Connors set to amaze again today Courier is opponent in semifinal match


NEW YORK -- So you're amazed? How do you think Jimmy Connors feels about now?

Here is this 39-year-old man making time stand still on a tennis court. He comes out of the shadows and wins five matches. He turns the U.S. Open into a personal showcase. He becomes a folk hero.

"There is no describing this," Connors said. "I mean, how can you not laugh at this? And I can't even spit it out. I am playing some pretty darn good tennis, and I am playing against the best pTC players. But, I mean, is this for real?"

Well, is it? Today is Tennis Super Saturday, and Connors is still alive at the U.S. Open. It's the men's semifinals and Connors goes against Jim Courier, the French Open champion who vows to show no mercy against the legend. The other match pits Stefan Edberg against Ivan Lendl. But that's strictly a preliminary, the one for the tennis aficionado who can appreciate the contrast of a patient baseliner against an artistic net player.

Connors against Courier is for the ages. It's almost a flashback to 1974. Then, Connors was the young player on the rise, trying to blast out 39-year-old Ken Rosewall to win the first of his five Open titles. It wasn't a pretty sight, Connors winning the match and losing two games. Now, Connors is the aging veteran, the oldest man to reach the semifinals since Rosewall.

"You guys think this is a great run because I am 39 and I am not supposed to do this," Connors said. "All I want to do is get into it. Once I am into it, I know my emotions are going to carry me through a lot of the situations out there. But how does this rank? Obviously, this whole summer has been great for me."

From the French Open to Wimbledon to the U.S. Open, Connors' comeback from wrist surgery has dominated the men's tour. He vowed he only wanted to become a factor in the game, yet he reached the third round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Who could have thought he would be playing on the final weekend at Flushing Meadow?

But he ran the table at the Open, beating Patrick McEnroe in five sets, Michiel Schapers in three, Karel Novacek in three, Aaron Krickstein in five and Paul Haarhuis in four.

"There has been surprise and there has been excitement," Connors said. "There has been drama. There have been highs. There have been lows. And then, to come in here to a tournament that I've loved through good times and bad times for 20 years, and to play like this, there is no describing it. There really isn't."

Courier said he won't be overwhelmed playing Connors for the first time. He is 21. He is ranked No. 5. If he wins this tournament he has a chance to move to No. 3, and make the long, last climb to No. 1.

And he hasn't even lost a set at this Open, finishing off his five-match winning streak by blowing out defending champion Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals.

"I followed Connors a lot," Courier said. "He was one of the big guys when I was getting into tennis and watching him. I like Jimmy a lot. I have tons of respect for him, how can you not? He is just fantastic for the sport. One of my goals when I joined the tour four years ago was to play Connors and John McEnroe before they retired, so I could tell my grandkids some day. It is amazing."

Courier also admitted he patterned his competitive style after Connors'.

"My dad pointed it out when I was growing up," he said. "There was Pete Rose, and he was known as Charlie Hustle. Jimmy Connors, he gives you everything he has got. As long as you can do that, you have no excuses. You play as hard as you can, and whatever happens, happens. He has really been a role model for me."

In previous matches, Connors' opponents, particularly the foreign competitors, have endured taunts from the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowds. What will it be like for Courier to hear cheers on double faults?

"This is New York," he said. "I'm a foreigner. Believe me."

New York has adopted Connors. In his 21st Open, he has become the whole show. He is everywhere. The crowds roar when he hits winners and punches the sky. Together, they'll have this day. And if he wins, they'll have tomorrow, too, a final that could only be called wonderfully preposterous.

Lendl-Edberg head-to-head

1984 Rotterdam Open, semifinals, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6.

1985 Lipton International Players Championship, fourth round, hard court, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-4, 7-6.

1985 WCT Dallas, quarterfinals, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

1985 Australian Open, semifinals, grass, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7.

1986 U.S. Open, semifinals, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3.

1986 Tokyo Indoor, semifinals, carpet, Edberg def. Lendl, 7-5, 6-1.

1986 Masters Championship, round robin, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-3, 6-4.

1987 Wimbledon, semifinals, grass, Lendl def. Edberg, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4.

1987 Canadian Open, final, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-4, 7-6.

1987 Tokyo Indoor, final, carpet, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.

1988 Masters Championship, semifinals, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-3, 7-6.

1989 Scottsdale Open, final, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-2, 6-3.

1989 Tokyo Open, final, hard court, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

1989 Stockholm Open, semifinals, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-0, 2-6, 6-3.

1989 Masters Championship, semifinals, carpet, Edberg def. Lendl, 7-6, 7-5.

1990 Australian Open, finals, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 4-6, 7-6, 5-2, ret.

1990 Wimbledon, semifinals, grass, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3.

1990 Sydney Open, semifinals, hard court, Edberg def. Lendl, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3.

1990 Tokyo Open, semifinals, carpet, Lendl def. Edberg, 7-5, 6-3.

1990 Frankfurt Open, semifinals, carpet, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-4, 6-2.

1991 Australian Open, semifinals, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.

1991 Tokyo Open, final, hard court, Edberg def. Lendl, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0.

1991 Hamlet Challenge, final, hard court, Lendl def. Edberg, 6-3, 6-2.

Jimmy Connors and Jim Courier, the other men's semifinalists, never have played one another.

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