1991 French Open 3RD: Michael Chang defeats Jimmy Connors
“The clay in Paris back then played incredibly slow, which meant hitting more balls per point than I had for a long time. I’d won my first two matches by staying faithful to my game, hitting it early, flat, close to the net, on the lines, basically attacking the ball instead of hanging back. And now I was playing Michael Chang, who was a mere 20 years younger than me.
The mercury had risen to over 100 degrees as I walked out onto the red clay of Roland Garros to face Chang, an opponent who was prepared to be there all day if necessary, to run down every ball. It’s kill or be killed. That turned out to be a bit too close for comfort.
We traded the first two sets, he took the third and then in the fourth I hit the wall for the first time in my life. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I was done – fatigue, dehydration, everything. At one of the changeovers, as I looked around the stands, I turned to Lelly, who was sitting courtside. ‘Why are all these people here?’ I asked. Just a little out of my mind.
Doing things half-assed doesn’t fit my personality, and I hit that wall running so hard I managed to force my head through to the other side just long enough to hear a voice tell me, ‘Not yet Jimmy, not yet’. A couple in the crowd made a move to leave. ‘Don’t go’ I called to them. ‘This isn’t over yet’.
I broke Chang to go 5-4 up and held on to even the match at two sets each. ‘Allez Jeemeee! Allez, Jeemeee!’
After three hours 31 minutes, I faced my second fifth set in as many days. Wounded and exhausted, I dragged myself out of my seat. I knew I’d gone as far as I could. My back was seizing up, my vision blurred, head spinning? Kill or be killed? What asshole said that?
All through the months of hurt and sweat that had brought me to that moment in Paris, I’d only thought about one thing, the tournament that defined me, the US Open. New York in September.
To keep going against Chang would be insane, jeopardizing everything I’d been working toward. If I screwed up, if I injued myself, that would be it for the summer and probably forever. Yet I didn’t have a choice. The crowd wanted more. I thought ‘Come on Michael, let’s see what you’ve got’.
Chang serves the first point of the fifth set. I attack it with my backhand, sending the ball screaming down the line, clipping the baseline, leaving him with no response. Now I am done. Slowly I walk forward to the umpire Bruno Rebeuh‘s chair.
The score stands at 4-6 7-5 6-2 4-6 0-15. If you’ve got to quit, then do it when you’re ahead
Bill Norris, the ATP trainer and one of my friends on the circuit, helped me off the court. Bill had been around forever. I knew him well, and I knew he’d look after me. As we walked off, the Parisians came to their feet, cheering and clapping. That place rocked. They knew what they’d just witnessed, and I like to think they were saying merci.
That was pure class. Jimbo then reached the third round at Wimbledon (lost to Derrick Rostagno) and the semifinals at Flushing Meadows (lost to Jim Courier). He retired in 1996 at 44.