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U.S. OPEN : Connors’ Hit Show Is Closed by Courier : Men’s semifinals: French Open champion too much for 39-year-old crowd favorite. Edberg defeats Lendl.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not every story has a happy ending. Not every prayer is answered. Not every 39 year old wins a U.S. Open semifinal. Not even Jimmy Connors can change that.

As the sun began its descent behind the skyline of Manhattan, the Jimmy Connors Open closed Saturday at about the time Jim Courier came up with the answer to an age-old question:

What happens when a very good old tennis player plays a very good young tennis player?

The answer was 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, in 2 hours 6 minutes, a convincing victory for Courier that put him in today’s U.S. Open final against Stefan Edberg and left Connors one match short of completing one of the modern miracles of tennis.

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Connors, 39 and holding, could not equal the magic his neon-colored racket produced in his come-from-behind, five-set victories over Patrick McEnroe and Aaron Krickstein and another one against Paul Haarhuis in the quarterfinals that lasted four sets.

But at least Connors got to the semifinals, which isn’t bad for someone who simply refused to act his age, was revered as something of a mop-haired icon and transformed the Open into a Yuppie carnival.

“To be able to come in and play tennis and to do this, I mean, how can you not laugh at this?” Connors said. “You know, I am here doing what I am still doing.

“It’s been an unbelievable couple of weeks.”

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Courier, 21, continued his similarly scarcely believable run to his second Grand Slam tournament final--he won the French Open in June. In six matches here, he has not lost a set and may be playing at the peak of his game just in time to meet Edberg.

The second-seeded Swede lowered the boom on a flat Ivan Lendl in the first semifinal, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in 2 hours 8 minutes.

Edberg broke serve six times, angled 21 volley winners out of reach of Lendl’s racket, slapped 37 winners and immediately announced what he is doing differently now than last year when he lost in the first round.

“Obviously, I am playing a lot better,” he said.

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His game included a behind-the-back shot, which, oddly enough, matched the one the normally dour Lendl hit a little earlier.

Said Edberg: “Anybody can do it.”

Until Courier came along, it didn’t seem as if anybody could beat Connors. Actually, it happened pretty easily. Connors lost his last seven service games and if that wasn’t bad enough, had only 18 winners and 44 unforced errors.

The end was a typical exchange--Courier crushing a backhand cross-court passing shot. Connors walked to the net and pulled Courier up close.

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“I told him if he played like that tomorrow, he’d have a helluva shot,” Connors said.

With that, Connors walked over to his chair and sat down heavily, covering his face with a towel. There was polite applause. Connors stripped off his shirt, put on a warm-up jacket and began walking off the court at the U.S. Open, which he had done 112 times before.

The applause grew, becoming like thunder.

He headed for the tunnel at midcourt. But first, there was time for one more curtain call.

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Connors blew kisses to the crowd, waved, pointed and spun around a couple of times. It was still Connors’ crowd, although it wasn’t always in years past.

“When they were against me, I loved it,” he said. “And when they are with me, I love it even more. At this point in time, I can’t fight 20,000 people anymore. So for them to be on my team and to push me through a couple of matches like they did the past 12 days, has been unbelievable.

“You know, I go out there and give it my best, which I have been trying to do for whole career, and they like that.

“They like the blood dripping and the falling and the stumbling and the showing them how you really feel. My whole career, I wasn’t afraid to show them that.”

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Courier took an early lead and kept the pro-Connors crowd out of the match, then kept the pressure on with accurate passing shots.

Still, Courier remains a big fan of Connors. Why shouldn’t he be? When Courier shook hands with Connors across the net, he gave a short speech. Connors tapped him on the back with his racket.

“I just said ‘You are unbelievable,’ ” Courier said. “And he is. I don’t know if we will ever see anybody like him again.”


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