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If you were courtside on Tuesday at St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., you witnessed two tennis milestones: Jimmy Connors’ last public tennis match and Aaron Krickstein’s first-ever win over Connors.
The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Perrotta was there, and he joined Only A Game to fill in Bill Littlfield.
BL: Tom, Aaron Krickstein, age 47, v. Jimmy Connors, age 62. Why?
TP: Because this is one of the most historic tennis matches ever, and there's just a ton of history between them. The 1991 U.S. Open match they played is maybe the most famous tennis match in history. I can't think of another match that's been seen more often. It's re-run every year at the U.S. Open. Connors was 39, on his way to the semi-finals; this was his last great run at the Open. Krickstein was the young buck coming up.
They played five sets; almost five hours. It was a total war. The crowd was crazy. Connors was berating the umpire. It was a crazy, crazy, crazy afternoon. And it's been shown on every rain delay, you know, at the U.S. Open ever since, for the last 23 years. And, you know, Aaron and Jimmy, I think a lot of people didn't realize they were friends before that and practice partners. They spent a lot of time together, played a lot of cards together. And they just never spoke to each other after that match, and Aaron never beat him. He was 0-7 against him in his career. And [Krickstein] called him up over the summer, they get back together and they decided they would play this match one more time.
BL: Was it losing to Connors, when Connors was 39 years old, that made Aaron Krickstein decide not to speak to him again after the match?
Their rapport the other day was great. They were like old friends, like they hadn't skipped a beat.Tom Perrotta, WSJ
TP: You know, I think some people read it that way — that this match was so devastating. But having spoken to Aaron a lot now, I don't see that at all. I think it's a matter of, sure, he was upset about losing, and Jimmy was a little bit nutty that day and that would be upsetting to anyone, and I think he needed some space.
But it seems more like one of those things where a few weeks, a few months go by, you don't talk and all of a sudden five, 10, 15 years have gone by, and you just haven't crossed paths anymore. He says he didn't hold a grudge, and I believe him. Their rapport the other day was great. They were like old friends, like they hadn't skipped a beat.
BL: You have written that Krickstein was afraid to call Connors to suggest the rematch and, in fact, he put it off for some time. Was he or was anyone else surprised that Connors said, "Yeah sure, let's do it?"
TP: I think he was initially, but he told me that once he got off the phone he thought, "Phew, that's done. I don't have to think about that for a little while." It's just one of those things where you never know. It's been so long, and he never quite knew what Jimmy thought of that match. But Jimmy gets over matches really quickly. He can be volatile during a match but once the match is over he's not that way anymore.
BL: Tell me a little about the match itself. Was Connors at his misanthropic best…or worst, whatever we should call it?
TP: He was quite a gentleman, actually. He was very funny, joking around with the crowd a lot. You know, they made their own line calls. There wasn't a question about any single call. There was some good comedy. And I was impressed with how well he could hit, actually. He's had three hip operations, Connors. One's been replaced twice, and the other one has been replaced once. He's 62. And if he doesn't have to move a ton and the ball's in his wheelhouse, it's reminiscent of what he used to be: very flat, low over the net, never misses. It was something to see. And they had some really long rallies, and there was a lot of huffing and puffing going on.
BL: Connors has said that this is his last public appearance as a tennis player. Do you believe him?
[sidebar title="'Madison Keys: America's Next Tennis Star?'" width="630" align="right"]Tennis player Madison Keys is just 19 years old, but has already received high praise from Serena Williams. [/sidebar]TP: Yeah. It seems to me he doesn't get the same satisfaction out of it anymore. He wants to be able to move a certain way. That was always the biggest thing for him, is how he can move and get to the ball. And he's beat up. I think tennis, if you have to move a lot, beats him up with the hips and everything else.
BL: What about Krickstein? He finally beat Connors. What are his plans going forward?
TP: Aaron's in a really good place. I think a lot of people have thought "Oh, this match must've, you know, ruined this guy's whole life." I don't see that at all. He's married, he has a couple kids, he teaches at St. Andrews. He's the Director of Tennis. It's a really pretty country club. It seems like a pretty sweet job. He looks almost the same as he did then. He just has a little bit of gray hair. He's really thin, he moves great; sliding around the court great. He says in some ways he's a better player now than he was then.
This segment aired on February 14, 2015.
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