Tennis Prose



Facing Jimbo

By Scoop Malinowski

A plethora of tennis players discuss what it was like to play Jimmy Connors…

The American tennis icon was ATP world no. 1 for a then-record 160 consecutive weeks from 1974 to 1977 and a career total of 268 weeks. He is the first male player to be No. 1 for more than 200 weeks. The now 68 year old born in Belleville, IL still holds three prominent open era mens singles records: 109 titles, 1,557 matches played, and 1,274 match wins. His titles include eight majors (joint Open Era five US Open titles, two Wimbledon titles, one Australian Open title), and three ATP year-end Masters Championships.

Harold Solomon: Since we are the same age we probably played about 20-30 times. Jimmy was the fiercest competitor I have ever played against. I remember playing him one time in the finals indoors at Royal  Albert Hall in London. I was playing really well and got up a set and 4-1 and a bunch of fans started to leave. And at the changeover he got out of this chair and started shouting at them, “Where are you going?! This isn’t over yet!”  Sure enough, he won the second 7-5 snd I was up 3-0  in the third and lost in a tie break. Although I beat him lots of times you could always feel his presence on the court. Just a great player.

Rob Glickman: I warmed up Jimmy Connors for his match at the Hamlet Cup tournament back in the 1980’s. He hit very hard, deep and flat. Very close to the lines.

Mark Wagner:  I made the quarters of Beckingham about 1978 or ’79, probably my best tournament. Qualified and won two rounds. I lost 6-3, 6-3 to Connors and played my best. He was so tough to even win points off him. Best player I ever played against. Played on Center Court there, which was a thrill. I went back to college and the computer came out and I never got close to that level again.

Bob Lutz: Connors was relentless. You had to earn EVERY point. He didn’t come in that much so you had to in your points from baseline or force issue and charge. Wasn’t fun.

Chipp Adams: Yes I played him a couple times. If you have nothing nice to say… you shouldn’t comment.

Richard Rampell: I once hit warm up with him at Louisville – national junior clay courts tourney, but never played a match against him. Hit his forehand flat and slight slice on his backhand.

Don Petrine: Connors used to come down to Salvador Park a week early before the Orange Bowl. He would hit with my brother Alan and I between his practice matches with Claflin, Colson, Stockton etc. He was really good about it. His mom gave me coaching tips. His grandmother was classic old school and a brilliant tennis mind. In the 16s Orange Bowl I was scheduled to play him in the round of 16 and got defaulted by Dale Lewis as he changed my starting time at Connors’ request but did not inform me. At Louisville National Clay’s in the 18s I was up 4-1 40-15, and lost 64 64. He was playing terrible and hated the courts. He would not allow me to towel off between points telling the umpire. One can make an argument that Connors was the greatest. I dont want to argue that in this comment. Connors’ grandmother knew that Solomon, Dibbs, Gottfried and Stockton were going to be great players and she explained why. Connors, Dibbs and Solomon were part of the shift to groundstroke dominance. It was invaluable to me as a career tennis coach to have had that experience hanging out with the Connors entourage as a 12 year old. The kindness seemed to become “us against the world. Later on.

Gilad Bloom: I played him three times, all three memorable – first time in Armstrong stadium, Liza Minnelli and Johnny Carson were in the stands. It was his 36th birthday, they had a cake for him on the court and the refs and ball kids were all singing happy birthday with the crowd joining in. In the warm up the announcer said – on my left Gilad Bloom, private corporal in the IDF! Winner of Estoril Challenger. Then he went on to read Jimmy’s accomplishments which took about seven minutes, it started with five US Open titles, at the end I was clapping almost. Good luck to me winning. It ended in four sets for Jimmy.

Second time was in the final in Tel Aviv in 1989, where he beat me for his last title ever – number 109 – which got me a mention in his book. I was up a set and 1-0 with break.

Three years later I would get him finally. Great for the story to my future grandchildren that I beat my idol. It was in Tel Aviv on the same court, it took three hours and he saved seven match points before I finally won, what a competitive fighter this guy was on the court! He would not give up ever. The strategy against him was weird, to have any chance you had to avoid his backhand at all cost and try to hit soft slices without pace to his forehand, he hated no pace shots to his forehand, that was his weakness. Arthur Ashe explored that strategy in 1975 coming in down the middle in Wimbledon finals and the guys on the Tour were trying to do it since. Lendl used to beat up on Jimmy like that, hitting to his forehand almost every shot, it’s very hard to execute and usually he’d beat you anyway.

Another memory: I hit with Jimmy when he flew to play the tournament in Israel. He flew straight from Los Angeles to Israel, got off the plane and came straight to the club where the tournament was. He wanted to hit. He was my idol so I was happy to hit with him. He was wearing blue jeans. We opened the can of balls and he did not miss a ball in the first thirty minutes.

Richard Tracy: Before Connors came along, tennis was regarded as a “sissy sport” in many places, particularly in the southern United States. He came along and that reputation quickly began to go away. Interesting that the “sissy” image that many people had of tennis players began to go away with him and not Nastase. Connors was the first player to really make it “cool” to be a tennis player, and of course players like Borg, McEnroe, Vilas, and Vitas all helped in that regard as well. It was critical to the future of the sport to shed that “rich country club kid” image, and Connors was certainly the first in that group of players to project a different image.

James Michael: You can’t compare era’s. Jimmy Conners put the “OOOMPH” in tennis. Is was a silly, dilly, snotty country club sport before Jimmy came on board. He is the Arnold Palmer of tennis and no one would care about the players today if not for Jimmy.

Thomas Mathew: I was once a great fan of Connors and thought there will never be a better and greater player than him. His on and off court boorish behavior as well as his disrespect for his rivals made me a lot less appreciative of him. I still believe he was the reason for tennis to boom in the United States but he also projected the ‘Ugly American’ image to the rest of the world unapologetically. That was in sharp contrast to the great American players like Sampras, Courier, Agassi and Chang. As a player he ranks below Federer, Laver, Nadal, Djokovic, Sampras and Borg. Tennis has boomed globally later without Connors. He ranks fifth in the total number of weeks as number one. His total 109 titles include far more smaller events than those won by Federer and others who mostly played the majors, Masters 1000 series and 500 series. Most of the great legends retired once they realized they could not win majors. Connors continued to play even after he could not win majors for a very long time and kept winning many small events. His last major title win was in 1983 but he retired only in 1996. Connors is a great player who made an impact in the game but he is not the greatest of all except in the eyes of those who played and followed tennis during his time and stopped watching and following later. That is normal but not the reality.

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  • Scoop Malinowski · March 12, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    Should I proceed and do the Facing Jimbo book?

  • Harold · March 14, 2021 at 10:21 am

    If you can’t get Borg, Mac, Lendl, Vilas to share their stories, not quotes from 40 years ago. Talking to someone who warmed him up for the Easter Bowl back when he was 14.
    Sorry but none of these books have offered any insight.
    Get people that were in dogfights with these superstars, not warmup fodder.

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 14, 2021 at 10:38 am

    My books are far more detailed, in depth and revealing. Steve Tignor calls Facing Federer “additive reading.” Ilja Bozoljac called my Rios book “Amazing.” Every one of my Facing books has gotten very positive reviews, which inspires me to keep doing them. These article posts of Facing Jimbo and Chrissie are quick feature posts created from Facebook connections. Better than nothing or another stale GOAT debate. If I do a book on Facing Jimbo and Chrissie for sure it will contain much longer interviews with all kinds of opponents, major names and lesser known victims. Just wait till next week, I’m going to drop a major original Exclusive article that will spark a lot of discussion and thought. Still working on it…

  • Harold · March 14, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    You found your niche! I read the first two, then lost interest in the scope.

    Here’s an idea:
    The Best Practice Players Ever, or
    The 10 biggest practice upsets

    McClune/ Hewitt could be in the top 10

  • Sam · March 14, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    “Steve Tignor calls Facing Federer ‘additive reading.'”

    Scoop, I suspect you meant to write “addictive” here? 😅

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 14, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    I have many niches. Including running your favorite tennis web site )

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 14, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    Sam thank you for the edit, yes Tignor said “addictive reading.” you are the co roving editor at large along with Catherine )

  • Harold · March 15, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    When you get to “ Facing Arnaud Boesch” text me. He destroyed me in a set at Centeal Park when he was 17.

    Definitely my favorite site for inane you can see by the multiple threads that garner no comments.

    The new breeds playing styles aren’t interesting, I see my interest waning, the last 45 years had different styles, different personalities. Rivalries that weren’t started by someone feigning injury, or taking a 15 minute bathroom break..
    Only two interesting under 25’s are Tsitsi and Kyrgios. For different reasons. One trying to be the thoughtful insightful mind. The other being half fun guy/ half asshole

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 15, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Facing Arnaud Boetsch is on my to do list, just after Facing Berasategui and Facing Benjamin Becker ) Yes there are not as many comments since the departure of some VIPs of the site but the visit numbers have steadily improved. If you like discussions of the Golden Era of tennis (70s and 80s) I suggest you join the Golden Age of Tennis Clubhouse on Facebook. A lot of ex pros are members and they discuss players and attire and all kinds of interesting topics. I like Tsitsipas and Kyrgios and also many other young players – Nishioka, Korda, Felix, Zane Khan, Kozlov, Fritz, Paul, Opelka, Alcarez, Medvedev, Rublev, Deminaur, Ruud, Leylah Fernandez Brady, Swiatek, Osaka, Qiang, Hsieh, Halep.

  • Jan · March 19, 2021 at 11:06 am

    I find the stories by unknowns who played him as a junior the most interesting of all. I’ve already read what Borg and McEnroe thought of playing him. That’s been said many times. I like the insight of knowing more about him before he became the famous competitor he became.

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 19, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Thanks Jan and I agree. I got mild criticism in my Facing books for bothering to interview lesser names and unknown names about Facing the title subject but I think some of the most interesting insights come from those sources from the early days of pro or junior.



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