Someday soon, perhaps, Jimmy Connors is going to realize he's too old to be playing tennis with a bunch of kids.
But not just yet.
Today, Connors, 32, brought back memories on a humid, rainy afternoon in Paris. With 16,500 fans watching in the stadium at Roland Garros, he routed young Stefan Edberg, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), with a display that was vintage Connors: slashing backhands, wondrous lobs and all the pumping, fist-shaking antics that have become his trademark.
Connors' convincing victory, delayed by 57 minutes of early evening rain, puts him into Friday's semifinals against defending champion Ivan Lendl. Early in the day, when the sun still was bright and hot, Lendl easily defeated unseeded Martin Jaite of Argentina, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Lendl has rolled through to the semifinals with little effort, not losing a set. Certainly, he must be a prohibitive favorite against Connors, having won their last four matches and being, at 25, in the best shape of his life.
But to count the old man out at this juncture would be foolish. He looked vulnerable today against Edberg, at 19 the youngest of the five rising Swedes and, some think, the most talented. Edberg is easily the best server of the group and here he has played serve and volley the entire tournament, which was especially effective in a fourth-round upset of Anders Jarryd.
Edberg was 6 the first year that Connors played here, and today, at the crucial moments, Connors made him look like a child.
"I really enjoy still being able to go out and grind it out against the young guys," Connors said. "I think that as much as anything keeps me interested in tennis. I find it very entertaining, for me to go out there and grind with these guys."
At 5-4 in the first set, he broke Edberg, getting to 30-all with a wicked backhand, getting to set point with a well-placed lob and winning the set by bashing Edberg's first serve past the lunging Swede.
That shot produced Connors' first pump of the day.
Edberg might have climbed right back into the match in the second set. At 3-all, he had Connors, 0-40. Connors got lucky with a net cord backhand, hit a rare service winner, then caught the tape with a backhand. Shocked, Edberg quickly made two errors to give Connors the game.
Connors did his Jimmy Connors routine, circa 1974, again in the next game. At 30-all he slammed Edberg's serve past him with a backhand. Then, at break point, he lunged way wide of the court to get Edberg's serve into play. When Edberg went for a drop volley, Connors chased it down and tapped a delicate backhand just past Edberg's reach for the break.
That was Connors' pump No. 2.
Easily, he served out the set. "I had some trouble getting used to playing on the center court because I hadn't played there all week," Edberg said. "Still, he was playing very good tennis."
In the third set, both played good tennis. Edberg broke for 2-0 with a good volley on a shot aimed at his stomach. Connors broke back at 3-all with a superb game: two cross-court returns that Edberg didn't touch; a remarkable, chased-down, whirling winner off of what had appeared to be a winning lob, and a running forehand down the line that had the crowd shrieking so loudly one might have thought a Frenchman was playing.
The forehand produced pump No. 3.
They proceeded on serve to 5-all, only because Edberg served brilliantly at 4-4 in the face of Connors' mastery. Edberg saved four break points, two with aces and two with great volleys off of returns ripped by Connors.
Then the rain and lightning rolled in. Everyone moved inside for a while.
Upon return, Connors promptly broke Edberg. With Connors serving for the match, Edberg promptly broke back, hitting four clean winners.
The tie breaker was all Connors.
"My legs still move," Connors said with a grin. "I don't know how many miles they have left in them but I hope it's at least a few more."