Even with early match, McEnroe couldn't turn off Connors, either

August 29, 1991|By Kelly Carter | Kelly Carter,Dallas Morning News

NEW YORK -- What a summer it has been for Jimmy Connors. And it is not over yet.

Connors thrilled spectators at the French Open, got a thrill from the crowd at Wimbledon and literally received a bow from the U.S. Open fans in the wee hours yesterday morning.

About 4,000 people remained from what started as a Stadium Court crowd of 19,842 on Tuesday night. Those willing to forgo sleep to see a man who turns 39 Monday could be talking about Connors' improbable 4-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 comeback victory over Patrick McEnroe for years to come.

Even those with matches the following morning couldn't be pried away.

John McEnroe, who has had many memorable matches against Connors and holds a 19-13 edge over him, stayed up until the match ended at 1:35 a.m., despite his scheduled 11 a.m. match. He compared Connors' love for the game to Pete Rose and baseball and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and basketball.

"Anyone in tennis would aspire to have the longevity and love for the game that he has," said John McEnroe, who overcame the lack of sleep in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Martin Laurendeau yesterday. "I wish I had the love of the game he does."

Also winning yesterday were Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich, Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic, Gabriela Sabatini, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Leila Meshki and Helena Sukova.

No. 7 seed Guy Forget was the highest seed to fall, losing to Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6).

Connors has accomplished the unexpected this summer. At Roland Garros, he was treated like a hero as he advanced to the third round, where he retired with a back injury against Chang. Connors also appeared in the third round of Wimbledon and was given the royal treatment by a group of uncommonly rowdy fans. And now this.

"This has been quite a summer for me, for somebody who really shouldn't be playing tennis any more," said Connors, who at his age could not be expected to last the four hours, 20 minutes it took to beat Patrick McEnroe.

This marks Connors' 21st U.S. Open, a tournament he has won five times. He missed last year's tournament because of a wrist injury. Otherwise, he has been here each year since 1970, when his opponent, Patrick, younger brother of John, McEnroe, was 4 years old.

"I haven't really set any time when I'm going to stop," said Connors, who played TeamTennis this summer. "But I will know the time to stop . . . I don't see why I should stop if I can still go out and play this kind of tennis and do this to the crowd."

What Connors -- who once held the No. 1 ranking for 159 consecutive weeks, slipped to No. 936 but clawed back to his current No. 174 -- did to the crowd at the National Tennis Center was unbelievable. The wild applause and cheers when he stepped onto the court were customary for a legend. But the chant of "Jim-meee, Jim-meee" was straight out of a soccer match.

The clapping in unison and the fans on their feet -- even during play -- was incredible. When Connors disputed a call by chair umpire Dana Loconto in the fourth set, the fans backed him by booing and cursing in unison.

When Connors' talent and energy seemed to leave him temporarily at the start of the third set -- he could not even get the ball over the net -- he played with his heart. Down 0-2, 0-30 in the third, he fought back with drop shots, solid groundstrokes and his lefthanded serve to take a 4-3 lead and won the set 6-4. That set was all he and the crowd needed. From there, McEnroe did not have a chance. The crowd booed his every error.

"If I was in the crowd, I would have been rooting for him, too," said McEnroe, who conceded that he let up after thinking he had the third set in hand.

Connors squandered his first two match points but on the third hit a devastating serve McEnroe could not control.

"You're going to have to kill me to beat me," said Connors, who has come from two sets down to win seven times, the first in the opening round of the 1971 U.S. Open against Alex Olmedo.

Connors returns to Stadium Court tonight against Michael Schapers. Once again, it will be the last match of the evening session. It could be another late one. It could be another exciting one. Connors realizes the excitement his first-round victory has created, but he has nothing to say about how he can keep going.

"I'll do my talking when I'm done," he said. "Then I'll tell you how I do it."

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