NEW YORK, SEPT. 1 -- Tim Wilkison tried to turn back the clock tonight. One year ago, he was the American hero at a U.S. Open that desperately needed one. He stunned sixth-seeded Yannick Noah in a memorable second-round match and became the only American to reach the quarterfinals.
Tonight, on the same stadium court in Flushing Meadow where his diving, gritty tennis style made him an overnight sensation, he almost topped his 1986 act. For two sets he had Boris Becker talking to himself. Whaling and flailing all over the court, Wilkison had the 19-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion in the deepest trouble possible. He had him two sets down. He had four break points to lead, 3-2, in the third set. Yet, he could not pull off the upset of a lifetime.
Becker is not Becker for nothing. Becker does not get rattled by partisan crowds. He does not react to an opponent shaking and jiving and shaking his fist in the air. He just plays. Tonight, in a match that would be remembered as a classic if it came later in the tournament, Becker came back from the dead to beat Wilkison, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, in a 4-hour 3-minute marathon.
"That was a great match for any round, not just the first," Becker said. "Tim got really fired up and was hitting great shots. In the third set, I just told myself to have some fun, play some tennis and make him win it. When I won that set, I thought that was the key."
Wilkison, 27, who lives up to his nicknames -- "Rambo" and "Dr. Dirt" -- with his sprawling, crawling style, had fed off the crowd for two sets.
But a funny incident in the third set seemed to take some steam out of Wilkison and the audience. With Becker up, 2-0, he hit a winner that glanced off Wilkison's racket into the crowd. The ball flew into the 10th row and into the hands of Donna Sodaro, a travel agent at Time magazine.
Naturally, chair umpire Rich Kaufman ordered her to return the ball. The fired-up crowd promptly booed. Becker responded to that by hitting a ball up to Sodaro. Kaufman again asked for it back. Becker then offered her every ball in the place. Finally, Kaufman offered a compromise: "We'll give you a can at the next changeover," he promised.
That satisfied Sodaro and the crowd and, strangely, seemed to loosen up Becker. He lost that game but his play picked up after that. He got the key break he needed after Wilkison had saved two set points at 4-5 with a gorgeous backhand return.
Becker blew four break points in the second game of the fourth set, but broke at love in the sixth game. In the fifth set, they traded breaks to 2-all and then Wilkison, with one final burst, got to 0-30 in the fifth game. He never won another point. Becker roared through the last 16 points of the match, catching one final wind to get through safely.
"It was an intense match," Wilkison said. "He just played better when he had to. I can handle that."
John McEnroe won his first Grand Slam match since 1985 and a 15-year-old American, Michael Chang, became the youngest male in almost 70 years to win a singles match in this tournament.
It was a cool, breezy opening day, appropriate given the late start of the tournament. Only one seed lost, women's No. 15 Barbara Potter, a 7-5, 6-3 victim of Akiko Kijimuta, age 19, of Japan. But there were a number of surprises involving unseeded players, including one upset that was almost shocking.
In that match, Great Britain's Andrew Castle, whose only previous distinction in tennis has been reaching the second round at Wimbledon two years in a row, defeated David Pate, 7-5, 1-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
Castle is ranked 171st in the world and had to qualify to get in here. Pate is ranked 19th and missed being seeded by one spot. Four days ago, Pate beat Ivan Lendl in an exhibition tournament, and he came to the Open thinking he might make a splash. Instead, he went out with a whimper, serving for the match in the fourth set and still losing.
Castle double-faulted twice when he reached match point in the fifth set before finally coming up with a forehand winner to pull off the upset.
Pate's loss was surprising. Becker-Wilkison was extraordinary. The rest of the day was largely routine. No. 1 seed Ivan Lendl, the two-time defending champion, opened the tournament with a 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 humiliation of South African Barry Moir, taking exactly 71 minutes to win.
Lendl became only the fourth man in 20 years of open tennis to pull off a triple-bagel. "He plays a lot like me," Lendl said of Moir. "Only he doesn't hit the ball as hard and he missed more often."
Other seeds cruised. Among the men, McEnroe romped past Matt Anger, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2; Brad Gilbert routed Becker's Wimbledon conqueror, Peter Doohan, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, and Emilio Sanchez (No. 14) and Anders Jarryd (No. 16) advanced with little trouble. No. 11 Henri Leconte had a tougher time beating Andre Agassi, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 6-3.
No seeded woman other than Potter had any problems. Martina Navratilova, the defending champion but second seed, put away Kate Gompert, 6-1, 6-1. Hana Mandlikova, No. 4, avenged her French Open loss by beating Nathalie Herremann, 6-1, 6-3. Helena Sukova (No. 6), Zina Garrison (No. 7), Gabriella Sabatini (No. 8), Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (No. 9) and Catarina Lindqvist (No. 14) won in straight sets.
The afternoon story belonged to McEnroe and Chang. In different ways, each could represent the future of American tennis. McEnroe, four times the Open champion, lost in the first round to Paul Annacone in 1986 and admitted to some jitters before playing Anger today.
But he was in control from the beginning, never letting Anger, who reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon and the Open last year, into the match. McEnroe, whose wife, Tatum, is expecting their second child next week, admitted he may be distracted but still thinks he could make life difficult for Lendl if he can reach a quarterfinal matchup with him.
"Guys like Lendl, Becker and Edberg may want it a little more than I do right now," McEnroe said. "I have other things on my mind. But I'd really like to get to the quarters and have a shot at Lendl. I really think on this court I can give him some trouble. Playing really well for an extended period, though, that's probably still a couple of months away."
Chang is a couple of years away, at least. Today, though, he became the youngest male to win a match in the U.S. Championships since 1918, when Vincent Richards, then 15 years four months old, reached the third round. Chang is two months older than Richards was, but his 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Australian veteran Paul McNamee was impressive nonetheless.
Chang, whose parents came to this country from Taiwan, looks every bit the high school sophomore he will be if he returns to school in Placentia, Calif., later this month. He is tiny at 5 feet 7 and 130 pounds, but is a wonderful chaser, running down ball after ball.
"He has a lot of potential," McNamee said. "He could be a very good player. But they have to be careful with him. He's not ready to play the tour full time yet. He's not strong enough. They have to avoid falling into a trap and getting carried away by a match like this."
Chang, who stays rooted to the base line, still needs a lot of work on his serve. He was not overwhelmed by his victory, though clearly happy.
"I think I need to work on everything in my game," he said. "I still go up and down and I make a lot of errors."