Tennis Prose



Biofile Jimmy Connors Interview

This interview is presented by

By Scoop Malinowski

Status:  Former ATP world no. 1 for 160 consecutive weeks  and 268 weeks overall. Won eight Grand Slams. Hold three ATP records – 109 titles, 1557 matches and 1274 match wins. Also won 16 doubles titles, two doubles majors and Davis Cup 1981. Retired in 1996.

DOB: September 2, 1952   In:  Belleville, IL

Inspirations:  “There’s a lot of great athletes and great people that I admired. My real inspiration in tennis came from my mom and my grandmother, who taught me how to play. There’s a lot of great athletes and great people that I admired  and was able to take a little bit from each of them. And try to incorporate it into me as far as what I wanted to do and try to project  when I was on the court and playing. And without thinking any of them as a hero. Because if I did I probably would have taken too much. And the I would have been the product of somebody else. I wanted to try to be more myself and natural  and do it my way with the abilities to take from others, as I wanted it, piece by piece. So so many people that I admired. I admired Pete Rose for instance. For me he was the ultimate competitor, willing to give everything and lay it on the line, no matter what, or where he was during the course of a game, whether it was an exhibition game or the All Star Game. Even if it didn’t mean anything at the time but he was willing to lay it all on the line. To understand that and to feel that I tried to do the same thing, pretty good. (Did you never meet Pete Rose?) I have met him a few times. We met in passing. And you go on…you’re at events where you go on and do your own thing and then so forth. Just the intensity of knowing he’s around and knowing what he gave – that’s enough for me [smiles].”

Early Tennis Memory:  “The first big win against Roy Emerson when I was seventeen (1969 at Southwest). That really gave me the feeling I could go out and play  against the great players in the world at that time. But I also know Roy Emerson’s position at that time. He was a little bit older. He just came off the semis or the finals at US Open. And it was the next week. And his intensity level might have been a little bit down. And thought he was just gonna run into a kid that he was gonna walk over. But I was willing to do anything to get through that match and to win. Because I knew what it meant to me. So I was the young gun at one time playing the older player and then I felt that on the other side too. So I’ve had a good career. It was fun.”

Pre-Match Feeling:  “I wasn’t one to really do an overabundance of thinking. I was more natural and just let things happen. I was trying to get the right feeling of going out there and being able to do what I do best which is play. And as far as thinking one thing or worrying about somebody’s forehand or backhand or what kind of strategy I was gonna use – I never did that. I was more natural and let me get into the flow of a match and see how things went. Sometimes it took me a game or two to get started and to figure out which route I wanted to take as far as my game. But I didn’t want to do much thinking. I was nervous enough beforehand which is good enough because it got the juices flowing. But once I got out there I had too many things to worry about, as far as my tennis goes, as opposed to doing any other things.”

Favorite Movies:  “An Indian movie called The Cooler. With Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy. Independent film that was just my kind of movie. It was about gambling in Las Vegas and a cooler that was  – back in the old days a cooler was somebody that worked for a casino that brought bad luck to people around the tables that were hot. So you would have to see it. But it was one of my favorite movies.”

Musical Tastes:  “I’m an oldies guy.”

Best You Ever Felt On Court:  “I think when I won Wimbledon for the first time and the US Open when I beat Rosewall. I went out and I played almost perfect  tennis both times. You dream of matches like that, where anything you hit it just turns to gold. Those two matches are the ones that really stuck out in my mind for that.”

Greatest Sports Moment:  “The end [smiles]. The end of it [laughs]. I say that with a laugh because you go through and you sacrifice and give so much that there comes a point in time when you just can’t do it anymore. And you have to also remember, I played not only the regular Tour until I was 40, but then I started the Senior Tour and played until I was 46-47. So my career never really had a time where I got away and took a break and cleared my mind and got healthy, then went back and started again. I just kept rolling it over into something else. When I stopped it was a necessity as far as I was concerned. And I say that rather jokingly. Just being a part of tennis. And everything. I was able to get out of tennis as far as not only the sport itself but the way I lived my life, what it’s given and hopefully what I’ve give back in return has made it just the greatest experience.”

Most Painful Moment:  “Well…I don’t know if painful is the right word. Physical pain…I’ve had a number of those. But as far as losing matches being painful…I don’t think that ever entered into my thinking. I always got back up, went out and worked harder and try to recoup what was necessary for me to go out and win. So as far as in tennis, I don’t think I’ve had any painful moments. There’s losses that I didn’t quite stomach as well but that wasn’t pain. That was disgust in my own performance.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered:  “Tennis-wise…Pancho Gonzalez. I was just breaking into it …18, 19 and 20 years old. And was able to play him a few times. And understood what he was then compared to what he was in his prime must have been unbelievable. McEnroe’s a great competitor. Lendl, Borg of course. I could go down the line. And Vilas in his own way was a great competitor. And Nastase in his own way. Within all of us there are flaws. And no matter what we were willing to give – and it was the idea, from my standpoint – that I was always trying to hide my flaws. Even about my competitiveness. And throw in a bluff here and there [smiles]. But so many great competitors. That’s what made my era so much fun to be a part of. Knowing that when you walked out on the court, that you had to bring your best game all the time. And no matter what you had to give… you had to bring out the best on that day.  And if not, you’re gonna be sitting on the sidelines.”

Closest Friends From Tennis:  “Eddie Dibbs. We’ve been friends since we were kids. I went down and played the Orange Bowl and ran into Eddie when I was seven or eight years old. And continue to be friends to this day. John Lloyd – we’ve been good friends for a long time. Outside of that, really as far as the guys that I’ve stayed in touch with, that’s really about it, since I left the Senior Tour. And I got away from tennis. Those are the two guys I’ve stayed in touch with most.”

Connors with pal Nastase at the Ali vs. Norton fight at Yankee Stadium 1976.

Funniest Players Encountered:  “Well, (Ilie) Nastase for sure. As rough as he was on the court, sometimes he was just the opposite in the locker room, with the fun and what he brought into it. You gotta remember, he was my first friend when I was fifteen. He not only took me under his wing tennis-wise, he took me under his wing  in a lot of different ways. And he was a big part of my breaking into the game and so a lot of the funny stories are about him. I could tell you but I better not [laughs]. A lot of guys had good attitudes. Dibbs had a good attitude. And was willing to do what it took to kind of take a lot of the pressure off. Then a lot of guys who weren’t actually players, who were around the game, like (trainer) Bill Norris for instance. To go in the locker room, he’d take care of all the players. He would always have something to say. And want to be a part of things. Sort of take the pressure off. It was a good time. We had a lot of characters, a lot of guys that had more to say than just the every day tennis talk. And were willing to put their reputations on the line day after day. Good time.”

Embarrassing Tennis Memory:  “I don’t know. I’m sure there’s some out there. But I’ve been kind of good about leaving the past behind. So maybe that’s a part of the past that I don’t think about much [smiles].”

Favorite Tournaments:  “French. I loved to play the French once I got back into it, in the late 70’s. Just the atmosphere. And being in Paris, I enjoyed that. I enjoyed going to Tokyo to play. South America was fun. But my favorite tournament was right here in New York. (Why Tokyo?) I like the good, I liked the people. I liked the crowds. I just liked the atmosphere. I felt comfortable there. And also from the first time I went over there, I made a lot of friends. And it was always good to go back and be a part of that and to see them. And their interest was in tennis. And they also got me involved in seeing a lot more of Japan than just seeing the stadium and the hotel. Which is a lot of fun. (South America?) Argentina was good. And nothing wrong with going down to Rio and playing down in Rio [smiles]. And went down to Bogota and played. Actually one of the best things  for me with tennis was the travel, to be able to have gotten around – I’ve met a lot of nice people, I’ve met a lot of not so nice people – but the end result was, my lasting memories were the people that I’ve met, the places that I’ve been to  and the kind of tennis that I played when I was there. So I kind of feel that I took care of all my jobs at the same time. And tried to get the most out of every place that I went.”

People Qualities Most Admired:  “Integrity.”

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “I admired and respected a lot of people but I didn’t have any heroes. That was not out of disrespect. I liked certain guys for certain reasons. I like athletes who weren’t afraid to put their reputation on the line. Give everything they had and rose to the occasion. One guy who comes to mind is Muhammad Ali. I’d drive all over to watch his closed-circuit fights. I liked his attitude, the way he went about it. He was something.”

(Connors artwork by LeRoy Neiman.)

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1 comment

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2023 at 8:45 am

    Connors magical semifinal run at the 1991 US Open at age 39 is, in my opinion, the all time ultimate electrifying thrilling moment of tennis history. Nothing in tennis ever compared to that and nothing ever will. Ashe Stadium should have been named Jimmy Connors Stadium. No disrespect to Arthur Ashe but Jimmy had a greater impact on American and US Open tennis.



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