Jimmy Connors vs. Aaron Krickstein (4th Round, 1991)
3–6, 7–6(10-8), 1–6, 6–3, 7–6(4)
Aaron Krickstein makes for an unlikely combatant in one of the greatest matches played at the US Open. Not that Krickstein was anything less than a good player, as his career high ranking of six and two grand slam semi-final appearances attest, but the rationale for this match’s inclusion lies chiefly with his opponent: Jimmy Connors.
Despite Connors’ achievements including eight grand slam titles,160 consecutive weeks at number one and hard fought rivalries with Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, for many his defining moment came during his incredible run to the US Open semi-finals in 91.
Connors turned 39 during the tournament and to put it in some sort of context Roger Federer, already much heralded for his own longevity, will need to make the last eight at Flushing Meadow in 2020 to match it. In the preceding years he had battled against a plethora of injuries, including reconstructive wrist surgery, all in the hope and belief he was still capable of great things.
Entering the tournament on a wild card, Connors came back from two sets down to defeat Patrick McEnroe in the first round and progressed through the tournament on a wave of support.
The fourth round encounter with Krickstein was played in front of a packed crowd on the national holiday of Labor Day – which in 1991 also happened to be the 39th birthday of one James Scott Connors. This was the classic match of the run, going to five sets with some of the most dramatic action tennis has ever provided.
While the match featured two US players, Connors may as well have been wearing a Captain America outfit for the near total crowd support he commanded. Nevertheless Krickstein seemed to have the measure of the aging legend, taking the first set 6-3.
Connors managed to level by taking the second set in a taut tiebreak 10-8, during which Connors typically spurred the crowd to even greater levels of support after a close line call went against him.
Krickstein blew his apparently fading opponent away in the third set but Connors found form in the fourth to take it to a decider.
Running on empty but somehow gathering energy from the crowd Connors fought on. Falling 5-2 behind, he held serve and then, with Krickstein serving for the match, broke back. Perhaps inevitably the match went to a deciding tiebreak.
Connors sat at the changeover surrounded by a crowd in which every man woman and child was stood up shouting and transforming the Louis Armstrong Stadium into the Coliseum of Rome. Looking direct into the TV camera a wide-eyed Connors acknowledged his gladiatorial status saying ‘this is what they paid for, this is what they want’ before heading out into the arena once more.
More force of nature than tennis player for that moment Connors took the breaker 7-4 amid scenes of delirium. Spare a thought for Krickstein who fought so well and took defeat graciously after hours of strenuous effort.
For Connors there was more to come. He won his quarter-final with Paul Haarhuis, a match that included an amazing point that is acclaimed as one of the greatest ever played, before meeting his match in Jim Courier in the semi-final. Not bad for a 39 year old but Connors, being Connors, was likely disappointed he didn’t win the lot.
The video at the top of this article shows the entire match, forward to 3:53:10 to see the fifth set tiebreak, beginning with Connors’ direct address to camera.
The video below shows the famous point from the quarter-final against Haarhuis.
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