1974 Australian Open: Jimmy Connors first Grand Slam title
In 1974, Jimmy Connors captures his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open defeating Phil Dent (Taylor’s father) in the finals. At that time, the tournament was played on grass at the Kooyong Stadium over Christmas and New Year’s and Jimmy Connors was engaged to Chris Evert.
1974 was the only year Bjorn Borg played at the Australian Open, losing in the third round to Phil Dent. In the women’s draw Evonne Goolagong in her fourth-consecutive Australian Open final appearance, defeated Chris Evert 7-6 4-6 6-0.
Jimbo’s road to the title:
1st round: def Jean-Louis Haillet (FRA) 6-1 7-5
2nd round: def Graeme Thomson (AUS) 6-4 6-2 7-6
3rd round: def Syd Ball (AUS) 6-4 5-7 6-3 6-4
Quarter finals: def Vladimir Zednik (TCH) 3-6 7-5 6-3 6-4
Semi finals: def John Alexander (AUS) 7-6 6-4 6-4
Finals: def Phil Dent (AUS) 7-6 4-6 6-0
“Australia in December is stupid hot and at times the weather matched my mood. The facilities were basic, to say the least – the Kooyong Stadium had a tiny locker room with a single shower and one toilet cubicle – but that didn’t bother me. No, what pissed me off was the partisan crowd, screaming approval at every hometown player and abuse at every foreigner. Guess who was their main target?
I took the brunt of it; three of the five matches I played to reach my first Grand Slam final were against Aussies. Every time I beat a local the fans roared their disapproval. Who was this upstart American brat hell-bent on ruining their party? Hearing the crowd booing was one thing, but was the hell was the deal with those flies? Where were they breeding those things anyway? They looked like B-52s coming down on me.
Spencer and Chrissie did their best to calm me down, and I know that without them I would have imploded and been on my way home long before I met another Australian, Phil Dent, in the finals.
But even Chrissie was getting on my nerves. Nobody was safe. With the organizers usually scheduling me on the court after Chrissie, I would go along to support her, sometimes bringing a sandwich and a Pepsi for my lunch. Chrissie didn’t seem to like that one little bit. If she noticed me eating and not paying attention during her match, she would throw me a look, which wasn’t hard for me to read: “If you’re not going to watch me play, then get out of here.” That pissed me off even more than the hostile Australian fans, because it was embarrassing; I thought everyone in the stadium could see what was going on. Run along, Jimmy, do what you’re told. [...]
Phil Dent took the full force of the frustation and aggression that had been building in me from the first day of the tournament. Fortunately, I managed to channel it into my game. The super-dry, well-worn grass of Kooyong reminded me of the armory floorboards, and I adopted the approach Mom had taught me back in St Louis, moving forward, taking the ball early, blasting it down the lines and across the court. Even with the crowd cheering their countryman on, he didn’t stand a chance.
I took the first two sets, and although he managed to rally in the third set, taking it 6-4 and putting on a show for his fans, it was just a momentary setback. I regrouped, ignored the lynch mob in the stands, and won the fourth, 6-3, to capture my first Grand Slam title.
I was ecstatic, even if, to be brutally honest, the Australian Open in the 1970s didn’t draw the number of top players that it should have. The long flight and the unfortunate timing of the tournament limited the field. But it was still a Grand Slam and an important win in anybody’s book.
If the scheduling had been like it is today, I would have gone to Australia more often. But I played the Australian Open only twice in my career, winning it in 1974 and losing to John Newcombe in the finals the following year, and I thought that was good enough. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made, but who knows; if I had played the Australian a few more times, would I have won more majors? Your guess is as good as mine.
So get this – in my career I won eight Slams and was in the finals of seven others, basically playing only two majors a year. Take it for what it is worth.
Getting that first win in the Australian Open was huge. That victory did set me up perfectly for what was to become the most extraordinary single year of my career: I would win 15 tournaments and lose only four matches out of 103. I also saw it as a launchpad that would catapult me toward the French Open and Wimbledon. I was partially correct.”
Kinda ironic to read Connors complain about the crowd don’t you think? Really would like to know his opponents’ thoughts on playing against him and the crowd at the US Open…