Tennis' Old Guard
A New Senior Tour is restaging Some of the Great Court Rivalries of the Past 20 Years
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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The odd thing about this small-minded bashing is that tennis promoters are always willing to tell sponsors how incredibly affluent tennis fans are. One would think these affluent consumers can afford to partake in all of the sport's riches. Heck, baseball fans with less income attend 10 games a year. Surely, the tennis public has enough capacity to appreciate both Jimbo and Andre Agassi. Make no mistake, Jimbo is the Chairman of the Board. But if all anyone had done was cling to Sinatra's robe, discounting all subsequent acts, they would have had a hard time maintaining an open mind when those four lads from Liverpool surfaced. And lest we forget, in the early '70s it was Connors who was considered a power-game practitioner, a steel racket-wielding brat lacking the artistic guile of such champions as Rosewall and Laver.
That said, the Nuveen Tour is one of the most engaging entertainment values in tennis. Listening and singing along with tennis' favorite tunes from bygone days is a wonderful way to enjoy the sport. The quality of play is both entertaining and edifying.
In a Monterey airstrip, Jimmy Connors' private plane awaits, ready to whisk him away from the tournament. Billy Lelly and Jimbo's son, Brett, now 17, are motioning Jimbo's way, urging him that it's time to walk away from it all. Right now that journey is far from Connors' mind. He's still into "the tennis," signing more autographs, chatting up a few kids, clarifying logistics with Benton for the next gig. "You're the best," he says to one of the tour officials who always has a walkie-talkie on her hip. "Stay out of trouble," he advises a friend.
"Jimmy, Jimmy, we've got a golf cart," says Lelly. The faster get-away appeals to Connors. He's still signing as he makes his way towards the cart. Twenty fans hover as he moves into the passenger seat. Brett and Billy hop on the back like Secret Service agents. Just before the cart takes off, a little girl runs to Connors with a poster. He signs it. "Good-bye everyone," he shouts, waving his right arm. And then Jimbo is gone.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once commented that there are no second acts in American lives. Jimmy Connors would probably tell Fitzgerald exactly where he could shove that remark. For decades, Connors has been living one second act after another. Fitzgerald died at 44, the same age Connors turned in 1996. However much people may tell Jimbo that the end is near, as long as he can please his people, he'll continue doing it his way. Perhaps the end will never come. Now that Jimbo's created a friendly arena in which to coexist with his rivals, why should it?
Oakland, California-based Joel Drucker writes frequently about tennis and other sports for such publications as Tennis.
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