On the last day of the French Open, the final men's matchup will be just what everyone expected before the tournament began: the world's No. 1 player against the quick, lithe Swede. Power against finesse.
Except for one thing. The quick, lithe Swede is not Mats Wilander, the defending champion. He exited a week ago, beaten in the third round. In his place is Mikael Pernfors, the most un-Swedelike Swede to come along in years, but a player who has produced superb tennis and four upsets to reach the final.
Playing the role of the world's No. 1 in Sunday's final (WRC-TV-4, 9 a.m.) will be the world's No. 1, Ivan Lendl. This will be Lendl's fourth French Open final -- he won in 1984 -- and his ninth Grand Slam final. Pernfors has never reached the final of a Grand Prix tournament, much less a Grand Slam, and had never heretofore won a match in a Grand Slam event.
Lendl has barely been tested here and has looked overpowering. "When you play Ivan Lendl you're talking another level," Pernfors said. "I mean, I've been playing the best tennis of my life this week but this will be completely different."
Will Pernfors be nervous, walking to center court at Roland Garros? "I doubt it," he said. "I don't think I'll be doing any shaking out there. Maybe after the match, but not during it. I'll leave that for other people."
"Other people" might be a reference to his parents and a dozen friends who will fly to Paris on two private planes Sunday morning. Or it could be a reference to Lendl. As soon as Pernfors defeated Henri Leconte on Friday, Leconte's first remark was, "I'm disappointed not to get to the final. Sometimes Ivan gets nervous in finals."
Ever so slowly, Lendl has been shedding the choker label he earned earlier in his career. He began to get rid of it here two years ago when he came from two sets down to beat John McEnroe in the final. He buried it further with his stomping of McEnroe in the U.S. Open final last September. But with a 2-6 record in Grand Slam finals, there are still questions.
"Yeah, I've heard it talked about," said Pernfors, who spots Lendl six inches and 35 pounds. "We'll see what happens."
Lendl is everyone's pick to win. Pernfors' main hope is unfamiliarity. It has worked for him throughout the tournament. Because he left Sweden five years ago to play tennis at the University of Georgia, he has been on tour only 10 months. In fact, the $84,375 he is guaranteed for making the final is $34,000 more than he had made as a pro prior to this tournament.
Pernfors' style differs from that of the other prominent Swedes. He does hit a two-handed backhand and he is essentially a baseliner, but he is much more flamboyant than the others with his dark, spiked hair, his cocky strut and his loquacity. Pernfors is apt to talk more during one match -- to himself, to the crowd, to his racket, to the tennis ball -- than Wilander has talked in his career.
"He just battles you," said Dan McGill, who coached Pernfors to two NCAA singles titles at Georgia. "He always loves tough situations. Go after him and he'll go right back after you."