LAS VEGAS, SEPT. 25 -- For almost an hour this cool night, a strange tennis match in the desert provided unexpected suspense. A woman was giving a man a good game to the delight of 13,832 fans in the Caesars Palace outdoor stadium. But Jimmy Connors in workmanlike fashion rallied just enough after a slow start to beat an error-prone Martina Navratilova, 7-5, 6-2.

It was a pleasant enough diversion but hardly spectacular tennis. The 40-year-old Connors, who took $500,000 in prize money, rarely exhibited the fire that made him famous. Navratilova, 35, although serving strongly and moving Connors back and forth, made too many mistakes to spring an upset.

Allowed only one serve, Connors kept it at a soft 65 to 70 mph while her serves surpassed 85. But Navratilova only rarely utilized the wider court Connors had to cover. She had the benefit of hitting into a court on Connors's side that was expanded by the width of one doubles alley.

"The most difficult thing was the mental adjustment to giving away the extra space on both sidelines," Connors said. "That's a lot of room for a 40-year-old guy to cover."

Navratilova seemed happy to put the match behind her. "I'm glad it's over," she said. "It was such a long buildup and I was more nervous than for any match I've ever played.

"It was so unlike anything I've done before. It was a different kind of pressure -- 14,000 people and a pay-per-view audience. You're thinking a lot of people have put a lot money on this, either betting or for the entertainment. ... I have to give credit to Jimmy. Jimmy played very well."

It took Connors 52 minutes to win the first set after having his service broken at the outset and losing the second game as well. He broke Navratilova's service to even the games at 3. But after they each held, Navratilova squandered two break-point opportunities to fall behind, 5-4.

Still, she was playing Connors tougher than a 7 1/2-1 underdog. Playing the baseline, Navratilova moved Connors around successfully, but was unable to take advantage of the handicaps imposed on Connors. Her problem was unforced errors more than anything.

Connors finally prevailed when Navratilova double-faulted at set point. In all, she made 26 unforced errors in the set.

The second set went much more easily for Connors. He broke Navratilova in the second game to go up 2-0. She broke back to make it 2-1. But in the sixth game, in the best point of the night, Connors made a great get of a Navratilova drop shop and fired a cross-court winner to go up 40-15. He broke her with a forehand passing shot to take a 4-2 lead.

At 30-all in the final game, Navratilova netted a forehand volley to give Connors the only break point he needed and he won the match when she hit what seemed to be a routine forehand wide.

Graciously, Connors said, "Martina started off playing great tennis." He allowed that she might have become more conservative as the match went on, but that "her championship attitude and game are great for the sport and for the people."

"I think it's going to happen again," Navratilova said of the man-woman matchup. "Probably not with the two of us. ... I'd like to do it again, but I'd rather not have five months to think about it. That made it tough too."

The match was light years removed from that quintessential man-woman confrontation of 1973 when Billie Jean King turned months of Bobby Riggs's often tasteless but effective hype into an evening to remember.

That's when the 29-year-old King upstaged the 55-year-old con artist in straight sets in what she called "the culmination of my 19 years in tennis." Her match point was that tennis belonged to all the people.

It made possible tonight's show -- attended by both King and Riggs. Putting the best possible spin on it, Connors said, "It's time to reach new boundaries {in tennis} and if this was one way to attract that attention, it was super."