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Connors celebrates birthday with win at U.S. Open

On September 2, 1991, tennis star Jimmy Connors celebrates his 39th birthday with a fourth round win over Aaron Krickstein, 24, at the U.S. Open. The match was finally decided in a fifth-set tiebreak after a marathon four hours and 49 minutes of play.

Connors was playing with a surgically rebuilt left wrist that had ended his 1990 season after only three tournaments. At the 1991 French Open, he was forced to retire in a third-round match against Michael Chang, and though he entered the U.S. Open as a sentimental favorite, most regarded him as a competitive afterthought.

After winning a hard-fought five-set battle against long-time rival John McEnroe in the first round, Connors won his next two matches in straight sets before meeting Aaron Krickstein in the fourth round. While Connors attacked the net, Krickstein stalked the baseline and took the first set 6-3. Connors bounced back for a 5-1 lead in the second set, but double-faulted on set point. Though Krickstein soon evened the score, Connors was able to hold on to take the second set 7-6, after a trademark shouting match with the chair umpire. Krickstein put himself up 2-1 by taking the third set 6-1, but Connors refused to give up, tying the match at 2 sets apiece.

The fifth set was the defining moment of Connors’ late career. Krickstein broke Connors’ serve and then took a 5-3 lead in the set, but Connors broke back and held to force a 5-5 tiebreak in the final set. His infectious energy vividly recalled his younger days on the court and the crowd responded by cheering on the long time U.S. favorite. Meanwhile, Krickstein, his racket grip bloodied by a painful blister, wilted, and Connors took the tiebreak 7-4 to win the match.

After the match, Connor thanked his fans: “This was another Connors miracle, it was a war…and the crowd absolutely helped me win it. This was 20,000 making the noise of 60,000. By the fifth set, he’s under tension and I’m riding the tide, I’m flying, and was I ever gonna give up? Oh no, hell no.” Connors would go on to lose to Jim Courier in the semifinals.

Connors officially retired from tennis in 1996 after eight singles major championships, including five U.S. Open titles. He was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998.

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