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Lendl Just About Meets His Match : U.S. Open: He survives in 5 sets. Connors outlasts Patrick McEnroe in marathon.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day after saying goodby to Andre Agassi, the U.S. Open came close to saying the same to Ivan Lendl, the 31-year-old three-time champion who ran a five-set marathon against a 19-year-old Dutchman and won by a neck.

Lendl survived a 3-hour 37-minute first-round trial by firepower Tuesday, easing past big-serving Richard Krajicek, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0, after Krajicek had injured his neck.

Not to be outdone, unseeded Jimmy Connors, who has won this championship five times, made the last match of the evening even more memorable. Connors lost the first two sets to Patrick McEnroe, then came back for a 4-6, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

The match took 4 hours 20 minutes and ended at 1:35 a.m.

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Connors, who turns 39 Monday, shed years as the match wore on, lunging for shots in the fifth set after having limped through parts of the first two.

By the fifth set, the match had grown so fierce and Connors’ play so strong that each of his winners provoked frenzied shouts from the thousands of fans who stayed to watch it all.

“I knew it was going to be like that,” McEnroe said. “If I was in the crowd, I would be rooting for him, too.”

Lendl, who has played 50 five-set matches, observed his golden anniversary at about the same time he observed Krajicek to be in serious trouble, early in the fifth set.

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“I thought he was actually going to fall down,” said Lendl, who is 32-18 in five-set matches. “I was worried about him. I don’t think he knew exactly where he was. He was feeling awful, in my opinion.”

Krajicek was feeling awful, in his opinion, too.

“I felt the sun burning right through my head,” he said.

Only a little earlier, the Dutch-born son of Czech parents who fled to the Netherlands in 1970, held two match points in the fourth set but could cash in neither of them.

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The problem?

“I was dead,” Krajicek said.

Fortunately, his problem was not actually as severe as he described it. Krajicek’s ailments did seem extensive enough, though.

“I felt everything,” he said. “My muscles, all my muscles, my toes, my neck, my shoulder, my back, my knees, everything.

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“I thought maybe I should default. Then I thought, ‘You never know.’ Then when it was 3-0, I (said) I might as well finish it off. I wouldn’t collapse if I wouldn’t run down any balls.”

In retrospect, it didn’t exactly appear to be a rousing victory by Lendl, who barely managed to avoid his earliest loss at a Grand Slam event since Charlie Fancutt beat him in the first round at Wimbledon in 1981.

Since 1983, Lendl has won at least one Grand Slam event each year, except for 1988, and the U.S. Open is his last chance to bag one this year. But Lendl would make no promises about his chances.

“It’s never easy,” he said. “If you can hang in there and win one of these, it’s always a bonus. I feel like I am hitting the ball real well in practice, and it is just a question of time when I start playing really well in matches again.”

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Krajicek could not have served much better than he did in the early going. A late bloomer--he grew 10 inches to 6 feet 5 from age 16 to 18--Krajicek consistently knocked serves exceeding 100 m.p.h. and dominated the first two sets.

A U.S. Open finalist for eight consecutive years, from 1982-89, Lendl is seeded fifth, the first time since 1980 he is not in the top three. Lendl, who must be back on the court today to play Patrick Kuhnen, was joined in the second round by all of the players seeded ahead of him: Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich and Jim Courier.

Becker defeated clay-court specialist Martin Jaite, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4; Edberg withstood Bryan Shelton’s big serves, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1; Stich had an easy time with Jacco Eltingh of the Netherlands, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, 6-0, and Courier stroked his way past baseliner Nicklas Kulti, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Edberg’s arrival in the second round was noteworthy because last year he failed to get that far. Edberg started the 1990 U.S. Open as the No. 1 player in the world and left it a first-round loser to Alexander Volkov.

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“I said when I walked out of the locker room, ‘You don’t want to lose today after what happened last year,’ ” Edberg said. “I had to work hard today to win it, that’s for sure.”


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