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Jimmy, The ’91 Open and Those Yellow Racquets

jimmy connors at the 91 US OpenThis is the 20th Anniversary of Jimmy Connors’ famous run to the semi’s of the 1991 US Open.  Today (Labor Day) specifically, is the 20th Anniversary of Jimmy’s win over Aaron Krickstein in a 5th set tiebreaker on his 39th birthday.

Jimmy is from Belleville, IL, a small town across the river from St. Louis, MO. While Jimmy was catching the attention of tennis fans across the country, I was a Freshman in college and working as a Front Desk clerk at Oak Hill Racquet Club in Belleville, which also happens to be my hometown.  I remember working at the club throughout the tournament and what started as a dedicated few as Jimmy beat Patrick McEnroe in the first round became a boisterous packed house as Jimmy knocked off younger competitors round-by-round.  as Jimmy won each match, more and more club members gathered in the bar to watch to root on the hometown product.

Jimmy eventually lost to Jim Courier in the semi-finals, but the 1991 US Open arguably remains the all-time highlight of US Tennis.  Keep in mind, this was in the era when Agassi and Sampras were reaching dominance in their late teens, so Jimmy was literally playing guys that were half his age.  Amazing.

Although Jimmy was no longer a permanent resident of Belleville, he would often be in town to see his mother, who lived down the street from the tennis club where I worked and often practiced there.  He happened to be in town the week after The Open and dropped off a stack of those yellow racquets he made famous in New York to get restrung – for whatever reason, he liked the way the club manager strung his racquets.  Even though the racquets Jimmy used were painted and customized Slazengers, he was sponsored by Estusa and these racquets were the hottest thing going.  Everyone wanted one.

About a week after the tournament, I was eating dinner with my family and received a call from the Club Manager.  He angrily asked me if I “did anything with Jimmy’s racquets” during my shift the night before.  My answer was “no” as I knew Jimmy’s racquets were in his office and was told to protect them.  I didn’t even have the balls to reach into the bag to pick one up.

We hung up the phone, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe me.  The only other person who had access to that officer was the lady working in the snack bar – so either she took one or the Club Manager mis-counted them.  I’m guessing the latter.

Even though probably still thinks I have one of those yellow racquets (and I don’t), I still look back at the ’91 US Open as one of the greatest events in sports history – especially since I am now almost the same age as Jimmy was in that tournament.

It may not be one of the greatest matches ever played, but certainly one of the most entertaining.   Here’s the Connors/Krickstein 5th set tiebreaker from Labor Day in ’91. Thanks, Jimmy.


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