It was a golden age of tennis in the 70s and 80s when the fired-up John McEnroe, antics-performing Jimmy Connors, Romanian Ilie Nastase, and smooth Swede Björn Borg ushered in a new era of on-court entertainment, radically transforming the once-reserved sport into a happening that attracted a bold breed of fans.
By Georgetta L. Morque
It was a golden age of tennis in the 70s and 80s when the fired-up John McEnroe, antics-performing Jimmy Connors, Romanian Ilie Nastase, and smooth Swede Björn Borg ushered in a new era of on-court entertainment, radically transforming the once-reserved sport into a happening that attracted a bold breed of fans. Money was flush, stakes were high, and players took on celebrity status. Connors, the ultimate bad boy, who’s about to turn 60, reveals it all in his newly published memoir, “The Outsider.”
Connors was an unusual tennis prodigy for his time. He didn’t come from country club stock, but rather East St. Louis where his mother, Gloria, a top player in her own right, trained young Jimmy on a local court with the encouragement of his grandmother (“Two-Mom”). Witnessing thugs beat up his mother was something that Connors writes he will never forget. Nor will he ever forget the total dedication of these two women, who not only gave him the gift of tennis but also instilled many life lessons. Connors rebukes those that criticized his mother, who successfully managed all aspects of his career.
He brings to light his teen years training with another mentor, Pancho Segura, and his progression from junior to collegiate tennis. While he didn’t play college tennis for long, he was the first freshman (UCLA) to win the NCAA singles championship. Connors documents his path to stardom, reliving many noted victories and losses against his top rivalries. He tells amusing and often shocking on- and off-court tales about life as a pro, his best friend and doubles partner, Nastase, as well as his encounter with good friend Vitas Gerulaitis the night before his tragic death from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Along the way Connors reveals his flaws — dyslexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a gambling addiction — he even squandered a $60,000 winning check in Vegas. He openly discusses his personal life, including his engagement to Chrissie Evert and the realization that marriage between two No. 1 young tennis champions wasn’t meant to be. His wife, Patti Connors, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, is still his true love after 33 years of marriage and two children. Connors dedicates the book to Patti, portraying her as a saint for putting up with his long absences and rock- star lifestyle, his mother’s coolness towards her for many years, and even his infidelity.
Connors is, without question, one of the greatest players of all time, with ten Grand Slams, a world No. 1 ranking for five consecutive years, and 109 men’s singles titles from 1972 to 1989.
Jimbo’s off-color behavior didn’t appeal to everyone, but he didn’t care. “I make no apologies for the way I played tennis… I was out there to win and entertain at the same time.”
After reading “The Outsider,” critics may see that Connors’ aggressive style and feistiness were fueled in part by his true passion for the sport, which he continued to play like a wounded warrior well past his prime. “I spent my life doing something that I genuinely loved…The desire to play and compete has NEVER left me.”