LONDON, JUNE 30 -- The first stoking of the fire came at 4-2 in the third set. Jimmy Connors was down two sets and a break to Mikael Pernfors and getting "a pretty good spanking." But when he finally came up with a winner, a crackling backhand down the line, he treated the Centre Court crowd to the old Jimbo pump.
"I didn't feel embarrassed out there," Connors said. "I didn't have time to be embarrassed. I was too busy getting my butt kicked."
He was getting kicked in about 12 directions, trailing, 6-1, 6-1, 4-1. The light was dwindling, and in the cool of early evening Connors' flame appeared to be just about out.
But somewhere inside, Connors has something special. It is not something he has ever really been able to articulate. He talks about fighting and grinding and never quitting. He did all that tonight, somehow coming all the way back to beat Pernfors, 1-6, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, in a match as memorable as any seen on this court in a long time.
It lasted 3 hours 39 minutes, and when it was over, they stood even in the Royal Box to cheer him.
"I was losing the first two sets, but I didn't really feel like I was really getting beat that bad," said Connors, 34. "I mean, I wasn't winning games. But I was in games and I was in points. He was just playing very good tennis.
"I just kept telling myself if I could somehow get into the match, get a break or something, I had a chance. My ego was hurting out there. I didn't want to go out one, one and one. Once I got the third set, my confidence really went up and I think he got a little discouraged. I just kept on grinding and digging."
Connors' grinding and digging completely overshadowed what already had been a remarkable day.
Because of last week's rain, the entire round of 16 on both sides of the draw was played today, the most beautiful day of the tournament.
Long before Connors and Pernfors played out their drama, the other quarterfinals had been set. Connors' next opponent, Slobodan Zivojinovic, had ended the run of the Boris Becker beater, Peter Doohan, with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) victory. Mats Wilander and Pat Cash, who have met at Wimbledon two of the last three years (Cash winning both times), had advanced to another meeting; Wilander in four sets over Emilio Sanchez, Cash in three impressive sets over Guy Forget.
All the favorites advanced in the lower half of the draw. Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg, who are doubles partners, moved into a quarterfinal against one another, Edberg beating Jacob Hlasek in four sets, Jarryd taking out the Soviet, Alexander Volkov, also in four. The last matchup, perhaps the most intriguing, will be Henri Leconte and Ivan Lendl. Both won in straight sets today, Leconte over Andres Gomez, Lendl over Johan Kriek.
On any other day, the women would have had center stage here. Although the top two seeds, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, cruised through in two sets, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver and Gabriela Sabatini had to survive third sets.
Although Shriver saved two match points before beating Sylvia Hanika, the most dramatic scene involved Evert.
Her opponent was Rosalyn Fairbank, a solid top-25 player, but hardly someone mentioned as a serious threat. Still, playing on Court 2, the infamous court that has produced so many upsets here over the years, Evert was in trouble. She had served for the match leading, 5-3, in the third set and blown three match points. Fairbank got back to 5-all and, Evert admitted later, all the thoughts everyone else was thinking crossed her mind: jinx court, going out in the round of 16.
"Only for a second, though," she said. "When the other player gets a break or something, you think about the court you're on, or the round. But, fortunately, I was able to come up with the shots when I needed them."
She played two terrific games from 5-5 and pulled out the match, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. By the time dusk fell, like everything else that happened here today, it was all but forgotten.
Pernfors is the kind of player who can make Connors miserable. He never volleys, so Connors has no target. Connors is happiest playing an attacker, someone who will come in and let him tee off with the ground strokes that have marked his extraordinary career.
Pernfors won't do that. "He's a tough player, I mean he's a fighter," Connors said. "When you play him, you know exactly what you're getting. I like playing him."
Not today. Pernfors had come from nowhere Monday evening against Tim Mayotte, wearing him down with his persistence while producing some brilliant tennis. Today, he picked up where he had left off, spraying winners all over. Connors looked like, well, an old man.
Even with Connors looking helpless, the crowd kept urging him on, cheering every winner he pieced together, thinking he could make a miracle happen.
It began with that first spark, with the match at 4-2. A moment later, Connors got his first break with a sharp backhand to reach 4-3. Considering that it had taken Pernfors 58 minutes to win the first two sets, the mere act of breaking serve was a moral victory for Connors.
"But I was beginning to feel a little into the match then," Connors said. "I knew I had a long way to go, but I've come back before. Maybe not that far back, though."
Connors held for 4-all and 5-all. At that point, Connors put together his best game of the match. He ripped a backhand winner to get to break point and followed that with a gorgeous forehand. He was triple-pumping by now, remarkable for a man so far behind. Quickly, he served out the set, ending it with a nifty drop shot.
Pernfors sensed trouble. "If you give him any kind of opening, he's going to come back at you," he said. "You know he won't give up. When he started returning the way he was, there wasn't really anything I could do."
It didn't look that way at first. Pernfors quickly went up a break in the fourth set and led, 3-0. The level of tennis was much higher than it had been before. Connors' Achilles'-heel forehand was getting over the net now and Pernfors needed winners on almost every point. Connors held serve to win his first game of the set. He broke back to 3-2, whipping a backhand down the line to put Pernfors at 30-40, then watched him double fault.
Connors was rolling. He won the next three games, conceded one service game to Pernfors, then served out the set. The place was bedlam. "That was when I really had to dig in," Connors said. "I knew we were both tired because we had been out there a long time. But I knew he wouldn't quit, and I had come back too far to start messing around."
This time, Connors got the early lead, breaking to go up, 2-1, when Pernfors floated a backhand long. For the first time in almost four hours, Connors was ahead. "I'd been going uphill so long," he said, "it felt nice to finally be in the lead."
He never gave it up. The only real scare came at 3-1 when Connors felt a muscle twinge in his right thigh. He hobbled a little, rubbed it, called for the trainer, but kept going, hitting the corners, especially with his backhand, which was like a laser.
Light was beginning to fade quickly by the time Connors walked out to serve at 5-2. They were cheering every move he made, and he didn't fail them. A forehand winner. A service winner. A netted backhand by Pernfors off a strong volley by Connors.
That made it 40-0. Connors held up one finger to indicate how far he had to go. He stood on the base line and took deep breaths. A few stray shouts broke the silence.
Connors served, Pernfors chipped a backhand back. Moving in, Connors hit one more backhand, one he might well see in his dreams. It went down the line, past Pernfors. Centre Court was a caldron of noise as Connors and Pernfors put their arms around each other at the net.
Joyously, Connors smacked a ball off the green roof and shook his finger again, this time in victory. He is the only American male in the quarterfinals, but tonight, he was far more than that to his audience.
He has won the title twice. Tonight he won Wimbledon's heart. TUESDAY'S FOURTH-ROUND RESULTS MEN
Stefan Edberg (4), Sweden, def. Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-1, 6-4; Anders Jarryd, Sweden, def. Alexander Volkov, Soviet Union, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4; Henri Leconte (9), France, def. Andres Gomez (8), Ecuador, 7-5, 7-5, 7-5; Ivan Lendl (2), Czechoslovakia, def. Johan Kriek, Naples, Fla., 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2; Slobodan Zivojinovic, Yugoslavia, def. Peter Doohan, Australia, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11); Mats Wilander (3), Sweden, def. Emilio Sanchez (14), Spain, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 7-5; Pat Cash (11), Australia, def. Guy Forget, France, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Jimmy Connors (7), Sanibel Harbor, Fla., def. Mikael Pernfors, Sweden, 1-6, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. WOMEN
Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (8), West Germany, def. Catarina Lindqvist (11), Sweden, 6-4, 6-2; Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., def. Rosalyn Fairbank, South Africa, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5; Dianne Balestrat, Australia, def. Mary Joe Fernandez, Miami, 7-5, 6-2; Helena Sukova (4), Czechoslovakia, def. Raffaella Reggi (15), Italy, 6-0, 6-0; Pam Shriver (5), Lutherville, Md., def. Sylvia Hanika (16), West Germany, 6-7 (7-4), 7-5, 10-8; Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, def. Gigi Fernandez, Puerto Rico, 6-3, 6-1; Steffi Graf (2), West Germany, def. Jana Novotna, Czechoslovakia, 6-4, 6-3; Gabriela Sabatini (6), Argentina, def. Natalia Zvereva, Soviet Union, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4. Doubles Results, Page B7 TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES Centre Court
Henri Leconte (9), France, vs. Ivan Lendl (2), Czechoslovakia; Gabriela Sabatini (6), Argentina, vs. Steffi Graf (2), West Germany; Mats Wilander (3), Sweden, vs. Pat Cash (11), Australia. Court 1
Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, vs. Dianne Balestrat, Australia; Pam Shriver (5), Lutherville, Md., vs. Helena Sukova (4), Czechoslovakia; Slobodan Zivojinovic, Yugoslavia, vs. Jimmy Connors (7), Sanibel Harbor, Fla. Court 2
Anders Jarryd, Sweden, vs. Stefan Edberg (4), Sweden; Chris Evert (3), Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (8), West Germany.