Review: The Outsider - My Autobiography, By Jimmy Connors

A maverick makes his match points

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The Independent Culture

I guarantee that after reading Jimmy Connors' autobiography you will want to pick something up and smash it. A tennis ball to be precise, and in a good way, not in a fit of pique.

I'm an easy sell, it's true, having hero-worshipped the American tennis star when I was young and I had already decided that life only worked when you were on the back foot. Connors was a grunting street fighter from "the wrong side of the Mississippi River", a crowd and umpire- baiting bad boy before John McEnroe was even trying on bandanas, and he epitomised the idea that friction was fact when it came to getting on.

There's no explicit admission from Connors, winner of 109 titles, that he subconsciously enjoyed putting pressure on himself, but his comment to the 1978 US Open crowd in New York (delivered after beating Björn Borg in straight sets in the final) speaks volumes: "I play my best tennis when I am in New York, whether you like me or not, I like you."

Meanwhile, within what is a conversational and occasionally coy memoir, OCD-suffering Connors is clear as flying chalk on how he relished outside pressure: "I couldn't let the critics beat me" is one of many such exhortations accompanying a swinging of his metaphorical racket, swiping at the haters, and the critics of his ex-tennis star mother, Gloria, his early mentor and also his business manager.

The Connors tennis triumvirate of Mom, his subsequent mentor Pancho Segura, and tour promoter and manager Bill Riordan, not only shaped Connors' career and savvy but also – through varying degrees of their singlemindedness – put him on the outside of a profession that is already prone to a loner psyche.

From the genesis of his two-handed playing style, to Rat Packing around with colourful characters Ilie Nastase and Vitas Gerulatis, or slugging it out in the bear-pit atmospheres of tournaments other than Wimbledon (where the restrained atmosphere is hard for the hothead to get on with), The Outsider takes in a volley of vignettes.

Of those caught in the crossfire, former fiancée and fellow tennis great Chris Evert has been the most put out, with the book's suggestion that she had an abortion when they were together. It's a rare wrong-footed moment for Connors, and it's a pity, as it is clear that Connors has an enduring affection for her. Still, Jimbo wouldn't be Jimbo unless someone was pissed at him.