Attack-minded Evert Lloyd, Wilander secure French tennis titles
Neither expected to win. But Mats Wilander and Chris Evert Lloyd exhibited new aggressiveness to capture the 1985 French Open tennis championships. They overcame physically stronger opponents -- and their own doubts. ``No one expected I would win, not even me,'' Wilander said just after upending defending champion Ivan Lendl 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the final. It was the second French Open title for the talented Swede, who first had shocked the Paris crowds in 1982 when as an unseeded 17-year-old he became the youngest-ever winner of this prestigious tournament.
Evert Lloyd's 6-3, 6-7, 7-5 decision over top-seeded defending titleholder Martina Navratilova reversed the outcome of last year's final. The victory also marked Evert Lloyd's sixth title on the slow red clay courts of Roland Garros Stadium that suit her game so well.
The upsets give the tennis world badly needed competition. During the past few years, Navratilova has ruled the perennial No. 2 seed, Evert Lloyd, who hadn't defeated her chief rival in a Grand Slam event since 1982.
``Martina's been so dominant that I've been thinking about retiring, so this victory came at a good time,'' Evert Lloyd said. ``If I'd lost, I would have been depressed about tennis.''
On the men's side, Wilander's victory gave the young Swede another boost in his bid to join John McEnroe and Lendl a notch above the other players. Before this tournament, no one paid much attention to him. Sure, his methodical ground strokes made him a good clay-court player. And, yes, he had won the Australian championships in January on fast grass. Still, Mats himself believed that he lacked the mental and physical punch to top the first two seeds.
Match after match, though, Wilander stretched his backcourt game. He attacked short returns. He used short angles. He even began to serve and volley a bit. Quietly -- there was so little interest that he only needed to conduct his post-match press conferences in Swedish -- he dispatched his first four opponents.
Then in the semifinals Wilander met the top-seeded McEnroe. When he is in form, McEnroe remains the undisputed maestro. That is why, despite his known dislike for the clay of Paris, he was the pre-tournament favorite to become the first American champion here in 30 years.
The dream began to crumble in the quarterfinals when another Swede, Joakim Nystrom, took the New Yorker to five long sets, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, and after the struggle McEnroe seemed more exhausted than elated.
Against Wilander, no amount of artistry could overcome a lack of patience. The match was over in three straight sets, even though McEnroe led 5-1 in the third set and wasted two set points.
For the finals, Lendl looked like a tougher opponent than even McEnroe. The Czech had used his cannon-like forehand to sweep through his half of the draw without losing a set. In the semifinals, he whipped Jimmy Connors in three quick sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. A repeat of his victory last year seemed most likely.
To win, Wilander knew he would have to keep the ball away from Lendl's dangerous forehand and attack more than ever before. So the Swede took the net on every opportunity -- with most unexpected results.
``I've been working really hard on my volley,'' Wilander admitted afterwards. ``Today it worked 100 percent.''
Evert Lloyd also attacked more than usual to win what she called ``one of the toughest matches of my life.'' She boldly went for the lines. She hit her shots hard, and when necessary, she hit good lobs to take the net away from her opponent. She even won some crucial exchanges with smart volleys.
The new-found punch was needed. In 1973, Margaret Court beat Evert Lloyd, in three tough sets, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. Court boasted the same type of intimidating power that Navratilova now has, and she used it to wear down the young challenger. This time around, Evert Lloyd had enough to come back. Down 0-40 at 5-5 on her serve in the decisive set, she hung in to win that game, then broke Navratilova's service to win.
Significantly, Evert Lloyd added this latest laurel at age 30. Most women on the tennis tour these days are in their teens. In the semifinals, Evert Lloyd defeated the newest young sensation, stunning 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina.
Wilander may be only 20, but he too showed how a few extra years have added the necessary touch of a true champion. Both he and Evert Lloyd, who also won at Australia, are now halfway to a Grand Slam heading into Wimbledon. Such a feat is still a long shot -- especially with McEnroe and Navratilova waiting for their chances to get even in London starting June 24. But the new French champions are at least assured of getting more attention now -- and Wilander will undoubtedly be conducting all of his press conferences in both Swedish and English!