The most anticipated match at this year's US Open Tennis Championships has been scratched. John McEnroe made it to the quarterfinals, but Boris Becker did not, thus cancelling out a showdown of such interest that CBS was considering airing it live tonight. Maybe it was only wishful thinking, but many tennis fans figured the sensational Becker was a virtual shoo-in to meet top-seeded McEnroe. Instead the 17-year-old Wimbledon champion was shooed out of the men's draw 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 by Joakim Nystrom, one of a small army of Swedes who have marched merrily along at Flushing Meadow in New York.
Nystrom, of course, is no pushover, a fact that tournament officials obviously recognized in seeding him only two places behind West Germany's eighth-seeded boy wonder.
Nystrom's victory brought a collective sigh of disappointment from those who wanted to see what Wimbledon didn't offer, a McEnroe-Becker showdown. That matchup was prevented when Kevin Curren upset both McEnroe and Jimmy Connors on his way to the finals.
Curren, incidentally, was cancelled out of the Open after a shocking straight-set loss to Guy Forget in the opening round.
McEnroe almost had a similar fate befall him, but in Houdini fashion escaped a real scare from Shlomo Glickstein to win his first match in a fifth-set tiebreaker 9 points to 7. The defending champion thereafter began to snap out of his lethargy, scoring straight-set victories over a pair from the Eastern academic establishment (Martin Wostenholm of Yale, and Bud Schultz of Bates College) before defeating 16th-seeded Tomas Smid of Czechoslovakia.
Becker breezed early, but gave signs of misfiring in a third-round match when little-known Kelly Evernden of New Zealand pushed him to a pair of tiebreakers in a somewhat prophetic struggle.
McEnroe, feeling an old pro at 26, was respectful of his heir apparent and found an opportunity to congratulate him on winning Wimbledon. But he wasn't about to get wrapped up dwelling on one match.
``I'm here to win the tournament,'' the four-time champion said. ``I don't care about beating him [Becker] and losing the tournament.''
He certainly has no reason to relax against Nystrom, who beat McEnroe earlier this year in what Joakim has called the ``best win of my career.''
If McEnroe should reach the semifinals, he would meet yet another member of the delightfully sporting Swedish contingent, either third-seeded Mats Wilander or sixth-seeded Anders Jarryd.
Stefan Edberg represents his mates in the bottom half of the draw, where he won his first three matches to reach a fourth-round date with Jimmy Connors, who loves to get pumped up by the New York crowds. ``The people here have won me three titles,'' noted the veteran campaigner who has captured five Open crowns in all, the most recent one in 1983.
Grinding down his foes relentlessy in the early rounds was second-seeded Ivan Lendl, a finalist the last three years. He has had an easier time of it than any of the big guns, but then he often looks unstoppable until collapsing at the end.
The women's competition has gone almost exactly as expected, with seven of the top eight players reaching the quarterfinals. Only eighth-seeded Manuela Malleva of Bulgaria is missing, and she was vanquished by possibly the next superstar of women's tennis, West Germany's Steffi Graf.
Graf, the gold medalist at last summer's Olympics, is the dark horse at the National Tennis Center, if one legitimately exists among the women. Rino Tommasi, a veteran Italian tennis writer who is the game's foremost statistician, says, ``There is no dark horse, only two white horses.''
The reference is to Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina, who are seeded 1-2 and seem to have no peers in the major events.
They have typically waltzed through the early rounds, getting more work in during practices than actual matches. Chris, for example, needed just 26 minutes to defeat Grace Kim. Martina's stiffest challenge came from Sweden's Catarina Lindqvist, who forced her to win in two long sets 6-4, 7-5.
As play headed into the quarterfinals, Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia was credited with surviving perhaps the best women's match of the tournament, battling back to beat Carling Bassett of Canada 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.
Advancing to the final eight along with Graf and Sukova were Hana Mandlikova, Pam Shriver, Zina Garrison, Claudia Kohde Kilsch, and the aforementioned Big Two.