Los Angeles — Jimmy Connors, dressed as though he were about to board a catamaran for a day on the ocean, arrived 30 minutes late for a press conference at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, site of next week's Pacific Southwest Open.
Connors was there in the role of defending champion to help promote this year's tournament, and Jimmy wasn't wasting any time. He was smiling, outgoing, attentive, reverent, pure, honest, quotable, etc. If there had been an elderly woman in the audience, he probably would have offered to help her across the room.
Although Connors had struggled with his game early in 1982, things suddenly made a dramatic 180-degree turn for Jimmy when he won last year's Pacific Southwest Open. From there he went on to capture six more championships, including Wimbledon and the US Open, and reached the finals of four other tournaments. He finished the year with an incredible match record of 78-10 and was ranked No. 2 in the world after John McEnroe.
As for career statistics, the 30-year-old of Belleville, Ill. has already won 96 singles titles, the most in the history of men's tennis.
Among those championships are four US Opens; two Wimbledon crowns; the Australian Open; and the Grand Prix Masters Title. He also has been a doubles winner at, the US Open, and the French Open. His career earnings are nearing the
''Two years ago, after I decided I wasn't playing the way I felt I should, I went back to fundamentals,'' Connors told reporters. ''I tried to repeat all the things that had gotten me to the top in the first place and it worked.
''I even enjoyed Wimbledon last year, not because I beat McEnroe in the finals, but because I didn't put any pressure on myself,'' he continued. ''I felt a certain maturity beforehand, I guess, that comes partly with reaching 30 and partly with the realization that I had done this all before.
''While money provides a lot of motivation in any tournament, the dollar really is not that important to me anymore. What is important is the fun and the competition. If I can play three more years of pro tennis at my present level, I'll be more than satisfied.''
Connors, whether he is winning or losing, has always been a relentless tennis foe. Probably more than anyone on the tour, he is the type of player who knows himself - what he can and can't do, when to gamble on a shot, when to play things safe, etc.
Although this has been written before, Jimmy learned his warlike return of service, often the best part of his game, by practicing on the slickly varnished floor of the old St. Louis Armory.
''Dances and guard drills had made that floor mean,'' Connors once told a national magazine. ''To play there I had to learn to hit the ball early, while it was still on the rise; challenge every serve; and then sweep the ball back before it had a chance to spin away from me.''
Sometimes overlooked in Connors's tennis arsenal, because it does not come under the heading of a specific shot, is Jimmy's mental toughness. He has the ability to break back and go on to win after falling behind. Often he returns shots from apparently impossible places on the court that handcuff other players. He can also be without his serve sometimes and still win.
Asked about exhibitions, winning Wimbledon, not playing Davis Cup, and what he'll do once he retires from pro tennis, Connors replied:
''I don't see anything wrong with big money exhibitions between two great players because obviously the public loves this. There is a place for exhibitions. But it's in the big tournaments, like Wimbledon and the US Open, where you make your name.
''To win Wimbledon, you have to be able to adjust to grass and you have to be lucky. I'll never play Davis Cup again, but I'll also never tell you why. While it's important to me to win another Wimbledon, I'd rather win the US Open than any other tournament.
''Even after I retire from competition, I plan to be involved in tennis in some capacity, probably for the rest of my life. Maybe my son will want to play and I can help him. I know I can't throw something that has been so much of my life away so easily.''