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Connors Fades Out in 4 Sets : U.S. Open: Lendl, seeded ninth, picks up momentum in 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nine years ago, it would have been a great final. But when 40-year-old Jimmy Connors crossed rackets with 32-year-old Ivan Lendl Friday night at the U.S. Open, it was just a second-round match between two aging former heavyweights who probably should have been in bed.

What a crowd of 19,595 witnessed was not merely a match featuring two players past their prime time, but probably two guys clearly out past their bedtime.

There was no buzzer to end the match at 11:24 p.m. EDT on a calm and muggy evening, simply a handshake at the net, an exchange of thin smiles and a sigh of relief.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Connors quipped.

In a battle of the ages, three-time U.S. Open champion Lendl out-punched five-time champion Connors, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, in 2 hours 37 minutes of tennis that was part entertainment, part history lesson.

The 36th career meeting between the top two winners in the history of men’s tennis ended just as every other in the last eight years--a victory by Lendl.

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Even in defeat, Connors couldn’t quite bring himself to congratulate his old foe: “He was just bunting the ball back. . . . He doesn’t play anything like he used to.”

Of course, neither does Connors, but Lendl made no excuses for his style.

“If it works, why not,” he said.

Winners of 16 Grand Slam singles titles between them--eight by each one--Lendl and Connors were something less than shadows of their former greatness . . . but that should have been been no surprise.

Together, Lendl and Connors spent exactly 532 weeks--more than 10 years--at the top of the Assn. of Tennis Professionals computer, but neither one has been ranked No. 1 since Lendl was there three years ago.

“Obviously, it was a bit more complicated than just a second-round match,” Lendl said. “But after it is over, it is over.”

It was Connors’ earliest loss in the U.S. Open since 1972.

“I always wanted to be a dangerous floater in the draw, but I didn’t want to be it when I was 40,” said Connors, who vowed to play at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open in 1993.

“I could have beaten a lot of players tonight,” he said. "(Lendl) just wasn’t one of them.”

Lendl served 12 aces, hit 41 winners and after the first set, when Connors dictated play by charging the net every chance he got, thoroughly dominated the match.

Connors remained unimpressed. “He almost plays with fear now.”

Lendl’s 13th consecutive victory against Connors increased his all-time record against Connors to 23-13. Connors hasn’t beaten Lendl since a match in Tokyo in 1984.

Late in the fourth set, Connors slumped against a giant courtside clock between points.

“I just wanted to see what time it was,” he said. “How long do I have out here?”

Not too much longer, it seems.

It was a good day to be one of the top seeded players. Nos. 2 through 5--Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic--marched through to the third round by winning their matches in straight sets.

Edberg started slowly and trailed Jakob Hlasek by two breaks in the first set, but he finished fast in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 rout lasting 1 hour 46 minutes.

For Sampras, his 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Martin Damm must have felt vaguely odd--Damm had 15 aces while Sampras had only seven.

“I am not satisfied just getting to the semis, I want to win as many titles, as many Grand Slams as I can,” Sampras said. “This is basically the last chance for me this year and hopefully I will play a little bit better as the (tournament) goes on.”

Chang disposed of Patrick McEnroe, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, thanks to a simple yet effective game plan: “I tried not to make a whole lot of errors.”

He didn’t (only 26), but what Chang did have were a lot of aces, seven, which are a lot for him anyway. As a result, Chang advanced in what is probably the weakest quarter of the draw and remains on track for a potential semifinal matchup with either Edberg or Boris Becker.

Ivanisevic had 12 aces and won 43 of 53 points on his first serve as he worked over Leonardo Lavalle, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2. Becker also had 12 aces in a four-set victory over former Pepperdine star Robbie Weiss, who was forced to retire in the fourth set because of stomach cramps.

Eighth-seeded Andre Agassi cruised through his rain-postponed second-round match as if he were driving one of his new sports cars on the open road outside Las Vegas. He sped swiftly past Francisco Roig, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, in 1 hour 32 minutes.


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