Like everything else in Paris this spring, tennis took a backseat, first to the World Cup and then to the weather. Until Sunday it was the wettest, dreariest, coldest French Open in anybody's memory. As wet as Mikael Pernfors, the mysterious finalist, was behind the ears. As dreary as Johan Kriek, the enigmatic fast-court specialist, acted after he surprisingly reached the semis only to blatantly tank. Ultimately as cold as Ivan Lendl's heart upon encountering the obstacles inherent in such a form-plundered tournament.
If the French Open was truly the Qui√™tes-vous? invitational, it was Lendl's all too familiar and terribly swift sword of a forehand that glistened in the suddenly brilliant sunshine of the final at Roland Garros Stadium. That and innumerable other weapons that cut Pernfors to shreds by the score of 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, though not before the little guy with the nouveau-pop haircut—Emilio Estevez starring in Marine in the Dust—had crafted some extraordinary results. Pernfors is from Sweden (will that nation's clay wonders never cease?) by way of two NCAA championships at Georgia. How 'bout that hund? In his 11 months on the tour before Paris he hadn't won a match in Europe. Then le déluge.
Behind a set and 1-5 to fellow Swede Stefan Edberg, Pernfors beat the Australia Open champion in the second round. Down a set, 2-all, love-40 to West Germany's Boris Becker, Pernfors defeated the Wimbledon champ in the quarters, positively embarrassing Boom Boom with a bagel-set conclusion. Behind a set and a break to France's Henri Leconte in the semis with a nation rooting against him, Pernfors won in four sets. "He's in a trance," Becker said. "He is winning both sides of the court." Leconte confirmed in his goofy way. "Like a rabbit."
Then it was time for Mikael to row the boat ashore. He fought Lendl long and hard through the rallies, even venturing drop shots on key points. But a run of nine games put Lendl up 3-0 in the third set. Was it over? Not quite. As if he were Herschel Walker breaking an 80-yarder back in Athens, Ga., Pernfors strung together four games of his own to get the crowd back in the match.
June 15, 1986
But even then the rookie sensed Lendl was just running out the clock. "I had to play my greatest tennis just to win points," Pernfors admitted later. "Even if I'd gotten to the fourth or fifth set, I might not have been able to last."
As the 22-year-old Pernfors hunkered down with his spiked hair, baggy flap-pocket shorts and five-o'clock Nixonian shadow—the mangiest of all Georgia dogs, not to mention Swedish heartthrobs—who could know the weight on the kid's shoulders? Five years ago, after he had failed to reach the top echelon of junior tennis in Sweden, Pernfors had crossed the sea to play two years at Seminole J.C. in Sanford, Fla., before transferring to Georgia. The first time Pernfors's father sent money to Athens, the cable wound up in Greece. Mikael became the first to win back-to-back NCAA singles titles since Dennis Ralston did it in 1963 and '64. He also learned to love American football, and he became a close friend of Georgia place-kicker Kevin Butler, now of the Chicago Bears.
Pernfors, however, says "we" when speaking of himself and the other Swedes, and he became quite put out in Paris whenever American journalists suggested he might be one of their own. "I learned the fun part of tennis in Sweden," he said. "Then I found out how to be aggressive on fast courts in college. I am different from most Swedes. I try to win points by myself. But please emphasize I was just a foreign student at Georgia. I'm all Swedish now." Would any hyperserious American sourpuss go home wearing a T-shirt that said I HAD FIVE MATCH POINTS ON BORIS BECKER On the front, and BUT I CHOKED on the back, the way Pernfors did last summer after losing to Becker at the U.S. Clay Courts in Indianapolis?
As for the U.S. male contingent at Roland Garros, 8 of the 17 lost in the first round, and 6 fell in the second. Of course, Messrs. McEnroe (on paternity leave) and Connors (completing a suspension) weren't on hand. But even in absentia McEnroe kept a high profile, leading the locker-room list of tournament violations: "J. McEnroe, Code Section II C1. Seeded late withdrawal. Fine: to be determined." Moreover, when Mac made the former Farrah Wella Balsam Fawcett Charlie's Angel Majors a grand-stepmother-in-common-law, Le Figaro blared MCENROE PAPA. Le Figaro correspondent Alan Page also speculated that young Kevin Jack must have been named after McEnroe's "tr√®s ami," Jack Nicholson. Oo-la-la, Daddy Mac, the press is still the pits of the world.
According to Andres Gomez, the absence of McEnroe and Connors made the tournament more "relaxing." But Lendl pointed out quite accurately that Mac and Jimbo had seldom made much of a dent at Roland Garros anyway and that missing a Yannick Noah (champ in '83) or a Mats Wilander ('82 and '85) would have been a "real factor."
No factor is what both wound up being. Sans a fair amount of skin after it was mistakenly burned from his ankle by laser treatments, Noah wagged his Whoopi Goldberg braids and bravely limped out of the round of 16 with a default to Kriek. By the time Wilander exited in the third round, all the other Swedes had gone, too—or at least the ones anybody had heard of: Joakim Nystrom (seeded 6th) was dismissed by Paul McNamee; Pernfors accounted for Edberg (No. 5); and Anders Jarryd (No. 7) was defeated by a curly-haired, headbanded 19-year-old named Ulf Stenlund, who is ranked 17th—in Sweden, that is, one spot below Pernfors's ranking there.
"Doesn't matter who," said Jarryd. "You play a Swede, you better be ready." Funny thing, the guy who upset Wilander wasn't a Swede, even though he looked the part—sandy hair, two fists on the backhand and a baseline maniac. The other funny thing was that Wilander recognized him. In Rome he had struggled to beat Andrei Chesnokov, a Russian for Pete the Great's sake, armed with a red racket. "I don't know how to play this guy—he never misses," Wilander had said in Rome. In Paris, Chesnokov did not miss and won 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Do svidaniia.
The most dramatic match of this French Open turned out to be between two comebacking veterans who had never played each other: Guillermo Vilas, who hasn't won a tournament in three years, and Kriek, who hadn't played on red clay in seven years. "I've been water-skiing," Kriek said, belying the pressure, intensity and hit-out gambling that went into his 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 quarterfinal victory. Kriek would quickly give up in the semis, sleepwalking to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 loss, but he was dead game against Vilas. He saved three set points in the second set; Vilas fought off three match points in the fourth. It was outrageous, 'ceps-flexing, macho stuff—Vilas in a rakish black bandeau, Kriek in black shorts, both power hitters recalling their salad years. The loser actually ended up winning more points (165-156) than the winner. "Why do you keep at it?" the 33-year-old Vilas was asked.
"It is like a marriage, tennis and me," Willy replied. "I love the game so."
What about a woman in your life? "Ah," the poet said slyly. "That would be bigamy."
Before the Chris Evert Lloyd-Martina Navratilova match—their 69th meeting, 14th in a Grand Slam final, third straight at Roland Garros—there was testiness on the distaff side. First, Navratilova showed up in Paris without her doubles partner, Pam Shriver, who had decided to pass up the French but then called Navratilova to tell her she had changed her mind and would play doubles after all. "Too late" was the reply. (Navratilova won the doubles, anyway, partnering with the former blonde bombshell turned rouged grenade, Andrea Temesvari.)
Then, for the second successive year, Evert Lloyd skipped the midtournament champions' dinner at the elegant Pavilion Gabriel. "It's not mandatory," she said. Sleuths revealed, however, that Evert Lloyd had a new dress in the closet but was offended when no personal invitation was forthcoming from French Federation President Philippe Chatrier. Instead, John Lloyd was asked to convey the invitation. "I've won this damn thing six times," Chris huffed to a friend. It's seven now, an alltime, all-boy, all-girl record.
Evert Lloyd's 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Navratilova was especially significant because it marked the first time in six years that she had won after losing the first set. Maybe Navratilova's confidence had eroded following losses to Kathy Jordan and Steffi Graf—a couple of defeats every six months will do that to a person—or after she had to struggle past Kathy Rinaldi and Helena Sukova in previous rounds at Roland Garros. Possibly Navratilova was concerned about her beloved KD, a.k.a. Killer Dog, a foot-long savage of a miniature fox terrier. Martina had left KD in her gym bag in the locker room each day until some teenage players became terrified by the canine's surly nipping. "Mary Joe Fernandez couldn't go near her locker," said one insider. The players eventually voted to have KD barred from the locker room, and Carling Bassett was said to have roughed up Killer Dog a bit on its way out.
But after Fernandez, 14, the tall cool drink from Florida—call her Miami Nice—negotiated her way to the quarterfinals while her vanquished foes claimed she never laid a glove on them; after Hana Mandlikova halted the phenomenal Graf's winning streak at four tournaments and 24 matches by fighting off a match point; after Gabriela Sabatini, last summer's wonder child, took a set off Evert Lloyd only to fade into exhaustion brought on once again by the effort demanded by her exaggerated topspin; after all this, the championship once more came down to Chris and Martina.
Evert Lloyd virtually handed the first set to Navratilova by double-faulting five times. Chris admitted to "nerves"—after all, this was only her 33rd Grand Slam final—but early in the second set she found her rhythm. Evert Lloyd used a new tactic to great benefit: a looped crosscourt forehand deep into Navratilova's backhand wing so that "she could never hurt me."
Navratilova much prefers to approach off her heavy forehand, but Evert Lloyd seldom gave her the opportunity. On one point Chris banged the ball 15 straight times to Martina's backhand. When Navratilova chipped short, Evert Lloyd merely took the net herself and hit drop-volley winners. She seemed to win all the big points in the crucial games. Serving for the second set at 5-4, Evert Lloyd held from love-40, saving one break point with an, ahem, ace. From 0-2 in the third set she dug in and broke back, and at 3-all she broke again, nailing a terrific forehand pass on the run.
In the last four games Evert Lloyd went for the lines at every turn. Winners came in bunches. She may never have played better after such a terrible opening set. Both players agreed that the caliber of play far surpassed Evert Lloyd's nerve-wracking upset in their last tango in Paris. On a scale of 1 to 10, Navratilova gave herself an 8, Chris a perfect one-oh. "What this proves to me is that last year was no fluke," Evert Lloyd said.
Meanwhile, has Lendl finally achieved the respect due the winner of three Grand Slam titles? Though he faced mainly no-names at Roland Garros, Lendl has now won 42 of the 44 matches he has played in 1986 and is 77-3 since the start of last year's U.S. Open, which he won. Sans McEnroe, winning the hardest way, from on top, as No. 1—and no sign of burnout.
While Lendl's bearing is still stern and humorless—in Paris he conducted another snappish postchampionship press conference at which he complained bitterly about the lack of crowd support—he is showing signs of softening his rigid public persona. At the champions' dinner he looked smashing in a double-breasted velvet tux. He smiled, danced (for the first time in five years) with his sweetheart, Samantha Frankel, and shared a dinner t√™te-√†-t√™te with the honored guest, the nonagenarian Wimbledon champion, Kitty Godfree. A cake came for Mrs. Godfree.
"Where are your 90 candles, Kitty?" Lendl asked.
So you do have a sense of humor, after all, champ. Why do you hide it when tennis needs it so?