Win could be icing on cake for Connors on 39th birthday


NEW YORK -- This is what it is like on Jimmy Connors' rebirth tour: Even practice is a spectacle.

Hundreds watch Connors warm up with John Lloyd. They ask for his autograph. They snap his picture. They yell "Jimbo" at him, a lot.

The scene is crazy, the perfect setup for today's fourth round of the U.S. Open. It's Labor Day, and Connors will celebrate his 39th birthday by trying to slug it out with Aaron Krickstein in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Twenty thousand fans will fill the place. Millions more will watch on television. The whole tennis world is wrapped up in this tale of the old guy who refuses to grow old. It must be great to be Connors now.

But what will it be like for the unwelcomed party guest? Krickstein is 22 years old and is winless in five meetings against Connors. He says he is prepared for the noise, and ready to take out Connors.

"You can be in awe of him, especially for us young guys," Krickstein said. "He has been playing here 20 years, so we grew up watching him on TV, so it is kind of weird to be playing him all of a sudden."

Some can deal with playing Connors in New York. Some can't. Patrick McEnroe remained calm on the outside and appeared to ignore the crowd during a five-set loss to Connors that stretched from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning. Karel Novacek of Czechoslovakia looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but Louis Armstrong Stadium as he was getting blown out by Connors in three sets Saturday.

"I played him for the first time, and unfortunately for me, I played him here in the U.S. Open before 20,000 people," Novacek said. "I knew it was going to be a tough match. He is 39 and the whole crowd stayed behind him.

"I couldn't believe when he played Patrick McEnroe. McEnroe, he is from New York and all the crowd cheered for Connors. He is going to be hot here. I don't know who he is playing now, but I think he has a good chance."

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