Injured Becker is eliminated in straight sets Connors, Sampras advance in Open


NEW YORK -- And later that same day . . .

Boris Becker lost, Jimmy Connors won and Pete Sampras was stuck in two tie-breakers against a left-handed Frenchman who wore black shoes, white socks and blue horn-rimmed glasses.

The U.S. Open, the tournament that doesn't sleep, churned on yesterday, less than 10 hours after Michael Chang lobbed John McEnroe out of the third round at 1:27 a.m. There was madness under the moon and chaos under the sun at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Becker, the No. 1 seed, wrapped in one of his injury-induced funks, was upset by Paul Haarhuis, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Connors, the 38-year-old Peter Pan of tennis, continued his charmed flight into the round of 16 by defeating 10th-seeded Karel Novacek, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. And Sampras, the defending champion, struggled and emoted early, but finally put away Stephane Simian, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Jim Courier, the French Open champion, won his third straight-set match, dispatching Anders Jarryd, 6-3,6-2,6-2.

It's getting weird in Flushing Meadow. Next thing you know, Connors is going to show up in the semifinals. Don't laugh. When Haarhuis routed Becker, he blew a hole right through the top quarter of the draw.

Connors will celebrate his 39th birthday tomorrow against Aaron Krickstein, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (0-7), 7-6 (7-4) winner over Francisco Clavet. If Connors passes through to the quarterfinals, he'd meet the winner of the Haarhuis-Carl-Uwe Steeb match.

"You know, is anybody 39 supposed to do this?" Connors said. "I'm either nuts or I love the game more than I thought I did. Some things you can't describe. You can't put a price on this for me."

While Connors was reveling in triumph, Becker was almost matter-of-fact in defeat. A strained right thigh muscle robbed him of his mobility, and he went meekly against Haarhuis. Becker may be No. 1, but aside from winning the Australian Open and expertly managing the computer ranking game, his season has been disappointing.

"I lost," Becker said. "Why? Because I couldn't move. I was always two or three steps away from the ball."

Haarhuis, a 25-year-old from the Netherlands, upset McEnroe at the Open two years ago and said afterward that he had arrived from Mars. Asked where he journeyed from to beat Becker, Haarhuis said, "Manhattan."

"I was going out there hoping not to embarrass myself," Haarhuis said. "If you can stay with the top players in the beginning, they start playing less loose."

Sampras had not dropped a set until he came up against Simian, a qualifier ranked No. 257. Sampras fidgeted. He glared. And eventually he won.

For a defending champion, he is receiving little notice, and he likes it that way. Andre Agassi is gone, Connors rolls on and Michael Chang is a player of the moment after outlasting McEnroe in a 4-hour, 33-minute, five-set trial, 6-4, 4-6, 7-1 (7-1), 2-6, 6-3.

"I think Connors has taken over the Open," Sampras said. "Jimmy is six, seven, eight years past his prime, and he is still beating guys."

The Connors story is the Open story. He walks into Louis Armstrong Stadium and the place shakes as 20,000 fans rise and roar. He has won five Opens. The way he is going, a sixth isn't all that far from his reach. He obliterated Novacek, a clay-courter from Czechoslovakia who has won four tournaments this year.

"I am almost starting out like I was 17 years old again," said Connors, ranked No. 998 at the beginning of the year after being sidelined after wrist surgery. "When something is taken away from you, you really don't know how much you miss things. I missed playing the game. I missed playing here. I missed playing and competing against these young kids."

Connors is back, and now he wants to become a force in the game. Once, when he was the young bad boy of the game, he shoved aside 39-year-old Ken Rosewall to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Now, he's the old man, taking on the kids.

"The way I looked at it, back then, it was time for somebody else to come in and take over," he said. "Now, it's time for somebody else to take my place. But if they don't want it, I am not going to give it to them. I mean, if they're allowing me to go out there and still play the greatest players in the game today and have a chance to win, then I am not going to fight that."

He'll fight the kids. He'll aim for the lines. He'll hear the cheers tumble down from the stands.

"It's what you live for," Connors said. "That is what you break your back for every time you walk out there."

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