Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

60-love

Jimmy Connors was a great tennis player, and he'll tell you all about it, along with firing some volleys at a few of his opponents

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Jimmy Connors' autobiography was long overdue.

While The Outsider starts off rather slowly, the U.S. tennis great picks up the pace -- just as he did in the 1970s on the court -- and produces a clean winner 17 years after his last professional match. (He has never officially announced his retirement.)

One of tennis's first true personalities, Connors, now 60, gives the inside scoop on some of the biggest rivalries and friendships the sport has ever seen.

His battles with fellow American John McEnroe were legendary. (Mac also set the autobiography standard when he released You Can Not Be Serious a decade ago.)

The on-court animosity between the two was real, and although it has subsided after their careers ended, Connors can't resist throwing a few barbs. Has anybody ever called Mac "What'sHisName" before?

It is a bit rich, however, when Connors judges the younger McEnroe for his rants at umpires and linesmen when it was he who had long before set the standard for F-bombs and middle-finger salutes during matches.

He's also not afraid to give his frank opinion on other players. He's critical of Andre Agassi, for example, for his "image is everything" approach.

"I just didn't care about him and he didn't affect my life in any way," Connors writes.

Connors and Agassi's careers didn't overlap for long, but Agassi beat Connors out of the literary gate with his much-talked about memoir, Open, nearly three years ago.

Connors also set up one of the most famous lines in tennis. After an unexpected loss to Vitas Gerulaitis, dropping his record against him to 16-2, his good friend told a press conference, "Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."

Always a mama's boy -- his mother, Gloria, was his first coach in his native East St. Louis, Ill., and managed him throughout his career -- he admits to having a "woman's" tennis game, thanks to his propensity for sticking to the baseline and hitting a two-handed backhand.

Connors also gives the behind-the-scenes story of his off-court courtship of women's tennis champ Chris Evert. Although they were in love, he admits that the relationship was doomed to fail.

First of all, they were often in different cities and countries. Second, you don't become No. 1 in the world by being selfless, and both were determined to be the best.

It probably didn't help that Connors led a very healthy social life -- often accompanied by good friend and early-career doubles partner Ilie Nastase -- and was far from faithful.

American's Sweetheart was no saint, either, Connors maintains.

"It's hard to keep secrets in the tennis world," he writes.

Connors is nothing if not confident in his abilities. He won eight Grand Slam tournaments despite only playing in Australia twice during his career and missing the French Open six times for a variety of political reasons.

It's obvious he believes he could have had Pete Sampras or even Roger Federer-like totals if he had played a full schedule every year.

Free Press reporter Geoff Kirbyson has won a number of senior national and provincial open doubles tennis titles. He had a Jimmy Connors haircut as a kid.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A1

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