FRENCH OPEN 1982 - MEN'S SINGLES SEMI-FINAL
Clerc repeatedly clobbered the ball, only to have Wilander send it floating back like fluff from a dandelion. Still, I was fascinated by the curly-haired Swede's deceptive style...He prepared for his strokes early and had an unerring sense of anticipation...He seemed to be playing defensively, but I noticed he could shorten his backswing and take the ball on the rise whenever Clerc rushed the net. Time after time he passed the Argentine with backhands down the line, and when he got a short ball, he had the power to put away a winner.
Wilander began by breaking Clerc in the first game and winning the set in a forty-eight stroke rally which a man behind me counted out loud. In the second set the same pattern applied: the Swede got an early break, and the tall Argentine failed to catch up. In the third set Clerc dropped serve again in the first game, but then blitzed the teenager six games in a row by belting the ball wide to Wilander's forehand and finishing points by hitting inside-out to his backhand.
In the fourth set Wilander raced to a 5-1 lead and reached match point on his serve. But Clerc clawed his way to deuce, then broke him to 2-5, held service himself, broke Wilander a second time and held service to 5-5. From match ball in the Swede's favor Clerc had gone on a rip. Winning fourteen of sixteen points, ten of them in a row, he looked to have Wilander on the ropes.
But the boy scrambled to 6-5 and shifted the presssure to Clerc, who had managed to put in only forty-five percent of his first serves all day. Once more he had trouble and slipped to 0-15, then 15-30, then 30-40 to give Wilander his second match point.
Clerc played aggressively. Opening the court with a shot wide to Wilander's forehand, he jumped on a short return and smacked it to the Swede's backhand. The ball landed close to the line. But the linesman signaled out. Jacques Dorfmann, the "juge-arbitre" or referee of the French Open, was serving as umpire. He called "Game, set and match to Wilander", and climbed down from his chair.
Wilander hadn't moved. He remained in the deuce court as if expecting Clerc to serve. Clerc was at the net protesting the call, imploring the linesman and the umpire to check the clay for a mark. Both men refused. As far as they were concerned, the match was finished. But then Wilander came over, had a word with Dorfmann, and the umpire clambered back up into his chair and announced that at Wilander's request the point would be replayed.
The crowd was struck dumb for a moment, then burst into applause. Clerc appeared shellshocked, uncertain of himself, and promptly punched a backhand into the net. Mats Wilander won the match for the second time.
The pressroom was a pandemonium of intersecting monologues, of loud, argumentative rule-interpretations and baroque theories. Some reporters felt that we had witnessed a historic, heart-warming moment in sport, an epiphany in which a star had been born under the most extraordinary circumstances. Others were just as insistent that the umpire - the tournament referee Jacques Dorfmann of all people! - should never have permitted the point to be replayed...This wasn't a club match between two hackers. You didn't let the players call the lines or keep score. It was unimaginable that this could happen in any other professional sport. Why have an umpire unless he intended to enforce the rules?...
Dorfmann appeared and answered all questions with great aplomb. He had seen Clerc's shot out, he said, and so had the linesman. Wilander, however, had persuaded him to let Clerc have two more serves. "The situation", Dorfmann conceded, "was paradoxical." While his decision hadn't respected the letter of the law, he believed it had lived up to the spirit of sportsmanship...He had never in all his career witnessed such a gesture of fair play, not on match point in a tournament of this magnitude.
But didn't the magnitude of the tournament make it all the more important that the umpire control the match and abide by the rules?
Dorfmann stuck to his line that while he had violated a rule, no harm had been done and a frightful beauty had been born.
When Mats Wilander arrived...phlegmatic and friendly, he explained that Clerc had "hit a winner and I didn't have a chance. I said "I can't win like this", because the ball was good"...
Afterwards Bud Collins marvelled about the match point. "It was the wrong decision, and yet everyone went away happy."
Not everyone. Some continued to grumble. You couldn't have Wilander giving away match points, they said. What if he had lost after the umpire had called "Game, set and match" in his favor? Controversy would have raged for decades, and there would have been rumors, accusations and innuendos. It was a professional sport, big money was on the line; rules were rules; players had to play the calls, and officials had to stick to their decisions. Most important, they contended, a nice boy like Wilander had to be protected against his own better nature before somebody took advantage of him.
(Extract from Short Circuit, New York, Penguin Books, 1984)