WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JUNE 26 -- John McEnroe, victimized as much by the mental furor that has shaped his recent career as he was by his opponent, departed Wimbledon in the first round today. Perhaps this sullen afternoon had something to do with it too, McEnroe merely one of eight seeded players to go out in chaos.
There were perfectly good reasons for each defeat across the All England Club, but surely no one thought they all would fall at once -- No. 4 McEnroe, No. 5 Andres Gomez of Ecuador, No. 6 Tim Mayotte, No. 12 Pete Sampras and No. 16 Petr Korda of Czechoslovakia. No absence will be felt more than that of McEnroe, the mercurial three-time champion subdued by the threat of fines and beaten soundly by a knockabout character named Derrick Rostagno, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
"I'm going to go home and get my act together," McEnroe said. "This is a long-term project. There's a lot of act to get together."
French Open champion Gomez had not yet recovered from a party that lasted several days after his victory last month on the clay of Paris, and ambitious Jim Grabb of the United States, known more for doubles play with Patrick McEnroe, seized the opportunity, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
"I'm going to take a plane home and watch it on TV and pretend I was never here," Gomez said.
Mayotte had made at least the quarterfinals in six of his nine previous Wimbledon appearances, but he suffered from lack of match play following a back injury, and went down to Gary Muller of South Africa, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 7-5, 6-3. It was Muller's first Wimbledon match victory in four attempts.
Sampras, an 18-year-old serve-and-volleyer who is ranked No. 19, was beaten by the more experienced Christo Van Rensburg of South Africa, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3). Korda was defeated by the streaky No. 77 Gilad Bloom of Israel, 6-0, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
Including 16th-seeded Yannick Noah of France, upset by South Africa's Wayne Ferreira on Monday, six men's seeds lost in the first round, the most since Wimbledon began seeding in 1927.
Nor could the women be counted on. No. 6 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain wasted four match points and paid dearly for it, upset by Betsy Nagelsen, 1-6, 7-6 (10-8), 9-7. No. 8 Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria was defeated by a home crowd and Sara Gomer of Britain, 6-2, 6-3. No. 9 Mary Joe Fernandez withdrew with an injury to her right knee.
But there was at least one predicted upset that did not occur. Jennifer Capriati, the 14-year-old U.S. sensation, made her Centre Court debut with surprising ease, advancing over Helen Kelesi of Canada, 6-3, 6-1. She thus became the youngest women's player to win a match at Wimbledon.
"Well, this is like, the court," Capriati said. "When I found out I was playing on it, I jumped up and down."
McEnroe had played one tournament since February, was ill-prepared after practicing just an hour a day with old friend Vitas Gerulaitis, and knew that any misbehavior could have long-term repercussions. He was disqualified from the Australian Open in January for his on-court conduct and fined $6,500. The limit in a 12-month period is $7,500, and if he reaches it he will be suspended from playing the next Grand Slam event, in this case the U.S. Open.
McEnroe sulked about the Australian so much that he withdrew from the circuit. Thus he has once again put himself in the position of having to make a comeback, no easy task at age 31. In Rostagno he met a dangerous 24-year-old who is ranked 129th, but who held two match points against Boris Becker in the second round of last year's U.S. Open before losing a two-set lead.
"It's like everything else that's happened," McEnroe said. "I have no one to blame but myself. . . . If I knew the answer to why I did these things, I'd be a senator from New York right now, if not president of the United States. There's just no answer for it. No excuse for it."
McEnroe lives in a Malibu mansion, Rostagno freqently lives in his van on the California beaches, and it was clear who was the hungrier, sharper player. The shaggy-haired Rostagno never had taken a set from McEnroe before, but he broke the three-time Wimbledon champion's serve four times, and, unlike his match against Becker last summer, held up under pressure in the final two sets. Moreover, he did so in his first appearance on Centre Court, against a player who a decade ago owned it.
"I didn't play him 10 years ago, but he was in my dreams," Rostagno said. "This was where I wanted to be, playing John McEnroe on Centre Court."
Interestingly enough, it was Rostagno who was cited for misbehavior, given a code conduct violation in the middle of the second set for a wise remark to chair umpire Alan Mills, whom he felt was showing McEnroe favoritism and bending to McEnroe's lobbying on calls.
"Kiss him," Rostagno said testily.
McEnroe was in a similar situation here last year when he surmounted a two-set deficit against Darren Cahill of Australia to go on to the semifinals, but that was when he was well-practiced and clear-headed. His only inroad against Rostagno came in the first set when he recovered from a 2-4 deficit. He broke serve in the eighth game to even it, 4-4, turning over a rapped backhand pass attempt that clattered off Rostagno's racket into the net.
In the third set, Rostagno showed signs of collapse. He lost a 40-15 lead in the seventh game, dumping two easy volleys in the net, but regrouped to hold for a 5-3 lead. In the final game he built double match point with two twisting first-serve winners, but double faulted. As he walked back to the baseline, he smiled slightly, perhaps recalling the painful Becker match in New York. He then turned and delivered another serve winner, McEnroe weakly blocking his backhand into the net.
"I told somebody this morning, if I was ahead I wasn't going to lose this one," Rostagno said.
This was only the second time since McEnroe came to Wimbledon in 1977 as a qualifier and made the semifinals that he lost in the first round. The previous occasion was 1978; in 1988 he lost in the second round.
It was tempting to think that McEnroe, who has not won a Grand Slam title since 1984 and has fallen to No. 10 in the world, may never recover. But he asserted that he is only beginning this latest comeback, and has not given his full commitment in the last three or four years.
"I don't think 31 is real old," he said. "It's not too late as far as I'm concerned. It's just a matter of doing it. It's that simple."
Two more men's seeds moved beyond the opening round only with some difficulty. No. 3 Stefan Edberg of Sweden and No. 13 Michael Chang each trailed by a set but recovered, Chang over Jose-Francisco Altur of Spain, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5, and Edberg over 30-year-old Brod Dyke of Australia, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
Some seeds did come through with ease. Defending champion Steffi Graf of West Germany and second-seeded Martina Navratilova played as if they were in a footrace. Graf needed 51 minutes to do away with Claudia Porwik on Centre Court, 6-1, 6-2, while No. 2 seed Navratilova took 45 to dismantle Sophie Amiach of France on Court 1 by 6-1, 6-1. Third-seeded Monica Seles of Yugoslavia is tired from her French Open title effort and also ailing, with a pulled stomach muscle and an ear infection, but that did not slow her against Maria Strandlund of Sweden, 6-2, 6-0, her 33rd consecutive match victory. No. 5 Zina Garrison eased past English teenager Samantha Smith, 6-2, 6-1.
The point of interest in Graf's match was how she would respond to her upset by 16-year-old Seles in the French, and to a swirl of news reports and allegations that her father and manager, Peter, was the subject of attempted extortion by a model. She showed no ill effects as she flattened Porwik, like herself a 21-year-old West German, with her famous heavy strokes.
"I'm surprised it was that easy," she said. "It's good to have it over like that. I think I'm going to be very strong."
Navratilova was clearly overjoyed to be on the courts of Wimbledon again. The 33-year-old, eight-time champion has devoted the year to her attempt at a record-breaking ninth title, and she strolled onto the lawn with a broad smile. She began the match with three straight winners that set the tone, an array of touch, pace and carved volleys that baffled Amiach, a 26-year-old journeywoman from Paris ranked 164th.
"I had the biggest grin on my face," Navratilova said. "This is it, it's here. I don't have to pretend it's the first day of Wimbledon anymore. All the work is done and now hopefully I can enjoy the ride."