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Always a hit at Flushing, Connors hits at Flushing

The trademark vest. The old-school racket. That classic two-handed backhand.

Yes, that was Jimmy Connors gutting it out at the U.S. Open. And this was no replay.

The five-time champion, whose highlights are aired almost anytime the first raindrop falls at Flushing Meadows, was on an indoor practice court Wednesday, hitting with another American great, Jim Courier, as he tries to work himself back into playing shape for his return to competitive tennis — in the Champions Series later this year.

One of the greatest to play the game, the 59-year-old Connors conceded even he still gets nervous.

"I haven't played in front of a crowd in 10 or 12 years," he said. "The tennis is OK. I can play. But playing in front of a crowd, what they expect, what I expect of myself. That's going to be interesting."

Connors, Courier, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are among those playing on the 12-city circuit that will raise money for USTA Serves — a developmental program run by the U.S. Tennis Association.

This is the 20-year anniversary of Connors' magical run to the semifinals. On his 39th birthday, Connors came back from 5-2 down in the fifth set against Aaron Krickstein to force a tiebreaker to decide the match. He won it 7-4. One of his famous lines from that match, spoken directly into a courtside camera: "This is what they pay for. This is what they want."

Nobody liked to lay it out there for the fans more than Jimbo. No wonder, then, that he gets a kick out of the rain delays that have halted play the last two days at Flushing Meadows and could force the men's winner to win four matches in four days.

"I like it because it's more than tennis now," Connors said. "The tennis is primary, but how you deal with all the surroundings, the scheduling, the rain, on-and-off and things like that, this is old school. It's why they call it the toughest tennis in town.

"It's two weeks, three out of five sets and now they're playing three or four days in a row. But at the end of the tunnel, someone's going to be $1.8 million richer and have a U.S. Open title. So, isn't that worth working for?"

Connors said he is still working on an autobiography that's scheduled to come out next year, to coincide with his 60th birthday. He promises "it's not just tennis."

"Whoever picks it up and reads it, I want them to react to the book like they reacted to me when I played," he said. "You loved me, hated me, laughed with me, cried with me. It's my feelings, that's what's behind the book. It's not what happened at 4-all, 30-all."

But that part was fun, too, and Connors gets as big a kick as anyone when those highlights are replayed.

"I appreciate them keeping me famous," he said.