In Sunday's Show section, an incorrect location was given for the Red Clay Ramblers' performance tonight. The group will perform at 8:30 at the Birchmere in Alexandria (549-5919).
Throughout his lengthy career, Jimmy Connors has found himself in many tight situations and, almost as often, found a way to fight and claw his way free. But here, on the clay of Roland Garros, site of the one Grand Slam tournament he never has won, Connors has found far more frustration than joy.
Today, in the third round of the French Open, he came close to making what might have been remembered as his most embarrassing exit of all. For 4 hours 7 minutes, under a searing sun, Connors struggled against Tarik Benhabiles, a tiny but game 20-year-old Frenchmen.
Fighting Benhabiles, the screeching crowd of 16,500 jammed into the stadium court, the umpire, the tournament referee and his temper, Connors finally pulled out a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory to join second-seeded Ivan Lendl, No. 6 Anders Jarryd, No. 10 Aaron Krickstein and No. 14 Stefan Edberg in the fourth round.
Of that group, only Krickstein struggled. He was down, 2-1, in sets and 2-0 in the fourth set against Paul McNamee (who had beaten him in the first round of the Italian Open) before McNamee, 30, tired in the heat. Krickstein, 17, won nine straight games and 12 of 13 to survive, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.
Only 11th-seeded Miloslav Mecir, a 2-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, 6-4 loser to Martin Jaite, was an upset victim on a day when top-seeded Martina Navratilova and No. 3 Hana Mandlikova led the women into the quarterfinals.
Mandlikova survived a set point against Debbie Spence, a chunky 17-year-old California base liner, before going on to a 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, victory. Navratilova had her first tough set of the tournament against Raffaella Reggi, winning, 6-4, 6-1.
Finally, in the best unnoticed match of the tournament -- it took place whle Connors and Benhabiles were playing -- Heinz Gunthardt barely slipped past Andrei Chesnokov, the 19-year-old Soviet who defeated eighth-seeded Eliot Teltscher on Thursday. Chesnokov fought off five set points in the first set, went up a break in the fifth and saved a match point at 5-6 before finally losing, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 8-6.
Meanwhile, the Connors-Benhabilies match was the most fascinating of the day.
With the temperature near 90 and Benhabiles running down ball after ball while splitting the first two sets, Connors looked vulnerable, especially considering the first two sets took two hours and Connors is almost 33.
"If I had had to play five sets today, I would have," he said. "I think I probably would have died before I would have let him beat me. I would have died first because he's young, he's French, he's got the crowd behind him and I just didn't want to lose."
Actually, Connors almost didn't make it through the third set, much less into a fifth. With Benhabiles serving at 3-4, Connors had two break points. Benhabiles saved both with first serves and pumped his fist after the second one.
A moment later, when Benhabiles hit a backhand deep to give Connors another break point, Connors mimicked Benhabiles' fist-pumping. Benhabiles saved that break point, too, then had a game point that Connors saved.
So, it was deuce again. As Benhabiles prepared to serve, a gust of swirling wind blew through the stadium, not an infrequent occurrence. A piece of dust got into Connors' eye and he stepped from the base line to try to clear his vision.
As he did, umpire Youssef Makar, invoking a new rule, called a point penalty on Connors for delaying. Connors went bonkers. He stormed the chair, yelling, "You don't want me to see? You don't want me to see? If you don't want me to see, you can take this match and shove it."
He then demanded to see tournament referee Jacques Dorfman and sat down in his chair. On came Dorfman. During the heated discussion that followed, Connors said, "I'll quit if the penalty stands, and I don't care what you guys fine me."
Dorfman ruled that the penalty stood. Connors, after walking to the base line where his wife Patti was sitting, decided to stay.
"I was thinking about leaving, honest to God I was," Connors said. "But if I leave, I'm the one that suffers. I'm the one that's out of the tournament. Why should I let some aggravating guy cost me what may be my last French Open?"
By the time the dispute was over, with Benhabiles given the ad, 10 minutes had passed. As he stepped to the line to serve, Benhabiles took several deep breaths. "Come on," screamed Connors, "come on. Call it both ways!"
By now, he was furious. Naturally, the fans were nearly hysterical. When Benhabiles won the game with a solid forehand, they were ecstatic.
In the next game, Benhabiles saved a set point with a service winner and the two then played seven deuces before Benhabiles won the game. But after Connors held to go up 6-5, Benhabiles made three straight errors from 30-15 and Connors won the set.
In the fourth set, Benhabiles got upset with Makar. After trading breaks, the players proceeded on serve to 6-5, Connors. Serving at 30-15, Benhabiles thought he had an ace. But Makar called the serve a let after there had been no call from the net cord judge.
Benhabiles argued in vain. Serving at 30-15 again instead of 40-15, he pushed a forehand volley long for 30-all. Each then missed a forehand but at deuce, Connors whacked a backhand volley that Benhabiles got to, but pushed wide.
Now, it was match point. Benhabiles came in behind a strong forehand and Connors hit a weak lob. Benhabiles closed on it, looked up and drew his racket back. Then, he watched in horror as the ball hit the top of his racket frame and flew way over the base line.
Connors had escaped. And later, he delivered a postmatch diatribe against inconsistent officiating. Asked why he seemed to have trouble playing Frenchmen here, he attacked clay court specialists the world over.
"Let's be fair. I come over here and play them on their territory, I'm not afraid of them and neither is (John) McEnroe," he said. "But do they play me on my territory? Do they play the hard court at the U.S. Open? Do they play on grass at Wimbledon? No. They play the red clay five or six weeks a year and then retire the rest of the year."
Today, in what he says might be his last French Open, it was Connors who almost retired.