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LENDL’S NEXT FOE - UNSEEDED PEARCE FROM PROVO

SHARE LENDL’S NEXT FOE - UNSEEDED PEARCE FROM PROVO

Chances are Ivan Lendl, not to mention a lot of other people, might be unfamiliar with his quarterfinal opponent at Wimbledon.

Meet Brad Pearce, an unseeded 24-year-old whose claim to fame is being the best tennis player from Provo. Ranked No. 120 in the world, he crashed the exclusive final eight on Tuesday by beating Mark Woodforde of Australia 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.While Pearce has done the unexpected, the top-seeded Lendl is right where he is supposed to be - but it has taken a fight. He survived his second straight four-set challenge Tuesday, coming from behind to down unheralded Alex Antonitsch of Austria 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Wednesday's quarterfinal certainly shapes up as a mismatch, but Pearce said he hasn't come this far to lie down now.

"Wimbledon has been something I've dreamed about since I was a little kid," he said. "Whether it's realistic or not, I'm going to hold on to that dream and do all I can to fulfill that."

Against Woodforde, Pearce overcame a 1-4 deficit in the first set and won five straight games. He took the second set by breaking serve at 5-4 with a forehand passing shot return. The pattern was repeated in the third set, only this time he broke for the match with a crosscourt backhand return.

"I kept the pressure on him," Pearce said. "I hit a lot of returns and I made a lot of passing shots. I kept telling myself, `Take charge, take charge.' "

Pearce, who is barely 5-foot-9 with a stocky build and heavy legs, lost in the first round here in 1986 and failed to qualify the next three years.

His father, Wayne, coached tennis at Brigham Young University. But Pearce went to UCLA, where he was an All-American in 1985-86 and reached the NCAA singles semifinals. He turned pro in 1986 after his sophomore year and quickly broke into the top 100.

But then Pearce disappeared off the charts. His mother died of cancer, he got married and he lost confidence in his game.

"I was a head case," he said. "I'm just starting to get back after all these things."

Pearce and his wife, Cindi, have a baby daughter and hope to wind up with a half-dozen or more kids. That's more motivation to get the tennis back in gear.

"Tennis is also a job for me," he said. "Large families need a large income."

By reaching the quarters, Pearce has assured himself of $50,000, bringing his career earnings to $242,000. By comparison, Lendl has made $16.2 million.

Antonitsch is not much better known than Pearce. He's only the third-best Austrian player, behind clay-court specialists Thomas Muster and Horst Skoff. But he gave Lendl all he could handle, breaking for a 3-1 lead with three straight returns and going on to take the first set.

But the Austrian double-faulted twice in a row at 4-5 to give Lendl the second set.

Lendl has played Pearce once before, winning 7-6, 6-3 on a hard court in Washington in 1987.

"Brad is a good player," he said. "He's solid. He has all the shots. But he doesn't have any extra big shots."