This was my atmosphere — Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Rod Laver and Billie Jean King are being honoured during the induction ceremony of the US Open Court of Champions. — Pic. AFP-

Jimmy Connors came back to the place where he most loved to compete — and where he most loved to perform.

Jimmy Connors came back to the place where he most loved to compete — and where he most loved to perform.

Connors won five of his eight Grand Slam titles at the US Open, so it was easy for him to reminisce 11 years after he last walked off the court at the National Tennis Center.

The 51-year-old Connors, back at the US Open championship as one of those honoured in the inaugural US Open Court of Champions, admits his entertaining antics were at their absolute best here.

"This was my atmosphere,'' he said.

That's for sure. There was his series of emotional fist pumps that seemed to last for so many seconds, his moments jumping into the stands and stealing a sip of a fan's drink, and his screaming at the officials time and time again.

"My greatest day was the day I left here,'' Connors said. "The reason I say that is because I didn't leave anything out, especially at this tournament. When I walked out of here, I left DNA out there on that court. I say that with pride. In walking away, in not playing here anymore, it was the toughest thing I ever did.

"I made my reputation here, really. No, I didn't make my reputation, this place made my reputation. I just happened to be along for the ride.''

Connors waved to the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, which gave him a long standing ovation, then he insisted, "I've calmed down since then.''

Unfortunately, his name was spelled "Jimmy Conners'' on the big screen just before a video tribute to him.

Connors, who lives in California, is getting back into tennis — both playing and starting a youth education and mentoring programme.

"To be honoured by the press and the fans here in New York, I guess that's about as good as it gets,'' he said.

Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Rod Laver were also honoured in the inaugural induction ceremony of the US Open Court of Champions.

Andy Roddick and his coach Brad Gilbert celebrate after Roddick's first Grand Slam victory, in the US Open. "He's got an amazing game and talent. I changed nothing. I was just the right guy at the right time... I just knewfrom the first practice he had the game. He needed more strategy," said Gilbert who has done a world of good for the US Open champion. — Pic. AP-

Connors and Evert were selected for the Open Era, the late Bill Tilden and Helen Wills for the Golden Era, and King and Laver for both periods.

"This will probably be the first and last time I'm on this court,'' King said.

To be eligible, players had to have won at least one singles title and have been retired from both singles and doubles at the U.S. Open for at least five years.

"All my memories and wins came at Forest Hills, not too far from here,'' Laver said.

"It's been a great feeling to compete at the US Open. Standing here on Arthur Ashe Stadium brings back all of my battles with Arthur Ashe.''

Gilbert makes impact on Roddick

Blanche Roddick read Brad Gilbert's book "Winning Ugly'' when her son Andy was 13 and dreaming big about life as a professional tennis star.

That was about eight years before Gilbert started coaching the new US Open champion.

"One thing he said was that you have to get others to believe,'' she recalled while celebrating her youngest son's first Grand Slam title with family and friends in a private suite at Arthur Ashe Stadium. "That was one thing I was not focused on, finding a person to believe.''

Thanks in large part to Gilbert, everybody believes now.

"It's been an unbelievable three weeks,'' said Gilbert, who was giving the thumbs-up sign in the locker room after the match while talking on a cell phone.

"He's got an amazing game and talent. I changed nothing. I was just the right guy at the right time... I just knew from the first practice he had the game. He needed more strategy. He's 21. He'll get better. He definitely can serve better. Andy's serve was a way of taking out his nerves.''

"Andre gave me a great opportunity 10 years ago and I feel blessed that I got another great opportunity,'' Gilbert said.

While the 21-year-old Roddick and 42-year-old Gilbert disagree on several things — such as favourite pro football teams and types of music — this appears to have the makings of a successful union.

Gilbert was a self-described grinder who won 20 singles titles but never a major between 1982-90.

"It was huge,'' Roddick said of his coach's influence. "I think we have a great camaraderie. We just click. You know, he knows what to say to me, when to say it. He makes things simple for me, which helps a lot.''

A few dozen of Roddick's family and friends and other supporters crowded around a TV in their suite to watch his news conference, clapping and laughing at his answers.

His father, Jerry, sipped a beer and smiled as he watched.

Tennis greats Ivan Lendl (above), Monica Seles and Billie Jean King took a walk down memory lane at a joint appearance, reminiscing about the thrills of playing and winning the US Open. — Pic. AP-

"It means a lot,'' his mother said. "From the time he was very, very young I had a lot of belief in him. The hardest part is getting someone else to believe in him. There are so many tennis people out there who believe they have the next champion. We weren't going to give up as long as he wanted it. Today is a great conclusion to all of that.''

New dad Younes

The pain of defeat at the US Open lasted just seconds before Younes El Aynaoui remembered just how lucky he is.

The Moroccan crowd favourite hadn't even packed his gear away following his quarterfinal defeat to David Nalbandian before he was grinning ear-to-ear.

"Of course I wish I could stay here a bit longer in the tournament," the 31-year-old said.

"But I'm now looking forward to arriving home and meeting the new baby and my wife and the other kids."

El Aynaoui's wife Anne Sophie gave birth to the couple's third son last month while Younes was in the US preparing for the Open.

"I am gonna try and fly tonight if I can catch the plane," he grinned before heading out into the New York night.

Agassi plans to be back

Andre Agassi lost his shot at a ninth Grand Slam and his world number one ranking to Juan Carlos Ferrero but says his family will help him get over it.

The 33-year-old American thinks his wife Steffi Graf, the former world number one who is carrying their second child, and his son Jaden Gil will help him recover from his US Open semi-final defeat.

Younes El Aynaoui's wife Anne Sophie gave birth to the couple's third son while Younes was in the US preparing for the Open. — Pic. EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES-

"It's always difficult (to lose)," Agassi said. "But hopefully these days the disappointment doesn't last quite as long. You have the distraction of kids at home, which is good."

Agassi said he was not considering retirement and suggested that he will almost certainly be back at the US Open next year for a record 19th straight time.

"I'm just thinking about today... and that's a difficult feeling," the twice champion said.

"I don't make any decisions from an emotional standpoint. I mean, for me, I put myself in a position to give myself a look at the basket. You know, I guess there are some positives there.

"I just got to go back to work. Something would have to change drastically for me not to be back."

Agassi, one of the hardest working players in the sport, will be practising as much as ever.

"Nothing will change, it's hard... it's always hard... it's been hard for a lot of years," he said.

"But as hard as it is for me to admit it, I'm probably gonna suck it up and do it again.

"Tennis has been great to me," he added. "So I feel like I've got to give everything I have to it so that I can live without regrets."

Search for the greatest

From a roll of honour spanning 32 years, 15 candidate matches and a plethora of conflicting views, the WTA Tour is aiming to find the greatest match in women's tennis.

Unveiling the project at the US Open, officials said fans and international media were invited to vote for what they thought encapsulated the best in the women's game in the Open era.

"The most difficult part was trying to select the (first) 15 matches," WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said in a statement.

"It will be a great way to recognise some of the wonderful matches and reflect on the remarkable battles."

The 15 candidate matches, from which one will be voted the greatest, were selected by the WTA.

The earliest is Margaret Court's 14-12,11-9 victory over Billie Jean King in the 1970 Wimbledon, and the list culminates in Jennifer Capriati's comeback 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 win over Martina Hingis in the 2002 Australian Open.

In between, Tracy Austin's 1-6, 7-6, 7-6 triumph over Martina Navratilova in the 1981 US Open final is included, and the pair were back at Flushing Meadows to promote the project.

"If you look at these 15 matches, there's always a contrast in something -- personalities, looks, styles, cultures, ages," Navratilova said.

Voting will close on October 27 and the winner revealed during the WTA Tour championships in Los Angeles from November 3.

USTA rejects favouritism suggestion

Popularity is a bigger factor than nationality when US Open organisers select matches for the tournament's night sessions, organisers said, hitting back at suggestions American players had been favoured.

European and South American players have complained about the scheduling decisions at this year's tournament which gave only Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick a day off between the fourth round and quarter-finals.

"It's frustrating but at least it's the same for everybody. At least it's the same for all the non-Americans," Spain's Carlos Moya said after losing to Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui.

Agassi and Roddick were the only men able to finish fourth-round matches during three days of rain, mainly because they were on Arthur Ashe stadium, the venue for the night session.

"Everyone was upset," said Argentina's fifth-seeded Guillermo Coria.

Spanish third seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, who outlasted 33-year-old American Todd Martin, called the scheduling break for the US players a "remarkable coincidence."

But USTA president Alan Schwartz said conspiracy theories were ridiculous.

"This is a wonderful theme to play, a contagious thing one whispers around," Schwartz told the New York Times.

"Andy and Andre were placed on Arthur Ashe because they are the hottest things we have with the fans.

"I can understand when people say 'my goodness, they are the only ones who don't have to play four straight matches (to win the title).'

"But if there is a conspiracy, it's our conspiracy to get our most popular players on court to be seen by the greatest number of fans."

Schwartz said non-American players need to become more popular with U.S. fans and viewers before they will receive scheduling breaks.

"The minute you become Pat Rafter (champion here in 1997 and '98), you will make the Ashe court also," Schwartz said.

Sport stuck in the past

Tennis was stuck in the past and selling its players short, according to one of the handful of merchandisers producing items featuring images of players which were on sale at the US Open.

Of the hundreds of items designed to part tennis fans from their money at the hardcourt Grand Slam, nearly all are branded "US Open 2003"

Only a Nike shirt with a small image of American James Blake on it, packs of cards and a US Open calendar featuring players' photographs offered anything for fans of particular players to buy.

"Tennis is stuck in the 1970s and '80s," said Chris Carey, president of the Maven Group, whose NetPro tennis cards were among the few player-specific items at the Open, which runs.

"How is it possible to have nearly nothing with the players on it?" Carey asked on ESPN.com.

Part of the problem is that individual tennis players own the rights to their own names and likenesses, making it harder for memorabilia manufacturers to do business with blocs of players as they do in team sports. The men's and women's tours, the ATP and WTA, say they can only do so much.

"Under the current structure, it is difficult for us to develop marketing plans that are player specific," WTA spokesman Darrell Fry told the website.

"We've had a lot of success marketing our players in groups."

Lendl, Seles, King reminisce

Ivan Lendl, Monica Seles and Billie Jean King took a walk down memory lane at a joint appearance, reminiscing about the thrills of playing — and winning — the US Open tennis tournament.

"If you like noise and confusion and hoopla and fun and just a lot of noise pollution, then New York's where you want to be,'' four-time winner King told a crowd gathered at Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, where a large screen has been set up to televise the event.

Seles, a two-time US Open winner sidelined this year due to a stress fracture, agreed. "The best crowd is definitely the US Open ... they know their tennis and they really just get into it.''

Lendl, a Czech national who competed against American favourites such as John McEnroe, said he enjoyed playing even when the crowd was less than supportive.

"I always felt you draw from the crowd no matter what,'' said Lendl, who won the U.S. Open in 1985, 1986 and 1987.