NEW YORK, AUG. 29 -- The U.S. Open was accident prone today. It was as if the whole field, in fact the whole tournament, suddenly turned klutzy and disorganized: John McEnroe got hit in the eye with a ball and then was fined; Ivan Lendl stumbled into a needless mess of a second-round match; and fifth-seeded Andres Gomez was upset in the first round at the National Tennis Center. Then it rained.
There was a jumble of matches with no uniformity, as first-round play was completed and the second round got underway in an uneasiness that seemed to pervade Flushing Meadows. The rain forced postponement of Monica Seles' second-round match with Ros Fairbank-Nideffer.
Gomez of Ecuador, the French Open champion and 30-year-old veteran, was one of three seeded players eliminated, and with surprising speed by Luis Mattar of Brazil, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Third-seeded Lendl dropped a set to Michael Stich of West Germany before he recovered for an awkward 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory, while No. 2 Martina Navratilova suddenly couldn't keep a ball in the court and barely avoided a third set with a qualifier, Clare Wood of Britain, 6-0, 6-4, in their second-round matches.
When McEnroe suffered his injury it seemed to sum up the whole day. The four-time Open champion was in command of his second-rounder with obscure David Engel of Sweden, leading by 6-2, 4-2, when he swatted at a serve with a backhand and mishit it off the frame. The ball ricocheted directly into his face. McEnroe bent double with his hand to his right eye and took an injury timeout. After packing the side of his face with ice, he rose from his chair to display a swollen, prizefighter's welt and went on to take the set and a 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 victory.
"It just sort of caught me," he said. "It was stinging and I was trying to assess just exactly how bad it was."
McEnroe also fought back from deficits in the first and third sets. Engel, ranked No. 128, broke serve in the opening game of the match and took a 2-0 lead. But McEnroe swept the next six games. He trailed by 2-5 in the third set, but again went on a streak, sweeping five games to end the match just before a light rain began to fall, suspending play.
McEnroe is unseeded here for the first time in 12 years, but that now appears to have been a faulty judgment. It was based on the fact that he has fallen to No. 20 in the world from No. 4, and several months of idleness. In the midst of the latest in a long series of comeback attempts, his chances of survival into the second week have suddenly improved because of some significant upsets that magically cleared his quarter of the draw.
Gomez joined top-seeded Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg of Sweden in making first-round exits. "This has been a crazy year," Gomez said, departing. No. 16 Martin Jaite of Argentina became a second-round victim of Paul Annacone, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-2. That means there are just two seeded players left in McEnroe's portion of the draw.
They are No. 10 Andrei Chesnokov of the Soviet Union, who had to recover from a one-set deficit before defeating Shuzo Matsuoka of Japan, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, and No. 7 Emilio Sanchez of Spain, who posted one of the few routine victories of the day over doubles specialist Jim Pugh, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. But McEnroe's game is too fragile to look further than his next match, a third-rounder against Chesnokov.
"I can't think about that right now," he said.
McEnroe's frustration with his game was evident in the third set when he took a swing at a courtside billboard, which drew a citation for abuse of equipment and a $500 fine. McEnroe can sustain only $1,000 in fines without being disqualified by the International Tennis Federation from the next Grand Slam event, next year's Australian Open. At this year's Australian, McEnroe was saddled with a $6,500 fine and disqualification for abusing an umpire, and his disgust was one reason for his period of idleness.
But even in his current mood McEnroe saw some humor in the freakish injury, which could have been more serious if it had hit him directly in the eye. New York Mayor David Dinkins, a tennis enthusiast and in attendance today, was recently hit in the eye during a celebrity match against Newark, N.J., Mayor Sharpe James and had to be treated with an ice pack. McEnroe had teased him about the incident.
"It was like some kind of weird karma," McEnroe said.
The accident was just one of those things that seem to happen at the Open, where the ambiance is made up of swirling wind and milling, chattering, sharp-elbowed crowds, testing the players' nerves and powers of concentration. But at least one distraction has been removed by Dinkins, who arranged with the Federal Aviation Administration to have planes rerouted from Runway 13 at nearby LaGuardia Airport to keep the noise level down on Stadium Court. McEnroe bantered with Dinkins on the subject when a helicopter flew overhead. McEnroe rolled his eyes and pointed at it, looking at Dinkins questioningly.
"What about it?" he asked.
"I'm not in charge of the helicopters," Dinkins replied, with a smiling shrug.
Those unfortunate enough to be sentenced to the outer courts experienced the worst of the unnerving atmosphere. Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia, the 18-year-old who upset Boris Becker in the first round of the French Open and reached the Wimbledon semifinals, was relegated to Court 18 despite earning the first Grand Slam seeding of his career at No. 15. He was tormented by the bustle and smoke rising from snack bar grills. He also was briefly threatened with a first-round departure before he settled down to defeat Omar Camporese of Italy, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).
"It was very difficult, the people were moving and talking too much and too loud," he said. "There are too many people, and they are making the hamburgers and hot dogs and you can feel the smell."
Lendl was troubled by small inconsistencies and the hard-swinging Stich, ranked No. 65. The eight-time Open finalist has fallen to No. 3 in the world since his deeply concentrated but failed bid to win Wimbledon, largely because of inactivity. It told on him as he sprayed mishits around the stadium and lost the second set when Stich broke his serve in the final game.
Lendl erased a triple-set deficit only to give it away with two typically clumsy shots, a backhand volley into the net tape, then a mishit lob that rose too shallowly, Stich devouring it with an overhead smash. But Lendl gradually recovered his feel, and Stich lacked the stamina to capitalize.
"He pushes and pushes. He hits hard. And that makes you pick up your head and mishit the ball," Lendl said. " . . . It got easier after the second set, I think he grew tired and I was timing the ball a little better."
The lone seeded player in night action, No. 12 Pete Sampras, cruised past Peter Lundgren of Sweden, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
No. 14 Natalia Zvereva was the most significant women's seed to fall, defeated by Soviet countrywoman Leila Meskhi, 6-4, 6-0. But there were at least some players who avoided trouble. No. 8 Mary Joe Fernandez eased past Miriam Oremans, 6-4, 6-1. No. 5 Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina has been a forgotten player, but she called her form better than it has been in some time after a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Isabelle Demongeot of France.
Sabatini has been overlooked with the emergence of Seles, the 16-year-old who supplanted her as the No. 3 player in the world and created a race for No. 1 with Navratilova and top-seeded Steffi Graf of West Germany. But the Argentine may have to be reckoned with here.
"Everybody's thinking about Graf, Seles and Martina," Sabatini said. "I'm coming in from behind and I feel it's better that way. I'm really looking forward to it and we'll see what happens. It's a motivation and it should be good for me."
SEEDED PLAYERS' RESULTS MEN First round
Luiz Mattar, Brazil, def. Andres Gomez (5), Ecuador, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Goran Ivanisevic (15), Yugoslavia, def. Omar Camporese, Italy, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3); Paul Annacone, East Hampton, N.Y., def. Martin Jaite (16), Argentina, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-2. Second round
Ivan Lendl (3), Greenwich, Conn., def. Michael Stich, West Germany, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3; Thomas Muster (6), Austria, def. Anders Jarryd, Sweden, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1; Emilio Sanchez (7), Spain, def. Jim Pugh, Palos Verdes, Calif., 6-1, 6-2, 6-2; Andrei Chesnokov (10), Soviet Union, def. Shuzo Matsuoka, Japan, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3; Pete Sampras (12), Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., def. Peter Lundgren, Sweden, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. WOMEN First round
Katerina Maleeva (7), Bulgaria, def. Magdalena Maleeva, Bulgaria, 6-3, 6-1; Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere (9), Switzerland, def. Debbie Graham, Fountain Valley, Calif., 6-0, 6-2; Helena Sukova (11), Czechoslovakia, def. Laura Garrone, Italy, 6-3, 6-0; Leila Meskhi, Soviet Union, def. Natalia Zvereva (14), Soviet Union, 6-4, 6-0; Judith Wiesner (15), Austria, def. Kimiko Date, Japan, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.Second round
Martina Navratilova (2), Aspen, Colo., def. Clare Wood, Britain, 6-0, 6-4; Gabriela Sabatini (5), Argentina, def. Isabelle Demongeot, France, 6-1, 6-1; Mary Joe Fernandez (8), Miami, def. Miriam Oremans, Netherlands, 6-4, 6-1. THURSDAY'S FEATURED MATCHES Stadium Court
Michael Chang (11), Placentia, Calif., vs. Jimmy Arias, Buffalo; Boris Becker (2), West Germany, vs. Yannick Noah, France; Zina Garrison (4), Houston, vs. Angelica Gavaldon, Coronado, Calif.; Steffi Graf (1), West Germany, vs. Rachel McQuillan, Australia; Andre Agassi (4), Las Vegas, vs. Petr Korda, Czechoslovakia. Grandstand Court
Aaron Krickstein (9), Grosse Pointe, Mich., vs. Jason Stoltenberg, Australia; Jennifer Capriati (13), Broken Sound, Fla., vs. Patricia Hy, Canada; Guy Forget, France-Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland (7), vs. John McEnroe, Cove Neck, N.Y.-Mark Woodforde, Australia; Jennifer Capriati, Broken Sound, Fla.-Meredith McGrath, Midland, Mich. vs. Gigi Fernandez, Puerto Rico-Martina Navratilova (2), Aspen, Colo., completion of suspended match, tied at 5-5; Jay Berger (13), Weston, Fla., vs. Johan Carlsson, Sweden; Anders Jarryd, Sweden-Christo van Rensberg, South Africa, vs. Scott Davis, Largo, Fla.-David Pate, Las Vegas. Court 16
Brad Gilbert (8), Oakland, vs. Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif.; Monica Seles (3), Yugoslavia, vs. Ros Fairbank-Nideffer, San Diego; Henri Leconte, France, vs. Andrei Cherkasov, Soviet Union. Court 3
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (6), Spain, vs. Caroline Kuhlman, Lakeside Park, Ky.; Jim Courier (14), Dade City, Fla., vs. Gary Muller, South Africa; Jana Novotna (12), Czechoslovakia, vs. Kathy Rinaldi, Amelia Island, Fla.; Goran Ivanisevic (15), Yugoslavia, vs. Jean-Philippe Fleurian, France.