September 2, 1991: Jimmy Connors downs Aaron Krickstein in US Open epic



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September 2, 1991: Jimmy Connors downs Aaron Krickstein in US Open epic

27 years ago, the crowd at the Flushing Meadows had witnessed one of the most colorful matches in the US Open history, with a birthday boy Jimmy Connors, ranked 174th, giving his best in a hard-fought 3-6 7-6(8) 1-6 6-3 7-6(4) triumph over Aaron Krickstein in four hours and 41 minutes! The 39th-year-old veteran had reached his 17th US Open quarter-final after missing the event in 1990 (he had to skip an almost entire season due to a wrist injury and surgery) for the first time in his career, and he would later reach the semis as the third oldest player in the Open era at Majors behind Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales! Aaron, who is 15 years younger than Jimmy, had a colossal chance to bring the match home, leading 5-2 in the final set, but this tournament was destined to be the swan song for one of the best players in history as he just refused to surrender in front of his partisan crowd that had supported him for some 20 years here at the US Open.

Krickstein opened the match in a stronger fashion, breaking in game four for a 3-1 lead when Jimmy netted an easy backhand. That one break was enough for Aaron to claim the opener 6-3 in 38 minutes, closing the set with a service winner.

Connors scored his first break of the match in the fourth game of the second set after a poor volley from Krickstein and a good hold sent him 4-1 in front. The crowd favorite increased his lead to 5-1 with another break in game six and he was now serving for the second set.

Aaron pulled one break back in that seventh game to stay in contention and he was back on the scoreboard with another break in game nine, reducing the deficit to 5-4. The tie break turned out to be a real cracker after poor calls from the chair umpire and Jimmy had to save two set points at 5-6 and 7-8 (he was robbed in the previous point), winning the breaker 10-8 with a volley winner to send the crowd wild and pumping himself with a positive energy before the rest of the match.

The third set started with a break for Connors, who missed three break points in game three as well that could have sent him even further ahead. Krickstein recovered his game completely and he charged through the rest of the set, winning six straight games for a 6-1, closing this part of the match with a service winner to gain the momentum again after that tight second set loss.

The match was heading towards the three-hour mark when Connors broke in game six with a volley winner to move 4-2 in front. Krickstein wasted two break points in the next game and Jimmy served for the set in game nine. He brought it home with a service winner and this incredible encounter went into a decider, the best possible way to determine the winner.

Aaron was still the favorite as a much younger player and a five-setter specialist, and everything went to his favor in the first part of the set. Krickstein fends off a break point in the opening game and he broke in game six with a forehand winner to open a 4-2 advantage, moving closer to the finish line and his first win over Jimmy in six matches.

The seventh game turned out to be a real classic, with Aaron bringing the game home after no less than eight deuces when Jimmy netted a tough volley, and after exactly four hours of play it seemed that the five-time champion was done and dusted, having a mountain to climb if he wanted to get back on the scoreboard.

Nonetheless, he reduced the deficit to 5-3 with a much-needed easy hold in game eight but Krickstein served for the win in the following game. He saved two break points to reach the deuce, moving just two points away from the win but Connors found the way to shake off the pressure and break back with another volley winner (he was much more aggressive player throughout the match), making the Stadium erupting in joy.

Jimmy was good at the net again in game 10, leveling the score at 5-5 with a forehand volley winner and he was now back in the game completely. Krickstein managed to stop his downfall with a hold at love in game 11 and Connors sent the match into a deciding tie break with a smash in game 12.

The veteran moved 2-1 up after two winners and he scored a mini-break in the next point after a deep return that Aaron couldn't control. A service winner gave Jimmy a 5-2 lead and another one pushed him to 6-4, a point away from an epic triumph.

He sealed the deal with a backhand volley winner, taking the breaker 7-4 and starting his familiar "one leg" celebration with the partisan crowd that witnessed one of his biggest wins ever, happy they got a chance to see him in the following round as well.

In the quarter-final, Jimmy again gave them something to cheer about, beating Paul Haarhuis in four sets before world number 5 Jim Courier finally stopped his miraculous run in the semis. ALSO READ: US Open: Marin Cilic edges de Minaur in a thriller. Nishikori wins