PARIS, MAY 30 -- Ten weeks after his tennis career hit rock bottom, Jimmy Arias is back where he feels he belongs -- or at least close to it. Today, he fought frustration and exhaustion for almost four hours to reach the round of 16 of the French Open and an appointment with Boris Becker.
It was not easy. Arias needed every ounce of available energy to slip past Jorge Arrese, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, in a match that became a battle of attrition.
"I was uptight all day because I kept thinking about playing Becker," Arias admitted. "Every time I made a mistake I would get mad at myself and say, 'Come on, don't blow this.' I probably made things tougher on myself than I should have."
He survived, as did Becker, who looked brilliant at times and very sloppy at others in beating Henrik Sundstrom, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Arias and Becker joined fourth-seeded Mats Wilander -- a four-set winner over Aaron Krickstein -- No. 6 Yannick Noah, No. 8 Jimmy Connors and No. 11 Kent Carlsson in the fourth round.
The women began fourth-round play today and although there were no upsets, Steffi Graf did finally play a match that resembled a match. She had lost five games in her first three matches, never losing more than one game in a set. Her matches had lasted 57, 32 and 45 minutes. Today, against Helen Kelesi, she faced a set point, needed 63 minutes to win the first set and 97 minutes to win the match.
She finally did win, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, but only after Kelesi, who will turn 18 in November, had given the packed center-court crowd a roller coaster ride during the first set. "She played very well," Graf said. "But I'm sitting here now wanting to go out and play again because I am saying, 'Damn, I can do better than that.' "
Graf did well enough to join two other seeds, Manuela Maleeva (No. 6) and Gabriela Sabatini (No. 7) in the quarterfinals. Sabatini easily beat qualifier Karen Schimper, 6-4, 6-1, and Maleeva, after a tough first set, got past Stephanie Rehe, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. The fourth winner was Arantxa Sanchez, the 15-year-old sister of Emilio Sanchez. She continued her dream tournament by beating Carina Karlsson, 6-1, 6-4.
Arias-Arrese was the longest and, without doubt, the most entertaining match of the day. For Arias, this is an important tournament. In 1983, he was ranked sixth in the world at age 19 and reached the U.S. Open semifinals. Since then, he has been on a long slide, one that reached a low point in March.
His ranking was down to 57th. That was bad enough. Then came Paraguay. Playing Davis Cup, Arias had a chance to clinch the tie by beating Hugo Chapacu, the 282nd-ranked player in the world. The United States led, 2-1, and an Arias victory was considered a must because Aaron Krickstein was given little chance in the fifth match against Victor Pecci.
With the crowd screeching on every point, Arias lost, 9-7, in the fifth set, perhaps the most stunning and difficult-to-handle loss of his life. Pecci did beat Krickstein and Arias felt responsible for the U.S. defeat.
"For two days after that match, I couldn't go to sleep," Arias said. "Everytime I closed my eyes I would see easy shots that I had missed, or bad calls or whatever.
"That was the low point for me, no doubt about it.
"I just figured after that things couldn't get any worse. I told myself that there wasn't any pressure any more because what else could go wrong? I tried to go out and not be so uptight and just play."
Since Paraguay, Arias has come back. He beat Becker on clay to reach the final at Monte Carlo and he is ranked 39th. That's progress, although still a long way from his goal of making the eight-man Masters field in December.
This was the kind of match U.S. players normally lose in Paris because they run out of patience. Arrese, 22, is a Spaniard who is a clay-court specialist in the truest sense of the term: he never has played a pro tournament on any surface but clay.
So, Roland Garros' red clay courts suited Arrese's topspin game perfectly and Arias never had an easy moment. "He doesn't miss," Arias said. "I knew I had to be patient . . . "
Arias dropped the first set and was in trouble in the second. Three times he broke to go ahead and three times Arrese broke back. Arias ended up having to hold serve to reach a tie breaker. He won the tie breaker by attacking when he had to. Leading by 6-4, he crushed a forehand, came in and knocked a volley past the surprised Arrese to take the set and even the match.
Arias got his second wind after dropping his serve to start the third set. He broke right back and raced through the set, winning the last four games. He looked home free. But he wasn't.
At 4-all in the fourth, Arias was up, 40-30, serving for the lead. But Arrese pounded a forehand winner and Arias made two backhand errors to give Arrese the game. Arrese held easily, the match was even and Arias looked shaky, especially when he had to reach up to hit his backhand, which Arrese was playing.
Arrese's problems were tough to detect as he kept running down balls. He saved three break points in the second game of the final set, then broke when Arias missed another backhand. It was 2-1.
"I just told myself there had been a lot of breaks and there was no reason why I couldn't break him again," Arias said. "I'd been doing it all day."
He did it again, immediately and with ease, as Arrese made three errors in the next game. Then Arias broke again to lead, 4-2, drawing Arrese in with drop shots. That was the last break. Arrese saved one match point, but Arias got another and drew him in once more. It ended with Arrese netting an easy forehand volley.
In the meantime, Connors, who had played almost four hours to get into the third round, had little more than a workout against Franco Davin, a 17-year-old Argentine. There were many contrasts in this matchup: Connors playing someone exactly half his age; the oldest man left in the field against the youngest.
Connors said Thursday night that if he had to play Friday, "I'll see you guys in London." The old bones were creaking. Today, he moved like the young Jimbo who once owned the tennis world, and moved into the round of 16. There is still a little life in the old man yet. TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES Center Court
Andres Gomez (10), Ecuador, vs. Emilio Sanchez, Spain; Nathalie Tauziat, France, vs. Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (8), West Germany; Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, vs. Sylvia Hanika (15), West Germany; Ivan Lendl (1), Czechoslovakia, vs. Joakim Nystrom, Sweden. Court 1
Karel Novacek, Czechoslovakia, vs. Martin Jaite (14), Argentina; Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Katerina Maleeva (12), Bulgaria; Patrice Kuchna, France, vs. Miloslav Mecir (5), Czechoslovakia; Helena Sukova (5), Czechoslovakia, vs. Raffaella Reggi (14), Italy. Saturday's results, D14