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The Ivan, Chris And Mikael Show
Curry Kirkpatrick
June 16, 1986
Mikael Pernfors tried to horn in as Ivan Lendl and Chris Evert Lloyd won French Open championships
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June 16, 1986

The Ivan, Chris And Mikael Show

Mikael Pernfors tried to horn in as Ivan Lendl and Chris Evert Lloyd won French Open championships

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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 Quiêtes-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.

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 "très 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.

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