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Once Roddick, coached by Connors from 2006 to '08, rolled Tomic in straight sets on Friday, you felt something stir. You watched Roddick exhorting the crowd, loping in his U.S.-flag shoes, grinning on court like never before. "The stadium, that's the smallest it's felt for me," he said. "It almost felt cozy."
Then you talk to Connors. He had noticed too. "When I was working with Andy, I said, If you let 'em, those 25,000 people will help you win," Connors said. "And it takes him to say that he's retiring to see it and to feel it. I guess, better late than never."
Roddick was asking for help. And once he took the first set from his third-round opponent, Fabio Fognini, on Sunday afternoon, the comparison became unavoidable: It was also Connors's 60th birthday, and during the changeover a montage of Jimbo moments unspooled. Roddick, shoulder aching, sat watching clips of matches he attended as a nine-year-old. When he walked out to serve, the voice-over with a hint of that old New York accent commanded, "Andy: Like Connors in '91—a big run. Let's go."
In the second-set tiebreak, the moment for which you come to the Open—the kind that you'd almost forgotten amid the pomp and money and celebrity nonsense—occurred. With the score tied 1--1, someone screamed, "Nice shoes, Andy!" and then Roddick and Fognini cut loose with a stunning 20-stroke rally that Roddick finished off with a vintage forehand pass. The crowd erupted. Roddick won the next three points to go up 5--1, wagging his finger as the clamor grew.
At set point, he walked to the service line. Up in the TV booth Carillo quoted Connors's famous words from '91: "This is what they wanted!" A cool wind began to blow, the Open's first hint of fall. When the match was over, with Roddick winning in four sets, he spoke into a microphone, his voice echoing all the way to the top of the stadium. He didn't sound like himself. "These last couple days have been really humbling," Roddick said. "I love this place, and I love you, and I'm having a blast. I'm going to give my all here."
Within 10 minutes, Frank Ayala had stepped out on the catwalk along the drawboard. He took three steps up the ladder and flattened the score—7--5, 7--6 (1), 4--6, 6--4—on the blue wall. Below, hundreds stood watching, necks craned, camera phones poised. Ayala stripped off the vinyl backing, and when he stepped down to reveal Roddick's name, people whooped and clapped. It wasn't Ellen, but nobody seemed to mind.