Sampras has called the day after he won Flushing Meadow, "the worst day of my life." Overwhelmed by demands from sponsors and the press, and then afflicted with nagging injuries to his shins and shoulder, he went into a tailspin from which he didn't begin to recover until last August. Since then, he has gotten healthier, adjusted to life on the circuit and hired a new coach, Tim Gullikson, who has taught him to play a brand of tennis based on percentages rather than miles per hour and glamour shots. "Pete's serve is a blessing and a curse," says Gullikson. "He's got so much talent, it gives him a lot of choices. Sometimes too many."
The women's side was as beset by ill health, moodiness and upsets as the men's was. Seles was no sure thing coming in: She had lost three consecutive tournaments. The two strongest favorites were Olympic champion Jennifer Capriati and the 35-year-old, four-time Open champion Martina Navratilova, who had demolished Seles 6-4, 6-2 in the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles four weeks earlier. Capriati and Navratilova, however, were stunned in the third and second rounds, respectively. Those losses helped explain why seven seeds failed to reach the round of 16, and why only one U.S. player, Fernandez, made it to the quarters.
The 16-year-old Capriati fell in straight sets to eventual quarterfinalist Patricia Hy, 27, who had emigrated to Hong Kong from Cambodia with her family in 1972. Capriati absorbed the defeat with outward equanimity, saying, "Stuff happens." But she burst into tears as soon as she was away from the cameras.
Navratilova had the peculiar luck to land in the same quarter of the draw as the three Maleeva sisters of Bulgaria. It was the youngest Maleeva, 17-year-old Magdalena, who beat her, 6-4, 0-6, 6-3. The third-seeded Navratilova was so cautious in her play that she seemed almost disoriented. She was also easily distracted. In midmatch, she stared balefully at a spectator reading a newspaper and said, "Would you mind reading that later, please?"
Navratilova's earliest exit from the U.S. Open since 1976 was a telltale one. She said she cannot foresee playing beyond two more years. "Now I know I'm really at the end of the road," she said. "I'm still physically capable of competing with these girls. But mentally.... Everything is going to be a struggle from now on." Navratilova was so uptight she complained of a sore wrist, elbow and leg, all of which magically improved after the upset. "It's all nerves," she said. "It's hard, because I care so damn much."
Magdalena's defeat of Navratilova led to a situation the Maleeva family had hoped to avoid: a quarterfinal match between Magdalena and her 25-year-old sister Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere. "It's what we dread," Magdalena said. Manuela won 6-2, 5-3 when Magdalena retired with a strained thigh muscle. The family hopes ended when Sánchez Vicario easily beat Manuela in the semis.
Indeed, Sánchez Vicario was the only one of the first five women's seeds who remained hale and hearty throughout the tournament. In the quarters she eliminated Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf, who showed up at Flushing Meadow with a cold and a sore shoulder and seemed as unsure of herself on the court as Navratilova had been. Sánchez Vicario toppled the second-seeded Graf in straight sets. Fourth-seeded Gabriela Sabatini, who had played only three matches since Wimbledon, was suffering from tendinitis in her left knee. She lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the quarters to Fernandez.
Also contributing to the flatness of the fortnight was a changing of the guard. For the first time in nearly two decades, Navratilova, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe all failed to bring their candlepower to the U.S. Open. In what were probably their last appearances in the singles draw, the 40-year-old Connors was feeble, the 33-year-old McEnroe was overwhelmed, and both were mean and sour. McEnroe succumbed in three sets to Courier in the fourth round. During the match he had a photographer ejected, and as he exited the stadium, gave Lesley Visser of CBS the strong arm and screamed, "Do not talk to me!"
Connors celebrated his 40th birthday with a first-round victory over Jaime Oncins of Brazil, but he could not reproduce his incandescent performance of a year ago, when he made the semifinals. Connors had high hopes of upsetting the 32-year-old Lendl in the second round, but he was frustrated by Lendl's handcuffing slices. After the 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 defeat, Connors, who hasn't beaten Lendl since 1984, said, "He doesn't play anything like he used to. He just bunts the ball back." Lendl absorbed the insult with silent dignity and proceeded to become a bit of a crowd pleaser for the first time, upsetting seventh-seeded Boris Becker in a five-hour, five-set marathon to reach the quarters.
It was left to Agassi, the Wimbledon champion and No. 8 seed, to provide the tournament with a real spectacle. By inviting Streisand to his matches, Agassi touched off a hilarious rumor that they were having a romance. Were the 22-year-old moussehead with the Midas touch and the 50-year-old director-producer-star of Prince of Tides doing the mambo? Before Agassi's third-round match with Jan Siemerink, Streisand gave him a gift in a silver box. During his fourth-round victory over Carlos Costa, she was interviewed by USA Network reporter Mike Barkann on the subject of Agassi. "He's very evolved, more than his linear years," said Streisand. "He's an extraordinary human being."