WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 3 -- Brad Pearce is the blank among the Wimbledon men's quarterfinalists, unseeded and unheard of, a slogging 24-year-old ranked No. 120. What is he doing here, and why? "Who am I?" he said.
Pearce has moved through the tournament like a quaint triviality, a neatly attired and polite-spoken Mormon from Provo, Utah, who never had won more than two matches in a tournament. But he is trivial no longer, he is top-ranked Ivan Lendl's opponent Wednesday, and in a strange, temporary reverie.
"Whether it's realistic or not, I'm going to hold on to that dream," he said.
For the previous three years, Pearce was unable to so much as qualify for Wimbledon. His lone previous appearance was a first-round loss in 1986. His record for this season was 8-8 until this week, but he has dropped just one set in winning four matches.
Pearce's draw has been kind to him and so have the events around him. Six men's seeds lost in the opening round, with the result that Lendl will be his first seeded opponent. He reached the quarterfinals this afternoon with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Mark Woodforde of Australia, after recovering from a 1-4 deficit in the first set. Woodforde was one of the few players left in the tournament ranked below him, at No. 175.
His other victories have come over an array of opponents unseeded but certainly seeming beyond him, including No. 64-ranked Milan Srejber in the third round.
So here he is, confronting a monolith in Lendl, who this afternoon dispatched another obscurity in Alex Antonitsch, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Ask Pearce what his greatest victory was, and he can't think of one.
"I've had a lot of good ones," he said. "But not necessarily a lot of great ones."
He can claim to be the greatest player ever from Provo. "I think that's probably safe to say," he said. His father, Wayne, was Brigham Young University's tennis coach for 20 years. He was an all-American at UCLA for two years and a junior Davis Cupper, who turned pro with lofty expectations after reaching the NCAA semifinals as a sophomore in 1986.
"I thought I'd climb right up the ladder," he said.
Three years later he has no more illusions. In 1987 he got married, he lost his mother to cancer, he struggled to improve his serve, and he lost his confidence. "I became sort of a head case," Pearce said. "Sometimes that's what life is all about, being able to overcome those things and keep after it."
He now has an infant daughter, Jordan. He plans on having a large family, "a whole clan, maybe fill a first and second starting basketball team," but that requires a certain amount of earning ability. His best ranking was No. 90 and he made just $49,782 last season, his most profitable yet. Tennis is not an inspiration so much as it is work.
"The practicality of what I do is that it's my job," he said. "The other side of it is that Wimbledon is something that I have dreamed of since I was a little kid, and I still have a couple of more rounds to fulfill that dream. I'll let other people decide whether it is realistic or not."
Pearce is not alone, as four unseeded men remain among the final eight, but the others at least have some good reasons to have reached this far. There is 18-year-old Goran Ivanisevic, the lean, hard-serving comer who upset Boris Becker in the opening round of the French Open. Ivanisevic meets Kevin Curren, the 32-year-old relic and 1985 Wimbledon finalist who also has proceeded without meeting a seeded opponent. Unseeded journeyman Christian Bergstrom, 23, of Sweden did face a seed, beating No. 11 Guy Forget in four sets to reach a match today with No. 3 Stefan Edberg.
Maybe Pearce will fade back into obscurity after today. Or maybe his Wimbledon will be one of those curious events that can uplift a lowly player.
"For whatever reason, I think I haven't fulfilled my potential maybe up until this last year," he said. "I don't think it's fulfilled yet."