Jimmy Connors is on a worldwide media tour promoting his 400-page memoir, The Outsider. This book is written in the same style that Connor's played tennis: bold, daring, unapologetic, and at times, a little over the top. But here's the bottom line: Jimmy Connors never cared about what people thought about him. Oh, sure, he talks about his courtship with the fans at the U.S. Open over the course of his career and how much it meant when they finally appeared to embrace him. There's no doubt that Connor's preferred the accolades and applause. Who doesn't? The difference is that he never needed it to win. If you dared to step on the court with the south paw from Belleville, you had better pack a lunch. This guy didn't show up to make friends; he showed up to beat you... and preferably, as badly as possible. That's what made him so intimidating... and so great.
I was on the national junior tennis circuit from 1971-1982, which were the years of Jimmy Connor's prime. I eventually turned pro and had the opportunity to exchange shots with tennis legends like Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, and many others. But I never had the privilege of facing Connors the Great, who me and all of my tennis friends worshipped. Oh, for the single chance to pummel an 80 mile an hour forehand at Connors and watch him hammer that cannon-like backhand down the line. I guess some dreams must remain dreams.
All the great players I knew feared Jimmy Connors because of his mental toughness. After all, he was not a physically imposing figure at 5'9 and he didn't have a physique you would fear encountering in a dark alley. No, it was his ferocious approach to the game that made him scary, a game that previously had only been played by rich people at country clubs. Suddenly this brash, two fisted slugger from the wrong side of town bursts onto the scene and begins beating opponents to a pulp. The game was never the same. Connors was the poster-boy for grinding out every point, chasing down every ball and gutting out every match, and it inspired me and a whole generation of players to do the same.
Critics say that Connors on court antics and bad behavior diminished his accomplishments. Not in my mind. Should he have showed more restraint? Maybe. Was he a bad role model as it related to attitude and manners? Probably. Did he have to take shots at his formal rivals in his book to get people to read it? Probably not. But all this misses the point. See... Jimmy Connors doesn't care what you think. Not about his tennis career, his life, or his new book... and he wants everyone to know it. And that's the greatest lesson of this memoir. Connor's tells it like it is and takes no prisoners. And if you don't like it, Jimbo will tell you to go suck an egg.
Connors might not be classy, but he is honest, tough and still competitive. He's already hinting that at 61 years of age he's eager to compete again, and God help the person who stands in his way. This guy doesn't just love to win, he loves to fight. He's an old warrior searching for a new war, and I hope he finds it. Anyone who grew up in the 70's playing tennis should read this book. You may disagree with Connors brash behavior and his non-apologetic approach, but I promise you won't be bored. Connors doesn't do his reputation as a difficult person any favors in this book. Some people might even conclude that he's kind of a jerk. But the bottom line is that Jimmy Connors is an American original, and the odds of seeing the likes of his kind come again in our lifetime are slim to none. Bad behavior and poor judgment aside, we can all learn a lesson from this book: Be yourself, live life on your own terms and play to win. Whether you like him or not, Jimmy Connors is the embodiment of these ideals, and we can all benefit by following his lead. Long live James Scott Connors, the brawler from Belleview!
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