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Boos of French Turn to Cheers as Leconte Wins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Henri Leconte would never win a popularity contest against countryman Yannick Noah among the French, but it is Leconte, not Noah, who still has a chance to win his country’s national tennis championship.

Cheered by a center court crowd, Leconte advanced to a quarterfinal match against Jonas Svensson of Sweden with a 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Andrei Chesnokov of the Soviet Union in the third round.

Leconte, who is 5-0 in five-set matches at the French Open, is 6-0 against Chesnokov.

Leconte fell out of favor with the French public when Mats Wilander blitzed him in the 1988 French Open final, 7-5, 6-2, 6-1. A few months later in a Grand Prix tournament in Bercy, French fans cheered John McEnroe and booed Leconte during their match.

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Noah, meanwhile, had won over the French with his victory in the French Open in 1983.

Leconte shrugged off the comparison to Noah as well as the McEnroe incident.

“Forget it,” he said. “We are talking about the past.

“Yannick plays a spectacular game, and I have also my own spectacular game. I want to play well for the fans. Now, I want to talk with my racket and the rest you can forget.”

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Also advancing to a quarterfinal showdown were 18-year-old Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia and Thomas Muster of Austria. Ivanisevic eliminated Niclas Kroon of Sweden, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5, and Muster defeated Martin Jaite of Argentina, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-2.

Svensson, who beat top-seeded Stefan Edberg in the first round, won his third-round match against Guillermo Perez-Roldan of Argentina, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Leconte, who had two disk operations last year, fell to No. 158 in the rankings at the start of this year’s clay court season. He also separated from his wife.

By the last week of April, Leconte’s record was only 4-6, but he reached the semifinals at Monte Carlo and Hamburg in consecutive weeks. Intense physical training overseen by Patrice LeClerc and Davis Cup Coach Eric Debliker began to pay off.

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The French Tennis Federation gave him a wild card into the French Open and his No. 33 ranking will improve with his quarterfinal showing.

“A lot of things have changed in my tennis and in my life,” Leconte said. “I just want to be well and be fit and enjoy my tennis.”


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