The question came, and Connors nailed his line. The following year in Las Vegas he would beat Laver, then Newcombe, in two Riordan-brokered matches both billed as the Heavyweight Championship of Tennis. Riordan actually had the phrase copyrighted.
At dinner that night in New York, the new U.S. Open champ sat at one end of the table, with his mother, manager and coach. His fianc�e, who had lost to Evonne Goolagong in the semifinals, sat at the other end.
-- FALL --
A year earlier, when Jim and Colette Evert floated the idea of a May wedding, Gloria Connors was said to have objected, "Nobody wins Wimbledon on their honeymoon." So a fall date had been set, Nov. 8, at the Everts' stucco Catholic church in Fort Lauderdale. In late September, Jimbo and Chrissie went house hunting in Los Angeles. But within days, during a marathon phone call that ended at 4 a.m., they called off the wedding. He was supposed to have seen to the purchase of the house they'd agreed upon but, she recalls, "hadn't gone out of his way to do so." At some point during their conversation she said, "Let's forget about it." He said, "O.K."
At first the public learned of a mere postponement. But by mid-December, Evert was no longer wearing the ring they'd picked out in South Africa. "Our careers are the most important things," Connors said. "And so we thought it would be best to cool it."
"We were much too young," she remembers. "I think he was relieved too. Jimmy was an extrovert, and that's why he was so great with the crowds. But when it came to one-on-one, it was more difficult for him to be intimate with his emotions. He didn't have a lot of experience with it. I'm sure Gloria instilled in him a little bit of the feeling that you can't trust anybody. I have three boys now, and I can understand it. A few years ago I called Gloria and told her, 'Now I understand what you were doing.'"
The tennis world wanted very much to believe that Gloria, unable to abide anyone who failed to put her son's career first, had been behind the split. "Chrissie was going through her own great season," says Spencer Segura, "and that didn't go over with [Gloria]."
Evert disputes that. "Gloria didn't break us up," she says. "But in her mind I'm sure she would have liked someone who could travel with him and take care of him. And if I were trying to be Number 1, I couldn't do that."
Connors, with an assist from Evert, had nonetheless taken tennis for quite a ride. A Nielsen survey released in the aftermath of the '74 Open found that nearly 34 million Americans now considered themselves to be at least occasional tennis players, a more than threefold increase in four years. The sport had made even greater strides as a spectacle, with a Harris poll finding that the number of Americans who followed tennis had jumped from 17% to 26% over the year, placing it just behind the holy trinity of football, baseball and basketball. Of course, many others had laid the foundation--"The boom began before Connors arrived," says Drysdale, sticking up for the old-timers--including Riggs and Billie Jean King, with their smackdown in the Astrodome a year earlier, and Hunt, who was able to place WCT matches, usually featuring Laver, Newcombe, Rosewall, Ashe or Smith, on network TV.
Early the next year Newcombe, the one member of the old guard who could match Connors in talent and flair, sounded a warning. "He can pull every antic he likes," he said shortly before the two met in their second Las Vegas challenge match. "But without winning he's not going to be what he is today.... He's aggressive, he's young, he's American, and he's a fing good tennis player. The rest of it is just Bill Riordan, an old-time fight promoter."