French Open Tennis : Lendl, Connors Easily Gain Semifinals, Setting the Stage for Showdown Friday
Winning in straight sets, Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia and Jimmy Connors completed the men’s singles semifinal pairings in the French Open tennis championships Wednesday, with only the top four seeded players remaining.
Lendl, the defending champion, wore down 20-year-old Martin Jaite of Argentina in 2 hours 44 minutes, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, and Connors defeated 19-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden, in 2 hours 21 minutes, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.
Connors had to contend with a 55-minute rain break at 5-5 in the third set. But when play resumed, he wrapped up the match in 11 more minutes, winning the tiebreaker, 7-2.
Wednesday’s storm followed nine days of uninterrupted sunshine and high temperatures at the French Open.
In the semifinals, No. 1-seeded John McEnroe meets No. 4 Mats Wilander of Sweden and No. 2 Lendl plays No. 3 Connors Friday.
In today’s women’s semifinals, No. 1-seeded Martina Navratilova faces No. 7 Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany, and No. 2 Chris Evert Lloyd takes on Argentina’s 15-year-old sensation Gabriela Sabatini, who is seeded No. 14.
Connors and Lendl have met 22 times since 1979. Connors has the edge, 13-9. But Lendl has won the last four in a row.
Friday’s encounter will be their 13th meeting in a semifinal round.
The last time they met on a surface similar to the slow red clay of Roland Garros was last year in the WCT Tournament of Champions in New York when Lendl handed Connors the worst defeat of his career, 6-0, 6-0.
Also, the 25-year-old Czech humbled the 32-year-old American, 6-3, 6-2, this year in Connors’ own tournament at Fort Myers, Fla.
But, Wednesday, not even a rainstorm could dampen Connors’ enthusiasm.
“I really enjoy playing the young guys and still grinding it out,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest pleasures for me, when the legs are supposed to be your biggest weapons. Mine still work; how many more miles they’ve got on them, we’ll see.
“I had to slow myself down. The points were going too fast. But I came out today and played some good solid tennis.”
Said Connors, in reaching his fourth semifinal at the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament he hasn’t won: “Rain delays are difficult, but today worked for me. I kinda didn’t feel like coming back and playing but I won the match.”
Edberg, seeded No. 14, had his chances.
He broke Connors’ service once in the first set, again in the second game of the third set, and served a total of eight aces.
But Connors was the aggressor in avenging a straight-sets loss against Edberg earlier this year at Memphis.
Although Jaite’s aggressive style delighted the crowd and produced some spectacular shots, he never really was in the match with Lendl after the two split the first eight games of the match. Lendl, who was never able to reach top form, rallied on his serve to carry him through.
And, while Connors had to fight off the the serve-and-volley style of Edberg, Lendl showed patience, waiting for his opponent to make mistakes.
A notorious slow starter, Lendl had a break point against him in the first game. But at 4-4 in the first set, he took control.
Jaite won only two of the next 13 games, and although he broke Lendl’s serve twice in the third set, the Czech rediscovered his serve to close out the match.
Once in command, Lendl marched easily enough into the French Open semifinals for the third time in his career.
(In 1984, he defeated McEnroe in five sets to win the title. In 1981, he was runner-up to Bjorn Borg of Sweden, also in five sets.)
“My serve faded away in the third set but it got me out of every trouble I had in the first two sets,” Lendl said of his play against Jaite.
“It was not an easy match. There were quite long rallies, lots of deuces and I had to run a lot.”
But Lendl was never really threatened.
“He showed me why he is No. 2 in the world,” Jaite said. “I did all I could, but he won the important points.”