Originally Published: March 18, 2014 5:59 a.m.
Let's just cut to the chase: Could Jimmy Connors, who won eight grand slam singles titles and 109 tour singles titles during his career, now at the age of 61 with three hip replacements, play and defeat the likes of the current No. 1 women player in the world, 33-year-old Serena Williams?
At Indian Wells this past week I posed that question to Wayne Bryan, who was on stage interviewing former tour players Eddie Dibbs and Bob Lutz (with CEO Ray Moore in the front row) and asked them across the board how Jimmy would fare against Serena in a two-of-three match.
Both Eddie and Bob said without any hesitation that Connors would win, even with new parts. Wayne and Ray withheld their thoughts and then Wayne asked the crowd. About 50 percent indicated Serena would win that match and the other half cheered on the thought of a Connors victory.
Bobby Riggs defeated Margaret Court Smith on Mother's Day in 1973 to set up the premier "Battle of the Sexes" with Billie Jean King that is still widely talked about today.
Held at the Astrodome and promoted by every sports news agency in the U.S. and other tennis playing countries, this event swept the mindset of "man versus woman" at a time when all kinds of things were taking place in the world between the sexes, such as equal pay and Title IX. Riggs, known as a hustler and gambler - not to mention a great tennis player from the past, played the male chauvinistic pig to the hilt.
Bobby was 55 years old and Billie was 29.
On Sept. 20, 1973, the battle took place and was covered by ABC Sports with a TV special that was watched by more than 90 million viewers. It is still the largest tennis crowd to ever attend a tennis match in the United States with 30,472 people filling the stadium. Sadly for Riggs, he got annihilated 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 making an inordinate amount of unforced errors while BJK and women around the world basked in her victory.
Connors, who recently came out with his own biography called, "The Outsider," recently played an exhibition match (March 12) against John McEnroe at the Champions Challenge in Nashville, Tenn., losing 6-4.
Watching a short clip of this former rivalry, it seemed that Connors was moving a bit slow and McEnroe was being a gentleman - which is rare for him; heck, during their hey-day, it was unusual for either of them to maintain for a full set, let alone a full match without someone blowing a gasket.
Jimbo, who was coached by his mother and grandmother, won over $8 million in prize money, played on the tour until the age of 40 and on the senior tour until 49. To many during his playing days he was known as a foul-mouthed tennis genius, crossing the bounds of good taste in his quest to entertain, obtain big sponsors, big television contracts and big crowds. If your mentor was Nastase, you might not have known when to tow the line either.
He was born to compete and he says he misses that aspect in his life as he ages.
Serena Williams, at the age of 33, is on a roll, recommitted and in great shape with 17 major singles titles (32 major titles in all), and over $50 million in prize money. She is starting her 19th year on the tour, has four Olympic gold medals, and has her sights set on many more big titles. Her bio and diversified life is amazing.
Has she had her moments that showed her emotion and competitive spirit here and there not at it's best? Yes, but when compared to her whole history on the tour and in life, it's a pretty good package to have created.
As far as sizing up match play against a Jimmy Connors, Serena serves harder (128.6 mph high), has a powerful offensive game, solid net play and killer overhead. She definitely has the mental toughness to deal with what most can throw her way.
Jimmy has a so-so serve, an OK forehand and a lethal two-handed backhand, but a will to win like no other in the history of the game. The biggest question is: Can he move well enough to use the knowledge he has to throw her off her game?
Would there be an audience to watch a match like this? There has to be, you either love these players or you hate them - but they're almost never ignored.
So how about at the Staples Center in Los Angles, not to far from where Jimmy lives (Santa Barbara), on the start of the March to the U.S. Open when the players are in California right after Wimbledon? Billie Jean King could be the master of ceremonies, televised, 20,000 seats sold and lots of tongues wagging about who might win and why.
Would both of these players be game? Their egos would have to say yes, it would be a good payday, it has great entertainment value, and the news coverage would have to be at a high. So a better question might be, why not?
Someone broker this deal.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.