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Haarhuis ready to face Connors, roaring crowd


NEW YORK -- His name is Paul Haarhuis, and he comes from the Netherlands, but by midnight tonight, he could be a tennis superstar in America. Then again, he might end up as just another designated victim on the Jimmy Connors comeback tour.

"I know Jimmy is on a roll," Haarhuis said. "But so am I. I'm not going to think too much about his game. If my game is fine, I can do a lot."

Tonight, Haarhuis will be fed to the lions, meeting Connors in the quarterfinals at a sold-out Louis Armstrong Stadium. Like every other Connors opponent, Haarhuis will have to face down not only a legend, but also the crowd. For 10 days, this Open has belonged to Connors, who has waved his racket to incite the tennis mobs. He turned 39 Monday and beat Aaron Krickstein in a five-set match that left the stadium shaking.

Haarhuis isn't worried, though. He won't bring earplugs tonight. Instead, he will display a patient, baseline game that was good enough to shove No. 1 seed Boris Becker from the third round of the tournament.

"The crowd will be tough," Haarhuis said. "But it will be just me and Jimmy hitting the tennis balls."

Haarhuis, 25, is ranked No. 45 on the men's computer. He refined his game in the United States, playing at Armstrong State College in Georgia and Florida State University. He came on the pro tour in 1987, but scored his first major upset at the 1989 Open, beating four-time champion John McEnroe.

"I really feel at home here," Haarhuis said.

He watched from afar as Connors made a move through the tournament draw. Like almost every other pro at Flushing Meadow, Haarhuis remains amazed that a 39-year-old man can beat players nearly half his age.

"Jimmy just surprised me," Haarhuis said. "He played Krickstein five sets, and I thought he would lose. What he has done out there is incredible. The crowd influences him, no question. But it won't influence me. He needs the crowd to get psyched up. But it's not like I'm playing five guys. I'm going against one guy."

Besides, Haarhuis figures the crowd will help him prepare for the next Dutch Davis Cup match.

"We go to Mexico City," he said. "Now, that should be a tough crowd."

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