PARIS — As the lone major on slip-slide clay, the French Open seems to offer more opportunities than the other three for reversals of fortune, amazing turn-arounds and unlikely comebacks. We were reminded of the vagaries of Roland Garros on opening day as Lleyton Hewitt climbed from a hole 2 sets deep to beat Ivo Karlovic. Lleyton was a little beaver gnawing away until he’d toppled the tallest tree in the forest, 6-10 Karlovic.
This recalled anniversaries of a few improbable victorious recoveries. How about the 20th of Michael Chang, whose 1989 championship probably should have been won by three-time victor, No.1 Ivan Lendl? Chang, behind by 2 sets and cramping in the 4th round nevertheless somehow kept going, outmaneuvered Lendl and went on to beat highly favored Stefan Edberg in the 5-set final.
Or the 10th of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf? Steffi was a couple of points away from losing 1999 to Martina Hingis, but kept her cool as Martina steamed, wangling her way through a 3 set victory, her 22nd, and last major title. A day later favored Andre fell 2 sets behind Andreas Medvedev but desperately outfought the Ukrainian to become only the fifth man to hold all four majors. I imagine he and Steffi are more proud of their wedding anniversaries.
It’s the 30th anniversary of a little known Paraguayan, Victor Pecci. No, he did’t win the 1979 title. But he did make it his tournament with the fans, charging through 4 seeded names — Corrado Barazzutti, Harold Solomon, defending champ Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Connors — before the inevitable overtook him in the form of Bjorn Borg. A year later Pecci, the tall serve-and-vollyer, almost single-handedly beat the United States in a Davis Cup relegation series that sent the Yanks plunging into oblivion for a couple of years.
Although Lendl let Chang get away, he must feel pretty about his silver anniversary resuscitation against John McEnroe from way back in the 1984 finale. McEnroe, riding high on his greatest season, played elegantly to win the first 2 sets and had leads in the 4th and 5th. But he lost his renowned temper at crucial stages and the superbly conditioned Ivan hung on to triumph. Silver for Lendl; zinc for McEnroe.
There’s no appropriate anniversary for what Chanda Rubin did in 1995 — but it shows what can happen at Roland Garros. So it’s the 14th? She can think of it as whatever precious. Chanda was downright subterranean in the 4th round, 3rd set, as far behind Jana Novotna as possible, 0-5, 0-40. Houdini couldn’t have escaped more brilliantly. Erasing 9 match points, Chanda proved anything possible in the crimson dirt.