Martina Navratilova calls them "awkward matches." They are the ones great players win in a Grand Slam tournament when the engine is sputtering a bit, when things aren't quite right.
"I think when you play a Grand Slam and you have to play seven matches, there's almost always going to be at least one match where you aren't that sharp, you don't feel quite right," Navratilova said.
"Those are the kind you just have to get through. That was today. I'm glad it's behind me."
She and Ivan Lendl, the two No. 1 seeds in The French Open, both had matches like that today: awkward, nervous, maybe even a little bit scary. But both survived to reach the semifinals, Navratilova getting by Kathy Rinaldi, 7-5, 6-4, Lendl finally shaking exhausted Andres Gomez, 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3), 6-0, 6-0.
"I couldn't believe that I had held my serve 12 straight times and I was down a set and playing a tie breaker," Lendl said after his victory. "He played very disciplined the first two sets. I felt like I was fighting an invisible barrier. Once I got through it, I thought it would go my way."
It went his way in a big way because Gomez had nothing left after the first two sets. "I think I lost this match not today but Sunday," he said. "I should have taken Ulf Stenlund out in three sets and it took me five, and 4 1/2 hours. After the second set tonight, I was just exhausted. I didn't have anything left."
Strength -- or lack of it -- also was the problem this evening for Mary Joe Fernandez. Her joy ride to the quarterfinals at age 14 finally ended in the face of the strength and consistency of 6-foot-2 Helena Sukova.
The towering Czech allowed Fernandez only one break point in the entire match, ran her all over the court and served her into submission, 6-2, 6-4. But Fernandez could hardly feel very bad after her performance here.
"It was a great week and a half," she said. "She was just too good for me today. I still feel good about the way I played. I have nothing to be ashamed of."
Neither did Rinaldi, the only woman younger than Fernandez to reach the quarterfinals here. She was a slightly younger 14 than Fernandez when she got that far in 1981. Now, at 19, she is a solid, improved player.
Today, she kept Navratilova nervous most of the match. Rinaldi served for the first set, but couldn't hold. She had two points to tie the first set at 6-6, but couldn't convert. She served in the second with a chance to reach 5-all and Navratilova broke.
"I guess the difference is still the big points," Rinaldi said correctly. "I still get nervous playing big points against Martina and Chris [Evert Lloyd] and I really shouldn't because there's no pressure on me. I'm not supposed to beat them. But I still get nervous. I have to overcome that."
She is getting closer. She is no longer merely a base liner. She can come in, she can hit an overhead and she runs well. With the wind whipping -- and the sun making a cameo appearance -- both players had their troubles. But both also hit some wonderful shots.
Still, Navratilova, who kept making gestures towards her coach, Mike Estep, and yelled once, "I'm playing so bad!" judged it a less-than-good match.
"I told Kathy when we shook hands that I didn't think either one of us played very well," Navratilova said. "I think she can play better. I know I can."
Gomez could hardly have played any better than he did in the first two sets. Lendl never had a break point against him as he kept the world's No. 1 player pinned near the base line with his left-handed topspin. "I kept waiting for him to play a loose game," Lendl said. "He always does. Tonight, he didn't."
The crowd at Roland Garros, with dusk approaching and rain in the air, was clearly behind the underdog, especially after one of Gomez's forehands ended the first set.
But the second set tie breaker was all Lendl. He ended it with a scorching backhand down the line. Gomez dived for the ball, but it ticked off the end of his racket and into the stands.
As Lendl walked to his chair before changing sides, Gomez remained seated on the clay as if to say, "What do I do now?" He found no answers. From that moment on, Lendl ground Gomez into the dust. As it became apparent that Gomez was exhausted, Lendl's confidence grew and grew.
Next, Lendl will play a semifinal against Johan Kriek, a man who has never won a set from him in eight matches. Chris Evert Lloyd will face Hana Mandlikova, and Navratilova will play Sukova in Wednesday's semifinals. Tonight, Lendl and Navratilova each received their awards as the 1985 world champions at a black tie dinner here.
This afternoon, each took an awkward -- but important -- step toward defending those championships.