For four rounds in the French Open, Hana Mandlikova walked the high wire, flirting with defeat before escaping to reach the quarterfinals.
Today, Mandlikova climbed the wire again. Only this time, she fell and landed on the outside of this tournament. She was beaten, 6-4, 6-4, by Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, a 21-year-old West German who had just enough serves and patience to deny Mandlikova a chance to play Martina Navratilova in the semifinals.
"I didn't think it was a very good match," Mandlikova said. "I was tired out there. She was very nervous but I didn't do enough to beat her."
Exhaustion almost could be excused today as the temperature at Roland Garros rose to nearly 100 degrees. Whether it was heat or simply inevitability, the day -- even with Mandlikova's desultory exit -- came nowhere near matching the melodrama of the last three days on the stadium court.
Navratilova needed less than an hour to dispose of Anna Maria Cecchini.
Cecchini, 20, departed meekly, 6-2, 6-2, and Navratilova admitted afterward, "During the match I started thinking, 'Well, I'm in the semis and I still haven't been tested.' "
The same could be said for Ivan Lendl, the No. 2 seeded man, who reached the quarterfinals with a surprisingly easy 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 rout of Aaron Krickstein. The 17-year-old American was down 4-0 in the first set before the stadium court was half full and never got into the match.
Things probably won't get much tougher for Lendl in the quarterfinals. There, he will face Argentina's Martin Jaite, a winner over Heinz Gunthardt today. Jaite, 20, is so delighted to have come this far it wouldn't be surprising to see him ask Lendl for an autograph.
Jimmy Connors reached the quarterfinals (for the seventh straight year) with a 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Francesco Cancellotti, an Italian who spent the first set watching Connors spray the ball all over the place before watching Connors slam winners consistently in the last three sets.
"The funny thing was, I felt so good when I got out there I had to slow myself down," Connors said. "I was trying to do things too quickly out there, trying to hit a winner on every ball. Once I slowed down, I played some good tennis."
The best tennis of the day was played on court No. 1, between Swedish doubles partners Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd. The two men are best friends off the court, but one never would have guessed that watching them today.
Jarryd, 23, is often given to yelling at himself when he misses a shot. Edberg, 19, is not as talkative but almost as animated. Today, Edberg served superbly throughout and upset Jarryd, 6-3, 6-7 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2.
"For a long time it was hard for me to play against him because we are such good friends outside the court," Edberg said. "But lately we have played a lot, so I'm getting used to it."
When Jarryd won the second set tie breaker, ending it by returning two forehand winners off of Edberg's first serve, it appeared he might have wrested control from his younger opponent.
But Edberg saved two break points early in the third set and broke Jarryd at 4-4 with a sizzling backhand that Jarryd couldn't reach. As Jarryd swiped the clay in frustration, Edberg pumped his fists with delight. Then, he served out the set.
In the fourth set, Edberg, the bigger of the two Swedes at 6 feet 2, was overpowering. His serve, particularly his high-kicking second serve, is his best weapon, and today he lost two points in four serving games in the last set. He got the break he needed in the fifth game when he ran down a backhand volley Jarryd was certain was a winner and slammed a forehand just inside the tape as the crowd gasped and Jarryd stood stunned.
"When Stefan is serving well, he can beat almost anybody," Jarryd said. "That's what he did today. He comes in more than the rest of us do, so his serving is important. If he serves well, he can beat Connors."
To that, Connors shrugged. "What's the point of talking?" he said. "Let's just put the net up and play."
Mandlikova has done more talking than playing here. She was lucky to get by Baltimore's Elise Burgin in the second round and struggled against Debbie Spence in the fourth. She insisted that close matches early would help.
Today, though, she was her Jekyll-Hyde self, spraying shots all over. Only midway through the second set did she show the touch that makes her so wonderful to watch at times.
Down a break at 3-2, she broke Kohde-Kilsch with a lovely drop volley and a searing forehand crosscourt. Kohde-Kilsch, knowing Mandlikova has done an escape act before, swiped her racket in frustration.
"I know that if Hana gets going she is very, very tough," Kohde-Kilsch said. "I didn't want to let her get into the match."
After each woman held for 4-all, Mandlikova, serving at deuce, botched an easy overhead. Kohde-Kilsch then lined a forehand down the line for the break. She served out the match at 15, getting to match point on a weak Mandlikova backhand and finishing things off with a neat drop shot that Mandlikova reached only to watch Kohde-Kilsch easily put away her desperation return.
All the while, Navratilova sat watching, her eyes hidden by dark glasses. Behind them, though, her eyes must have lit up. On the right day, Mandlikova can beat her. Kohde-Kilsch's summation of her chances against Navratilova in the semifinals?
"I think I can give her a good match," she said. "I'm not sure if I can beat her."