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Jimmy Connors at US Open 1991: The failed conquest that became bigger than any success story 

Jimmy Connors at the 1991 US Open
Jimmy Connors at the 1991 US Open
Modified 24 Aug 2019

As the US Open 2019 is just about to begin, let's turn back the pages of history again and look back at one of the greatest runs in the history of the tournament - and professional tennis as a whole.

Jimmy Connors, one of the greatest fighters and counter-punchers of all time, was 39 years old and long past his prime. He had been dealing with a wrist injury which had caused the former World No. 1's ranking to drop to No. 936. But the five-time US Open champion wasn't ready to hang up his boots just yet.

According to tennis writer Joel Drucker, as Connors rode out of the National Tennis Center in a taxi, he turned back to look at Louis Armstrong Stadium and told the crew of cronies that surrounded him, “If I ever get back there, that place is going to rock and roll.” He made good on that promise.

Connors entered the tournament as a wild card, and so the tale began.

First round: Connors' opponent in the first round was Patrick McEnroe, the brother of his arch rival John McEnroe. Not surprisingly, Connors was two sets down and 0-3 (0-40) in the third set; it seemed like the match was going to be over quickly and so was Connors' career.

But the eight-time Grand Slam champion fought back miraculously and won the match in five sets with the scoreline 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Second round: In the second round Connors met the qualifier Michiel Schapers. But he was no match for the American, who won easily in straight sets (6-2, 6-3, 6-2)

Third round: In the third round Connors was up against his first seeded opponent of the tournament i.e. 10th seed Czech Karel Novacek. Everyone expected this to be the end of Connors' run, but the legend easily beat him in straight sets (6-1, 6-4, 6-3).

Fourth round: The next test before Connors was his compatriot Aaron Krickstein, who had defeated Andre Agassi in the first round. As expected Krickstein took the first set easily, but Connors fought back in the second and won it in the tiebreak (10-8).

Jimmy Connors
Jimmy Connors

Krickstein won the third in fairly one-sided fashion (6-1), and was just a set away from ending Connors' fairytale run. But Connors won the fourth (6-3) to level the match.

Connors was then down 2-5 in the fifth and it seemed like curtains for him, before he came storming back to force the tiebreak. The older American won that 7-4 and extended his fairy-tale to the second week of the tournament. (He won 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6).

Quarterfinal: Connors met Paul Haarhuis in the quarters, the man who had knocked top seed Boris Becker out of the tournament in the third round in straight sets. Connors lost the first set 6-4 but bounced back again to win the next three and enter the semifinal (the score read 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2) .

Semifinal: 4th seed and fellow countryman Jim Courier ended the fairytale of the 39-year-old Connors in straight sets (6-3, 6-3, 6-2).

Jim Courier ended Connors
Jim Courier ended Connors' run

Connors didn't win the 1991 US Open, but he didn't have to. What he did was bigger than that; he made everyone believe that a player well past his peak could still put on a show of breathtaking thrills and spills.


Every tennis fan remembers the 1991 US Open for the fight that a 39-year-old put up, which made the crowd stand up on their feet to applaud. They may not remember who won the tournament, but they remember the wild-card who fought like he was fighting for his life.

It was the fairy-tale of James Scott Connors, who described it as "the best 11 days of my life".

Published 24 Aug 2019, 19:01 IST
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