Evert recalls how much her fianc� identified with the solitary idols Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison--"the loners who were brilliant," she says. But nothing particularly tabloidworthy took place within his protective cordon. "I've never eaten so much room service in my life," says Nastase. "Or watched so much TV or played so much backgammon."
Columnist Bud Collins once referred to "the Evert-Connors Mafia," but the self-segregation would justify itself with a single statistic: By the end of the '70s only one player had a lifetime winning record against Connors, and that was Nastase, the one guy Connors had allowed to get close.
-- SPRING --
As Connors did his solitary best to vulgarize the sport, World Team Tennis did the same on a mass scale. WTT permitted virtually anything during matches, from player substitutions to coaching, cheering and outright heckling. But WTT alarmed the Europeans with more than bad taste. Its spring season conflicted with the gemstone events on the Continent, the Italian and French Opens, and European constituents of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) feared an exodus of the top pros. After Connors signed with WTT's Baltimore Banners, the French Tennis Federation (FTF) barred him from Roland Garros, thereby foreclosing any chance for him to pick up the second leg of the Grand Slam. Riordan filed suit on May 30 to lift the ban, and a day later there was Connors in the Palais de Justice in Paris, cheeky as ever, saying, "I'm in the wrong court. I should be on clay."
The lawyer for the FTF asserted the federation's right to invite or not invite anyone it so desired. He called WTT "a vast circus" and "an obnoxious, disruptive organization ... not sport, but show business, like the Harlem Globetrotters." On the possibility that Connors, the plaintiff, might be deprived of a chance to win a Grand Slam, a spokesman for the FTF sniffed, "This is not a question of persons but of principle." At his seat Connors doodled. English Leather, the cologne company, had put up a $100,000 prize for anyone who completed the Slam, and that happened to be precisely the sum the Banners were contracted to pay Connors, so the French judge plausibly ruled that Connors's livelihood faced no "emergency." Score one for the establishment--Connors would not play in Paris--but the game's rear guard would count few victories for the rest of the year.
Suing the French tennis bureaucracy was one thing. But on the eve of Wimbledon word reached London that Riordan and Connors, charging that the players' union (ATP) was in cahoots with the ITF, had sued Dell and Jack Kramer, the lawyer for and director of the ATP, respectively, and both prominent opponents of World Team Tennis. To those who regarded the union as essentially the sum of its members, Connors was suing virtually every male tennis pro--"127 defendants and me," as it were. The suit, which charged interference with Connors's ability to make a living, also named the sport's main sponsor, the multinational insurance company Commercial Union. "That suit cost [the ATP] about $100,000 in legal fees," says retired pro John Newcombe, who recalls seeing crude graffiti about Connors and Evert in locker rooms that year. " Riordan always had his own agenda, and he was using Jimmy to implement it. It was a sort of unsavory start to a guy's career."
Ashe, a stalwart of the players' union, wrote in his diary, "I swear, every time I passed Connors in the locker room today, it took all my will power not to punch him in the mouth."
Within a few years Connors and Riordan would be in litigation with each other. "I was used in a lot of ways," Connors says today. "I was just a young kid trying to win. But basically Riordan was good. He could make a chicken sitting on an egg sound exciting. He was the only guy--he and Lamar Hunt--with the guts to go the other way."
By June, Connors elicited another emotion in the locker room: a respect bordering on fear. "I always liked my chances against a guy who stayed back on grass," says Sandy Mayer. "But even on grass, guys had the feeling that [Connors] was going to roll. He was one of the first players who gave you the sense that you weren't going to win."
Adds Waltke, "With the entourage and the ground strokes, he had so much mojo going back then, it was almost scary. It was like the feeling that you were being thrown in against Muhammad Ali--almost sacrificial."