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U.S. Open Men’s Matches : His Loss to Agassi Is One Connors Will Remember

Special to The Times

The first meeting between the former champion, Jimmy Connors, and the new kid who would become king, Andre Agassi, was expected to produce an electric match well worth remembering.

Here, there was very little electricity in Agassi’s 6-2, 7-6, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Connors Thursday night at the U.S. Open. At least, not until after the final ball was struck at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow.

Then there was plenty.

The interview room scene unfolded much like a Don King-produced press conference..

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There was something for everyone.

Agassi, the new kid from Las Vegas, said he thought the match was going to be much easier.

“I predicted to a buddy that it was going to be three, three and three,” the 18-year-old player said.

To Connors, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 added up to a very real slight.

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“He shouldn’t say things like that because I’ll be playing him again,” said Connors, 36. “He just made a bad mistake. Not just with me, but with a lot of people.”

In the midst of answering another question, Connors, a five-time Open champion, jumped back to Agassi’s statement, saying: “He made a mistake, which I’ll remember.”

The post-match scene was already bizarre enough before the No. 6-seeded Connors was told about Agassi’s apparent foot-in-the-mouth remark. When Connors entered the room, one of the microphones on the table filled the room with noisy feedback for several minutes.

“Whose mike is this?” Connors asked.

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“The USTA’s,” a reporter answered.

Connors: “You don’t have to say anything else.”

One time when Connors was in Las Vegas, he hit with a four-year-old because it happened to be the kid’s birthday. The child was Agassi.

Now, 14 years later, the No. 4-seeded Agassi is one step away from the U.S. Open final. First, however, there is the formidable obstacle of three-time defending champion Ivan Lendl.

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Lendl breezed to victory in the other quarterfinal Thursday. This one had been expected to be devoid of suspense and it turned out that way as Lendl defeated Brentwood’s Derrick Rostagno, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. Rostagno, who was unseeded and had never won a single round in the Open before 1988, played superbly to reach the quarterfinals, upsetting No. 9-seeded Tim Mayotte along the way.

For Rostagno, the one-sided quarterfinal didn’t detract from what happened earlier in the event.

“No, life goes on,” he said. “I’m glad I did well in the United States, in the biggest tournament of the year, as far as I’m concerned. I did play some great tennis, maybe not today. . . . Gosh, if I had won this year, I wouldn’t have been able to look forward to something new next year.”

Lendl didn’t have a favorite when asked earlier for a prediction on the Agassi-Connors match.

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“Yes, Don Mattingly,” he said.

Connors declared he is through making predictions, that he had none for Agassi-Lendl in Saturday’s semifinals. He was too busy thinking and talking about Agassi’s comment on Thursday’s match.

As bold as he was off the court, Agassi was dead serious for Connors, even though the match really got tense just once, in the second-set tiebreaker.

It was tight the whole way. Agassi reached his first set point in the second at 5-6, Connors serving. The teen-ager squandered it by hitting a forehand return in the net. Two points later, Agassi had the set, and essentially the match, when Connors hit a forehand in the net and a backhand return long.

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“I was surprised he could hit with me,” Agassi said. “I played him a year ago (in an exhibition) and led, 4-3, in the first set. I don’t know if he was sick or if he had heat exhaustion, but he had to retire. That was a year ago, and I know that I’ve improved a lot in a year. . . . I feel he ran me almost as much as I ran him tonight. In that sense, he surprised me, and his will to fight was just something that was so intense.”

To be surprised that Connors showed a fighting spirit certainly demonstrates that Agassi doesn’t know much about his one-time idol.

“He’s certainly saying some awfully interesting things,” Connors said.

“To come in and start making predictions can make a lot of guys feel strange. The great thing about tennis is that there will always be a next time . . . “

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