Search

Jimbo Comes on Strong

March 04, 1974
March 04, 1974

Table of Contents
March 4, 1974

Hoosiers
Dark
Sanders
College Basketball
Track & Field
Jimbo
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Jimbo Comes on Strong

It's a toss-up whether Jimmy Connors irritates more people than he beats regularly on the court. But everyone knows where he belongs in the ratings

Jimmy Connors burst through the glittering party crowd, with his lollipop cheeks leading the way, his Raggedy Andy hair flopping behind. Up the stairs of the large hall, he hurried toward the lectern. Connors was late, and the audience of Junior League women and their moneyed men had nearly finished off the bar while waiting. Maybe 300 of them, waiting for Jimmy. At the sight of the guest they clapped, a warm, resounding applause that grew and grew; they even cheered, and one woman broke from the mass and rushed Connors, embracing him in a smothering of affection.

This is an article from the March 4, 1974 issue Original Layout

The interruption over, Connors began talking. He was sorry to be late, he said. There had been some snow and airplane delays, but anyway the weather here was beautiful as usual and so were the people. He was happy to be back, Connors said, where he had so many friends and had been successful in the past. The tournament would run smoothly. The matches would be terrific. He hoped he would do well again, he said. Then, glancing to the side where the rest of the players stood assembled more like lackeys than adversaries, Connors caught himself. Suddenly he realized that something had been left out, some feelings twinged. Even as good speakers do in recovery, he had to stagger to the end. "Uh, all the players are here," he said. (Glance sideways, look front.) "...Uh, yes. You don't have to root for me. You can root for anybody. Yes...I don't care."

Abruptly he stepped down and was gone, escaping the incongruity of the moment. He accepted keys to the city from the mayor, hugged all the hostesses and walked off to the radio and TV interviews. Then Jimmy Connors went out and won another tennis tournament.

The parties are bigger than the tournaments these days for James Scott (Jimbo) Connors of Belleville, Ill., Beverly Hills and the jingle jangle world of tennis intrigue. His appearances on court—like his speeches—are both polished and awkward, the result of a curious odyssey Connors is taking through railroad towns, cow pasture capitals and assorted laid-back locales on the quaint indoor circuit of the USLTA. He is the indisputable king of this road. But it is hardly a major thoroughfare any longer, more like a detour that circles endlessly and winds up only on the outskirts of big-time tennis.

Sometimes it appears that Connors, who has chosen this course instead of Lamar Hunt's WCT circuit where most of the best tennis players are, is himself embarrassed at the shell game. He is alternately self-conscious, defensive, wry and cynical about the value of his palooka tour. If it is not entirely accurate to call the undertaking a bum-of-the-night series, it is close enough. Deep inside, Connors has got to know this. Where is the true test of his mettle? Why this misuse of undeniable talent?

True, all the right people are out there, all the proper money and the local connections; even in the bushes, tennis is as overly charged with high society as it ever was. But somehow Jimmy Connors playing Roanoke, Omaha and Paramus conjures up Brando making another Bedtime Story, Mailer hustling another Marilyn. Connors is exposing only so much of himself; he is hiding the rest.

Already a master craftsman, Connors is, above all, mentally tough, an artist who has thoroughly studied tennis and knows full well what he can do and how far he can go. More important, because he knows what he will do—"I will be the best," he says—his way of going about it is what remains so bizarre.

This is a young man who, in the space of but a few years, has pulled himself up from strong Midwestern roots and changed not only his life-style but his life. He has dropped out of college and traveled the globe. He has been called nothing less than "a pawn in an international power struggle" and nothing more than "...a small-time, cocky punk." He has won the hand of America's Darling yet refused to raise a racket for his country.

With the face of a Campbell's soup kid, puckish charm and a promise rarely paralleled in sport, Connors should have the universe at his call. Yet admirers among his own coterie are nonlegion. Tom Okker says that if a man is looking for a dinner partner, "the kid," as Connors is known, isn't exactly the first one who comes to mind. "A child," Okker calls him. Arthur Ashe declares that when someone is immature he cannot handle success. Rod Laver says Connors "probably thinks he's the next best thing to 7-Up." A Dutchman, an American, an Aussie; dislike of Jimbo knows no geographical bounds.

On his private tour Connors portrays the role of loner in grand style. He stays in different hotels from the others. He doesn't eat with them. He seldom sits with them. He doesn't even play doubles.

Notwithstanding how far he has come and the short time it has taken, Jimmy Connors suddenly has become more famous for not playing his game than he ever has been for playing it. He remains a will-o'-the-wisp in tennis, neither here nor there nor anywhere. Except always near the top. Free, white, 21, staunch Catholic and left-handed, double-fisted backhander, he is just about this close to being the finest tennis player in the world. Yet who is Jimmy Connors? He is Chris Evert's fiance, that's who.

Perhaps this is one measure of the women's movement. Surely it is the ultimate denouement of tennis' linkup with women and cigarette merchandising and storybook romances that Connors is better known for his relationship with Evert than for his own accomplishments—which happen to exceed Evert's by a good margin. Further, it is a judgment on the game itself that tennis, with all its latter-day leaps and bounds in public acceptance, has not caught up to sports like baseball or golf where Vida Blue and Ben Crenshaw, both so young and fresh and wonderful, can become all the rage in a matter of hours. Blue has not earned $130,000 in a year, and Crenshaw has not been ranked No. 1 in his sport—and already Connors has done both. Still, Jimmy Connors needed Evert before anybody knew who he was. Though the beloved Chrissie's pony-tailed shadow lingers, Jimbo is catching up; last year she outearned him by only 12 grand.

"I guess Longwood and the Pacific Southwest showed 'em," Connors said recently, chuckling but practically spitting out the words. "I won't have to take that 'Chrissie's boyfriend' crud anymore."

But he does have to. Because Long-wood, where last July he became the youngest winner of the U.S. Pro championship, defeating Stan Smith, Ray Moore, Dick Stockton, Cliff Richey and Ashe, and the Pacific Southwest in Los Angeles, where he beat Smith again, plus Okker for the championship, are not Wimbledon and Forest Hills. To make it, a tennis player has to do it there. In the two big ones Connors so far has been only a good quarterfinalist.

Connors' insistence upon working the minor league indoor trail—the Schick Tennis Classic—as a favor to his manager, agent and close friend, Bill Riordan, who is the founder and executive director of the tour, has not only limited his accessibility to a newly aware public but sometimes offended that public as well. While certainly a worthy and rewarding experience for virgin youth on the way up, the Riordan circuit is no place to be somebody; no place for Connors anymore. Even his best friend among the players, Ilie Nastase, who carried the tour as a Riordan client before Connors joined, has now left the fold to play WCT. "Jimmy should come, too," says Nastase. "It is time."

There is an air of tragicomedy about Connors' emergence as an enfant terrible during this flaming period of the game's alphabet wars. Disputes among the ILTF and WCT and ATP and USLTA and WTT daily inspire clouds of boredom. But at the heart of the turmoil lies Connors' public image, if not his very career.

Riordan, the mentor, has long been locked in mortal combat with the axis powers of Hunt, Jack Kramer and Donald Dell, whom he groups together as "piranhas with dreams of grandeur to control international tennis." Hunt's WCT has made off with the cream of Riordan's tour that he started from scratch with the National Indoors in Salisbury, Md. Kramer is the director of ATP, the players association, a body in direct conflict with the Riordan-led independents. Dell is the agent of a vast majority of players, counsel for ATP and, though no longer captain of the Davis Cup squad, the acknowledged honcho in absentia of that operation as well.

Wrangling among these groups is rife with irrational ravings, shoddy maneuvering, lies and plain stupidity. Conflicts of interest abound. Riordan claims he takes no money for advising Connors, yet his management of both the tour and its meal ticket is akin to running for election and counting the votes, too. He counters with: "Dennis Ralston is under contract to Dell. He talks about patriotism and that Jimmy Connors doesn't play Davis Cup for his country. Yet here he is on the USLTA payroll and he boycotts Wimbledon for ATP while Connors plays. What gall! It's obvious where his loyalties are. Ralston should be summarily fired."

Connors has disassociated himself from ATP as well as from WCT but he denies the rumor that clauses in his contract with Riordan forbid him from joining either body. "I can do anything I want and play anywhere," he says. "WCT's policy of being committed to 11 tournaments is too much. That's not the way I was brought up. I was taught not to play myself into the ground and I don't want to burn out at 25.1 play all these so-called 'best' guys five months of the year as it is. I figure I'm one of them.

"What happens if I go WCT and lose in the first round a couple of times? That's two matches in two weeks, too much rest. And no money. I can pick and choose my spots on Riordan's tour, then be rested for Europe and the big summer events. My definition of best is Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Play there and see who wins and he's the champion. I'm young. Time is on my side. I can wait and do one more year of this. Then maybe I'll go along with the others. Then all those guys mouthing off better watch out."

Riordan's directing Connors away from Davis Cup play has been a more serious matter. Again, it is partly an outgrowth of the Dell-Riordan rift, but it had its origins two years ago when Riordan and Jimmy's mother Gloria opted for Connors staying in England to practice for Wimbledon on grass rather than joining the Davis Cup team in Mexico.

Prior to that Connors had experienced hard, sad times with the team. In 1971 he was a practice sub when the U.S. defeated Rumania at Charlotte, N.C. After a successful indoor tour the following winter, he traveled with the team for its first match, against Jamaica, in March 1972, and found himself on the bench while Eric van Dillen and Tom Gorman, both of whom had nowhere near his record on the indoor circuit, played the singles. While he was in the West Indies, Connors' grandmother, his cherished "Two-Mom" with whom he had shared all his athletic glories, died unexpectedly in Los Angeles. Emotionally crushed, Connors left the team and took a plane home. To this day he has not rejoined the Davis Cup team.

Riordan, whose father was a manager of prizefighters and who himself owned a piece of a heavyweight, sums up Connors' rift with Ralston by saying, "Ralston knows Connors doesn't make a move without me. My guy will never play on a team run by Woods [B. Harcourt Woods of the USLTA] and Dell and coached by Ralston."

It is not certain that every time Connors opens his mouth what comes out is Riordan's words, but frequently that appears to be the case. However, Connors speaks for himself when he discusses his own angry reactions to being ranked U.S. co-No. 1 in 1973 (with Stan Smith) by the USLTA instead of being alone at the top.

"I thought rankings depended on who won more head-to-head matches when two players were close," he says. "Stan had a great first half year, but so did I. My second half was super and Stan played badly. Head-to-head, I beat him three out of three. Figure it out!" (Actually, the USLTA committee vote was based on a rating period in which Connors stood 2-1 against Smith and did not include his dramatic tie-break victory during the December Grand Prix Masters in Boston.)

"I've heard they even held up the announcement to see if Stan would beat me at the Masters so they could rank him No. 1 alone," says Connors bitterly. (He heard that from Riordan.) "If the scores were reversed and he had been 3-0 against me for the year, you think I would have had a shot at co-No. 1?" Riordan, with his usual restraint, called the ranking an "immoral, unethical fraud."

Nobody had ever accused Stan Smith of being anything less than a paragon of Christianity; he is about as hostile as Perry Como. But Smith's normally easy manner turns cold when he discusses Connors. "Jimmy didn't meet me when I was playing well at the beginning of the year," Smith says. "He does things that annoy a lot of the guys. I don't think any players are losing sleep over him not being on the best tour."

Obviously, Connors has been a source of torment for Smith, who has lost four of seven matches to him, all told. Observers swear Smith had to check tears following his loss to Connors in Los Angeles 2½ years ago. After his Masters defeat in December when he blew two match points, Smith stalked from the court, dispensing with the traditional practice of waiting to walk off with the opponent. "There were three billion people standing around him," Smith snapped. "I decided I wasn't waiting any longer."

"I'm getting tired of saying hello to Stan Smith and not getting any reply," says Connors. "I'm cocky and confident and maybe I'm too bullheaded sometimes, but I think I have some humility. I know what the others say, but I'm not that obnoxious. I am not a punk. I'm 5-10, 155 pounds. I've got broad shoulders and I can pack a punch. Most of these guys are windbags anyway. If they ever try anything with me, I'll be over the net fast."

This is marvelously refreshing stuff for a staid old game like tennis to have thrown up in its face, but Jimmy Connors is one of a kind. Riordan talks of his "independence of mind"; Pancho Segura, his teacher, of the "electric Irish" in him. A friend of his says he has always been the pugnacious sort, that the attitude is a family trait. It was always Two-Mom, Gloria and Jimbo against the world.

Belleville, Ill., across the river and up the bluffs from St. Louis, is Stag beer, stoves, shoes, stencil machines, asparagus, horseradish and so many door-to-door taverns that Eddie Cantor supposedly called it "the only town with a brass rail all up and down Main Street." Jimmy Connors says the best thing tennis has done for him is get him out of Belleville. Still, the old saw holds. Connors has yet to get a lot of Belleville out of him.

Even before the family moved to Belleville, Connors had become a player. One day in East St. Louis when he was two years old, either his mother, the former Gloria Thompson, or his grandmother, Bertha—both were area champions in their day—threw him a tennis ball. Whether he whacked it with two hands from the right side down the line or cross-court is not recalled, but he has been playing tennis ever since.

Brother John, a year and a half older, played, too, and the game became an obsession. Two-Mom and Gloria worked the boys hard but never too hard for Jimbo. "Maybe 45 minutes at a time, tough workouts, then rest," he says. "I loved it. They always made me stop at the 'eager' stage where I couldn't wait to start again. People have criticized my mom for trying to make me what she wasn't, but the peons don't realize this is what I've always wanted to be. Tennis is my choice, my life. I never had time for friends or anything else. I didn't even know anybody in school, I was too busy. I used to leave class every day at noon to practice tennis."

John could have been Jimbo's equal, the family insists, but he wasn't dedicated enough. "You can't play tennis and chase girls, too," John says—a notion that is not likely to transform the training habits of about nine out of the average nine younger touring pros.

Connors learned his bazooka-style return of service, now and always the most effective part of his game, by practicing on the varnished floors of the old St. Louis armory. "Dances and drills made that floor mean," he says. "I had to hit the ball early, challenge every serve, pick it up and sweep at it before it could spin away."

Connors played in the national boys and juniors tournament every year beginning at age eight but won just two singles titles so he never was a true phenomterror smoking up the newsprint. Finally it was clear he had stalled at a certain level of skill. Though Mrs. Connors had insisted she would never give Jimbo to another teacher, that became a necessity if he was to progress. For his senior year in high school she arranged to send him to California and Pancho Segura, a friend from the old tour days. But Gloria and Two-Mom just couldn't resist going along; they lived with Jimbo for a year in Los Angeles while his father James, the manager of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge that crosses the river from Belleville to St. Louis, kept the home fires burning.

At the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, Connors studied under Segura and Pancho Gonzales. He renewed acquaintance with Segura's son, Spencer, with whom he had become friendly while playing in the national juniors. He tried to get rid of what he calls "my cornfield look" and to become a neat California guy. Most of all he learned how to volley and serve, to hit different shots and change pace, to think all over the court.

When Connors was not practicing or playing a few sets with people like Dino, Desi and Billie, the late, great singing group of celebrity sons, he would sit around a table with the Panchos and go over strategy on napkins.

"I learned the most right there," Connors said recently, pointing to a large table in the club. "Segu would talk about the old days and tell stories. He'd go over situations, draw exchanges and positions and show me what percentage certain shots had of working and when to hit them. It was fascinating."

On school days Jimbo parked his Corvette out behind the Spanish casa-styled Rexford High, the better to skip out at midmorning during "nutrition" break and drive to the club for practice. "Segu or my mother would simply sign a note the next day so I could play some more tennis." Spencer Segura, Connors' closest friend, says the one thing that set Jimbo apart was his "amazing hunger" for work.

The elder Segura introduced Connors around to all the correct people, usually announcing in his Ecuadorian splendor, "Thees ees Jeemee, the keed I beene tellin' you "bout." Spencer dressed him in the required velvets and Guccis, took him to the Candy Store and showed him how not to spill his drink when the tawny wonder girls drifted by. Gloria would cook, sew, do laundry and lay out his clothes in the morning. "Jimmy's mother did everything but polish his sneakers," Spencer says.

Connors says his head never was turned by such attention, nor by the dramatic change of life-style. "I never had any heroes," he says. "All the money and the celebs didn't mean anything to me. I just wanted to play tennis. Anyway, the movie stars were coming out there to see me, to play tennis with me. I must have been somebody myself. Here's Dino Martin and rich kids like that hanging around. They get new Ferraris every year, but they aren't responsible people. Never show up on time, forget their friends. Dino wanted to bet me always. He said I had no class, that I'd never get ranked or have my picture on magazine covers. See, he had a famous father and several tons of dough and time on his hands and all the broads. Yet all he wanted to do was to play good tennis. He wanted what I had. So he bet. And if we had kept on playing for money, he probably would have owed me his life."

Connors' lifelong aversion to formal education finally caught up with him about this time, his freshman year at UCLA. He had gotten a brilliant graduate assistant to do a term paper for him and he missed most of the classes. Late in the semester, having made the sensational move of turning in a mimeographed copy of this learned thesis, Connors entered the classroom. The instructor grabbed him by the shirtfront, threw him up against the wall and ordered him to address the class on the meaning of the paper.

"Dear me," was not what Connors said.

Except for a couple of music classes he attended with basketball's Bill Walton, this was the extent of Connors' academic achievements. Later he would do something Walton could not—continue a winning streak at Notre Dame. That is where Connors became the first freshman to win the NCAA tennis championship. Later still, he would drop out of UCLA, probably the only man in NCAA history to turn hardship case while wearing a Cardin turtleneck.

By that time, however, Connors was in the process of making a name for himself. Gonzales had tried to teach him the power game but it wouldn't wash. Jimbo was too short, unable to sustain a big serve for long periods. So he went to Segura's plan of improvement: perfecting his natural talents of service returns, aggressive counterpunching and quickness. Learning variety. Working.

In 1970 he attracted attention with victories over Roy Emerson and Ray Moore in the Pacific Southwest tournament. He reached the finals of the Southern California Men's where he lost to Gonzales on Pancho's 42nd birthday. Riordan entered Connors in the National Indoors in Salisbury where he lost to Nastase 7-5 in the third set and proceeded to smash all his rackets to pieces.

The following year Connors won the NCAA, reached the finals of five other tournaments and peaked in September, defeating Smith, Clark Graebner, Ray Ruffels and Bob Carmichael en route to the final of the Pacific Southwest. Again, he lost to Gonzales.

Connors figured he would have made almost $50,000 if he could have accepted prize money that season, so in January 1972, after he barely lost to Nastase at Baltimore, he called Riordan and his mother. He told them he was playing just too well to go back to school; he would have to turn pro.

Connors won the first two tournaments in which he appeared as a professional, then five more that season. He lost the Washington Indoors to Smith in five sets, a wondrous match that was shunted aside by another story: Evert and Evonne Goolagong together in a tournament for the first time. Even back then, upstaged.

At his first Wimbledon, in July of 1972, Connors was dazzling both on the court and off. He upset Bob Hewitt in the first round and was the hottest player in the tournament until Nastase cooled him down. His teen affair with Evert, which had started at Queens Club the week before, never did cool. They had first met briefly two years before at a tournament in Merion, Pa. Now, however, it was magic.

The two were inseparable all over London—in the players' tea room at Wimbledon, back at the Westbury Hotel, out on the town to the Carleton Towers for roast beef, over to Annabelle's for dancing. "Did you kiss her good-night?" the press demanded.

"A stupid question," Connors non-answered.

Connors wound up the season with 75 victories, high for U.S. men. He won $90,000 and was beaten out of the No. 2 rank in America when he lost to Gorman in the first round at Forest Hills.

During the past year he solidified a position somewhere in the forefront of our major athletic personalities. On the "mouse" indoor circuit he won every tournament he entered but three—and he defaulted in one of those. But then he stumbled around the continent in the spring and had friends saying romance had gotten to him, that he was getting too fat and happy. And he put on a bad show at Wimbledon, losing on what he called "waddling" legs to Alex Metreveli of Russia.

On his return to the U.S. in July, however, Connors positively cut a swath. After ramrodding the opposition in his marvelous week-long exhibition at Longwood, he had match point for another championship the very next week at Bretton Woods only to let it get away to Vijay Amritraj. After that he was victorious in the Buckeye, the Eastern doubles with Nastase, the Pacific Southwest and Quebec. At Forest Hills in the quarterfinals he took the rampaging eventual champion, John Newcombe, to two sudden-death tie breakers, both of which went to four-all before Newcombe won the final point. Though Connors lost in straight sets, the match had only one service break.

Connors finished the season by taking Ashe apart in the South African Open final and by defeating Smith in the Masters (only to lose to Nastase in the semis). He started the new year by straddling the field to win the Australian Open. Since last July he has played 43 matches against men on the current WCT tour and won 39 of them.

The unique style that Connors has brought to the game is most evident in the crunching ground strokes that he relentlessly slashes deep to the corners with little regard for safety or percentage. "Winning differently" is what Jack Kramer calls it. "The kid is unconventional in that he doesn't overpower anybody with serve and volley, or even quickness," Kramer says. "His counter shots, returns and passes are what beat people. It's more interesting tennis, longer rallies, more all-court, more lobs, and he runs around a lot. I think he can run all day. For too long we've had nothing but serve and volley experts. We need more ground strokers like Connors. If you ignore the eccentricity of his two-handed shot, Jimmy could be a major influence on the American game for years."

Segura says Connors' returns are as good as anyone who ever played the game, particularly against second serve. Against everybody—even the most awesome smashers—he always takes service balls on the rise while standing inside the baseline. It is brash, gutsy stuff when the Kid is in there blocking back the artillery; Connors gets away with it on remarkable timing and sometimes, it seems, sheer hubris.

Current players speak of Connors' "great second shots"—that is, the strokes he sets up with his returns. "That's his concentration," says Segura. "Jeemee got great ball sense. He knows where it's coming off the other guy's racket because he knows what he's put on the ball himself. Jeemee doesn't think; he reacts automatically."

Gonzales says Connors' weaknesses include a dislike of practice and a tendency to telegraph his lobs. "We strived to teach him deception," says the Big Cat, "and he's getting there. Only Newcombe and Nastase are better players right now, and Connors is way better than that stupid ranking."

Connors himself admits to a lack of respect for his opponents. "I'm not scared of anybody," he says. "The big hitters are easy meat. I can destroy them. It's just Nastase I can't figure out. I never know where the ball is going. Of course, neither does he."

"I've only beaten myself once," says Connors. "Against Amritraj. It won't happen again. See, I'm never going to overpower people. Actually, I don't even hit it that hard. Bjorn Borg hits way harder. So I have to keep thinking. I time the ball well; everything is solid. I jerk you around, get the serve back, keep it in play. Now I can lob, dink, angle, smash-pass, get the other guy down and squash him."

Kramer says Connors has the flair of Segura, the temper of Gonzales and the "cutie-pie" show of Nastase. "Nasty taught me all the stuff," says Connors, "like how to act like a fool on the court." In fact, Connors' attempts at humor sometimes appear contrived—wagging his fingers at the ball, wiggling his fanny, shouting out inane remarks toward his opponent. In addition he upsets some players with his by-now familiar routine prior to service.

He has always bounced the ball many times as well as blown on his hand to distraction. Once in London he was warned about slow play after someone counted 18 bounces before he served, but now whenever Connors gets behind his pace becomes even slower. And many opponents are persuaded that all the bouncing and blowing are aimed at annoying them.

At the Pacific Southwest a few years ago Connors bypassed other forms of rudimentary etiquette by blasting winners and clowning around during the warmup before his match with Roy Emerson. Emmo, probably the most popular player in the game and a man who would be hard-pressed to criticize anything short of mass killing, was burning at Connors. And still is.

"He works at gamesmanship," says Ashe. "He plays to the crowd, gets cute and takes his five minutes to serve. Now we just let the serve go by and claim we weren't ready."

Connors says, "Listen, people don't understand it's like a war out there. Both guys are hot, thirsty, tired. They want a drink, a rest, anything. One little item can tick off an explosion. It's murder, the concentration. My methods are just different from others. They don't bother me; why should what I do bother them?"

Many in tennis have questioned the sincerity of the Connors-Evert match. Promoters have vied for the rights to so much as float rumors of such a pairing. But the real thing?

It is. Following their first Wimbledon together, publicity about the couple dwindled. But they have been constant companions. It is almost too heart-tugging, but simple fact, that Evert came along at a time in Connors' life when he was down and very lonely.

Having experienced female leadership if not domination most of his life, Connors had been jolted by the loss of his grandmother. He had gone through an awful streak in Europe, unable to figure the slow clay, unable to communicate much. He had called home to get his mother to London fast. Then, suddenly, there was Chris.

Back in the U.S. Chris went to Belleville for Christmas. Jimmy took an apartment for a while near the Evert home in Fort Lauderdale. The families had past connections. Mr. Evert and Mrs. Connors once played the tennis circuit together. Both fathers had attended Notre Dame in the late 1940s. Although Jimbo's flamboyance sometimes grated on the Evert family's conservatism, they became close.

Chris, formerly the shy ice princess, is said to have "come out of her shell" under Connors' influence. She, in turn, steadies him. Connors credits Chris for calm guidance during the recent Australian Open when the crowd was ferociously against him and he was "steaming."

The Evert family at first wanted the wedding in May, even before Wimbledon, but Mrs. Connors is supposed to have said "no way anybody wins on their honeymoon." Those on the side of the groom preferred the couple wait until 1976 but, as a compromise, the marriage probably will take place in September after Forest Hills.

"I want to be where Jimmy is," Chris says. "It's stupid to put it off."

Connors agrees. "I traveled around by myself for too long," he says. "I want to have Chris there, to talk to and be with and to share."

A nation waits.

Following wedlock, Evert may curtail her tournament appearances. The couple would like to play team tennis together, but Connors has already signed with the Baltimore franchise while Chris was drafted by Miami. Both are cognizant of the tandem earning power that lies ahead. Asked what he thought of Evert winning the $25,000 first-prize purse at Boca Raton last October, Connors replied, "Hell, that's more money than I make in two weeks."

These are not the average Newlywed Game candidates. They picked out her 1½-carat diamond together in South Africa, having witnessed it being taken out of the ground, cut and shaped. Her gift to him was a ring and bracelet set made of gold and entwined black elephant hair.

Recently in Beverly Hills, Connors was modeling a new suit for his buddy, Spencer Segura. It was a gray one with Gilbert Roland fish-tail, open-sleeve vents, flare pockets, his name embroidered on the inside—everything done up just so by Cipriano the tailor, who made it the same way he would for all his Hollywood guys.

"Nice fit, baby," said Cipriano.

"The keed's come a long way," said Spencer.

"And I'm only 21," said James Scott (Jimbo) Conners.

PHOTOBelleville is no longer Connors' favorite place in the world, though he visits his parents often.PHOTOOld Pancho Segura became Connors' guru.PHOTOWhen Bill Riordan talks, Connors listens.PHOTO