``Upset,'' a word that traditionally gets a lot of mileage at the US Open tennis tournament, has shown its flexibility during the first week of play at the National Tennis Center in New York. Several top players have been upset; and there have been some very upset players.
Most notable on the first score are the departures of Boris Becker (at the hands of Brad Gilbert) and Hana Mandlikova, the fourth-seeded entrants in the men's and women's draws, respectively.
Mandlikova also deserves mention in the ``very upset'' category, along with John McEnroe. In Monday's three-set loss to Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, Hana blew a fuse after some disputed calls, earning a point penalty for abusive language, and later a game penalty for slamming her racket against the Court 16 scoreboard. A minimum fine of $500 is anticipated, but an even greater price was extracted in hurt pride, as the 1985 US champion fell 6-7, 6-4, 6-1.
McEnroe, who claims, ``I usually seem to make things difficult for myself,'' certainly found himself in a self-induced mess during a third-round victory over Yugoslavia's Slobodan Zivojinovic.
For acts of unsportsmanlike conduct and verbal abuse of the umpire, McEnroe racked up several penalties, and came close to being defaulted. His real spanking occurred afterward, however, when Grand Prix tour supervisor Ken Farrar meted out $17,500 in fines and a two-month suspension, which Mac will begin serving after the Open, if his appeal is denied.
The suspension, the sixth of his career, would for all intents and purposes eliminate McEnroe from the Masters, the year's annual wrapup tournament, in December. He hasn't accumulated enough points to make the field without some good results in the next month or two.
The McEnroe and Mandlikova temper tantrums served to raise the usual questions about tennis's seeming leniency with such outbursts. Why not just throw them out, many observers wonder. The answer is that a match ends when a player is ejected, a ticklish situation that shortchanges spectators and can alter the tournament's ultimate outcome.
Consequently, the game's code of conduct allows players plenty of slack, maybe more than is good for the sport's overall image. Billie Jean King, for one, believes that players should be defaulted at the time and place of their blowups rather than suspended later. Suspensions only hurt future tournaments.
The Open, however, is a mega-tournament that attracts the biggest crowds and some of the year's biggest headlines. Players are going for history here, not just money, and no one wants to see history diluted.
The final days of this year's tournament promise plenty of classic confrontations, with a galaxy of the top stars still in contention, including No. 1 seeds Steffi Graf and Ivan Lendl.
Lendl hasn't lost a set in four matches and now in the quarterfinals meets McEnroe, who is looking for his first '87 title. The winner faces whoever emerges from Gilbert's battle with Jimmy Connors, who declined an invitation to play in the Open's 35-and-over age bracket to grapple with the younger crowd.
``I really didn't want to play past 27 or 28,'' he says. ``I thought I'd get in, get the job done, and make a quick escape. I play tennis for the enjoyment, but I didn't know the game would get this big and neither did anyone else.''
Though hampered by a foot injury, Connors still hasn't lost his lust for the battle or for the bare-knuckles atmosphere found in the Open, where he has reached the quarters by fighting from behind to win his match against Henri Leconte, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
In the bottom half of the draw, where second-seeded Stefan Edberg remains the man to beat, the biggest casualties have been Wimbledon champion Pat Cash (a first-round loser to Peter Lundgren), 10th-seeded Joakim Nystrom (eliminated by Ramesh Krishnan), and 12th-seeded Tim Mayotte, the hard-serving American whose potential has never been realized here. This time he lost to Mark Woodforde, an Australian who was Graf's practice partner at Wimbledon this year.
Normally, the women's draw offers a glimpse of some up-and-coming teen-ager. It was a switch, therefore, for the men to handle the introduction. In this case, the teen of distinction was 15-year-old Californian Michael Chang, who became the youngest male ever to win a match at the year's final Grand Slam stop. Chang beat Paul McNamee before bowing out with a five-set second-round defeat to Nduka Odizor.
For youth to be served now, Graf will probably have to do it. And if form holds, she would need to beat a trio of Americans - Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova - to secure her first US title, and the first ever by a West German. That's a very tall order, one that would surely launch the game's Graf Era if she fills it.