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Frank Deford
June 15, 1987
The women took center stage at the French Open as once again Steffi Graf beat Martina Navratilova
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June 15, 1987

Score One More For Steffi

The women took center stage at the French Open as once again Steffi Graf beat Martina Navratilova

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As for Martina and Chris: Is that rivalry finished at last? "I was sadder than I might usually be," said Navratilova right after she beat Evert in their six-dozenth match. "My God, I was just about to win, and I could only think, Is this going to be the last of Chris here?" Why not? Au revoir, America.

Indeed, on this, the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Spirit of St. Louis in Paris, the spirit of East St. Louis was all that kept the Stars and Stripes fluttering aloft at Roland Garros for the men. Jimmy Connors, late of that little river city, was the lone American male to make the quarterfinals, and, at the age of 34, he was never more engaging.

"I'm having a helluva time here, playing a little tennis every coupla days," he said one day. However, until he came a cropper against Becker, Connors had not faced a single player ranked in double digits. Then again, it's not Connors' fault that, in his dotage, he is the best that Uncle Sam has got to offer, whatever his draw.

John McEnroe, the former tennis great who is facing imminent suspension for high crimes and misdemeanors, quietly lost in the first round and went home to see the Lakers. Because of his foul behavior in recent weeks, McEnroe knows full well that if he so much as looks cross-eyed at a Wimbledon official, he'll be handed his hat.

Pam Shriver and Robert Seguso did win doubles titles (women's and mixed for Shriver, men's for Seguso), but both were clever enough to play with European-bred partners. The eight American juniors entered in girls and boys singles play were all eliminated by the third round. Luckily, we still know how to recruit out of state, and Lendl has received approval for a green card.

Moreover, in hope of fast-forwarding Lendl's citizenship, U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut has recently introduced a bill to expedite the Americanization process for the Czech. Attention Davis Cup fans: Write your Congressman! As Connors correctly opined in Paris, "If the weight of the United States is being carried on my shoulders, that's pretty damn hurting."

Actually, Wilander has bought a residence for himself and his bride, Sonya, in the fashionable Connecticut suburbs, right near Lendl. Nutmeg neighbors, fine; tennis opponents, please, no. Though the crowd at Roland Garros—as everywhere—rooted steadfastly against Lendl, and though he gets blamed for everything boring in tennis, Wilander was the prime villain in their final. This atrocity, which lasted nearly five hours, included a 35-minute rain delay and untold minutes spent by both competitors in staring at their strings, like druids examining animal entrails. The match mercifully concluded around 8:30 at night. For the record, the score was 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3).

The first set, which by general consensus was the most execrable performance inflicted upon paying customers since some scoundrel named Lawford invented the topspin stroke 100 years ago, took one hour and 20 minutes. In this shotfest the first successful volley was executed by Lendl 34 minutes into the proceedings. Wilander made his first volley on his third try, which came one hour and two minutes into the match. You get the picture. There were five breaks of serve, and no breaks in the monotony.

Curiously, Wilander had boasted of his new attacking game, which he had employed most efficaciously against France's Yannick Noah in the quarters and Becker in the semis. Apparently he demands that his opponent play the foil, and Lendl simply wouldn't cooperate. Some rallies that the two finalists looped from baseline to baseline took so long that small vertebrates were conceived, born, reproduced themselves, took out mortgages and died before the points ended.

Even in the fourth-set tiebreaker, when it was raining and hard to see, they played one point of about 50 loops and another of 30. Afterward, Wilander explained that he hadn't meant to play this way, but once he got into it, well, he just couldn't change. Stop me before I kill again.

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