It took Ivan Lendl 76 minutes to reach the French Open final today. It took Mikael Pernfors six hours. But that wasn't because Pernfors was any less brilliant than Lendl.
The only thing the two matches had in common is that both were affected immeasurably by the weather.
Lendl, playing in a frigid, steady drizzle, humiliated Johan Kriek, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0, in a match that ended with the shivering spectators booing Kriek for apparently not trying in the last set.
Pernfors waited out two rain delays totaling almost three hours and then played superbly in the crunch to defeat the last French hope, Henri Leconte, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. He'll test Lendl on Sunday.
Pernfors' remarkable march to the final is reminiscent of the performance here four years ago by fellow Swede Mats Wilander, who won the title as an unseeded 17-year-old. Pernfors has now beaten the Nos. 3, 5, 8 and 11 seeds.
"I just feel so confident right now that I don't think I can miss a tennis ball," he said. "The only time I got nervous out there was when I was ahead 4-1 in the fourth. Then I started thinking that if I lose this, I'll go crazy."
Leconte said, "He just played great. I thought I was playing well, but some of his shots were just unbelievable."
Most unbelievable perhaps was a shot Pernfors pulled off in the fourth game of the fourth set. He chased down a volley and tossed up a lob. Leconte lined it up and crushed it crosscourt. Somehow Pernfors got back to it and slapped a backhand past Leconte. Stunned, Leconte dove for the ball and rolled in the wet clay as it went past.
He lay there as if in shock for a moment and came up holding his elbow.
Pernfors began walking to the net to see if Leconte was all right. As he did, Leconte weakly shook his finger at Pernfors as if so say, "Now cut that out."
The crowd laughed and clapped at the wonderful tennis and the sportsmanship.
There were no such good feelings in the first match.
"I was disgusted with myself. I shouldn't have even gotten out of bed this morning," Kriek said. "I've never played so badly on a stadium court in my life. I beat myself. The guy didn't even have an opponent."
That was evident when Lendl won the last 12 games in a row. Kriek won 11 points in those 12 games. On a couple of occasions, he barely bothered to sit down during changeovers.
When someone asked if he had "just said the hell with it," Kriek answered, "Yeah, right after the first point."
The conditions were horrid. Lendl played the entire match in long pants. Kriek wore a shirt, a sweater and a jacket.
"Even then I was freezing my buns off out there," Kriek said. "It was bizarre. What a total disaster. I didn't even think Ivan played well. . . . I just wanted to crawl into a hole someplace and never come out."
Kriek evaporated while Leconte and Pernfors waited to take the court, delayed by rain. Finally, it stopped and Leconte came out bashing winners, whipping the fans from frigid to frenzy.
He had the first set quickly and immediately went up a break in the second. But trailing, 4-2, Pernfors played a perfect game, dropping three great lobs and then nailing a backhand down the line for the break.
By then, the rain was coming down hard and play had to be stopped.
"It really helped me to get the break just before the delay," Pernfors said. "While we were waiting, I was thinking that I was back in the match if I could just come out and play a good first game. If I hadn't broken, I might have gotten down."
Leconte did get down. He knew he had been playing well, and he worried about his rhythm. When the players came back, Leconte wasn't the same. The backhands that had been catching corners began flying wide. The first serve wouldn't go in.
Pernfors broke at 6-5 with a gorgeous crosscourt forehand and it was one-set all. Two games later, they had to stop once more. This time the break seemed to help both players. When they came back, they each played a superb third set.
"That set was very important because it was so tiring," Leconte said. "After I lost the tie breaker I knew it would be hard for me to come back. I was tired, and in the fourth my legs started hurting a lot."
In the face of a now wound-up Pernfors, Leconte kept fighting back. Pernfors broke to lead, 5-4; Leconte broke back, saving a set point. Pernfors broke for 6-5; Leconte again came back, saving another set point, this one with a backhand that cracked the net tape and crawled over.
And so they were at 6-6.
By this time, both players were performing. They took turns making faces, talking to themselves, waving their arms in disgust, applauding the other man for a great shot. Pernfors is only 5 feet 8 and 140 pounds but he is a cocky bantam who struts the court as if he owns it. Leconte, handsome and flamboyant, behaves much the same way. Together, even in the cold and wet, they put on a fascinating show.
The match turned with Leconte leading the tie breaker, 4-3. Pernfors dug a shot out of the corner and passed down the line to get even at 4-4. Leconte punched a volley long and a forehand into the net. Set point. Always attacking, Leconte came in. He covered the line. Pernfors wound up and smacked a crosscourt winner as Leconte screamed "Aaaaaaaah!" in agony as the ball blew past him.
"Too good," he said later.
Pernfors seemed to use the crowd to spur himself. At one point, when people gasped during a point, Pernfors yelled "Shut up!" after punching a forehand out. But he insisted the crowd didn't matter to him.
"It's tougher to play at Clemson than here," he said, remembering his days at the University of Georgia. "Here, if you hit a great shot they applaud you. At Clemson, they hate you no matter what you do."
When Pernfors finally ended the match shortly after 8 p.m. with a backhand return that Leconte netted, the remaining crowd proved him right by standing to cheer both players. Leconte graciously put his arm around Pernfors and, six hours after they began, the two men headed for hot showers.
With rain in the forecast yet again, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd will meet in the French Open women's final Saturday for the third straight year. Evert, seeking a record seventh French title, shocked Navratilova in an extraordinary final here a year ago, and Navratilova conceded Thursday that the memory of that match will give her extra incentive.
"Whenever you lose a title, it gives you a little extra desire to get it back," she said. "I'm not going to say that last year's final is water under the bridge, because I'll never forget that match."
This will be the 69th time Evert and Navratilova have met in the last 13 years. Navratilova has a 36-32 edge and a 10-3 edge in Grand Slam finals. Evert has still won more Grand Slam titles, though, 17 to Navratilova's 13.