Jimmy Connors' unrequited love affair with the French Open was on the rocks again Saturday after he threatened to quit during a four-set victory over Frenchman Tarik Benhabiles, then hinted that he may not return next spring.
The 32-year-old left-hander, seeded third behind John McEnroe and defending champion Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia, had a penalty point assessed against him in the third set of his 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory over his 20-year-old opponent.
With the temperature on center court rising to 100 degrees during the 4-hour 7-minute match, Connors boiled over and threatened to quit if the penalty was not removed. It wasn't, but the veteran remained on court and won the match to advance to the fourth round of the year's first Grand Slam tournament.
Afterward he said: "Why should some guy in the chair cost me my last French Open."
Asked if this year's tournament will be his final Paris appearance, Connors backtracked somewhat and said: "No decision has been made."
But he later told the Associated Press: "This is my last French Open. I'll come back next year to do television."
Connors, Lendl, 17-year-old Aaron Krickstein and two Swedes--Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg--were the seeded players to post third-round victories in the men's singles Saturday.
But No. 11 Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia was upset by Martin Jaite of Argentina, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Martina Navratilova, the defending women's champion, continued her strong play as she advanced to the quarterfinals along with No. 3 Hana Mandlikova of Czechoslovakia, No. 7 Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany and unseeded Anna Maria Cecchini of Italy.
But on this blistering hot day, the red clay of the center court at Roland Garros Stadium kicked up in the wind and into Connors' eye. When Connors fetched a towel to wipe his face before playing the next point, the umpire assessed a penalty point against him for taking more than the allowed 30 seconds.
"Do you want me to play blind?" Connors angrily asked, adding: "If the point stays in, I quit."
After tournament referee Jacques Dorfman confirmed the penalty, Connors agreed to continue and went on to win the game, the set and the match, advancing to the fourth round.
Connors finds himself a stranger among the clay-court specialists, but says he is not prepared to go out of his way to adapt.
"These guys play on clay for seven or eight weeks before the tournament. I simply can't do that," he said. "There are 52 weeks in the year and around 90 tournaments . . . on all sorts of different surfaces."
The French Open is the only major title to elude Connors. Twice he has reached the semifinals, and in 1974, when he won the three other Grand Slam tournaments--Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian opens, he was barred from the Roland Garros event because of his involvement with World Team Tennis.
Lendl beat Jerome Potier of France, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, and in the next round will meet Krickstein, who beat Paul McNamee of Australia, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.
Krickstein faced defeat when he trailed by two sets to one and 0-2 in the fourth. But he re-discovered the power of his forehand and took 12 of the next 13 games to win the last two sets.
Jarryd and Edberg set up a fourth-round Swedish showdown by winning their games in straight sets. Jarryd, seeded No. 6, downed Joan Aguilera of Spain, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, while Edberg, No. 14, scored a 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory over John Frawley of Australia.
Andrei Chesnokov, a qualifier from the Soviet Union who upset No. 8-seeded Eliot Teltscher in the previous round, was beaten by Switzerland's Heinz Gunthardt, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-8, 8-6, in a match that took more than five hours to play.
Navratilova, who has not lost a set since she began wearing eyeglasses in March, bested Raffaella Reggi of Italy, 6-4, 6-1.
Mandlikova, who struggled to beat Elise Burgin in a second-round match, had to win an 8-6 tiebreaker to post a 7-6, 6-2 victory over Debbie Spence of Cerritos, Calif. That puts the 1981 French Open winner in a quarterfinal matchup against Kohde-Kilsch, who came from behind to beat West Germany's Sylvia Hanika, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.
In today's women's singles quarterfinals, No. 2-seeded Chris Evert Lloyd, a five-time French Open winner, will play No. 11 Steffi Graf of West Germany; No. 8 Carling Bassett of Canada will meet Terry Phelps; No. 4 Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria faces No. 10 Bonnie Gadusek, and No. 14 Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina meets Rosalyn Fairbank of South Africa.
In men's singles, fourth-round matches will pit McEnroe against No. 12 Henrik Sundstrom of Sweden, No. 7 Joakim Nystrom of Sweden against No. 15 Brad Gilbert, No. 4 Mats Wilander of Sweden against No. 13 Tomas Smid of Czechoslovakia, and No. 9 Yannick Noah against unseeded Henri Leconte in a battle of Frenchmen.