WIMBLEDON — He was staring at his racket the way David must have stared at his slingshot. Did he really do that? Did he really just pull off the biggest upset in the history of Wimbledon, beating defending champion Boris Becker, in the second round? Glory? History? Infamy? All that with this little stringy weapon? Whoo, boy. What should he do with the racket now?
“I guess I just sort of flipped it, huh?” Peter Doohan would recall. “The crowd was going crazy and I felt like they wanted me to do something spectacular. I thought of throwing it into the stands but I decided against it
— I figured I might need it for the next round.”
He laughed. The tennis gods laughed. And then they cried. Tell us your name, pal. Then tell us what you’re doing here? This is a guy ranked 70th in the world, a guy who has won one tournament in his life (and that was three years ago) a guy who has been knocked out in the first round of every other Wimbledon he’s tried and who struggled to get past somebody named Alex Antonitsch just two days earlier.
This was the man who made Boom Boom go bye-bye? The man who shot down the blond hero, the No. 1 seed, the ace who’d won this thing two years in a row? Boris Becker. This guy beat him? What’s his name? Doohan? Rhymes with “Who Can?” Rhymes with “You Can?”
In four sets?
How fitting he didn’t know what to do with his racket.
Nobody knew what to do with him either.
“What happened?” the stunned media asked Becker in the press room afterward. After all, Becker had been heavily favored coming into this event, despite his age (19), despite his dropping of coach Gunther Bosch, despite the recent tumult that had strummed his personal strings.
“I didn’t think Doohan could play like he did today,” Becker answered honestly. “I kept saying ‘OK, one time he’s going to crack. He can’t volley like this, he can’t serve like this, he can’t play the way he did . . . One time he’s going to crack and I will win easy.”
No cracks. This was solid marble tennis by Doohan, a match where every move seemed like destiny, where every serve seemed flawless, where every volley seemed to sniff out Becker then fly away from his reach. A nobody beating a superbody? In the second round? It was the sort of stuff that inspires prayer, that makes you believe in rabbits’ feet and and crickets wishing upon a star. “Close your eyes, hit everything in?” mumbled Becker’s manager, Ion Tiriac, assessing Doohan’s play. “Congratulations.”
What more could he say? Here was Becker breaking Doohan to win the second set and Doohan coming right back to break Becker in the next game.
Here were the two men tied in the fourth set, three games apiece, and Doohan puts three shots at Becker’s feet, and the defending champion can’t even hit two of them and Doohan wins.
Here was double-match point, Becker hitting a backhand wide, it’s out, it’s over, the champion is gone.
“He was like magic,” Becker said, sighing. “He was guessing where I would hit the ball and he was always guessing correct. If he guessed right, I hit to the right, if he guessed lob, I hit a lob. The guy just couldn’t miss.”
No cracks. Two years ago Becker was the unseeded player who rose to unbelievable heights. This time, he looked down from his perch and, as if looking at the gas gauge reading empty on his car, kept anticipating a Doohan collapse. Consequently, he held back on the winning shots he normally uses against tougher opponents, instead opting for hittable shots Doohan should have put in the net or hit out. The collapse never came. The defeat came instead.
And it hurt. This was the first match the West German heartthrob had ever lost at Wimbledon (excluding an injury default to Bill Scanlon in 1984), the first time he had ever faced the press here without a silver cup in hand or on the way. The winner in 1986 and 1985, he was dubbed the boy-king of grass courts, and the shock waves of defeat had yet to reach his young heart. He answered questions calmly, rationally, admitting that “tomorrow I will probably feel much worse.”
And that may be good for him. Becker, who is level-headed enough, has nonetheless become ridiculously huge in West Germany for his Wimbledon success. As long as he was unbeatable here, the other flaws in his game (no titles on clay, no other Grand Slam championships) were happily overlooked. But tennis is nothing if not consistency, and perhaps Becker fans will be reminded of that with this defeat.
“I am not immortal” Becker said Friday, a thought he seems to accept more easily than those around him.
And a thought that Doohan will be reminded of soon enough. Face it. How many mornings will he be able to wake up saying he just knocked off the No. 1 tennis attraction in the world? Doohan already is 26 years old. He is not particularly well- known in his native Australia, and he played four years at the University of Arkansas without causing many tennis writers to come and visit. There is little doubt he is not of Becker’s caliber. The two men played two weeks ago at Queen’s Club and Becker won handily.
And so what? All that counts today is the count from Friday, and the numbers added up to upset, huge upset, the kind that had reporters scrambling for a comparison. What was it like? Laver losing to Taylor in 1970? Connors to Curren in 1983? Pasarell over Santana in 1967?
It was like none of them. This was bigger. This was more historic. The second round? Never since they’ve allowed professionals in this tournament has the defending champion been dismissed so early.
“People are naturally going to think that it was just a great win and we’ll never hear from Peter Doohan again,” said Doohan afterward. “I don’t hold it against them for thinking that.
“Hey, when I drew Becker in the second round, I thought ‘Here’s another bad draw,’ and started thinking about plane reservations out of here . . . “
He can stay a few days longer, now. After all, he still has his racket.
So Wimbledon loses its No. 1 seed. Boris goes bye. And the David who slew him tries his best to make people remember his name. That’s, uh, Peter, not David.
With a bullet.
“What about your next match?” someone asked him in the crowded press room afterward.
“To tell you the truth,” said Doohan, “I didn’t even think past the Boris Becker round. I think I play Leif Shiras.”
Who? CUTLINE Australia’s Peter Doohan raises his arms in victory Friday. Boris Becker pauses for a breather against Peter Doohan