Throughout 2017, we’ll discuss the themes of the season with three former players and current tennis commentators: Jimmy Arias, James Blake and Mary Carillo. Roland Garros, the venue and indigenous name of the season’s second Grand Slam tournament, is the topic  of our latest conversation.

Mary Carillo: That was the hardest loss of McEnroe’s career. And I’m telling you, there is a piece of him that still has a hard time showing up at Roland Garros. When you see who has won the French Open, and then you see the players who haven’t been able to win it, I think John hates that he’s in that second category. I can understand why. He was just a couple of games away from winning. [McEnroe led Lendl by two sets and took a 4–2  lead in the fourth set.]

The other part of that match is not just how he lost, but who he lost to. John considers himself an artist in a lot of ways, and to him Lendl was artless. The guy was bloodless, and he could just bludgeon his way past John.

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I watched those matches between them. Right from the start of their matches—from the warm-up—John would make his way into the net and Lendl would try to puff his chest, just to let him know, “I don’t care about your hands. I don’t care how clever you are up there. I am going to take you out. And if you really have the gall to get that tight to the net, I’ll show you why it’s a terrible idea.”

And then, Lendl became Lendl. After that French Open title, he won seven more major championships.

Jimmy Arias: McEnroe would give up a few wins to have won that match and have the French Open title. That’s something that sticks in his craw for sure. He also kicked Lendl’s butt on clay twice that year, at Forest Hills and in Dusseldorf at the World Team Cup. If you talk to him about it, I guarantee you he’ll have a bad dream about it that night.

I’m saying that intuitively—I wasn’t at McEnroe’s level, obviously. But I was the No. 1-ranked junior, so I know the feeling of winning often and being ranked very high.

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When you’re winning all the time, I always had more of a feeling of relief than joy. You were supposed to win every match you played. So the feeling in the end was sort of, “Thank God I got that done.” And when that didn’t happen, those are the type of losses that really sting.

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Looking back at McEnroe's loss to Lendl at the 1984 French Open

Looking back at McEnroe's loss to Lendl at the 1984 French Open

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