Chris Evert Lloyd was in trouble. Gabriela Sabatini, the Argentine whiz kid, was whipping winners past her, and the packed crowd in Roland Garros Stadium was loving the show. From beyond the high-banked walls of the stadium, Evert could hear more cheers. They were coming from court one.
"I heard the cheers and I thought that Mats Wilander was probably losing," Evert said. "The thought crossed my mind that I didn't want both defending champions to get upset on the same day."
Evert was lucky. Wilander was not. Evert still has a chance to defend her French Open championship. Wilander does not. Twice the champion here, never a loser before the semifinals in four previous appearances, Wilander was swept out of the tournament by Andrei Chesnokov, the rising star from the Soviet Union.
Chesnokov, 20, is not a one-tournament wonder. He is for real. He is ranked No. 82 in the world and ascending. Today, he made Wilander look helpless at times, breezing to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
"I've never felt like that on the court before in my life," Wilander said. "I just couldn't play him. I felt fine all day, but the court seemed so small to me. Whatever I did, it seemed like he was standing there waiting."
Evert had that same feeling for a set. Sabatini, who turned 16 earlier this month, was hitting her crackling topspin ground strokes all over, and Evert looked almost helpless. But Evert is Evert because she can look beaten and find a way to win. Today, she stayed patient, picked up her game and slowly wore Sabatini down. She finally won, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, in what had to be one of the best-played fourth-round matches seen here or anywhere for a long time.
"I thought she played unbelievable in the first set," Evert said. "I couldn't do anything with her. I was on the defensive. I was just hoping to win a few games in the second set and get into the match."
She did, and so did Henri Leconte, the No. 8 seed on the men's side. Leconte, the charismatic French left-hander, showed his entire repertoire, digging himself about as deep a hole as is possible against Cassio Motta of Brazil. First, he was awful: "I heard Wilander had lost and I think I had a letdown," he said. "I was thinking, 'The draw is open,' instead of worrying about beating Motta."
Leconte lost the first two sets and went down, 6-5, in the third, Motta serving for the match. He broke to get into a tie breaker.
In the tie breaker, Motta had two match points. Leconte saved them and finally won it, 12-10. Motta then collapsed completely and Leconte won, 1-6, 3-6, 7-6 (12-10) 6-0, 6-0, in as strange a match as has been played here in years.
The only easy winners today were No. 3 seed Steffi Graf and No. 5 seed Hana Mandlikova, who won easy hourlong matches, Graf over Pam Casale, Mandlikova over Laura Gildemeister. They will meet in Monday's quarterfinals. Evert will play Carling Bassett, who has hung in through one tough match after another, two weeks after the death of her father. Today, she beat Mercedes Paz, Sabatini's doubles partner, 6-4, 2-6, 6-0.
Wimbledon champion Boris Becker was leading Eliot Teltscher, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, when their match was suspended by darkness. If Teltscher loses, that would leave South African-born Johan Kriek as the only American man to reach the round of 16.
This day clearly belonged to Chesnokov. A year ago, Chesnokov announced his arrival to the tennis world here, upsetting Teltscher in the second round. Since then, he has only played in five other Grand Prix tournaments. One was the Italian Open. There, he played Wilander and had him nervous.
Wilander, who is generally considered the game's best retriever, figured Chesnokov out that night. But today, Chesnokov, having watched Wilander struggle to beat Aaron Krickstein in the second round, had Wilander figured out.
"When I watched him play Krickstein I thought the reason Krickstein lost was that he didn't come to the net when he had Wilander on the defensive," Chesnokov said. "I knew I had to come to net when I had the chance."
Chesnokov did just that. He didn't attack often, but whenever he did, he seemed to catch Wilander by surprise. When Wilander came in, Chesnokov buried him, often with a two-fisted backhand reminiscent of Wilander's.
Chesnokov, who keeps 20 percent of the prize money he wins and turns the rest over to Soviet tennis, is 6-foot-2 and weighs 167 pounds. He understands a good deal of English and says that he expects to play 11 months a year around-the-world from now on. Last year, after upsetting Teltscher, he didn't even get to go to Wimbledon. Now, he will get the chance.
"He's very strong," Wilander said. "He keeps the ball deep and he doesn't get tired. He gets everything back. Every time I hit the ball it seemed like I hit it right where he was running."
Wilander looked uncomfortable from the start, losing his serve in the third game of the match and going downhill from there. Chesnokov never showed any nerves. He just kept punching the ball deep time and again and Wilander was always the one who lacked patience.
"When I went out on the court I never thought about winning the match," Chesnokov said. "But as the games and the sets were passing, I was more and more convinced I could win."
So was Wilander. His record here is extraordinary: two championships, one lost final, one lost semifinal. He had a match record at Roland Garros of 27-2 before today.
Wilander is not yet 22. He will be back. Today, he just ran into a rising player whose ground strokes were in a groove. Chesnokov is going to be around a while too. "When I went on the court I could almost hear the voice of my coach back home [Tatiana Naoumko] saying, 'Fight for every ball, play aggressive all the time and believe you can win,' " Chesnokov said.
Evert heard voices too, about 17,000 of them, most raised to cheer Sabatini. One year ago, these two met in the semifinals and Evert won, 6-4, 6-1. Today, Sabatini pushed Evert to the limit. "I just got a little tired," Sabatini said. "In the last set, I wasn't hitting the ball as well as she was."
Evert, at 31, was in better shape than Sabatini at 16. "I could tell by her body language she was getting a little tired," Evert said. "I still felt okay out there and that, and my experience, probably won for me. I've lost first sets before and come back."
She won the second set today by starting to come in behind her deep ground strokes and running Sabatini from side to side. Sabatini is so quick that she got to most of the shots, but the running was wearing her down.
Even so, she held serve to start the third set and immediately had a break point. Evert saved that one with a lovely drop shot that Sabatini reached, but her scoop return only set up an easy Evert lob for a winner. Evert then broke with a prototypical backhand and marched to a 5-2 lead. But just when it seemed Sabatini was through, drooping with exhaustion as she walked to her chair, the kid came back one more time.
She broke Evert to trail, 5-3, and quickly had 40-0 on her serve. But then, Sabatini made two errors, Evert whacked a forehand winner and Sabatini knocked a forehand just wide. Match point after almost two hours. Sabatini attacked, coming in behind a forehand. Evert ran it down, floating her return for an easy putaway volley. Sabatini slapped it into the net.
"I'm glad to have it over," Evert said. "She really pushed me hard today."