Pescariu hates to fly. His terror goes down to the bone. "My grandfather which I never met, the father of my father, he died in a plane crash," he says. "And my father, his life was marked by this incident, so he doesn't like to fly. And I don't. I take this from him. Unfortunately, there's no other way I can go to the tournaments. Every time I have the chance, I go by car. But most of the time, there's no way."
Besides, no matter how much Pescariu tries, he can't keep planes from looming over his life. He has had one wonderful day in tennis, one moment when he tasted greatness and life seemed perfect. "I beat McEnroe," he says, "6-2, 6-2." It was 1991-Pescariu was 17 and at his peak, and when he qualified that April to play in a top-level tournament in Munich, he had a dilemma: He had agreed to play that day in a juniors event in Hamburg. His sponsor, Panasonic, came up with a solution; it hired a small plane for Pescariu. Early that morning Dinu and his father, dry-mouthed, hurtled north to Hamburg. Dinu won his match, flew back to Munich and went from die airport to die court. John McEnroe was waiting.
They played a few games. Pescariu broke McEnroe's serve, and then rain came. They resumed the next morning, and Pescariu rolled. McEnroe got upset, even tried drilling Pescariu with one shot, but none of the old tricks worked. At the end Pescariu hoped for a nice word, a smile, something from McEnroe. "Nothing," he says. "I felt bad about this, because he was my idol. I expected at least, 'Well played.' But he didn't say anything." It didn't matter. Pescariu's parents had traveled to see him, and he and his father had survived a trip through the sky. "I felt very happy," he says.
Last September, Pescariu felt anything but relief. With Flight 111, the family fear became real; it was as if he had grown up fascinated by tales of the big bad wolf and then, one autumn morning, felt hot breath on his neck. Moldovan, his best friend, has sensed a change in Pescariu, a preoccupation that wasn't there before. Pescariu sees his parents often. No one brings up Swissair. "I think they feel that I don't want to talk about this," Pescariu says, "so we never talk about it. It can only make the thing worse."
He sees Rosset around, in locker rooms, practicing. They don't speak. Pescariu doesn't believe anyone can be as blasé as Rosset. The crash shattered Pescariu, and he's trying to pick up the pieces, make something new. He wants six good months of training, just to find out once and for all how good a player he can be. "I tell you, there are many things that now I see differently" he says. "Things that before meant so much to me now don't. The fights I had with my friends? This made me be a little more understanding—the next day I could crash and die. I feel now that there are many things more important than tennis, many things more important than a fight."
He flies still. He checks in, buys a magazine, waits, boards, buckles up, watches the safety-instructions video, feels his stomach drop as the wheels spin. He tries to cocoon himself in sleep, shutting out the hum of the engines, the turbulence. But nothing stops memory: On Sept. 1, the day before the first anniversary of the crash, caskets full of passengers' remains went into the ground during a ceremony overlooking St. Margaret's Bay. Pescariu wasn't there. The sea is pretty this time of year, and he's not the player he used to be. But he is alive.