The French Open : McEnroe Is Exhausted but Victorious After Five-Set Quarterfinal
Playing on his least favorite surface and in a tournament no American man has won in the last 30 years, top-seeded John McEnroe swept into the semifinals of the French Open tennis championships Tuesday by halting a stubborn challenge from Sweden’s Joakim Nystrom.
The talented left-hander from New York will face fourth-seeded Mats Wilander--his third straight Swedish opponent--in his bid for the title on the slow, red clay courts at Roland Garros Stadium.
McEnroe, ranked No. 1 in the world and the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion, outlasted Nystrom, seeded 7th, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in a 3-hour 32-minute battle under a blazing sun and 100-degree temperatures.
Wilander, who captured the French Open in 1982, dashed French hopes when he ousted unseeded Henri Leconte of France, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5.
In the women’s singles, second-seeded Chris Evert Lloyd, a five-time French Open champion, crushed fellow American Terry Phelps, 6-4, 6-0. In the semifinals, Lloyd will play 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, the 14th seed, who eliminated No. 4 Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
Defending champion Martina Navratilova will face No. 7 Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany in the other semifinal.
The men’s semifinal field will be completed today, when defending champion Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia plays unseeded Martin Jaite of Argentina, and No. 3 Jimmy Connors faces No. 14 Stefan Edberg of Sweden.
Although his game against Nystrom was sprinkled with occasional brilliance, McEnroe failed to sustain the high standard he always sets for himself. Nystrom was content to feed on the American’s frequent errors, and although he fell behind after three sets, he never appeared to be out of it.
Nystrom forced his way back by taking the fourth set and had the match in his sights when he broke McEnroe’s serve to grab a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
But McEnroe abandoned all caution and unleashed a series of shots, ripping off four straight games to take a 5-3 lead and serving for victory.
But Nystrom still was in the chase. He saved a match point with a spectacular service return, broke back, then held his serve for 5-5, increasing the pressure on McEnroe.
It was the Swede’s final shot. McEnroe had been too close to victory to let it slip away again, and he closed out the match when Nystrom sliced the ball wide.
“I’m just glad I won it,” McEnroe said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, and I feel good that I hung in there and won a tough fifth set.”
Wilander dampened the French fire with his patient behind-the-baseline routine, winning the first two sets and then breaking Leconte’s serve in the opening game of the third.
The 22-year-old left-handed Frenchman had made a tremendous run to reach the quarterfinals, upsetting fifth-seeded Andres Gomez of Ecuador in the third round and ousting his Davis Cup doubles partner, ninth-seeded Yannick Noah, the 1983 French Open men’s singles winner, in the fourth round.
Leconte had hopes of a third scalp when his powerful serve earned him the third set. But Wilander held his game together to set up the semifinal clash with McEnroe, their ninth career meeting. McEnroe holds a 5-3 edge.
In the women’s quarterfinals, Lloyd recovered from an uncertain start to down Phelps in 73 minutes.
“I was intimidated by her and by the occasion,” said Phelps, an 18-year-old right-hander from Larchmont, N.Y. “I have never played her before, I was on the center court for the first time and I was in the quarterfinals for the first time.”
Sabatini reeled off three consecutive games to take the first set against Maleeva, two years older than the Argentine. But in a game remarkably error-free, the Bulgarian stormed back to snatch the second before she crumbled in the third.