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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hoping Lightning Strikes Twice

Photo: momovieman
John Elway had “the drive.” Jimmy Connors had “the play.”

Some call it the best point in tennis history.

The 39-year-old, 174th ranked Jimmy Connors was doing the unthinkable – making a run to the quarterfinals of the 1991 U.S. Open tennis tournament where he was matched up against Paul Haarhuis. Tennis fans were on the edge of going berserk and Connors was about to send them there.

After returning three Haarhuis overheads with defensive lobs during one particular point, Connors gained control of the point, ripping a forehand cross court. Haarhuis hit a decent slice that went deep to Jimmy’s backhand side. Connors approached the ball with reckless abandon and ripped the ball down the line for a winner.

He pumped his fists at the standing crowd and they went crazy – clapping, laughing, and some even pumped their fists in return. [Here’s a video of the point. Even if you are not a tennis fan, watch it. You’ll get caught up in the moment.]

It was everything a great sports moment is supposed to be – thrilling, electric, joyful, exciting, and a dozen other adjectives. But it also shines as one of the greatest points of the open era, because, for one point, athlete and fan were one. Connors gave us exactly what we wanted.

He never gave up on the point (or in any point for that matter) even though his 39-year-old legs probably wanted to, and by going all-out he honored the game.

Connors won that match. His miraculous run ended in the semifinals at the hands of a young Jim Courier, but twenty-one years later, that point against Haarhuis is still shown on U.S. Open preview shows and during rain delays every year at this time. It’s held up as the standard for the way the game ought to be played.

Since that moment in 1991, the tournament has had many thrilling moments.

From Todd Martin’s big-eyed crazy look after winning incredible points, to Pete Sampras puking his guts out at the back of the court and still finding a way to win, the tournament still delivers.

And who can forget Andre Agassi’s defeat of James Blake, 7-6 in the fifth in the 2005 quarterfinals in a match that became an instant classic? Or, Agassi, with an ailing back, defeating Marcos Baghdatis in five thrilling sets in the second round in 2006 in what turned out to be his final win at a major?

But a moment like the one Connors and Haarhuis had is one of the reasons fans tune into the tournament every year. We are hoping lightning strikes twice. We want to cheer for another player the way we cheered for Connors. We want to put our hands in the air, scream with delight, and lose control for a minute.

It makes all the other restrained moments of life worth it.


Can you tell that the 2012 U.S. Open started yesterday and that I was camped in front of my TV?


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