Column: New book illuminates the best, worst of Jimmy Connors
Most people loved him or hated him, at least when he was at the top and one of the most well known tennis personalities in the world. But one thing for sure is no one could deny that when he was on the tennis court he gave his all, never tanked and intended to win every match he was in - and his record bears that out.
Jimmy Connors in his newly released book "The Outsider" covers the life and times (to present day) of maybe the most remarkable tennis player of the 1970s, '80s and early '90s.
A kid from East St. Louis rising to the upper echelon of tennis' best is against the odds. Two women (his mother, Gloria, a top player nationally; and grandmother, known as Two-Mom), both pretty darn good players in the their own right, dedicated their lives to Jimmy.
His grandfather (Pop) is the chief of the parks. His other grandfather, Big Jim, the mayor of East St. Louis, was the manager of the tollbooths on the Veterans Bridge that crossed the Mississippi River.
Their family wasn't rich by any means, but they knew how to stretch and save a dollar. They knew that hard work and dedication paid off, and how to motivate and nurture talent - especially tennis talent.
During the late '50s and '60s there were no indoor tennis facilities in the Midwest, so if you were to play year-round you brushed and scraped off snow or hit against a wall in a gym. The Connors' scratched out a crude tennis court in their backyard with a layer of concrete gravel, built a backboard of plywood, and they were good to go. Jim and his older brother Johnny learned the fundamentals of the game on that court at an early age. Jimmy was so young he had to use both hands on his racquet to just hold it. It was the beginning of what would become a classic two-handed backhand, and later on the tour his best weapon.
The defiant-fighter attitude came from his mother. He had to play kids older than he; not being a great student; and taking pride in what he was good at. It seems all the marbles were being put on Jimmy to succeed in playing tennis, and at each stage in his life the opportunities to find a way to get there.
Gloria's early tennis contacts paid off in having Jimmy go to work with the great Pancho Segura (1967) and later live with him at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to Bill Riordan, a tennis promoter who later became Connors' manager; becoming friends with Ilie Nastase (the first bad-boy of tennis and now mentor of sorts); turning pro in 1972; dating and becoming engaged to the darling of tennis, Chris Evert; and then dropping a bomb on her in what he wrote in a chapter about them. Life on the tour and just life in general was moving along quickly for Jimmy Connors.
Learning to live with obsessive compulsive disorder was and still is for Jimmy a challenge. Gambling took a toll and sometimes still plays a part of Jimmy's life. Yet, surprising to many he has stayed married to former Playboy Playmate Pattie McGuire for 33 years with two grown children, Brett and Aubree. Troubles with his older brother Johnny in managing his affairs was more than he wanted to deal with, and currently trying to find out what life in his 60s will entail are yet to unfold. It seems he has more he wants to do and become.
Eight singles Grand Slam titles - with seven runner-up titles - 109 tour singles titles, not to mention then starting up his own Senior Tour elevated Connors as one of the best tennis players to ever hit a ball. Davis Cup never seemed to work for Jimmy and that still seems to be a sore spot with him. But for 16 years Jimmy was ranked in the top 10 players in the world, and for five of those he was at No. 1.
The timeframe was around what became some of the best-known names and personalities in the game: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver. Connors will most likely be forever controversial in whatever future endeavors he takes on.
I liked the read of this book. It's in his own words, it lets us into his mind, his experiences, and how he became one of the great tennis legends of our time.
It's easy to judge a person without knowing them. This gives us a bit more insight in getting to know the one-and-only Jimmy Connors.
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.