Connors conquered with intensity
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Jimbo turned back the clock at the '91 Open
By Fred W. Kiger
Special to ESPN.com
September 2, 1991 - In his prime, Jimmy Connors bullied and
attacked his way to monstrous success, but now in 1991, the lion was long in the tooth. In fact, Connors was celebrating his 39th birthday when he confronted 24-year-old Aaron Krickstein in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Jimbo was the fan favorite, having already come back from a two sets to none deficit in the first round against Patrick McEnroe and then winning his next two matches. After losing the first set to Krickstein 6-3, Connors, playing with a surgically rebuilt wrist, took the second with a dramatic 10-8 win in the tiebreaker. He was routed 6-1 in the third set and then tied the match by winning the fourth 6-3. However, Connors looked like he ran out of steam in the fifth set, falling behind 5-2.
As a packed house on the Stadium Court roared in approval, Connors battled back again. Playing with his customary fire, Connors constantly attacked and it paid off, as he forced a tiebreaker. With his adrenaline -- and fists -- pumping, Connors won it 7-4. The match took four hours and 41 minutes.
Despite 106 unforced errors and a left knee that stiffened (he had twisted it during the second-set tiebreaker), Connors advanced to his 16th U.S. Open quarterfinal in 21 visits, proving the lion could still roar.
Odds 'n' EndsAccording to a someone who knew the family, Jimmy's mother, Gloria, was taught, "They're all out to get us." That message was indelibly stamped on him.
At 16, Connors finally beat his mother in tennis. Coming to the net after the win, he said, "Gee, Mom, that hurt. I didn't mean to do that." Almost in tears, Gloria responded, "No, no, Jimmy. Don't you know? This is one of the happiest days of my life."
Connors used a basic Wilson T-2000 racket, size 4 5/8 light with lead tape applied to the bow of the head and on the sides of the upper shaft. The T-2000 was always thought to be difficult to control.
He used 17-gauge gut. If the strings lasted two sets, Connors felt
fortunate. The tightest he ever had his racket strung was 70 pounds.
Connors wore custom-made tennis shoes. The thin-soled shoes meant that sometimes he wore out a pair in a single match.
When Connors won Wimbledon in 1974, he was too busy to take a congratulatory call from his father, Big Jim.
In a house divided by tennis, Big Jim learned of his son's engagement to Chris Evert over the radio.
In South Africa, Jimmy and Chris personally watched her 1½-carat diamond taken from the earth, cut and shaped.
Once after they had just played together, Connors playfully grabbed her
from behind. Evert whirled around with her racket and caught him squarely on the bridge of his nose, breaking it.
In the mid-1970s, Connors was plagued with thumb and back problems. The back trouble originated from a curvature of his spine and was aggravated by his twisting while serving.
In 1977, he played all of Wimbledon with a broken left thumb. Before play began, an X-ray technician broke the news with, "Well, Mr. Connors, I guess you won't be playing tennis for a couple of weeks." Connors shot back, "You want to bet, sucker?"
He played with a splint that dug in so much that blood trickled down his arm.
At the 1977 U.S. Open, Connors raced around the net during a match with Corrado Barazzutti to erase with his foot a ball mark that Barazzutti was "citing as evidence of a bad call."
Only Bill Tilden (1921-1930) and Evonne Goolagong (1971-1980) had gone longer between Wimbledon championships than Connors (1974-82).
At the 1991 U.S. Open, Connors, at 39, became the oldest semifinalist since 39-year-old Ken Rosewall, who lost the final 17 years before to none other than Connors.
When playing on his birthday (September 2), Connors won 10 of 11 matches at the U.S. Open.
Connors was ranked in the Top 10 for 16 successive years.
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