Tennis Players That Changed the Game: Jimmy Connors

R LSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2008

Jimmy Connors may not have been able to bring Andy Roddick to a major title as his coach, but there's no denying him being one of the greatest tennis players in history.

Early in his career, he earned a reputation as a maverick when he refused to join the newly formed ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) in 1972.

Most male pros were a part of this association, but Connors decided to avoid the main league and dominate in a series of smaller tournaments.

These tournaments were organized by his promoter and manager, Bill Riordan. Eventually, the two would file lawsuits against the ATP and its president, Arthur Ashe, for apparently not giving Connors full freedom in the game.

He was actually banned from the 1974 French Open after signing a contract to play World Team Tennis for Baltimore. John McEnroe had to be proud that he wasn't the only American rebel tennis player around.

In 1974, Connors won three of the four Grand Slam singles tournaments. The French Open was the only major to escape his hands that year. Had he played in the French, he could have possibly became the first male player to win all four majors in one year since Rod Laver.

Bjorn Borg was the new Wimbledon king in 1976, and he squared off with Connors at the U.S. Open final. The American won in four sets, when at the time the tournament was played on clay.

At the 1977 Wimbledon, Connors refused to participate in a parade of former champions and was booed in the final against Borg. The Swede would win, but Connors would defeat Borg at the following year's U.S. Open.

McEnroe was the new world No. 1 in 1982, and the two Americans went at it during the Wimbledon final that year. Connors won, then defeated Ivan Lendl (another rising star) in the U.S. Open.

Connors defeated Lendl again at the following year's U.S. Open final. His last Grand Slam final came at the 1984 Wimbledon, where McEnroe easily beat him this time around. Although he was smaller than most of his opponents, he didn't let this stop him; he had amazing determination.

He also had an incredible two-handed backhand and one of the best service returns in the game. The American refused to accept defeat, and gave it his all on every point of every match, no matter how far behind he was on the scoreboard.

Andre Agassi was another player with tremendous spirit and heart like this. Connors said the following about his play.

"There's always somebody out there who's willing to push it that extra inch, or mile, and that was me. I didn't care if it took me 30 minutes or five hours. If you beat me, you had to be the best, or the best you had that day. But that was my passion for the game. If I won, I won, and if I lost, well, I didn't take it so well."

His attitude on court was one to remember. The actions he displayed got the crowd involved in the game. Sometimes it helped his play; other times it hurt.

Whether it was giving the finger to a linesman after a bad call, or walking around the court with the tennis racket handle between his legs, Connors will be remembered for his attitude just as much as his athletic abilities.

Connors held the top ranking for 160 consecutive weeks (July 29, 1974, to August 29, 1977) and a total of 268 weeks overall. He reached four French Open semifinals, but never held the trophy.

However, he did win the U.S. Open during the short time it was played on clay courts. This makes him one of only three men to have won a major on grass, clay, and hard courts.

He's also the only man to have won the U.S. Open itself on all three surfaces. Connors was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998.

Every sport has interesting characters. Football has Terrell Owens, hockey has Sean Avery, and soccer has Joey Barton. Attitudes like this are important for sports, because they attract plenty of fans.

While tennis may not be as popular as these other sports, it still has its share of great personalities. Jimmy Connors was one of the first to bring this kind of attitude to tennis.

Bjorn Borg

Ivan Lendl

John McEnroe

Steffi Graf

Martina Navratilova

Monica Seles