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Jumpin' Jimmyny
Frank Deford
July 12, 1982
After an eight-year hiatus, Jimmy Connors leapt to the fore with a five-set defeat of John McEnroe in the title match at Wimbledon
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July 12, 1982

Jumpin' Jimmyny

After an eight-year hiatus, Jimmy Connors leapt to the fore with a five-set defeat of John McEnroe in the title match at Wimbledon

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This year's Wimbledon was conspicuously wet and flat, like stale beer. Indeed, the only heady moments were provided by the reemergence of Billie Jean King, the powerful talents of Martina Navratilova and the courage of Jimmy Connors. These qualities in the latter two have long been recognized, but perhaps never so nicely showcased. Oh yes, one other item to call to your attention:

NOTICE

THE COMMITTEE OF THE ALL ENGLAND LAWN TENNIS AND CROQUET CLUB ANNOUNCE THAT MR. J.P. MCENROE HAS BEEN ELECTED AN HONORARY MEMBER OF THE CLUB.

Alas for Mr. McEnroe, he had at last earned acceptance to the club, even as he lost its championship 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 to Connors, falling in a match that was close enough to satisfy the pit-bull spirit Connors evokes—"It was kill or be killed out there," he said—but, as art, was little more than an extended tragedy of errors. In the end, although they both won the same number of points, 173, Jimbo proved to be more the survivor, so he carried off his first Grand Slam title in four years and his first Wimbledon championship in eight. His was the longest gap between titles except for Bill Tilden's nine years, 1921 to '30.

We tend to forget how despised a scoundrel James Scott Connors, Patti's husband, Brett's father, was at Wimbledon before the world had ever heard of McEnroe, and if in some ways Connors remains a golden oldie—his floppy-haired boyishness, the little old round metal racket—he's more mature now. The Ilie Nastase influence has faded, the sophomoric vulgarity is gone. Apart from one vintage crotch grab in the final, Connors was the very model of civility, and it's difficult not to admire all the enthusiasm and honesty he brings to the game. "To go out there and play your guts out and have a rapport with the crowd, that's what it's all about," he said one day last week. And as if to prove it, in the fourth round against Paul McNamee, Jimbo took off on a dead run, diagonally across Court 1, missed scooping up a drop shot, jumped over a changeover chair, still at full tilt, kept going until he popped into the first row, handed his racket to a befuddled woman and bade her take his place on court.

As a stylist, Connors also has grown, coming up with a new serve that carries him forward into position to rush the net. For years, critics said that he had to develop a better serve to take pressure off his enervating baseline game. Indeed, the new Connors serve-and-volley style was evident in his early-round matches. Then on Monday of the second week, he met a qualifier named Drew Gitlin, No. 185 in the world, a bandy-legged, curly-haired little fellow from Encino, Calif. Gitlin carried Connors to four hard, long sets and into the gloaming in a match that was far superior to the final. Gitlin is what the other players call a "puddler," someone who can chip shots just over the net, forcing the bold volleyer to bend low and search for them as if they had plopped into some puddle. After Gitlin gave Connors so much unexpected difficulty, Connors quietly retreated to the baseline for his next three matches, not breaking camp there until he faced McEnroe.

Once the object of every tabloid's rapt attention, Connors was a wispy E.T. in London, materializing for his matches and then fading back to his hotel, where he remained cloistered with his wife, 2-year-old son and brother. The public's focus has shifted almost exclusively to McEnroe, and indeed, his defeat may be quite a blow to the British entertainment industry. First there was a West End revue entitled Not in Front of the Audience, in which an actor made up to look like McEnroe starts screaming from a box, complaining to an actor playing McEnroe's father that he has a bad seat. Meanwhile, an actress portraying McEnroe's mother displays desperate mortification. Then, a popular television program, Not the Nine O'Clock News, carried a skit in which the McEnroe family was portrayed having breakfast. The sketch concluded with John smashing his egg away with his racket. Finally, there appeared a rock record, Chalk Dust—The Umpire Strikes Back, featuring singing by someone identified only as The Brat and dialogue set to music between an unnamed umpire and a player. Selected lyrics:

Player. Everyone can see there was chalk dust.

The ball was in by a mile.

You people here are goddamn senile....

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  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
J.P. McEnroe 1 0 0
Jimmy Connors 178 0 10
Billie Jean King 83 0 2
Tennis 2333 0 74
Wimbledon 531 0 20