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Open and SHUT
Curry Kirkpatrick
September 16, 1991
Stefan Edberg and Monica Seles won the U.S. Open titles, but the tournament belonged to Jimmy Connors
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September 16, 1991

Open And Shut

Stefan Edberg and Monica Seles won the U.S. Open titles, but the tournament belonged to Jimmy Connors

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Meanwhile, back at the (Santa Barbara, Calif.) ranch, Connors's wife, Patti, was sending their son, Brett, 12, and daughter, Aubree-Leigh, 5, off to school. But back in New York, the rest of Jimbo's entourage was in tow. On hand were Lornie Kuhle, a California teaching pro and Bobby Riggs's running buddy; Doug Henderson, the burly Big Apple bag carrier; Bill Lelly, a longtime friend from St. Louis who fills/totes Connors's ice bucket; and a new hitting partner, John Lloyd, who is the player-coach of the Los Angeles Strings, the TeamTennis team Connors played on this summer. During the season the two of them drank a lot of beers together and got kicked out of at least one hotel swimming pool. And, lest anyone forget, Lloyd is also the ex-husband of Connors's ex-fiancée, Chris Evert—who herself phoned Jimbo the night before the semis.

"I just climbed alongside for the ride," said Lloyd. "But is Jimmy's price rising by the hour or what? By the time he's finished, corporate America will be up for ransom."

Which is exactly what appeared to be happening when Pepsi quick-signed Connors to an endorsement deal and, along with the pain-reliever Nuprin, which had signed Connors just before the Open, served up TV and print ads, placards, buttons and patches for his sleeves. By last weekend fans high above the National Tennis Center's Stadium Court were shouting "Nupe him, Jimbo," while others wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words: SAY UH-HUH TO JIMMY.

As for the man-monument himself, Connors kept feigning astonishment. "I can't describe what this all feels like," he often said. "I don't know what to expect out of myself anymore. Imagine me beating these young guys. Is this real? How can you do anything but laugh at this?"

What was truly yukkable was the perception that Connors, tennis's original crotch-clutching, gutter-mouthed rude boy, had turned into an all-American hero. (One member of the suddenly fawning press corps suggested that Connors might be the answer to the Democrats' search for a presidential candidate.) Then there was the other mistaken perception that he was playing the same U.S. Open as everybody else. Whooooaaa! Are we talkin' favorable treatment here?

Say uh-huh.

First of all, Connors requested—and received—extra night matches. Consequently he played three of his five matches before the semifinals in the cool of the evening rather than in the energy-sapping midday heat. Then there was the gapingly wide berth given to Connors by tournament officials for his toweling-off delays during the fortnight and for an ugly invective directed at the chair umpire in the Krickstein match. The rules specify that a player can take no more than 25 seconds between points. Against Krickstein, Connors seldom took fewer than 40 seconds. "There was no way play could have been resumed in 25 seconds with the crowd as excited as it was," said chief of umpires Jay Snyder. What Snyder meant was that there was no way Connors could recover in 25 seconds. In the same match Connors laced into chair umpire David Littlefield for overruling a call by a linesman. Among the things Connors said to Littlefield were: "Kiss me before you do that to me.... You son of a bitch.... Get out of the chair.... You're a bum.... Get your ass out of the chair.... Don't give me that crap.... You're an abortion." But Connors was neither warned nor penalized.

"Jimmy was about as gross as he could get," said CBS analyst Mary Carillo. "But I've heard him say it before. It's very tough to hear and very tough to take."

Said one former player, "Connors has always been an——. It's just that now he's everybody's favorite——."

The next day, when Michael Mewshaw, who wrote the definitive book on the men's circuit, Short Circuit, asked tournament referee Tom Barnes whether Connors would be fined for what he had said to Littlefield, Barnes replied, "Get out of my office."

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