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The Outsider: A Memoir

Tennis great Jimmy Connors reveals the source of the fire that burned within during his Hall of Fame career.

(Page 2 of 2)

Gloria became Jimmy’s hero, and the raw emotion of that violent day would fuel his passions thereafter. “I could always find something to drive me,” he relates in partnership with sportswriter/editor David Hirshey, “and most of the time those feelings of anger and rage bubbled up from the past. My mother taught me how to harness those emotions. She called them Tiger Juices.”

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Under his mother’s tutelage, Connors refined his game, which was long on blistering baseline shots that yanked opponents from side to side. 

There was no indoor tennis facility in East St. Louis, so he honed his technique drilling on a Knights of Columbus basketball court, then moved onto the polished-wood floor of the local National Guard armory.

Making impressive use of his signature two-handed backhanded, which was also Evert’s stock in trade, he moved up the junior ranks, playing in tournaments all over the country.

What really changed his world and opened up new vistas of opportunity was when, as a 16-year-old, he moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to be coached by Pancho Segura, an old friend of Gloria’s and a top player during the 1950s. The city, he found, was a tennis hotbed, and quickly he was thrust into the company of many avid celebrity players. As a result, he became part of the Hollywood crowd and has enjoyed many show business connections over the years, including friendships with Dino Martin Jr. and Desi Arnez Jr. At the French Open one year he got a call from Marlene Dietrich, made a short-lived singing debut in 1975 on the same TV show with Frank Sinatra and John Denver, and got a tryout as the host of “Wheel of Fortune” in 1998.

Although Connors had a brief college career, he believes he received the equivalent of a PhD in marketing and promotion from Bill Riordan, a promoter who ran an independent pro circuit that Connors joined.

After his own prime playing days were over, Connors used some of that education in starting the Champions Tour senior circuit, talking many of his old friends and rivals, including John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Guillermo Vilas, into getting back into playing shape.

In typical Connors fashion, he doesn’t hold anything back in his memoir, hanging out a lot of personal “laundry,” including some old details of his long-ago romance with Evert that  greatly disappointed her, and even revealing that, in the “worst mistake” of his life, he once cheated on his wife, Patti, a former Playmate of the Year that he met at Hugh Hefner’s mansion in 1977.

He also divulges that he has long been a gambler found who found himself using  gambling more and more to replace the rush he once got from playing high-stakes tennis. His wife finally called him on the carpet when, while eating dinner out, he would spend more time calling sports line for scores than visiting with his family.

He paid a visit to Gamblers Anonymous and has been basically “clean” since, except for what he considers his harmless bets on golf games with his buddies.

In retrospect, what most pleased Connors was the love of his fans – a “new breed” who he says loved his passion and were willing to overlook what offended old-school fans.

What he says he misses most today is the “appreciation and applause from the fans. It was my healthiest addiction.”

Ross Atkin is a Monitor staff writer.


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