to see who the person is who beat Becker," Doohan said, understanding it perfectly. The irony was that they were striving to see 70 battle 166, a match they wouldn't have gone to on a dare two weeks ago. They saw Doohan on the verge of ouster -- down, two sets to none, and buckling under the palpable pressure he carried onto the court. "It was hard to get ready for this match," Doohan said, admitting he was unnerved by "the pressure of the public and the press expecting me to go a long way in this tournament."
The days since beating Becker have seen Doohan's emotions fluctuate wildly as he tried to cope with sudden fame. There was euphoria at calling home and hearing his parents describe his triumph as "like an earthquake rumbling through Australia." And there was the anxiety that realization produced: "I've had a few hard nights. It's been difficult to sleep." It may well be that the most difficult match to win is the one after the huge upset. Doohan felt envious of Shiras' situation and the thought crossed Doohan's mind -- particularly after he blew three set points and the first set -- that Shiras would win and Doohan would be gone as quickly as he'd arrived, a comet. "What a great chance for him to take advantage of not having the pressure on his shoulders," Doohan said of Shiras. But Doohan persevered, getting the kind of luck winners get, a good bounce here and a windblown lob let-cord there to precipitate a service break when he needed it most.
Shiras thought it should have been his to win. "A good match that didn't finish properly; someone blew the script," Shiras said. And surely the poetry would have been for 166 to eclipse 70, to have the unknown replaced by an even greater unknown. "I felt there was an opening there," Shiras said. "I think I should have beaten him to tell you the truth. I have more shots than he does." Although he admired Doohan's mettle, Shiras was angry at the tactics Doohan used: "When you're winning, he quick-serves you; when he's winning, he takes as much time as he can. He complained about every call. He's been that way his whole career." And yet Shiras recognized a certain aura around Doohan's presence here, a magic zone Shiras himself entered once, that wonderful week in Queens three years ago, where everything you do is touched with mint and marzipan. That let-cord lob winner on a crucial point in the third set for example. "I saw that," Shiras said, smiling, "and I thought to myself, 'Jeez, is this guy destined to do this?' "
Do what? Beat Shiras and stop there? Or keep spinning the wheel until he can solve the puzzle? Destiny is a mischievous, fickle thing that'll hold your hand just long enough to make you think it really cares for you. It held onto Boris Becker through two championships here, and for now, at least, it walks with the man who beat him.