He made no excuses, but the bitterness still seeped through when someone asked Ivan Lendl if he was beginning to feel a little like Bjorn Borg about the U.S. Open.
Borg won the French Open six times and Wimbledon five times, but lost four finals here. Today, Lendl played the final for the third straight year. He is 0-3 and has won two sets.
So, he was asked, did he feel a little bit like the ghost of Borg? "You gave me a ghost a few years ago," Lendl snapped. "I knew you would come up with another one now."
Today, as he flailed away helplessly against John McEnroe on the way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 defeat, it was apparent that Lendl still is a long way from escaping those who question his toughness.
Yes, he beat McEnroe in five sets to win the French Open this year, but many felt McEnroe deserved as much blame as Lendl did credit. Yes, he came back in the fifth set Saturday to beat Pat Cash and get to this final, but Cash, the 15th seed, is a player that No. 2 seed Lendl should not go five sets with at this point.
So, Lendl had to face the old questions today. His record in Grand Slam finals is 1-5. He has lost nine of his last 11 matches with McEnroe. Today, even though McEnroe had played until almost midnight the previous night to escape Jimmy Connors, Lendl never got on top of the match.
He had two break points in the match -- early in the second set, when he had McEnroe down, 15-40, and McEnroe escaped one with a winner, and the other when Lendl netted a backhand. This time, when he was down two sets, he crumbled, just as he crumbled before Connors in the final the past two years.
"I woke up this morning feeling better than I expected to," Lendl said. "I had some chances, especially in the second set. I thought I was hitting the ball pretty well but you have to break serve to win and I didn't do it."
Lendl never broke McEnroe and, just as significantly, lost his serve in the first set on McEnroe's only break point. He escaped two break points in the second set -- with the help of a questionable line call -- then lost his serve on McEnroe's third chance.
As the third set began, someone yelled, "Remember the French," but Lendl was past remembering. McEnroe certainly didn't forget, not letting up in the third as he had done in Paris.
"I think some people in the crowd were yelling for me because they wanted to see some more tennis," Lendl said. "All I could do was keep trying."
His efforts produced a total of 16 points, seven in a deuce game that he lost and four in the game he won. McEnroe won the match with a break at 15, Lendl's last volley of the tournament symbolically smacking into the tape. Once again he had come to the brink, only to fall short.
"I didn't feel too good during the match but I looked across the net at him and he looked pretty bad himself," McEnroe said. "I don't know. He didn't play too well, I know that. Maybe he was just tired from yesterday."
Still, McEnroe and Lendl played five set matches Saturday of slightly under four hours. But Lendl's was over almost six hours earlier than McEnroe's. Since McEnroe is 25 and Lendl 24, they should have been equally fatigued.
So it is that Lendl, like it or not, might want to consider calling Bill Murray and his fellow Ghostbusters. Borg lost four finals here, but he won 11 other Grand Slam finals. Lendl has won one.
And, as for who the No. 1 player in tennis is, Lendl said earlier this week that the winner of a Lendl-McEnroe final would have to be considered. Asked today if he thought McEnroe was clearly No. 1, Lendl shrugged.
"Yeah," he said, "I guess so."
With that, he was gone, his look gaunt and haunted.