From Jimmy Connors‘ autobiography, the Outsider:
Some of the shots that Borg and I played that day – he with his little wooden racquet and me with my T2000 – were just flat-out crazy. The crowd responded with the kind of passion that showed their appreciation for fierce competitors and great tennis.
The first set went according to plan. I came into net when I could, following up my punishing groundstrokes by taking the ball out of the air whenever possible, not letting Borg settle into a rythm. In the second set, I was hitting the ball so flat to the corners that I missed a few shots, both out wide and into the net, giving Borg a way back into the match, but I refused to let it put me off my game. I was playing to win, continuing to go for my shots.
Sitting back and letting Borg dictate the play – playing it safe like a lot of guys and hoping for the best – wasn’t an option for me. Those missed shots just made me press even harder. Keep playing your game, Jimmy. That’s what you do best. If you lose, OK, you lose, but it happens on your terms.
Going into the third set, I stuck to my game. I kept hitting flat, deep balls to the baseline, not letting Borg build on the momentum of winning the second set. It worked. The match had sapped our energy, and winning the tiebreaker in the third set proved to be the turning point. Fighting to the end is what tennis is all about for me, and with Borg you could take nothing for granted. But I got on top early in the fourth, won the title on my third match point, and added another Grand Slam to my collection.
In December 1975, I was supposedly finished – just a chubby, washed-up, fading superstar with no manager, no coach and no fiancée. By September 1976, I had my fourth Grand Slam, Mom looking after my business, Pancho in the stands, and Miss World to wake up to. Washed-up ain’t so bad.
From Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider:
Two days before the start of Wimbleon in 1975, I picked up a newspaper and turned straight to the sports section. The headline read: Connors sues Ashe.
I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jack Kramer, Donald Dell, and the ATP, and here I am launching a new one. I discovered that Riordan (Connors’ manager) had filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million in total for libelous comments that had apparently been directed at us. The first concerned a letter written by Arthur Ashe, as ATP president, in which he referred to me as “unpatriotic.” The second complaint ran along the same lines, originating in an article written by Bob Briner, the ATP’s secretary. He supposedly called Riordan a “nihilist”. Is that even an insult?
Chasing a drop shot early in my first-round match on the damp grass of Centre Court, I slipped and hyperextended my knee. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I carried on playing and won 6-2 6-3 6-1. But once the adrenaline rush of my first Wimbledon title defense was over, all that changed. I felt a degree of pain that I had never experienced before.
I thought I would be OK after some rest, but when I woke up the next morning, the pain had intensified; my knee was completely swollen and unable to support my weight. I needed to get it checked out. I got in touch with Bill and he found me the top physiotherapist at Chelsea Football Club, one of England’s leading soccer teams, which had the facilities to treat this kind of injury. After they examined me, it turned out I had a couple of hairline fractures in my shin – painful but treatable.
The physiotherapist’s advice was simple: rest. The timing could not have been worse. There were only two tournaments that I would have even considered playing while badly injured: Wimbledon and the US Open. As Pancho always told me, once you walk out there, be prepared to play, or don’t walk out there. Well, I thought I was ready. The physiotherapist wrapped up my leg and off I went to practice. I knew that once I was on the court, I would forget about the medical warnings.
After every match I won in those two weeks, I would immediately go for an intensive treatment of ultrasound, ice, and massage – and I wasn’t above taking a fistful of painkilllers, either. I kept the injury as secret as I could, refusing to wear even an Ace bandage; I wasn’t going to give anyone an edge.
I advanced to the final without losing a set, but 24 hours before my showdown with Ashe, the physio warned me once again to take it easy; he was afraid the fractures were getting worse. So why did I continue to play? Because I’m an idiot. I did decide to take the day off before the final, though.
By match time the next day, I’m ready to go. I start off steadily, but I can’t find my rhythm; I’m sluggish and Ashe is playing perfect tennis. I lose the first two sets easily 6-1 6-1, and now I’m getting desperate. Funny how things happen when you’re on the brink; a shot here, a lucky break there, and I win the third set 7-5. I go up a service break early in the fourth set and I’m starting to feel like I have the momentum, but that doesn’t last long. My shots lack pace; the catch the tape and fall backward. The recovery I think I’ve engineered turns out to be a figment of my imagination. Ashe comes back strong to win the set, match, and the Wimbledon title.
After his victory, Ashe turned to the crowd and raised his fist in triumph. He was a popular winner – and he was playing for black America, as well as representing all the members of the ATP. He deserved to revel in his moment. Arthur’s game was flawless that day; he had figured out the play to play me. By reducing the speed and length of his shots, he constantly brought me into the net before passing or lobbing me. […]
Ashe didn’t like me. He resented all the money I was making from my Challenge Matches, on the grounds that they would diminish the prestige of the Grand Slams. And he didn’t appreciate my attitude towards the Davis Cup. As for how he felt about Riordan’s multiple lawsuits, well, we never talked about that. Arthur didn’t have the balls to confront me; instead, he left a note in my locker at Wimbledon outlining his position.
Well, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? All he had to do was come up and talk to me face to face, man to man, but he chose not to. It annoyed me, but not so much as when he walked out on to Centre Court wearing his Davis Cup jacket, with USA emblazoned across his chest.
In 1974, probably 90 percent of the fans at Wimbledon had been rooting for Ken Rosewall. In 1975, you guessed it, 90 percent of the fans were rooting for Arthur Ashe. What’s a guy gotta do to win friends around here? It took me a few more years to find out the answer to that question.
A friend remembered
“Vitas Gerulaitis was 17 and I was 19 when we first met, after he met the Riordan circuit.
We hung out a lot together through the 70s and 80s. When I won the US Open in 1978, I went out for a celebration dinner at Maxwell’s Plum in Manhattan. Vitas drove up and parked right in front of the restaurant, and let me tell you, he was hard to miss: Vitas was the only guy around tennis – or around most places – who drove a yellow Rolls Royce. He got out of the car with two cute young girls who couldn’t have been a day over 18, waltzed in, and sat down to congratulate me. He was the only one who did that. He was all class.
What the public saw was the real Vitas: the dazzling smile, the free-spirited guitar-playing rocker, the over-the-top playboy lifestyle. Yet he was also one of the most decent guys I’ve ever known, and everyone liked him.
Although he had his own crowd that included Borg and Mac, Vitas and I were close, and it was a no-bullshit friendship. It was an open secret that Vitas had a big problem with cocaine, and it led to his retirement from the game at the end of 1985.
Without the discipline of tennis to hold him in check, Vitas’ habit intensified dramatically. It’s the reason I asked him in 1989 to travel with me to Europe for five months. I might not have been his closest buddy, but you don’t abandon people when the going gets tough. As much as I hated drugs, we were buddies throughout the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.
My friend Vitas was only 40 years old when he died. He was very close to his mom and his sister, he was a good son and brother and always looked after his family. Patti and I went to his funeral, at St Dominic, in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and joined 500 other people – including Mac, Borg, Billie Jean King, Tony Trabert, Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, Fred Stolle, and Mary Carillo – to mourn our friend. Out if respect for Vitas, the governor closed the Long Island Expressway when they took his casket from the church to the cemetery.
Vitas brought a lot to tennis – not just his athletic style of play but also his rock-star sex appeal, which added a new dimension to the tour. He was a wild and flamboyant but also a great champion, winning the Australian Open in 1977 and reaching the finals of the French Open and the US Open. He was a Davis Cup participant and winner of 25 Grand Prix tournaments.
Is any of that recognized by the tennis establishment? No. Vitas had a Hall of Fame career, but apparently he didn’t have a Hall of Virtue career, but who does? It shouldn’t be the case but his outstanding record and major contribution to the sport have, sadly, been overshadowed by his issues off the court.
I miss him.”
“The clay in Paris back then played incredibly slow, which meant hitting more balls per point than I had for a long time. I’d won my first two matches by staying faithful to my game, hitting it early, flat, close to the net, on the lines, basically attacking the ball instead of hanging back. And now I was playing Michael Chang, who was a mere 20 years younger than me.
The mercury had risen to over 100 degrees as I walked out onto the red clay of Roland Garros to face Chang, an opponent who was prepared to be there all day if necessary, to run down every ball. It’s kill or be killed. That turned out to be a bit too close for comfort.
We traded the first two sets, he took the third and then in the fourth I hit the wall for the first time in my life. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I was done – fatigue, dehydration, everything. At one of the changeovers, as I looked around the stands, I turned to Lelly, who was sitting courtside. ‘Why are all these people here?’ I asked. Just a little out of my mind.
Doing things half-assed doesn’t fit my personality, and I hit that wall running so hard I managed to force my head through to the other side just long enough to hear a voice tell me, ‘Not yet Jimmy, not yet’. A couple in the crowd made a move to leave. ‘Don’t go’ I called to them. ‘This isn’t over yet’.
I broke Chang to go 5-4 up and held on to even the match at two sets each. ‘Allez Jeemeee! Allez, Jeemeee!’
After three hours 31 minutes, I faced my second fifth set in as many days. Wounded and exhausted, I dragged myself out of my seat. I knew I’d gone as far as I could. My back was seizing up, my vision blurred, head spinning? Kill or be killed? What asshole said that?
All through the months of hurt and sweat that had brought me to that moment in Paris, I’d only thought about one thing, the tournament that defined me, the US Open. New York in September.
To keep going against Chang would be insane, jeopardizing everything I’d been working toward. If I screwed up, if I injued myself, that would be it for the summer and probably forever. Yet I didn’t have a choice. The crowd wanted more. I thought ‘Come on Michael, let’s see what you’ve got’.
Chang serves the first point of the fifth set. I attack it with my backhand, sending the ball screaming down the line, clipping the baseline, leaving him with no response. Now I am done. Slowly I walk forward to the umpire Bruno Rebeuh‘s chair.
The score stands at 4-6 7-5 6-2 4-6 0-15. If you’ve got to quit, then do it when you’re ahead
Bill Norris, the ATP trainer and one of my friends on the circuit, helped me off the court. Bill had been around forever. I knew him well, and I knew he’d look after me. As we walked off, the Parisians came to their feet, cheering and clapping. That place rocked. They knew what they’d just witnessed, and I like to think they were saying merci.
That was pure class. Jimbo then reached the third round at Wimbledon (lost to Derrick Rostagno) and the semifinals at Flushing Meadows (lost to Jim Courier). He retired in 1996 at 44.
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…