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Connors Blisters Fleming : Champions tennis: Crowd-pleasing effort puts him into quarterfinals of Digital PC tournament.


THOUSAND OAKS — It was a deliciously soft shot by Peter Fleming, the kind that should have given him ample time to prepare for Jimmy Connors' return. Connors, however, had different plans. With several quick steps to his left, the co-founder of the Champions Tour reached the ball and lobbed it back over both the net and his charging opponent.

Fleming let out a loud groan and heaved his racket skyward as the ball landed in play and the crowd of over 3,000 erupted in laughter.

"We were having some great rallies but I wasn't winning any of them," Fleming said, shortly after Connors closed him out, 6-3, 7-5, in the quarterfinals of the Digital PC Champions tournament at Sherwood Country Club on Thursday night.

"With most of the guys on this tour I can stand back and rally and be fine," he said. "It took me a while to realize that was a ridiculously stupid thing to do with Jimmy."

Connors roared out of the gates in the first set, using trademark two-handed backhand returns to whip passing shots past Fleming whenever the lanky New Yorker ventured to the net.

In the second set, Fleming gained better control of his volleys and made the match competitive, though he spent much of the night slouching around the baseline wearing a disconsolate expression.

"It made for good tennis," Connors said. "Peter's hitting his ground strokes better now than he did 15 years ago. The play we get off each other is good for us and good for the crowd. They deserve to be warmed up by what's happening in front of them."

Thursday night's second match was a 6-4, 6-4 doubles victory by Bjorn Borg and Mel Purcell over Roscoe Tanner and Johan Kriek.

If the presence of Connors and Borg gave the evening session emphasis, Mansour Bahrami was the show-stopper of the afternoon.

The 38-year old Iranian defeated Tim Gullikson, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, by twice recovering from a three-game deficit in the final set to force and eventually win a tiebreaker, 8-6.

Bahrami blew 15 aces past Gullikson and relentlessly hunted down shots, but it was his showmanship that thrilled the crowd.

"It's very important to see people happy," said Bahrami, whose antics included whistling like a train after long points and flipping his racket end over end while waiting for Gullikson's serves. "If I play it straight and I see people have no fun, it is a loss for me."

The Bahrami-Gullikson match followed the day's opening engagement, a 6-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory by Mel Purcell over John Lloyd.

Today's continuing quarterfinals feature Bahrami against Kriek at 1 p.m. immediately followed by Jose-Luis Clerc vs. Larry Stefanki. Borg and Purcell face off in singles at 7 p.m., followed by doubles between Bahrami-Stefanki and Ross Case-Leif Shiras.

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