Jimmy Made an Early Impression
My earliest tennis memories involve my father playing on Saturdays with a friend of his and Jimmy Connors winning the 1982 Wimbledon final over John McEnroe in 5 sets. I was 6 years old when Connors won his second Wimbledon title and had no idea how big of a tournament it was. I just remember enjoying watching that match. After the match ended, I recall finding an old aluminum racket in my parents’ closet and hitting tennis balls against the wall of my family’s basement. My father, Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker’s 1985 Wimbledon title are the three biggest reasons I learned to play tennis. Therefore, I obviously hold Jimmy’s career in high regard.
Mr. US Open
Before I spend time recalling Connors’ 1991 run in New York, I want to look at Connors’ ridiculous record at the US Open. My earliest clear US Open memory was Connors’ 5 set loss to McEnroe in the semifinal round of 1984. I was sad to see my favorite player lose, but I do remember seeing his son come on court after the match. At 8 years of age, I did not grasp what his son coming on court meant, but now that I have 2 children of my own, I am very glad to have watched that match.
Connors reached the quarterfinal round of the 1973 US Open. Jimmy won the 1974 US Open on grass. He reached 5 consecutive finals winning the title in 1976 on green clay over Bjorn Borg and in 1978 in the first hard court grand slam event beating McEnroe and Borg successively in straight sets. Connors went on to win the title in 1982 and 1983 beating Ivan Lendl in both championship matches. In addition to the 5 titles on 3 surfaces, Jimmy reached at least the semifinal round for 12 consecutive years. Imagine an NCAA basketball team having to play an extra game and reaching 12 Final Fours in 12 years. This is no easy task.
Connors’ success in New York did not simply end in 1985. He reached the 1987 semifinal round, and the quarterfinal round in 1988 and 1989. The 1989 run was highlighted by a straight set drubbing of Stefan Edberg in the round of 16 and a 5 set loss to Andre Agassi in the quarterfinal round.
Connors and the Fans
Connors missed the 1990 US Open with wrist issues, but we all know he had more to do as a force at the US Open. That however is a topic for part 2. What I want to conclude with today is not that Jimmy won the title 5 times on 3 surfaces or that he reached at least the quarterfinal round at the US Open 17 times. I want to conclude with the idea that Jimmy Connors has a skill that few athletes in any sport posses. Connors has the ability to draw people into his matches. I say has, because if Jimmy is playing an exhibition match or just hitting a few balls with a current player I am sure he can pull fans in now as well.
In 1982 and 1984, I did not know much about tennis, but I was drawn into two five set wars with John McEnroe. The fact that they are memorable to me is a testament to Connors and his manner of competing. He always gave the fans his best attempt at winning. Both a casual fan and tennis expert could see his hustle and see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to figure out how to defeat his opponent. That ability to draw a fan into his craft is the reason Jimmy Connors is the legend he is today. That ability to connect as he played, even the ability to utilize the crowd as he played, is uniquely Jimmy Connors. He was asked in 1991 if Jim Courier reminded him of himself. While Connors went on to say some things about Courier were similar, his first retort summed it up best, “Nobody reminds me of me.”