NEW YORK — Lose your lunch but win the match.
It isn’t easy, and some might say it takes guts, and the ability to stand up when you’d just as soon lie down and take a 10 count.
You never know when the whim-whams will strike, but yesterday they did on the 14th anniversary of Pete Sampras’s historic US Open spill. A Frenchman named Beneteau joined Pete’s exclusive club by emptying his insides on Court 13, then woozily closed out an opening round victory. Of course it was in Flushing.
You may recall Sampras’s liquid drama in a 1996 quarter-final against the clever Spaniard, Alex Corretja. Worn down in a fifth set, Pete staggered and sprayed more than winning shots. Somehow he groggily overcame a match point in the decisive tie-breaker. Saying he was unable to hit another stroke, Pete accepted a miracle: Corretja’s startling last point double fault, and went on to his fourth of five US championships.
Although Julien Beneteau, ranking No. 36, slim and quick, can’t compare with Pete as a shotmaker, he was for about 10 minutes is the same gastric league while the 500 devotees jamming the small enclosure wondered what the heck was going on.
Beneteau and the exciting Czech, No. 30 Radek Stepanek, had banged away at each other engagingly in an up-and-down encounter for almost three hours in heat of around 100 degrees, stifling humidity, performing on an even more torrid blue asphalt griddle. Both had taken medical timeouts to be assisted by trainers, treated, twisted, massaged, corrected and then bounced back into the fray.
However, the thought was beginning to circulate that Court 13 had become the cursed court, the jinx compartment.
On opening day, two successive men’s matches there ended in defaults: Chilean Olympian Fernando Gonzalez retired from illness in the first game of the third set from his match with Croatian Ivan Dodig and Evgeny Korolev from Kazakhstan in the second set against Japanese Kei Nishikori, both winners lucky qualifiers.
And yesterday, deep in their fourth set, Beneteau, who has been a French Davis Cupper, and was leading Stepanek, wobbled away from the court and into a corner of the enclosure — to get a load off his mind.
Was the match over? Was he giving up? Umpire Tony Nimmons came down from his highchair to consult with both players. The score, Stepanek serving, was 3-5, 30-all.
Beneteau thought he might be finished. But, he says,
“The umpire said the rules called for a five-minute delay to to clean up the court. That saved me. I felt better.”
Stepanek wasn’t happy. “There was no mess on the court. It was quite a bit away in a corner. But he had time to recover, and played better.”
They resumed. Beneteau broke serve, then held, using one of his 23 aces, and closed with a roaring forehand for a 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 decision in 3:07.
Two days for Court 13 end in mishmash. Should there even be a Court 13? Triskaidekaphobes — those fearful of 13 — say absolutely not. Shouldn’t the US Tennis Association give the pleasant, intimate rectangle another number? Do hotels have 13th floors? Has the Meadows’ 13 replaced Wimbledon’s recently razed Court 2 as the world’s haunted playpen.
I leave you to ponder such important matters and listen as the history-minded Julien Beneteau sums it all up: “I did it as a tribute to Pete Sampras.” Honest.
A teammate commented, “That’s what you get when a Frenchman has to eat American food.”