NEW YORK — Until further notice, this is the U.S. Open of Jimmy Connors.
He's like Sinatra, now, walking on stage to a standing ovation, and the band hasn't even played a note. He gives them the standards -- the double-pump fist after dumping a running forehand up the line. He gives them something modern -- flicking that fluorescent lime green racket in the air to start a Wave cheer.
Connors hits winners and fans bow. Connors wins a set and the roar shoots up from the stands and goes out into the night. Connors takes the match and the place goes nuts.
A record sellout crowd of 19,582 filled Louis Armstrong Stadium and watched last night as Connors defeated Michiel Schapers of the Netherlands, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. It's the second round of the Open, but it's not too soon to dream. Connors is 38. He turns 39 Monday. Who knows how far he can go in this Open?
"I'm a factor," Connors said afterward. "My goal is to be a factor in the game, not just one tournament. I've played some good nTC tennis this summer. I may get on some guys' minds and show them that it's not over."
Connors closed the show on a hot, humid day. Four players were wheeled off the court, umbrellas popped up on the changeovers and the favorites played quickly to get out of the sun and into the locker room.
So there was No. 1 Boris Becker routing Alexander Volkov. And there were the three young Americans, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and David Wheaton, advancing to an inevitable logjam in one quarter of the men's draw. And there were the women's seeds, led by No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and No. 6 Martina Navratilova, marching swiftly past overmatched opponents.
"I drink much more water, and I try to stay in the shade as much as possible, and I just stay in bed as much as I can," Becker said, offering his prescription for dealing with the 94-degree heat after his 6-0, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 win over Volkov.
Others didn't heed the advice. Christian Bergstrom, Jaime Yazaga, Thierry Champion and Wayne Ferreira dropped out because of injuries and the heat.
But last night, "The Connors Show" played the Stadium. It didn't matter that the air was thick with humidity, that the crowd sat sweating in the aluminum seats. They came to praise Connors, the man who gave this tournament life when he went a night and a morning in the first round to beat Patrick McEnroe.
"I was a little bit stiff and sore after playing Patrick," Connors said. "I didn't get to bed after that match until 4 in the morning."
Connors has played the Open 21 times and won it five times. He has gone from punk teen-ager to beloved old man. Now, all he hears are the cheers.
"We haven't always been like this -- just lately," he said.
If anyone could understand what Connors was feeling, it was Navratilova. Once, she too heard the boos of the crowd. But now, all she hears are cheers.
"Generally speaking, the number one player is the visitor," Navratilova said after defeating Debbie Graham, 6-1, 6-4. "But now, it's nice to be the home team for a while. Jimmy and I love the game and enjoy playing, enjoy performing. I mean, it is rough to get 18,000 people going nuts, and we still have a chance to compete with the kids."
Connors is the whole franchise, the guy who is carrying a tournament and providing the drama. They call him a legend now and he cringes.
"I'd prefer to leave the legend until I stop playing," he said. "The word legend is given to those who have gotten out of the game."
Connors is still of the game. He beat up on Schapers, punching back flat serves, sneaking up to the net for volleys, laying in the occasional lunging winner. It was a vintage performance, the kind Connors has perfected over three decades.
"I always thought that at 25 I'd get out and go to law school, which is what I wanted to do," Connors said. "Playing at 39, the way I play and the damage I've done . . . I never thought I'd play at 39."
Saturday, he'll play a clay-courter named Karel Novacek in the third round. Then, who knows? Could he get to the quarterfinals against Becker? Or goodness, how about a final against John McEnroe?
9- Connors laughed and said: "Stick around."