He gave himself the choke sign, dropped his racket in self-disgust and sarcastically applauded himself on a rare good shot. For slightly more than two hours this afternoon, Yannick Noah flopped around the Stadium Court of the National Tennis Center, looking helpless.

"I just couldn't compete the way I wanted to," he said later. "I don't even feel as if I played. I'm not even that tired."

Noah had little reason to be tired after his 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal loss in the U.S. Open to No. 2-seeded Ivan Lendl this afternoon. Although the two men played in oppressive heat -- court temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees -- Noah never gave himself much of a workout.

Neither did Heinz Gunthardt, who looked just as meek tonight in losing the second of the day's quarterfinals, by the identical 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 score, to No. 4 seeded Jimmy Connors. The rapid-fire victories put Lendl and Connors into Saturday's semifinals, where they will resume their old and bitter rivalry.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Connors, who is seeking a sixth Open title. "I like to compete."

He will be competing in his 12th straight Open semifinal because Gunthardt simply was not up to the occasion. Connors broke his service in the first game of the match and ran off the first four games with the total loss of four points.

Gunthardt tried. He wailed at several line calls. He rallied with Connors at length. He tried to come in, but was sent ducking for cover because Connors had his ground strokes zeroed in.

Even at 33, Connors doesn't lose to players ranked No. 47 in the world. Not here, not on the one court on which he must be given a legitimate shot at beating Lendl -- even though Lendl has won their last six meetings, several of them overwhelmingly.

"It is always tough for me to play Connors here," Lendl said. "The crowd seems to enjoy giving me a hard time and he somehow gets them turned on for him. I don't know why it is."

It isn't hard to explain. Tonight, Connors gave the night crowd some entertainment in the onesided match. He used his racket as a cane after missing an easy volley, waved booing fans down to check a line after a Gunthardt shot was called out, and crushed several returns in old style Connors fashion.

The victory was the last of a quarterfinal round that may have been the most desultory in Open history. Anders Jarryd retired in the third set against Mats Wilander; Joakim Nystrom was routed by John McEnroe, and Lendl and Connors embarrassed their opponents today. Only Jarryd won so much as a set in losing.

At least tonight's crowd of 20,238 did not have to sit in the sauna-like conditions that prevailed for the Lendl match. The person who seemed most effected by the heat was Noah, who was seeded No. 7.

"From the very first point, I think he was pacing himself," said Lendl. "I started out to do that but after three or four games I realized I could go all out and I wasn't going to get that tired. If he had kicked in and I had gotten tired, I might have been in trouble. But he never did."

Indeed. At his best, Noah is one of the most graceful players in the game, a superb athlete who can hit spectacular shots. Today, from the beginning, Noah acted as if he was double-parked.

He double-faulted in the third game of the match to give Lendl his first break. He netted an easy volley for the second one. He walked around as if the heat was bothering him terribly. He was disgusted with himself and, at times, appeared embarrassed by his play.

Did the heat bother him?


Was he embarrassed?


Then what happened? "I was tight starting out," replied Noah, who had said two days ago that the pressure in the match was on the higher-seeded Lendl. "I thought I could win, that I would win and I was already thinking about the semifinals and the final."

Noah, the French Open champion in 1983, never has gotten past the quarterfinals in any other Grand Slam tournament. Lendl, who has been the losing finalist here the past three years, made certain that record remained intact. He hit the ball hard from the start, kept Noah pinned at the base line and was helped by Noah's poor serving -- a 50 percent rate in first serves.

"I lose a lot of confidence in my game if I am not serving well," Noah said. "I really wanted to play a great match but I never got started. It was never a close match. I had one break point (in the third set) and when I didn't get that my one chance was gone. I didn't give everything I could. I didn't even compete."

Noah never showed his flashy style at the net. He constantly hit volleys wide or into the net or just watched as Lendl ripped passing shots by him. Lendl, who was unhappy with his play in the fourth round, when he dropped a set to 17-year-old Jaime Yzaga, was pleased today.

"I have been building during the tournament, and I had a little setback in the last round," Lendl said. "Yesterday, I went out in a cart and played golf and tried to hit as few shots as I could."

Today, he did the same thing -- hitting very few shots. The rallies were brief, usually ending with a ripped Lendl winner or a Noah error. Lendl was so confident he even came to net during the last two sets.

Both players skirted the question of whether Noah had given 100 percent. Noah, in saying he had not given everything he could, clearly meant in terms of his level of play. Noah cared; his face told that. But he appeared frightened by the heat, which forced Anders Jarryd to retire Wednesday. Noah walked very slowly between points, kept his head down and did not chase some balls that looked reachable.

"He was just moving slower than I'm used to seeing," said Lendl, who had lost five of 12 matches to Noah before today. "I could tell he was frustrated, especially with his serve."

"I never really showed the people how I can play," Noah said. "That is disappointing."

Disappointing is a good word. It describes today's matches and all the quarterfinals. But now, the top four players in the world -- the top four seeds in the tournament -- are in the men's semifinals.

With any luck, they will make the weekend more riveting than the past two days.