Jimmy Connors' latest miracle comeback at Wimbledon wasn't pretty. To the loser, though, it was a masterpiece.
"If you don't appreciate what he does, you don't appreciate tennis," Derrick Rostagno said Saturday after the two-time Wimbledon champ rallied to beat him in a marathon five-set match."He comes up with shots no one else does," Rostagno said. "Tennis is an art and he's an artist."
Connors, who rallied from a two-set deficit to beat Mikael Pernfors in the fourth round last year, pulled off another stirring comeback against Rostagno, a 22-year-old Californian ranked 86th in the world.
Rostagno, who was 6 years old when Connors won his first match at Wimbledon, appeared ready to pull off a major upset after taking a two sets-to-one lead.
But Connors, psyching himself up with his classic clenched-fist pump, began bashing groundstroke winners and taking advantage of Rostagno's erratic serve to pull out a 7-5, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory in 4 hours and 2 minutes.
"My game has always been staying there 'til I die because you never know what's going to happen," said Connors, who has won eight of his 10 five-set matches at Wimbledon.
The match almost ended in the ninth game of the final set, when Connors pinned Rostagno to the corner of the baseline with a forehand approach and rushed to the net for the kill at match point.
But Rostagno hit a cross-court forehand blast that nipped the top of the net and trickled over, out of Connors' reach.
"I thought, `Get over,' " Rostagno said. "It was a perfect dink over the net. When that happens, you think, `Things are going my way.' "
In the end, they didn't.
Facing a second match point, Rostagno hit a second serve a foot past the service line, his 10th double-fault of the match.
Connors, who hasn't won a tournament since 1984, raised his racket in triumph as the crowd on Court No. 1 saluted him with thunderous applause.
Rostagno, a former Stanford star, swatted the net in disgust after shaking hands with Connors. But he had nothing but praise for the 35-year-old Connors.
"When he's down, he just gets better," said Rostagno, who had to win three matches to qualify for the main draw.
Third-seeded Stefan Edberg of Sweden also struggled before overcoming American doubles specialist Ken Flach 6-2, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. His countryman, second-seeded Mats Wilander, kept his hopes for a Grand Slam sweep alive with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Menno Oosting of the Netherlands.
Also advancing to the fourth round were No. 9 Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia and No. 16 Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia.
In women's play, second-seeded Martina Navratilova moved a step closer to her seventh straight Wimbledon singles title and ninth overall by beating Karen Schimper of South Africa 6-0, 6-4.
Tenth-seeded Lori McNeil of the United States and No. 15 Sylvia Hanika of West Germany were eliminated. American Katrina Adams, a 19-year-old who turned professional less than six months ago, downed Hanika 6-3, 6-3 while McNeil was ousted by South African Ros Fairbank 7-6, 6-4.
The rest of the women's seeds
were victorious, including No. 3 Pam Shriver, No. 4 Chris Evert, No. 5 Gabriela Sabatini, No. 8 Natalia Zvereva, No. 13 Larisa Savchenko and No. 14 Katerina Maleeva.
Maleeva's 6-0, 6-0 victory over Belinda Cordwell of New Zealand was the second shutout of the tournament. Top-seeded Steffi Graf blanked Hu Na in the opening round.
After saving the first match point with the letcord winner, Rostagno had a chance to break Connors in the 11th game. But Connors, seeded fifth, saved a break point with a service winner and held Rostagno off to move ahead 6-5.
Rostagno took a 40-30 lead in the next game, but Connors moved to his second match point with a cross-court backhand pass and a winning return off a bullet first serve. Rostagno then double-faulted to end the match.
Rostagno was upset by the boisterous pro-Connors crowd, which cheered some of his mistakes.
"I thought the crowd was rooting for the soap opera character," he said. "I would root for him too, but not as much."
Connors, whose emotional outbursts used to trigger boos here, said he thought the fans were "for me, not against him."
"I don't think I deserve it," he added. "I just think 90 percent of the people there were 35 and over."
In 1981, Connors lost the opening two sets to Vijay Amritraj before rallying to win the quarterfinal match. Last year, he dropped the first two sets to Pernfors and was trailing 1-4 in the third before staging the second-greatest comeback in Wimbledon history.
"They were throwing sand on the grave in that one," Connors said. "I was down and near out. This was a different kind of match."
Indeed, Connors appeared to be in control after winning the fourth set and taking a 5-2 lead in the final set. But Rostagno fought back to even the set 5-5 after saving a match point in the ninth game.