Tennis has been transformed over the last five decades by TV, money, technology, equipment, fashion and politics. But through all of that, the players have remained at the heart of the game. As part of our golden anniversary celebration of the Open era, Tennis.com presents its list of 50 best players—the Top 25 men and the Top 25 women—of the last 50 years. You'll be able to view the entire list in the March/April issue of TENNIS Magazine.
(Note: Only singles results were considered; any player who won a major title during the Open era had his or her entire career evaluated; all statistics are through the 2018 Australian Open.)
10. Jimmy Connors
Years played: 1972–1996
Major titles: 8
The man forever to be known as Jimbo was the first pure product of the pro game. Unlike the generations of amateurs that came before him, this wiry, floppy-haired ball of eternal fire never had to play for lunch money or ply his trade in high-school gyms. The differences, in attitude and style, were obvious.
Where his elders were humble and gentlemanly, Connors was brash and strutting. Where they chipped the ball and followed it to net, Connors hauled off and belted his ground strokes past his opponents. Where they used one hand on their backhands, Connors—like his fellow young stars Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert—wasn’t ashamed to slug his with two.
“Hair, arms, and legs flew, along with plenty of fur, as Connors bashed away in a game he so obviously loved,” was how Bud Collins described his first encounter with an 18-year-old Connors at the 1970 US Open.
Before his opponents knew what hit them, or how to react, Jimbo had taken over the sport. As a 22-year-old, in 1974, he won three majors and claimed the No. 1 ranking. Many believed he would dominate for the next decade. But this Superman had a Kryptonite, and it took a wily veteran, Arthur Ashe, to locate it. Ashe beat Connors with beautifully crafted junk in the 1975 Wimbledon final, and provided the blueprint for all future Jimbo-killers.
But anyone who thought Connors’ full-throttle game wouldn’t last for long didn’t know the depths of his determination. Passed in the rankings by Borg, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl, Connors nevertheless won eight majors (including three US Opens on three different surfaces), finished five straight seasons at No. 1 and won a men’s-record 109 titles.
“I think my greatest victory was every time I walked out there, I gave everything I had,” he said.
With Jimbo, it was the blood and guts, rather than the glory, that mattered most.
Defining Moment: Connors went out the way he came in—with hair, legs, and fur flying at the 1991 US Open. As a 39-year-old, he reached the semifinals and proved that he was still the Open era’s purest product. The professional game had been about providing entertainment value for the fan’s dollar, and no one had entertained those fans as much, for as long, as Jimbo. “This is what they paid for,” he said, as he milked the applause one last time at Flushing Meadows. “This is what they want.”
Watch: Jimmy Connors brings the US Open crowd to its feet in 1991
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