The conditions were awful. The wind whipped the flags atop Stade Roland Garros all day. The sky alternated between gray and black, occasionally spitting a cold rain.
And for John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, it was yet another bleak day in Paris.
Each lost in straight sets today in the semifinals of the French Open. Connors left shaking his head in frustration because he was so thoroughly whipped by Ivan Lendl, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
McEnroe left perhaps even more unhappy. He let eight break points slip away in the second set, blew a 5-1 lead in the third set while missing two set-point chances and lost to Mats Wilander, 6-1, 7-5, 7-5.
So, for a 30th straight year, the men's French title will not be won by a U.S. player. Lendl and Wilander will play for the men's title Sunday (9 a.m. WRC-TV-4), one day after Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd vie for the women's championship. Connors and McEnroe became the 419th and 420th U.S. men to be defeated on and by the slow red clay since Tony Trabert won here in 1955.
Today, in less than five hours, they were given a thorough lesson in the art of clay court tennis by two men who found the wind a slight bother. The cold, the slow clay, the wet footing, posed no problems.
"The lesson I learned at the French Open this year is that my best chance to win it is if they move it indoors," McEnroe said. "I'm not saying that as sour grapes. It's more like a wish. I don't think it's going to come true in my career, though."
Without question, the conditions hurt McEnroe and Connors. Wilander went so far as to say, "I was wishing the weather would be just like this. It was almost perfect for me."
Connors probably could not have beaten Lendl today if the temperature had been 100 and the surface wood. All day, defending champion Lendl stood on the base line, pounding ground strokes and waiting for Connors to make the error that almost inevitably came.
Not once did Connors break serve. Not once did he even reach break point. He reached deuce only twice. In all, he won 17 points during Lendl's 12 service games.
"My game is more suited for clay than his is," Lendl said. "I know better what to do on it than he does. I hit the ball high and far from the lines. He hits it low and close to the lines and that's more likely to produce errors. I felt very good and very confident out there today."
While Lendl was gracious, Connors could not bring himself to give credit where it was due. "He didn't do anything out there," Connors said. "He just played a lot of balls back. He did nothing.
"It was just tough to go for my shots. The balls were heavy, the court was slow. But," he paused to smile, "what the hell can you do?"
While there was little he could do in the face of Lendl's onslaught, McEnroe had countless opportunities.
He played horribly the first set, perhaps due in part to arriving only 20 minutes before going on court, thinking Lendl-Connors would last more than two hours.
Then McEnroe began working his way into the match. Beginning at 2-2 in the second set, he had Wilander in trouble in every game he served. He had two break points in that game and made errors on both. At 3-all, he had another break point and lobbed just long. At 4-all he had four break points and missed four backhands, three on returns of good serves by Wilander, the fourth after a lengthy back-court rally. He had another break point at 5-5, but Wilander ran down a volley and hit a gorgeous forehand winner down the line.
Eight break points and McEnroe had to serve at 5-6 to get into a tie breaker. He failed. On Wilander's first break opportunity of the set, McEnroe popped a forehand into the net and the set was gone.
Wilander has been in the French final three times in the four years he has played here, winning in 1982 at age 17. In 1983, he beat McEnroe in the quarterfinals, winning the last 11 games of the match.
He is a different player now. He comes to the net much more, and is far more aggressive and more likely to make errors. "I'm not as patient as I used to be," he said. "On this surface, I don't know if that's good for me."
Today, he waited when he needed to and charged when he needed to. He kept McEnroe off balance with a top spin forehand, constantly catching him in the no-man's land between the base line and the service line. McEnroe seemed to play the match scooping balls off his shoe tops, a guaranteed way to get in trouble.
"All I remember about all the break points is that I kept making mistakes," McEnroe said. "He hit a couple of good serves, but, for the most part, I was hitting shots I shouldn't have been hitting from bad places. I have some things I need to work on."
With all his problems, as superb as Wilander had been, McEnroe looked ready to make a match of it in the third set.
McEnroe finally broke serve in the third game with a backhand volley past the sliding Wilander after attacking the net off a good backhand service return. The chilled crowd -- capacity despite the weather -- cheered lustily, hoping to see McEnroe rally from way behind.
That seemed likely when McEnroe, after holding for 3-1, broke Wilander again, then saved three break points to lead the set, 5-1. Wilander was ready to concede the set.
"I was thinking I wanted to just hold my serve and make him serve to win the set so I could start out serving the fourth set," he said. "I didn't think until 5-4 that I had a chance to win. By then, though, I was very confident."
McEnroe gave him the confidence by playing foolishly while serving for the set at 5-2. As has been the case the whole tournament, he struggled with his serve today, getting in only 40 percent of his first attempts. Often he followed his second serve to the net, and often he was sorry.
At 5-2, deuce, McEnroe played a weak volley that set up Wilander's winner. At break point, Wilander drove a forehand past a lunging McEnroe for 5-3. Even so, McEnroe had two set points in the next game. Each time, Wilander came up with big serves and held on for 5-4.
By now, McEnroe was frustrated. Serving again for the set, he quickly dug himself a 0-40 hole with three errors, two of them on volleys. After saving one break point, he clumsily pushed an easy overhead way out and it was 5-5.
"It was very frustrating for me out there," he said. "I had my chances, but I never felt comfortable. The wind was unbelievable and the court was very slow because of the weather. I played two reasonably good sets, but they weren't good enough."
By this time, even the expressionless Wilander was pumped up. If McEnroe didn't hit a perfect shot, he was apt to get his head taken off at the net. After Wilander held for 6-5, McEnroe looked ready at least to reach a tie breaker when he served an ace for 40-30.
But Wilander twisted like a pretzel to hit a backhand volley for deuce. McEnroe netted a forehand volley and it was match point. Showing some grit, he came in behind a forehand and punched a solid volley.
The crowd gasped. Three more times, McEnroe had game point to reach the tie breaker. Each time, Wilander made an unbeatable shot. Finally, on the fourth deuce, McEnroe could only wave at Wilander's superb forehand cross court.
Match point two. McEnroe got in a rare first serve, but Wilander's return again was at his shoe tops. McEnroe's return bounced high in front of Wilander's gleaming eyes. He wound up for one last forehand down the line. McEnroe watched helplessly, then waited at the net to shake hands.
"All I can say is, I tried my best," he said later. "I'm disappointed, especially because it's frustrating to miss so many chances. But give him credit for adjusting to the conditions better than I did. He really plays well in big tournaments (Wilander has won three Grand Slam titles) and he deserved to win today."