Late on the morning of the finals I warmed up with Ray Ruffels, who's a lefty (and he told me he had twice before warmed up Wimbledon finalists, both of whom won). He couldn't understand why I was lobbing all the time. "What's this? You never use a lob," he said. And he's right; in the normal run of things I can't lob worth a damn. Often I completely forget even to try. I lobbed better against Connors than I ever have in my life. As I say, I was in the zone.
And in a curious way Connors improved the weakest part of my game, which is my forehand volley. It tends to get wobbly when I try to do things with it, but Jimmy hits the ball so hard that all you have to do is hold your racket out there and bounce his shot back.
So that is how you beat Jimmy Connors. And, of course, it also helped that he choked. Everybody blanches at that word, but choking is really an everyday thing. I choke sometimes. We all choke. Jimmy just picked the finals of Wimbledon to choke. In the beginning of the match, when things were on the line, he kept hitting balls into the net. If you're making mistakes by swinging away and hitting long, that's one thing, but when a slugger like Connors is hitting Slazengers way short into the net, that tells you something else. When he was far behind, the pressure lifted (it's always easier to serve at love-40 than at 30-40); that's when he got loose and played well. Then, as soon as he started to get back in the match, he began hitting short again.
It had been my plan to get ahead at all costs. I practiced later than usual before the match, and then took a brisk massage, so that I was actually sweating when I took the court. I'd never been ahead of Jimmy before, and while we know that he can lay it on, play his very best from in front, we don't know much about how he reacts when he's behind.
But I sympathized with Jimmy because the pressure was on him. After he beat Roscoe they called him invincible—which I'm sure he would have been if I had tried to overpower him the way Roscoe had. Moreover, Connors had beaten me the three previous times we had played. But the one occasion we met on grass, it went five sets, and I didn't play well. The two times he beat me in straight sets were in South Africa, where there is a very great deal of unusual pressure on me. At Wimbledon he had not lost a set, which everybody assumed was a positive sign for him. I had had several tough matches, capped by five sets in three hours against another lefthander in the semis. Who was better prepared, physically and mentally?
And tactically? Jimmy has played four big matches this year. Newcombe beat him in Australia and I beat him at Wimbledon, and he beat Laver and Newcombe in the "Challenge Matches." The two times he won he had his coach, Pancho Segura, by his side. The two he lost old Sneaky wasn't there. I find that an interesting coincidence.
Finally, as a lefthander, Connors usually has an edge over a righthander because lefties are different. A southpaw's shots spin the other way. But Connors got cheated this year by the weather. The courts at Wimbledon are laid out so that around the time when Wimbledon is played there is a period of about 45 minutes, just after the day's play begins at two o'clock, when the sun is murder on a righthander serving on one side of the court. Last year I got eliminated by a lefthander in a two o'clock match; at the same time, on another court, Borg went out to another lefty. If they continue to take bets on matches at Wimbledon, the bookies should be advised that any righthander-lefthander match at two o'clock on any court gives a wicked edge to the lefty.
Except, of course, on the days when the sun is behind the clouds from two to 2:45. That's the way it was for the finals. As I explained earlier, I felt destined to win.
Before our match, in the little waiting room off Centre Court, Jimmy and I chatted alone for a minute or two. Small talk between pals. He sued me for $5 million a few weeks ago. Last year at Wimbledon he sued my friends Donald Dell and Jack Kramer, who are, like myself, officials of the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Despite the fact that he keeps suing people, I still rather like the kid. And we must have something in common. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy's doubles partner, says that Connors and I are his only two good friends in tennis. Left to his own devices, I'm sure Jimmy could be one of the boys. But he is not his own man, and I feel sorrow for him, not anger.