Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Jimmy Connors' sentimental journey to the semifinals in the 1991 U.S. Open seemed like one long, awe-inspiring moment. No player before or since has captured the raucous New York U.S. Open crowd like Connors did that year.
A brash, polarizing figure when he beat Ken Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 at the 1974 U.S. Open six days after his 22nd birthday, Connors had become an aging crowd favorite 17 years later as a wild-card entrant in 1991.
Connors had played just three tournaments in 1990, losing in the first round of all three before having wrist surgery in the fall of that year.
Connors was ranked No. 174 when he played his first-round match against Patrick McEnroe in the 1991 Open. The match did not start until after 9 p.m., and Connors made an amazing comeback, pulling the loud, albeit dwindling, night crowd with him. Down 0-3 and 0-40 on his own serve after losing the first two sets, Connors fist-pumped his way to a 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory that ended at about 1:35 a.m. and had the remaining crowd in an uproar.
Michiel Schapers and Karel Novacek were Connors' second- and third-round victims, setting up a fourth-round match against Aaron Krickstein on Connors' 39th birthday. By then, Connors' surprising run was the subject of a Nightline feature by ABC's Ted Koppel, according to an SI.com article.
But Connors was not finished. Not only did he launch another comeback, rallying from 5-2 down in the final set, but he spiced up his crowd-pleasing, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 victory with his typical assortment of controversial behavior.
When the chair umpire overruled a call in Krickstein's favor in the second set, Connors yelled at the umpire, according to the SI.com story, "Get out of the chair. Get your [butt] out of the chair! You're a bum! I'm out here playing my butt off at 39 years old and you're doing that?"
When the chair umpire refused to overrule a call in Connors' favor in the final set, he said to the umpire, according to the SI.com article, "You are an abortion! Do you know that?...Get the (expletive) out of there!"
The crowd went wild with every point won by Connors, who rode the emotion in the stadium and encouraged the crowd with his gesticulations.
He thrilled the uproarious evening crowd again in the quarterfinals by beating Paul Haarhuis 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 before Connors fell in straight sets to Jim Courier in the semifinals.
It was a glorious and memorable last hurrah for Connors, who played just three more Grand Slam events, never getting past the second round.