American tennis player
Jimmy Connors, has been one of the most recognizable American tennis players for four decades. The left-handed player was known for his two-handed backhand and powerful return-of-serve which helped him win eight Grand Slam championships. In particular, Connors won the U.S. Open championship five times and he is the only player to win this tournament on three different surfaces—grass, clay, and hard court. Connors is the all-time male leader in tournament wins with 109. He also held the number one ranking in men's tennis for a record 160 weeks from 1974 until 1977. Aside from these accomplishments, Connors was known for his emotional outbursts on the court. Connors claimed that his on-court antics added flavor and entertainment to the sport, but his critics considered his actions classless. Whether he was loved or hated by the fans or the media, Connors's passion for the sport brought fans, press, and sponsors to the game of tennis. Connors played professional tennis past his 40th birthday and then he started the Champions Tour for male players over thirty-five years old.
Molded by His Mother To Become a Champion
James Scott Connors, Jr., known to the world simply as Jimmy Connors, was born on September 2, 1952 in East St. Louis, Illinois. His father, "Big Jim" Connors, worked as a toll bridge attendant and he was the son of the mayor of East St. Louis. His mother, Gloria Thompson Connors, was a tennis teacher who learned the sport from her own mother, Bertha Thompson. Gloria was determined to teach her older son, Johnny, and Jimmy to play tennis from an early age. When she was pregnant with Jimmy, she even cleared the land behind their house in Belleville, Illinois to build a tennis court.
Gloria Connors expected her older son, Johnny, to become a tennis champion. However, Johnny did not have the same passion for the sport as his younger brother, Jimmy. Johnny, who later became a tennis teaching professional in Atlanta, was raised primarily by his father, while his mother and grandmother groomed Jimmy to become a champion. These two women not only taught Connors how to play the game, but they also molded him into a feisty, passionate player. "We taught him to be a tiger," Gloria Connors told Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated in 1978. "'Get those tiger juices flowing!' I would call out, and I told him to try and knock the ball down my throat, and he learned to do this because he found out that if I had the chance, I would knock it down his."
Throughout his career, Gloria Thompson Connors was his primary coach. However, when the family moved to California to support Jimmy's budding tennis career, Connors also trained occasionally with Pancho Gonzalez and Pancho Segura. Connors played in his first U.S. Championship in the eleven-and-under division when he was eight years old. By the time he was eighteen he was ready to play against the top professionals. In 1970 he reached the quarterfinals in doubles of the U.S. Open with Gonzalez. As a freshman in college at the University of California at Los Angeles, Connors won the National Intercollegiate singles title. He dropped out of college in 1972 to play tennis full-time.
In the same year he won his first professional title at Jacksonville, Florida. He finished the season ranked number eighty-three.
Became a Grand Slam Champion
Connors continued to win titles at a record pace. In only a year he reached the number one ranking in the United States, tying Stan Smith. In 1973 he also won the Wimbledon doubles title with Ilie Nastase. By 1974, only his second year as a professional, Connors was winning Grand Slam singles events. He began the year by winning the Australian Open, and he then went on to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which was then a grass court at Forest Hills.
|1952||Born September 2 in East St. Louis, Illinois|
|1960||Plays in first U.S. Championship in the 11-and-under division|
|1970||Reaches U.S. Open quarterfinals with Pancho Gonzalez|
|1971||Begins college at the University of California at Los Angeles|
|1972||Drops out of college to play professional tennis full time|
|1973||Finishes year ranked number one (tied with Stan Smith)|
|1974||Wins 99 of 103 matches and 14 out of 20 tournaments|
|1974||Wins Australian Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open on grass court|
|1976||Wins U.S. Open singles title on clay court|
|1976||Ranked number one tennis player in U.S. and world|
|1978||Wins U.S. Open singles title on hard court|
|1978||Ranked number one tennis player in world|
|1978||First player to earn over two million dollars in career earnings|
|1978||Marries former Playboy Playmate-of-the-Year Patti McGuire|
|1980||Son Brett David is born|
|1982||Wins U.S. Open singles title on hard court|
|1983||Wins U.S. Open singles title on hard court|
|1985||Daughter Aubree Leigh is born|
|1991||Reaches U.S. Open semifinals at age 39|
|1992||Coauthors fitness book|
|1993||Begins Championship Tour for male tennis players over 35|
|1995||Reaches quarterfinals of ATP tournament in Halle, Germany|
|2001||Ranked 15 in Championship Tour|
Connors had a shot at winning the Grand Slam in 1974 by capturing all four major titles. He only missed the French Open title because he was not allowed to play in that tournament. In 1972 the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) became the new union for most male professionals. Connors, however, chose to join the World Team Tennis (WTT) organization instead of the ATP. Because the ATP and the organizers of the French Open did not approve of the WTT, they did not allow WTT players to compete in the tournament that year. Connors and his manager, Bill Riordan, responded by filing a $10 million anti-trust lawsuit against the ATP and its president, Arthur Ashe , but the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
"Bad Boy" of American Tennis
Connors gained public attention not only from his powerful two-handed backhand and his excellent return-of-serve, but also for his emotional outbursts and antics on the court. "He has been called tennis champion, punk, maverick, and street fighter rolled into one," wrote Daniel B. Wood of the Christian Science Monitor in April of 1985. "When he's up, he struts like a rooster and crows like a bullfinch. When he's down, he grunts and curses like a guttersnipe, wielding his racket switchblade-style toward the crowd."
Connors and American tennis rival John McEnroe were easily labeled the "bad boys" of American tennis for their frequent outbursts, arguments with umpires, and playing to the crowds. "They are great characters, American toughs from the 'if-you-don't-like-the-call-kick-dirt-on-the-umpire' school," wrote Sally Jenkins of Sports Illustrated in June of 1992. "But for years McEnroe and Connors have unapologetically believed that brazenness could substitute for class." Despite the criticism from the media and sometimes from the fans, both Connors and McEnroe believed that they added personality to the sport and they often claimed that many of the world's best tennis players were simply boring. "I wasn't afraid to wear myself inside out and let you see me," Connors told Bud Geracie of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service in January of 1994. "See where my heart lies. See where my guts are. See what I'm thinking. I was happy for you to see that. The guys today aren't giving you anything to see."
Connors' passion for tennis did not always translate into tournament wins. After his spectacular performance in the Grand Slam events of 1974, Connors became the number one player in the world. He held this position from 1975 until 1978, which is still the record for the longest continuous streak in men's tennis. However, Connors began to struggle in his matches against other top players, particularly at Grand Slam events. He had a difficult year in 1975, when he ended his relationship with fiancée Chris Evert and then lost the Wimbledon finals to Arthur Ashe, the man he was suing for not allowing him to compete at the 1974 French Open. Connors did manage to win the doubles title at the U.S. Open that year, although he lost the singles title in the final. Connors regained the U.S. Open singles title in 1976, when it was a clay court at Forest Hills. He won again in 1978 when the tournament was moved to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows. He is the only tennis player to win the U.S. Open title on three different surfaces.
In the late 1970s Connors became a family man. In 1978 he met Patti McGuire, the 1977 Playboy Playmate-of-the-Year, and the couple was married just three months later. In 1980 they had their first child, Brett David. At first Connors found it difficult to balance his family life with his professional career, and his marriage almost ended in divorce in 1983. However, the couple was able to reconcile and they even had another child, Aubree Leigh, in 1985.
After suffering a drought at the Grand Slams for a few years after he was married, Connors rededicated himself to tennis in the early 1980s. In 1982 he won Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon and on the hard courts of the US. Open. He repeated his U.S. Open victory again in 1983, which was his 100th tournament title. In both U.S. Open finals Connors defeated Ivan Lendle. "It wasn't quite as beautiful as some other finals I have played," Connors told Ross Atkin of the Christian Science Monitor in September of 1983. "And maybe wasn't the best match to look at, but it got the job done."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1971||National Intercollegiate singles title|
|1971||Named All American|
|1973||Wimbledon doubles champion with Ilie Nastase|
|1973||U.S. Pro Championship singles champion|
|1973-75, 1978-79, 1983-84||U.S. Indoor Open singles champion|
|1974||Australian Open singles champion|
|1974||U.S. Indoor Open doubles champion with Frew McMillan|
|1974||U.S. Clay Court doubles champion with Ilie Nastase|
|1974||Named Player of the Year|
|1974, 1976, 1978-79||U.S. Clay Court singles champion|
|1974, 1976, 1978, 1982-83||U.S. Open singles champion|
|1974, 1982||Wimbledon singles champion|
|1975||U.S. Open doubles champion with Ilie Nastase|
|1975||U.S. Indoor Open doubles champion with Ilie Nastase|
|1976||Ranked number one tennis player in U.S. and world|
|1976, 1978-80||Pro Indoor singles champion|
|1976, 1981||Davis Cup Team|
|1976, 1985||World Cup Team|
|1977||World Championship Tennis singles|
|1978||Ranked number one tennis player in world|
|1991||Reached U.S. Open semifinals at age 39|
|1991||Included in 25 Most Intriguing People by People magazine|
|1998||Inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame|
|2001||Inducted into St. Louis Walk of Fame|
Connors continued to play tennis for the next decade, even though most of his peers were retiring. Although it was difficult for Connors to beat the younger generations of tennis greats, he still enjoyed the game. At age thirty-nine he began another tennis comeback after recovering from wrist surgery. In 1991 he returned to the French Open, the only Grand Slam title he had not won. In a thrilling third-round match Connors almost beat American teenage sensation Michael Chang . After three and a half hours of play Connors was physically unable
to continue playing and he had to forfeit the match in the fifth set.
Connors' most remarkable performance came during the 1991 U.S. Open, his favorite competition. Connors was ranked 174th in the world and received a wildcard entry for the tournament. He defeated Patrick McEnroe, Aaron Krickstein, and Paul Haarhuis. The four and a half hour match against Krickstein fell on Connors' 39th birthday. Before Haarhuis' match against Connors, Tom Callahan of U.S. News and World Report quoted Haarhuis as saying, "My strategy, I guess, is to tire Connors out. He's a great player, and nobody will ever do what he's done. But, after all, he is 39 years old." The strategy was unsuccessful and Connors beat the 25-year-old Haarhuis in the quarterfinals. However, Connors was finally stopped in the semifinals by fellow American Jim Courier . Connors referred to his 1991 comeback as "the summer of all summers." "You dream of putting together a streak like that," Connors told People in December of 1991.
Organized Champions Tour
While Connors never officially retired from tennis, he did not play full time after 1992. Injuries and age forced Connors to pursue other interests, although he never lost his passion for tennis. In 1995 he played in two ATP tournaments, and he even reached the quarterfinals finals in Halle, Germany. Most of the tennis Connors played in the 1990s was on the Champions Tour, the over-35 male tennis tour that he started in 1993. Connors was not only the co-founder with Ray Benton and president of the tour, but he was also often the champion. Although he recruited other top players, such as McEnroe, Bjorn Borg , Guillermo Vilas, and Roscoe Tanner to participate, Connors dominated the tour during the early years so much that the press dubbed it the "Connors Tour."
Vanity may have played a role in Connors' motivation to organize the seniors' tour, as did his love for the game. Connors also saw the tour as a vehicle to promote tennis in general, much like the Senior PGA tour for golf. "I wanted tennis to be a sport where everybody could enjoy it … yell and scream and root and cheer and boo like they do at baseball games, football games, basketball games and hockey games," Connors told David Elfin of the Washington Times in May of 1996. The tour started with only three tournaments, but grew to over twenty tournaments in eleven countries by 2001.
In the late 1990s Connors suffered from some injuries, including torn stomach muscles, which hampered his play. McEnroe took over as the leader on the seniors' tour, although Connors continued to play some tournaments. In 2001 at the age of 49, he finished 15th in the Tour of Champions standings.
Where Is He Now?
Although Connors stopped playing the professional tennis circuit full time after his 1991 comeback at the U.S. Open, he never stopped playing tennis. Connors still competed sporadically on the ATP tour until about 1996. In 1993 he organized the Champions Tour for men over thirty-five years old and he dominated that circuit for several years. In 2001 he was still ranked in the top twenty of the seniors' tour. Connors still participates in exhibition games, often playing his long-time rival John McEnroe. Connors also started playing golf. In 1994 he participated in the AT&T National Pro-Am golf tournament. Connors has developed other business interests outside of sports. Connors and his brother Johnny invested in a riverboat gambling operation in St. Louis in the early 1990s. In 1992 he co-authored a book called Don't Count Yourself Out! Staying Fit After 35. He also became a spokesperson for several products, such as Liberto denim, Reebok Hard Court shoes, and, more recently, Homedics Thera P Magnetic Wave products for pain relief.
Connors, a brash young American tennis star, who learned the game on public courts, took the elitist, country-club world of tennis by storm with his talent and his emotions. The lefty was known for his two-handed backhand and killer return-of-serve, as well as for his emotional outbursts and arguments with the umpires. Connors won eight Grand Slam titles, including five U.S. Open championships. He has played in more tournaments, won more finals, and won more matches than any other male professional tennis player. His legacy was summed up best by BBC Sports in 2001: "'Jimbo' may have lacked the supreme natural talent of John McEnroe or Rod Laver , but there was one area where Connors was streets ahead of the rest—his competitiveness."
Address: Tennis Management Inc., 109 Red Fox Rd, Belleville, IL 62223-2242.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY CONNORS:
(With Neil Gordon). Don't Count Yourself Out. Staying Fit After 35, Hyperion, 1992.
Collins, Bud, and Zander Hollander (eds.). Bud Collins' Tennis Encyclopedia. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1997.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.
Atkin, Ronald. "Interview: John McEnroe—First Among Senior Citizens; He's Old, He's Loud and He's Back, Talking Up His Rivalry with Jimmy Connors." Independent (November 29, 1998): 8.
Atkin, Ross. "Jimmy Connors Basks in Fifth U.S. Title, 100th Overall Victory." Christian Science Monitor (September 13, 1983): 8.
Callahan, Tom. "Jimmy Connors's Wonderful Life." U.S. News and World Report (September 16, 1991): 61.
"The Connors Tour." Sports Illustrated (May 8, 1995): 15.
Deford, Frank. "He Got Down and Did It. (Jimmy Connors Wins U.S. Open)." Sports Illustrated (September 19, 1983): 24-28.
Deford, Frank. "Raised By Women to Conquer Men." Sports Illustrated (August 22, 1994): 56-63.
Dwyer III, Joe. "Connor's Aces Off the Court Now Worth $86.3 Million." St. Louis Business Journal (June 21, 1993): 1-2.
Elfin, David. "Will Jimmy Connors Hit Another Winner with Over-35 Tour?" Washington Times (May 10, 1996): 5.
Geracie, Bud. "Jimmy Connors Laments Absence of Fun, Personality in Men's Pro Tennis." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (January 13, 1994).
Hruby, Dan. "Jimmy Connors Next Two-Sport Star?" Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (January 20, 1994).
Jenkins, Sally. "Gone and Unlamented (John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, French Open Tennis Tournament)." Sports Illustrated (June 8, 1992): 92.
"Jimmy Connors: Tennis's Old Man in a Hurry Smashes Both His Biological Clock and Baffled Young Men Half His Age." People (December 30, 1991): 98-99.
Kirkpatrick, Curry. "Open and Shut (1991 U. S. Open Tennis)." Sports Illustrated (September 16, 1991): 16-23.
Kirkpatrick, Curry. "Prince Valiant: After Nearly Two Years of Ignoble Tennis, Jimmy Connors at 38 Made a Gallant Stand in Paris." Sports Illustrated (June 10, 1991): 32-35.
Lorge, Barry. "Jimmy Connors: The Rude American; Subdued Connors Breezes in First as the Boos Rains Down." Washington Post (June 22, 1977): D1.
Newman, Bruce. "Double Faux (Jimmy Connors Defeats Martina Navratilova)." Sports Illustrated (October 5, 1992): 9.
Nichols, Bill. "Love Match? Chris Arrives Late—With Friend." Plain Dealer (July 25, 1972).
Podolsky, Doug. "The Jimbo Question." U.S. News and World Report (September 16, 1991): 13.
Purdy, Mark. "More than a Modest Tennis Proposal for a Worthy Cause." knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (October 19, 2001).
"Reconciled. Jimmy Connors." Time (August 29, 1983): 78.
"Seeking Divorce. Patti McGuire, Jimmy Connors." Time (May 16, 1983): 70.
Stein, Ruthe. "The Bad Boy, All Grown Up." San Francisco Chronicle (January 18, 1993): B3.
Thornley, Gerry. "Happy to Be Out of the Modern Game." Irish Times (June 18, 1993): 15.
Turner, Mili. "Connors Savors Taste of Good Competition Again." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (August 1, 1995).
Wood, Daniel B. "Jimmy Connors Juggling Tennis Career, Family Responsibilities." Christian Science Monitor (April 15, 1985): 22.
ATP Tennis. http://atptennis.com/en/tournaments/championstour/ (January 4, 2003).
BBC Sport. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport/hi/english/static/in_depth/tennis/2001/wimbledon/legends/connors/stm (December 21, 2002).
International Tennis Hall of Fame. http://www.tennisfame.org/enshrinees/jimmy_connors.html (December 21, 2002).
St. Louis Walk of Fame. http://www.stlouiswalkoffame.org/inductees/jimmy-connors.html (December 21, 2002).
Sketch by Janet P. Stamatel