For crowd favorite Connors, defeat is 4 hours, 5 sets long


...TC PARIS -- Another one bites the dust. And in Jimmy Connors' case, the damage was literal yesterday afternoon at the French Open, where he followed the precedent set Tuesday by his contemporary, John McEnroe, and succumbed, with scraped knees, to a defeat that provoked a reverie on retirement.

Spattered by the clay from Michael Stich's 26 aces, and shattered by the effort to outlast the Wimbledon champion in a five-set endurathon played in the height of the pre- summer swelter that has hit this city, Connors tried but failed to come out ahead in a 7-5, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-2 decision.

"I thought in the first three sets that I played some exciting tennis for me, but, unfortunately, it didn't last," said Connors, 39, who played the fourth set like an invalid, with the soreness in his lower right back tamed temporarily by an analgesic spray.

"I thought I'd let the fourth set go and save my energy for the fifth, but my energy never came back; the years have started taking their toll," he said after blowing kisses to the shrilly partisan gallery of 15,000 fans who made their allegiance clear right from the warm-up. Every stroke from Connors inspired cheers of "Allez;" Stich heard nothing but boos every time he addressed the ball.

The loss took 3 hours, 52 minutes, dropped Connors' French Open singles mark to 40-13, left him with a 20-14 record in five-set matches and gave Stich his first five-set victory on clay.

"He tried to finish the match, but I think he was just too tired to hang in there," said Stich.

"I didn't play the right tactics," said Stich. "I was waiting for him to make mistakes." Connors made 68 and was forced into 41 more by the fourth-seeded Stich.

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