And so, one turbulent year later, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl are back in a familiar place: the final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

Today, they took vastly different routes to that meeting. McEnroe went the hard way, working for almost four hours in the terrible midday sun before finally escaping Mats Wilander, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Lendl, playing in the relative cool of early evening, routed Jimmy Connors, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.

Connors now has lost seven straight matches to Lendl. He might well have lost tonight under any circumstances, but he was not helped by a twisted left ankle he suffered warming up this afternoon.

"I didn't give myself a chance," Connors said. "I don't know if I would have won (had he not been injured). He (Lendl) played okay."

Connors said even if he had won the third set, he would not have continued.

Lendl hit ground strokes from everywhere in making short work of Connors. This will be the Czechoslovakian's fourth straight Open final. He has lost the last three -- two to Connors and last year to McEnroe.

"This is the tournament I would like to win the most," he said. "Even though this is not the country I was born in, it is the country I live in and enjoy. I would like to win."

To do so, he will have to beat McEnroe, a man who has defeated him in 12 of their last 14 meetings and in their previous two matches this summer on the same Decoturf II surface that covers the courts at the National Tennis Center.

Today, as has been the case for most of the tournament, McEnroe frequently looked sluggish. But he won. Connors thinks McEnroe will win again Sunday (4 p.m., WDVM-TV-9). "Lendl won't play as well as he did tonight," Connors said. "He never does."

That was a not-so-subtle shot at Lendl's toughness. Connors always has been the tough guy -- "an American street hero," Lendl called him tonight -- the go-to-the-wall competitor. But today, the man who played that role was John Patrick McEnroe.

All of his life, McEnroe has been spoken of as one of those rare athletes with a special gift for his game. Because he can turn a tennis court into his stage and his racket into a magic wand, people often have overlooked the McEnroe quality that, perhaps more than anything, is his trademark.

His grit.

McEnroe had to survive the heat and humidity and Wilander's blistering ground strokes on an afternoon when he often appeared to be fighting himself and the elements, in addition to the Swede.

"That has to be one of my best wins ever in terms of just hanging in," McEnroe said. "I felt a little slow at times and he was really playing well. He just made it very tough for me the whole match."

Wilander always has played McEnroe well and he beat him in three sets the last time they played, in the French Open. But that was on clay, and the Open is played on hard courts. However, Wilander is a much-improved fast-surface player, a much better volleyer than in the recent past.

Wilander was pumped up from the start, hitting winners and charging the net. McEnroe was often behind. He was down a set, then even; down, 2-1, in sets and down a break in the fourth. Then he was even again. Finally, he was down a break in the fifth set and still managed to win.

All of this on a day when both players suffered from the heat that has hung over the tournament for the past four days and that pushed the court temperature to 114 degrees at the start of the fifth set. And yet, after 3 hours and 49 minutes, both players were lunging, stretching, more willing to pass out than give up.

"It was almost impossible to keep your play at a high level the whole time because of the heat," McEnroe said. "Everything went in cycles, and you just had to try to keep your down ones from being too long. By the end, I was just scrounging to find a way to win."

He found a way by changing tactics. With Wilander making a mockery of his second serve, McEnroe began staying back more. He forced himself to be more patient, not trying to come in on every ball.

"I've never seen John play that well from the base line in my life," Wilander said. "I think that's what won the match for him. If he hadn't been able to do that in the last two sets, I think I would have won."

That this would be a difficult day for McEnroe was apparent almost from the start. Although he broke Wilander early to take a 3-2 lead, Wilander broke right back and then broke again when McEnroe botched an easy forehand volley on game point and was then burned by two outstanding backhand returns.

Wilander served out the set. The second set began in much the same way: McEnroe broke, Wilander broke back. Wilander was keeping McEnroe off balance, charging the net often and picking off ground strokes.

McEnroe got back in the match with a break in the 10th game of the second set. At deuce, McEnroe attacked a Wilander second serve, following a backhand in. Wilander ran the ball down but McEnroe had the net covered and put away a forehand volley. On set point, McEnroe attacked again, once more off the backhand. This time, Wilander put up a weak lob and McEnroe bashed it for the set.

That got the crowd of 21,169 into the match. Often, U.S. Open crowds have been against McEnroe -- upset by his behavior more than enraptured by his tennis. But as he struggled today, he won the crowd.

Wilander continued to look strong in the third set, breaking McEnroe at 2-all with two more fine returns. He served out the set easily, losing just one point in his last three service games. McEnroe looked like a player searching for an answer that wasn't going to be found.

And, when Wilander broke him in the first game of the fourth set -- at love -- McEnroe looked whipped.

Strangely, McEnroe's turnaround came at a moment when it appeared he was in deep trouble. After the players changed sides with Wilander leading, 2-1, still up a break, McEnroe walked onto the court and almost began wobbling around. He leaned against the back wall, held his hand over his mouth and appeared dizzy.

"I felt sick for a minute," he said. "I was just a little dizzy. I didn't know what was wrong. But it passed in a minute. I hope I feel faint like that again tomorrow."

McEnroe promptly hit four winners and walked from the net after the last one shaking his fist, knowing what he still had to do.

It was 2-all. He needed another break and he got it, again coming in on Wilander's second serve, forcing an error. From there, McEnroe served out the set, although he had to survive a break point in the last game. He did, with an overhead, and hit two good, twisting second serves for the set.

After three hours, they were even. "John is such a fighter," Wilander said. "Today, he was fighting unbelievably hard. Even when he was down and not playing well, he was still fighting. I never thought I was close to winning the match."

In the last set, McEnroe held for 2-2 and then broke Wilander again, attacking almost relentlessly, his confidence building with each game. "The last two sets I did start to play better," McEnroe said. "I had to if I was going to win. It was really competitive right to the end."