Born on September 2, 1952, in East St. Louis, Illinois, Jimmy Connors learned to play tennis from his mother, a former pro. The gritty left-hander leaped to prominence in 1974, using his overpowering two-handed backhand stroke to win three Grand Slam tournaments. Connors ended his career with a men's open–era record 109 singles titles and 1,337 victories, along with eight Grand Slam singles titles.
James Scott Connors Jr. was born on September 2, 1952, in East St. Louis, Illinois, to James Sr. and Gloria Connors. A former professional tennis player, Gloria cleared land behind their house to build a court when she was pregnant with her younger son. Along with her mother, Bertha Thompson, known as "Two Mom," Gloria taught Connors what would become his feared two-handed backhand shot and instilled in him a ferocious competitive drive.
At 16, Connors began training with erstwhile champion Pancho Segura. He enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, for one year and won the NCAA singles title, then dropped out to turn professional.
Connors quickly developed a reputation as a maverick among his peers. He refused to join the Association of Tennis Professionals union, opting to play in independent tournaments organized by his manager, Bill Riordan. He also became known for spewing profanities on the court, shocking the fans of what was considered a gentleman's game, and was mocked for his close relationship with his mother.
However, there was no denying his ability to pulverize a tennis ball with the unusual steel racket he favored. Connors leapt into public view when he outlasted former Wimbledon champion Arthur Ashe in five sets to win the U.S. Pro Singles title in 1973. The left-hander had a season for the ages in 1974, winning the three Grand Slam tournaments he entered (Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) and accumulating a staggering overall 99-4 record in match play. He became the sport's No. 1-ranked male player that July, a distinction he held for 159 consecutive weeks.
Over the next decade, Connors continued to dominate opponents with his deadly service return and two-handed backhand. He won four more U.S. Open singles titles—on three different surfaces—as well as the 1982 Wimbledon men's championship. He also claimed several "winner take all" matches against contemporary stars such as Ilie Nastase and aging champions such as Rod Laver.
The gritty veteran earned his final tournament victory in 1989, at the Tel Aviv Open, but his last hurrah in the spotlight came during the 1991 U.S. Open. Connors rallied from two sets down against Patrick McEnroe in the first round and again against Aaron Krickstein in the fourth, on his 39th birthday, before falling to Jim Courier in the semifinals.
Connors played one more full season in 1992 and his final ATP match in 1996, though he never officially retired from the sport. In addition to his men's open–era record 109 singles titles and 1,337 victories, Connors accumulated eight Grand Slam singles and two more doubles championships. He held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 268 weeks in his career, and at one point was ranked in the top 10 for an amazing 16 consecutive years.
Connors dated American tennis star Chris Evert in the early 1970s, but they called off their engagement in November 1974. Connors later married former Playboy Playmate Patti McGuire, with whom he has two children, Brett and Aubree.
The hard-hitting champion was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998. In January 2007, his beloved mother died at the age of 82.
Connors made waves with the May 2013 release of his autobiography, The Outsider: A Memoir. Among other details, he revealed his battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a gambling addiction, as well as accounts of his relationship with Evert.
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