Wimbledon, England — The men's lawn tennis game has changed. The women's game, too, although to a lesser extent. This is the clear lesson of the first days of Wimbledon. High technology, improving the performance not only of rackets but also of the yellow balls being used here for the first time, has made it extremely difficult to predict who will win when two professional players meet.
It seems doubtful that any one man will ever again dominate grass-court tennis the way so many great players have done in the past, from William Renshaw in the 1880s (seven singles titles) to Bjorn Borg (five in a row) and John McEnroe (three titles) in recent times.
With McEnroe not playing this year, third-seeded Jimmy Connors was thought by many to have a big chance. But the two-time former champion was beaten by unseeded Robert Seguso, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 -- marking the first time he had ever lost here in the opening round.
And as usual there were several other early upsets. Last year's finalist Kevin Curren was beaten by West Germany's Eric Jelen, becoming the first men's runner-up to lose in the opening round the next year since 1913. Anders Jarryd of Sweden, a semifinalist a year ago, was ousted by unseeded South African Eddie Edwards.
Australian Pat Cash, a ``wild card'' entry playing only his third match in a year, terminated the hopes of 15th-seeded Guillermo Vilas of Argentina, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. And Great Britain's Colin Dowdeswell put out the new Soviet star, Andrei Chesnokov, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
England's No. 1 player, John Lloyd, husband of Chris Evert Lloyd and twice a Wimbledon titleholder (in mixed doubles), lost to South Africa's Christo Steyn and indicated he did not plan to play singles anymore.
One player might prove wrong those who say there won't be another predominant grass-court champion. That's defending champion Boris Becker of West Germany. Still only 18, he has even returned a little bit taller and quite a bit more powerful than he was last year.
Seeded fourth, Becker started uncertainly against unknown Eduardo Bengoechea of Argentina. He opened with a double fault and only scraped through the first set 6-4. But he likes the Centre Court, and he likes Wimbledon. He loves grass-court tennis, too, and eventually began to show his strength. He served repeated aces. He returned serves as if he had a gun in his hand, not a racket. Eduardo went down 6-2, 6-1 in the next two sets.
What of Ivan Lendl? He won the French Open and is top-seeded here. Yet he does not yet seem thoroughly at home on grass. While Becker was finishing off his match, Lendl, on Court 1 next door, had only managed to get through one set and a couple of games against Mexican Leonardo Lavalle before rain halted play. He eventually came through in three sets, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Second-seeded Mats Wilander of Sweden also won his first match easily, as did No. 10 Tim Mayotte, the choice of many experts because of his strong grass game.
The big early surprise in the women's singles was the defeat of Pam Shriver by unseeded Betsy Nagelsen 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. On this occasion Nagelsen was just too powerful and too accurate for her fifth-seeded opponent. Again, the speed of the grass court may have been decisive.
Martina Navratilova, seeking a fifth Wimbledon title in a row, breezed through her first-round match, as did No. 2 Chris Evert Lloyd and No. 3 Hana Mandlikova of Czechoslovakia, the last player to beat Navratilova here.
Among the women, as with the men, strength has become a necessity. Navratilova has it. Evert Lloyd works hard for it, yet when she meets Martina she depends more and more on artistry and consistency.
Grass, of course, makes doubles play all the more entrancing. Navratilova and Shriver are the women's top seeds. Who could wonder, considering their accomplishments here? They won four straight years beginning in 1981, only to have an incredible 109-match winning streak snapped by Kathy Jordan and Elizabeth Smylie.
Jarryd and fellow Swede Anders Edberg top the men's seedings, with Seguso and Ken Flach second.
Mixed doubles defenders Navratilova and Australian Paul McNamee have new partners this year; he is playing with Mandlikova and she with Switzerland's Heinz G"unthardt. Ex-winners Wendy Turnbull of Australia and John Lloyd remain together, but John Fitzgerald and Smylie are seeded No. 2, and make a strong pair.
There may be thunder this weekend in the weather. There'll certainly be thunder on the courts.