Raised by his grandmother and coached by his mother, Jimmy Connors took the tennis world by storm in 1974, only to become one of the greatest ever.
The eight-time Grand Slam champion turned 70 on Friday, and in the last 50 of those years he has earned several generations of fans and enemies on the court. Although this word sounds too strong for one of the most gentlemanly sports.
He was raised by his two beloved women, promising him to conquer the world, suppressing his every disappointment. Success was not long in coming and came at the age of 21, when he won Wimbledon after only six lost sets. Very quickly he suggested to the wise men in tennis that this was a player who could win big in the next decade. In 1974, he did it at the Australian Open and the US Open.
But things for the American subsequently do not develop exactly as he wants. He reached a total of seven Grand Slam finals until 1978 and lost six of them. He was stopped twice by crowd favorite Bjorn Borg in the title match, and once by John Newcombe, Arthur Arsch, Manuel Orantes and Guillermo Villas.
Successive disappointments make Connors return to the past: “They’ll be talking about 1974 even after I’m dead. Don’t forget what I did then. Nobody can take 1974 away from me.”
He’s right about one thing – no one will forget his three Slam titles in that great year for him, but that’s just the beginning. His Slam success isn’t over, nor is his fantastic rivalry with Borg. The negative streak was interrupted in 1978 with the final of the US Open, when the Swede was defeated in three decisive sets.
Then comes another unpleasant period, and not only on the tennis court. The death of his father, James Connors, occurred in 1977. His manager at the time, Bill Riordan, was estranged and his coach, Pancho Segura, was sacked. Connors has a serious crush on women’s tennis star Chris Evert, and the two enter into an engagement that is soon broken off.
The American is losing valuable people, and this affects its results. Between 1979 and 1981, he went on a streak of eight Grand Slam semifinal exits and one quarterfinal exit.
In addition to being stopped three more times by Bjorn Borg, and unfortunately for him, another great rivalry comes into his life – that with the young John McEnroe. To this day, the two do not like each other, but they do not hide their mutual respect. They played a total of nine Grand Slam matches against each other, with John Mack raising his hands in victory in six of those.
“I never got a chance to meet Jimmy Connors. He was quick to let me go. Even as a kid I knew enough about him. We didn’t like each other, but we always had respect for each other. I always respected him because the only player that puts more effort on the tennis court than Connors, say Rafael Nadal. And the difference between the two is not that big. Every time I looked in the mirror before a match with Connors, I asked myself if I was giving as much as he did.
We didn’t like each other because he’s a total ass. He took offense more easily than anyone else. From his perspective, I was an 18-year-old kid who wanted to take away his titles and be the best American.” McEnroe recalls for the start of their rivalry. It came in the semifinals of “Wimbledon” in 1977, when the title was for Björg.
Big John’s words are very important in the context of understanding what kind of character Connors is on the court. They are also confirmed by another historical rival of his – Arthur Ashe.
“I swear every time I walked past Jimmy Connors in the locker room, it took a lot of willpower not to punch him in the face; Connors had an air of arrogance about him. He regularly threatened his opponents before hitting the ball.” Ash says who openly criticized his opponent for not being particularly enthusiastic about playing for the USA in the Davis Cup.
Short love Chris Evert also described him as a “defensive guy” because of the disappointment that he was no longer No. 1 at the time. Not at the top of his game like he is in his 21st year. But it is certain that he has not lost his qualities as a champion.
The late 1970s was a period in which it became fashionable for Connors to sign off in matches with Borg and McEnroe, even though he was considered unbeatable just a few seasons earlier. His inimitable two-handed flat backhand, as well as his unyielding spirit, are still there and will surely lead to more success.
Thus, in 1982, the streak was broken at Wimbledon, when Connors won his sixth Grand Slam title, defeating McEnroe in the final in a stunning five-set match. This remains one of the most tense title matches on the holy grass, because at stake is not just the cup, but victory in a great rivalry. This loss turns out to be even more bitter for John Mack in the future because he could have won Wimbledon four years in a row.
After the triumph in London for Connors comes the one in New York, where he won his fourth US Open title. There, in the final, he won another great rivalry of his – this one with Ivan Lendl. The Czech-American is one of the toughest opponents of his career, with a record of 13 wins and 22 losses against him.
That triumph returned Connors to the top of the world rankings, and he was in that role for Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 1983, but suffered disappointment at both tournaments. His latest eighth Grand Slam title came again at his beloved US Open when he again defeated Lendl in the final. In the aftermath, Ivan makes up for the disappointments with several significant victories and, in turn, eight Slam titles.
Despite numerous disappointments in his career, Connors continues to hold some of the greatest records in tennis. He has 109 titles, a number that Roger Federer tried to reach but never managed, remaining at 103. The two, along with Pete Sampras, hold the record for most titles in New York at five each. Connors’ 98 race wins, however, are still out of reach.
The American also impresses with his sporting longevity, holding the record for most games played (1,557) and most wins (1,251). The Swiss Maestro was unable to maintain this pace, albeit in a completely different era of tennis. In addition, the Illinois-born tennis player holds the record for the most consecutive years in which he reached the top 3 of the rankings – 13!
Many tennis experts say that a large part of Jimmy’s motivation to last for so many years was his sporting hatred of great rivals.
His ex-fiancée Evert also spoke about something similar, but with the clarification that no one hates him anymore.
Some of his greatest opponents are now his close friends.