Continuing with our series on the greatest tennis players of all time, here’s No. 12 on our list.
No. 12 – Jimmy Connors
But he did try his best to make use of his experience by playing top flight tennis till he was 44 years old. Born on September 2, 1952, in East St. Louis, Illinois, Big Jim and Gloria’s little boy grew up to be a feisty character with a racket in his hand. Before this boy could break anything at home, Gloria decided to take him to Southern California to be coached by Pancho Segura. Thus began James Scott Connors’ journey to becoming The Jimmy Connors – the maverick who in 1972 refused to join the newly formed Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in order to play in and dominate a series of smaller tournaments organized by Bill Riordan (his manager and a clever promoter). However, that was not before he had defeated Roy Emerson (in 1970) and won the National Collegiate Athletes Association singles title, attaining All-American status in 1971.
When Connors did turn professional in 1972 and won his first tournament at Jacksonville, nobody could have predicted that this man would go on to win 8 career Grand Slams. Connors won Wimbledon (once), the Australian Open (twice) and the US Open (5 times). He wasn’t allowed to participate in the French Open during his prime (1974-78) because of his association with World Team Tennis, but that didn’t stop him from reaching the semi-finals 4 times after ’78. Even before that, he had proved that he could win on clay by winning the US Open in 1976, which was then played on clay. Of course, he didn’t take this blasphemy by the French Open officials lying down: he unapologetically filed lawsuits against the ATP and its 1974 president Arthur Ashe. He eventually withdrew the lawsuits, but his antics on-field, which included refusing to participate in the parade of former champions at Wimbledon, arguing with the linesmen and showing the middle finger to the officials were all notices to the ATP that he was his own master.
When Connors was booed at Wimbledon, this is what he had to say, “New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. Spill your guts at Wimbledon and they make you stop and clean it up.”
Sticking to tradition was never Connors’ strong point. Even his playing style defied the trend of his time. In an age of serve and volley, Connors unleashed strong double-handed backhands and played from the baseline. The volleying that he did was verbal. He always had a thing or two to say to Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe while he fought a tireless battle for supremacy with them. These greats were younger than Connors, but the fire with which he played made him appear much younger than his opponents. He once said, “I hate to lose more than I love to win”.
A World No. 1 for a then-record 160 consecutive weeks, Connors was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998 and rightly so. He is one of only six elite tennis players to have won 3 or more Grand Slam titles in a single calendar year, achieving the feat in 1974, a year in which he won 99 matches and lost just 4. If he had been allowed to compete at the French Open that year, he may well have put together the single greatest season in tennis history. Connors is also the holder of the world record for the most singles titles, having won a scarcely-believable 109 titles through his career.
Considering his fiery temper, it is perhaps difficult to picture Connors as a team player. But Connors won 15 doubles titles (including the men’s doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1973 and the US Open in 1975). He also compiled a 10-3 win-loss record in Davis Cup matches, even leading his country to the final in 1984.
After retiring from the game Connors has coached Andy Roddick, been a commentator with NBC and BBC, been arrested outside a basketball game and had two children.
“Tennis was never work for me, tennis was fun. And the tougher the battle and the longer the match, the more fun I had.” This could be the reason why he only retired from the game in 1996, at the age of 44. He was definitely not the well-mannered tennis player most mothers want their children to be. But he was one heck of a tennis player.
Over the years, there have been reams of newsprint and tons of words devoted to describe the Connors phenomenon. But if he were asked to read any of it, he’d probably say, “but why should I read what somebody else thinks of my life when I know the real story?” Connors was his own man, and he let the world know that.
Here’s a video clip that showcases perhaps every important feature of Connors: the in-your-face attitude, the scampering movement, the fiery competitiveness, the smooth two-handed backhand. Take a look for yourself:
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: