Lendl, on the brink, enjoys rain in Paris Play suspended in tied fifth set


PARIS -- The fourth day of the French Open began a half-hour early yesterday because officials wanted to get a jump on a backlog of matches postponed by rain. Organizers, more optimistic than Paris weather forecasters, had hoped to complete 31 of the 32 men's second-round matches and 21 of the women's second-round matches.

That was not counting the doubles play scheduled for Roland Garros Stadium, where, plans aside, it rained again, much to the dismay of French Federation tennis officials who are hoping to finish this Grand Slam tournament in two weeks.

Much, much happier about the late-spring downpour that sent thousands of tennis fans scurrying for cover was Ivan Lendl, whose reputation and ranking hung in the balance when play was suspended.

Lendl, a three-time French Open champion, was locked in a five-set duel against No. 72 Jaime Oncins of Brazil.

Lendl was cruising, 6-3, 6-3, when Oncins rallied. The 21-year-old from Sao Paulo won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-2, and broke Lendl's serve in the 10th game of the fifth set to save the match. As rain started falling from the leaden sky, Lendl signaled to the court official, asking for play to be suspended with the fifth set tied, 5-5.

He could feel the pressing crowd, wildly cheering Oncins' every winner. The break might have been his best chance to survive in the off-Broadway arena of Court 2.

Lendl, who is trying to regain his station as one of the world's best players, even complained about the flash of a camera, indicating a bit of nervousness.

Lendl and Oncins will resume play today, as will No. 2 Stefan Edberg of Sweden and Gabriel Markus of Argentina on center court. Edberg, who struggled in a five-set, first-round victory, was leading Markus, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 7-5, 3-1, when rain interrupted play.

Pete Sampras, seeded third, finished his match in straight sets, but also had difficulty dispatching a little-known opponent. Sampras beat Laurent Prades of France, a wild-card entry ranked 204th, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Meanwhile, Jennifer Capriati, the tennis prodigy who at 14 became the youngest female to reach a Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open here two years ago, struggled yesterday in a 6-4, 6-4 second-round victory over Sandrine Testud of France.

Capriati lost her first three games, which gave Testud and the partisan crowd reason for hope. Tennis-crazy France is yearning for one of its own to succeed here, and after 1991 Davis Cup hero Guy Forget was upset Wednesday, the fans rallied around Testud, a 20-year-old from Lyon.

No. 1-ranked Jim Courier overpowered Thomas Muster of Austria in a match that was expected to be close. Courier, the defending champion, breezed, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, on center court.

John McEnroe made a quick exit from Roland Garros, losing to Nicklas Kulti of Sweden in the first round Tuesday, but he still made news yesterday when he was fined $7,500 for swearing during his four-hour match on center court. An official statement said the fine was determined after interviews with court supervisors and a review of videotape.

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