Continuing his countdown of tennis’ greatest ever players, Kevin Palmer profiles one of the biggest characters, and biggest winners, the game has ever seen: Jimmy Connors.
He holds two of the most cherished records in tennis, yet Jimmy Connors has rarely felt welcome in a game that struggled to embrace his abrasive presence.
His 109 career tour titles is a record the has stood the test of time and while Roger Federer is now just six behind him in the all-time list, Connors stands alone as the most prolific singles player of all-time as he enters our Tennis365 top ten list in sixth position.
Born: September 2nd 1952 in East St. Louis, Illinois
Year turned pro: 1972
Grand Slam wins: 8
Australian Open: 1974
Wimbledon: 1974, 1982
US Open: 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1983
Davis Cup: 1981
Total tour titles: 109
Win/loss record: 1274–282
The Wimbledon media balcony is one of the great places to spend half an hour when The Championships are in full swing.
With the players’ area perched just behind the press area, the great and the good of the game, past and present, tend to be milling around and passing through at different paces amid the excited buzz that lingers in the air for the 13-days of the tournament.
For the select few who have held that famous Gentleman’s Singles trophy aloft, a special place in tennis history is assured, so it was somewhat curious to see the legend that is Jimmy Connors sat alone with his thoughts and seemingly being ignored by all around him as he took a break from his BBC commentaries duties a back in 2017.
Day after day, Connors could be found sitting on one of the long, brown benches on the second tier of the impressive media centre, with few attempting to approach him and even fewer engaging in conversation.
After a lifetime in the game, his lonesome presence at Wimbledon suggested Connors had few friends in the game and he confirmed as much when he named his autobiography ‘The Outsider’.
Such banishment seems harsh on a player who achieved so much. Connors never-say-die spirit and passion to win ensured he was a hero to many in a career that was laced with epic battles against his great rivals Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Bjorn Borg and yet this brash maverick appeared to go out of his way to ensure he was not welcomed into the tennis fraternity as one of their own.
“My attitude was not welcomed by some in tennis and some people did not appreciate me,” reflects Connors. “I challenged a lot of people and when you do that, you will always come up against some opposition, but the fans grew to understand me. Especially at the US Open, the fans won me plenty of matches with their support and that’s special to me.”
Connors career was not without controversy, with his association with the World Team Tennis leading to him being banned from the French Open and he didn’t play at Roland Garros between 1974 and 1978, denying him a chance to add to his major title haul.
“In my day, chasing Grand Slams was not the most important part of our sport,” he says. “We were up against some of the biggest names in the history of sports such as Mohamed Ali and we were all chasing the little bit of space in the newspapers. So my record of 109 titles is something I’m proud about.
“Whenever you see a major record broken in tennis, it is normally one of mine. If these great champions we have in the game today like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are still trying to beat what I did, then what more can I ask for. I’d like that record of 109 titles to live forever, but if Roger beats it, so be it.”
Federer is closing in on a second of Connors’ iconic record as he collected the most match wins in the open era with 1274 victories edging his 32 wins ahead of the great Swiss champion.
His refusal to conform with often stuffy tennis traditions ensured Connors fought many of his battles alone, but he was a truly great champion and we had to find a place for James Scott Connors in our Tennis365 top ten.
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