There was no sign of the sun at Roland Garros Stadium today. The day was raw, dark and damp. The setting easily could have been the castle courtyard in Denmark where Prince Hamlet pondered his future.
Today, France's sweet prince said good night and goodbye to the French Open, leaving his countrymen in shock. Yannick Noah awoke this morning, tried to go for a brief run and, after consulting with his doctors, withdrew from the tournament, beaten not by Johan Kriek, but by an Achilles' tendon injury that has worsened daily for three weeks. . . .
"I would have withdrawn before the first round if it were any tournament but this one," said Noah, the No. 4 seed. "The doctors told me not to play. I hoped it would get better. It got worse."
To add to the frustration of the French today, they saw Guy Forget duel more than four hours against Guillermo Vilas, finally wilting against a barrage of late winners to lose, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 8-6. That put Vilas into the quarterfinals with Kriek, Ivan Lendl (a straight-sets winner today) and Andres Gomez (a five-set winner). Boris Becker, playing a round behind, had a four-set, third-round victory over Eliot Teltscher and Martina Navratilova, Kathy Rinaldi, Mary Joe Fernandez and Helena Sukova reached the women's quarterfinals.
Rinaldi had the easiest time of all, winning by 6-4, 1-0 over Catarina Lindqvist when the Swede, who had been feeling sick Saturday night, became ill on the court as she was waiting to receive a serve.
But the talk was almost all of Noah's withdrawal. The story of Noah's injury would make a decent plot for a Shakespearean tragedy. Three weeks ago today, he won the Shearson Lehman Tournament of Champions and appeared to be playing the best tennis of his life. That night, he and a friend were carrying a trunk out of Noah's apartment in preparation for a flight the next day to Rome.
"The handle slipped," Noah said. " The trunk dropped on my left heel. I already had some tendinitis back there and that made it worse."
The next day, before playing his first match in the Italian Open, Noah received laser (heat) treatment on the heel. Seven times he returned for treatment. The treatments, he said, felt very hot, but he thought that was the way they were supposed to feel.
But not that hot. The treatments eventually caused second-degree burns. The skin began peeling away. By the time he reached Paris, Noah was in pain. The doctors told him 10 days rest would cure him. But he didn't have 10 days.
And so, he played through three rounds, clearly struggling. Each day, the injury grew worse. Finally, after his victory Friday over Fernando Luna, Noah's doctors told him that the area around his Achilles' heel, foot and ankle was becoming infected. Noah hoped two days rest would stop that. It did not. He will be in a cast for the next 10 days.
Noah's departure and Mats Wilander's loss on Saturday leaves this tournament in the hands of Lendl. He has rolled through with ease and today, against West German Damir Keretic, was no different: 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. No one has even pushed Lendl to 7-5 in a set.
"He's got to be a solid favorite," said Teltscher. "It's sort of like John McEnroe on grass. On clay, with those guys Noah, Wilander gone, he's going to be tough for anyone to beat."
Because of the upsets that have marked the week, Vilas' advance to the quarterfinals largely has gone unnoticed. Today, the Argentine won a remarkable match from Forget, somehow finding the strength in his 33-year-old body to play his best tennis at the end.
"When you're in a match like that, even if you're dead tired, you keep running," Vilas said. "There's only one way to go out of there today: as a winner."
Vilas was clearly affected by the crowd. With Noah gone, Forget, a curly-haired version of the flashy Henri Leconte, took on the role of hero for this day. The crowd screamed and chanted, clapped for Vilas' mistakes and went wild every time Vilas looked to be in trouble. And, each time, Vilas escaped. "Someone his age should have been more tired," Forget said. "But he is in such good shape, nothing seemed to bother him."
At 5-4 in the fifth set, Forget crushed a forehand winner and it was match point. Whistles and screams echoed around the stadium. Vilas took a deep breath and somehow unloaded a clean service winner.
Vilas held for 5-5. At 6-6, Forget popped a forehand deep. Break point. Vilas hit another topspin forehand, Forget ran it down and the ball went wide. Vilas served for the match. Boom. Boom. Boom. Forget hit three winners. It was 0-40. Another deep breath and Vilas saved all three break points.
He finally ended it when Forget pushed a running forehand long. As the ball bounced away, Vilas dropped his racket and did a hula, swaying his hips joyously. "It just came naturally to me at that moment," he said later. "I wish my volleying came that naturally."
The crowd, stunned, paused for a moment, then cheered lustily. As the two men walked off, the skies were still spitting rain. The dark day was almost over.