It was inevitable. Sooner or later, the French Open had to turn manic.
It began today with a 14-year-old Miami high school freshman defeating Andrea Temesvari, the No. 14 seed in the women's draw. It continued when Mikael Pernfors, a Swede who went to Georgia to become a good tennis player, beat another Swede -- Stefan Edberg, the No. 5 seed in the men's draw.
And things almost went completely amok late in the afternoon when a retread 18-year-old American nearly knocked the defending champion out of the tournament before it was two rounds old.
"I was lucky," said the defending champion, Mats Wilander. "I was lucky and he was unlucky. He had a lot of chances."
Chances. Aaron Krickstein will look back many times on the 4 hours 2 minutes he spent with Wilander on center court at Roland Garros today. He led, two sets to one, and had Wilander in a 0-40 hole. Wilander escaped. He had two break points in the second game of the fifth set. No luck. He had two more in the fourth game. Same result.
And finally, after Wilander had broken him to lead by 5-4, Krickstein saved three match points. He had two more break points. Guess what happened?
At last, with the crowd imploring Krickstein to hang on, Wilander served an ace on his fourth match point and threw his arms into the air in exultation and exhaustion after surviving, 6-1, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.
"When you go out there against him, you know to have a chance you have to play a long match," Krickstein said. "He always seems to play well in the five-setters. That's why his record here is so great."
Two months shy of 22, Wilander already has played three finals here and has won two of them. That is why Krickstein's brush with a miracle overshadowed events that would have been the story on the first three days of this week.
There were some things that could still be counted on: Chris Evert Lloyd, Steffi Graf (23 straight wins), Hana Mandlikova, Gabriela Sabatini and Carling Bassett won easily, although No. 8 seed Manuela Maleeva blew three match points and lost to Mercedes Paz, Sabatini's doubles partner, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5. Boris Becker lost a set but won with little trouble, and eighth-seeded Henri Leconte won in four sets.
Other things couldn't be predicted:
Mary Joe Fernandez kept whacking ground strokes until Temesvari lost her patience and began spraying shots all over center court. The result was a stunning 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory for the Floridian, who still has four final exams to take to finish ninth grade when she gets home in August.
"I got frustrated, and I started hitting the ball harder and harder," Temesvari said. "That wasn't the way to play her, obviously. I should have come to net more, but the way I was playing when I did get to net, I didn't know what I was doing there."
The same could be said for Edberg, who looked sluggish and unhappy for much of his match against Pernfors. Edberg was up a set and led, 5-1, in the second when he collapsed. Pernfors began retrieving everything Edberg hit. Edberg started missing serves. The match turned. At last, Pernfors had the upset, 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Pernfors may be the only Swede in the world who speaks English with a Southern accent. It isn't surprising. He spent four years at the University of Georgia and won the NCAA singles title twice.
"I wasn't a very good player as a junior player ; I wasn't even ranked," Pernfors said. "I figured I'd go to the States, work on my tennis and, if nothing worked out, I'd still have my economics degree."
It has worked out. Pernfors is ranked No. 27 in the world. This is his first major tournament on European clay. He is having a good time. Too bad for Edberg, a quarterfinalist here last year.
"I had the match and I gave it away," Edberg said repeatedly. "I had it. I lost my concentration. I don't know what happened. I really don't."
His good friend Wilander almost was left to say likewise after what seemed to be a mismatch turned into a dogfight. Krickstein was ranked in the top 10 in the world by the time he was 16, but much of the last two years have been a struggle for him. His ranking has slipped to No. 36. He has been bothered by a stress fracture on the bottom of his left foot, by fading confidence and by his inability to add a net game to his wondrous forehand.
Krickstein's inability to come to the net was probably his undoing today. Time and again, he pinned Wilander deep with his crackling forehand, only to let Wilander back into the point by not coming in.
Even so, his forehand was so overpowering at times that he had Wilander in serious trouble. That not only surprised Wilander, it angered him.
"At the start, I thought it was going to be an easy match," Wilander said. "I didn't even feel he could hurt me with his forehand. I felt good. The first set was very easy. But then he started to hit a couple of winners, and I got defensive. That was killing me. He was controlling the match completely."
The turnaround seemed to stun the usually impassive Wilander. He argued line calls and even threw his racket once in disgust. He was issued a code of conduct warning.
"Comes with age, I guess," Wilander said of his display of temper.
Krickstein seems to be staging a comeback at the ripe old age of 18. He is whipping his forehand again, and his serve has improved. Today, he came back from a disastrous first set to win the second. He came back from 5-2 down to win the third. He reinjured his foot at the end of that set hitting an overhead, but he didn't give up. He might have won the match in four sets -- if not for one shot.
It came in the third game of the fourth set. Wilander looked flustered. Krickstein was banging winners all over the place. When Wilander pushed a backhand deep to go into a 0-40 hole, the crowd buzzed.
Wilander, always aggressive when in trouble, came in. Krickstein netted a backhand pass. It was 15-40. Still two chances. Krickstein whaled a forehand, Wilander ran it down. For once, Krickstein had come in. Wilander was way out of position. Krickstein had an open court. He let the ball bounce, wound up, and at the last moment, decided to try a drop shot. The ball hit the net tape and died.
"I had the whole court," Krickstein said mournfully. "He was so deep that I changed my mind at the last minute and tried to hit the drop shot. I just missed it."
Shaken, Krickstein lost the game and the set quickly. He was hurting. He was having trouble moving. "I decided to save myself, try to go all out in the fifth," he said.
But every time he had a chance for the critical break, Wilander came up with a shot. Wilander finally got a break point of his own at 4-all and responded with a gorgeous backhand down the line. Now, he served for the match. Quickly, he had 40-0.
Krickstein had one last gasp left. He saved the match points, the last with a backhand that Wilander, coming in as a surprise, couldn't handle. There were two more break points. On the second, the players went base line to base line for what seemed hours. Finally, Krickstein pushed a backhand wide. Deuce. Wilander hit a clean backhand winner. Match point four.
Wilander sighed and served. An ace. "It was all I had left," he said.