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August 28, 2005
Krickstein's U.S. Open Scar Remains Visible
WAS that Aaron Krickstein playing in a senior men's event last weekend in Amagansett, N.Y.? Have the years really flown by that fast?

"Just turned 38," he reported recently by telephone. That would make him the same age Jimmy Connors was when Connors began a semifinal run at the 1991 United States Open, best remembered for a 39th-birthday, fourth-round date with Krickstein, a seminal event in modern American tennis.

Fourteen years later, Krickstein prefers not to watch those inevitable rain-delay reruns, when he is eternally 24, hurtling toward tortuous defeat in a fifth-set tie break. He still rues a forehand off a short return he pushed long into the open court while serving for the match at 5-3, and he can't quite pardon Connors for the boorish behavior that intimidated match officials and whipped the New York Labor Day crowd into a Jimbo-crazed frenzy.

"I was pretty good friends with Jimmy, you know, especially when I was a youngster, at 15, 16," Krickstein said. "I was at his house, we traveled together."

The relationship ended - "We lost contact," Krickstein said - when the aging, raging bull beat the young ground-stroking matador in an epic I can still recall watching from the old press box high above Louis Armstrong Stadium, alongside Arthur Ashe.

"During the match, he did some things and said some things that were uncalled for," Krickstein said. "It was a win-at-all-costs attitude, and I wound up losing to a 39-year-old, a guy who was as old as I am now.

"I mean, I wish I could change the result, but I also understand what the match has come to mean. Four years in a row they showed it during the Open, and people were coming up to me in restaurants like I was still playing. They'd say, 'Oh, I was rooting for you that day,' and I'd say: 'Oh, yeah? I didn't hear you or see you.' "

Perpetuity be damned, Krickstein has, understandably, never relished the forever role as Connors's sparring partner. At the senior event in Amagansett, the nice woman on the public-address microphone kept introducing him as the man who lost that match, so before losing the final to John McEnroe, he decided to set her straight.

"I said to her, 'You know, I was a top-10 player,' " Krickstein said.

He prefers to define himself as the 16-year-old from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., who shocked Stefan Edberg and Vitas Gerulaitis at the 1983 Open, who won nine ATP events and almost $4 million in prize money, and who, before being reluctantly cast as the fall guy in the Connors vaudeville act, took apart a 21-year-old Las Vegan, name of Agassi, in the first round.

"For me, looking back, the match against Andre was as big, if not bigger, than the one against Jimmy," Krickstein said.

That's the beauty of hindsight, of selective memory. Rare is the Pete Sampras, who won his 14th and final Grand Slam title, defeated his generational rival, Andre Agassi, in the 2002 Open final, and then walked away from tennis, at 31. Agassi, now 35, has been taking cortisone shots as he chases a fitting farewell, but maybe the best he can hope for as he begins his 20th consecutive Open this week is a day or night like the one Connors had in 1991.

Maybe there is a Krickstein - a young player he shouldn't necessarily beat in draining Open conditions but will - for Agassi somewhere in the second-week draw.

Connors once told me that the Krickstein match was the most fun he'd ever had at the Open, or on any tennis stage. Krickstein just happened to be in the picture for Connors's primal scream of a last hurrah. It wasn't fun. It was just his fate.

"I know it's a famous match, and it wouldn't have been if I had won," Krickstein said. He got on with a career cut short in 1994 by injuries, went into business and returned to the sport five years ago as the director of St. Andrew's Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla. He wishes there were more senior events to play, but the tour, started more than a decade ago by Connors, soon to turn 53, fizzled in the United States.

There will be no re-enactment of 1991, no revenge match, but Krickstein can live with that because life has been full of turbulence and twists. Jimmy Connors is no longer his worst Open memory, by a long shot.

A year ago, Krickstein returned to play the senior doubles event. After one match, his wife, Bianca, fell ill, and was found to have a rare ovarian cancer that develops during pregnancy. With their daughter, Jade, not yet a year old, Bianca required immediate surgery to remove cancerous tumors, followed by months of chemotherapy that she has come through, Krickstein said, with a promising prognosis.

It wasn't his first cancer ordeal, having lost his older sister in 2003 to breast cancer. That sister, Kathy Pressel, was the mother of Morgan Pressel, the 17-year-old women's golf prodigy.

"I'm hoping that very soon I'll be more known as Morgan's uncle than I will be as the guy who lost to Connors at the '91 Open," Krickstein said.

That could also partly depend, of course, on the forecast for the Open these next two weeks, and for years to come.

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· Mom 2 2 Beauties
11,934 Posts

Too funny, Socket. It's inevitable.

"During the match, he did some things and said some things that were uncalled for," Krickstein said. "It was a win-at-all-costs attitude, and I wound up losing to a 39-year-old, a guy who was as old as I am now."
That mostly defined Connor's career.
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