Showman Connors escapes the past

A player recently voted the most exciting player in tennis in the past 30 years will be back on court in London this week

There were a few things that Jimmy Connors was not keen to talk about. His views on the modern tennis circuit in general, for one, and the women's game in particular for another - and then there were his golfing partners. He did not want to discuss them, either. Oh, and The Past. "I hate to do it," he said, "because there's nothing back there for me any more, it's all in front. I don't want to philosophise, or get into my feelings, but tennis was a blink in my life. It's gone by. I liked it and enjoyed it, but my life has become more than just playing tennis now."

There were a few things that Jimmy Connors was not keen to talk about. His views on the modern tennis circuit in general, for one, and the women's game in particular for another - and then there were his golfing partners. He did not want to discuss them, either. Oh, and The Past. "I hate to do it," he said, "because there's nothing back there for me any more, it's all in front. I don't want to philosophise, or get into my feelings, but tennis was a blink in my life. It's gone by. I liked it and enjoyed it, but my life has become more than just playing tennis now."

Which made you wonder why, exactly, the best part of 50 reporters had made their way to the 23rd floor of the Hilton Hotel in Mayfair to listen to him. The past, after all, is what the Honda Challenge, the Senior Tour of Champions event which starts today at the Royal Albert Hall, is all about. But perhaps when you have spent 10 months attempting to extract quotes from the cardboard cut-outs on the current men's Tour, any chance to hear from a paid-up character is something to snatch at.

And that is what Connors remains, in the mind of anyone old enough to remember his rivalry with Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, conducted with a mixture of grunts, jokes and occasional flashes of temper. He was even voted the most exciting player of the last 30 years in a poll for Tennis magazine four years ago, ahead of all his contemporaries in the game's golden age.

Cynics may point out that every sport from archery to zebra racing has a golden age, and it is always 15 or 20 years ago, moving through the generations as the fans get older and crustier. In tennis, though, its foundations seem more secure. It may be that fans will turn up at the Albert Hall in two decades' time, to watch a greying Pete Sampras and reminisce about that funny way he used to point his toe when he served, but it seems unlikely.

What the punters will want this week, when they arrive to see Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Ilie Nastase and their fellow travellers on the Senior Tour, is colour, which means lots of chat and a tantrum or two, just like the old days. Connors for one can see the irony.

"When we had those attitudes," he said, "you didn't want them. You criticised them, and said we should have been thrown out of the game. Now, you're begging for them." But he appreciates that no one can do it like the experts. "You can't take a personality like mine, or McEnroe's, and give it to a Sampras, a Rios or a Courier. It wouldn't be honest, and you can't fool the public."

Connors plays Borg tomorrow afternoon, and McEnroe the following day, in the round-robin phase of the Challenge. The last time he played McEnroe in London was in the men's singles final at Wimbledon, but there will be no nasty shock in store for fans who have not seen him since.

Nastase needs glasses to read these days, and has fat on his face and neck as well as his belly. Connors, though, must have a bewitched painting in his attic, wearing the careworn 47-year-old face which his birth certificate says should belong to Jimmy. He is merely a pound or so tubbier than we remember, and looks to have aged no more than a year or two since the 1980s. Tennis clearly has much the same effect on Jimmy Connors as it does on Sir Cliff Richard. And yes, in case you were wondering, his eyes still crease into a boyish squint whenever he smiles.

But can he still cut it on the court, even in an event which lies somewhere between tournament and circus? Above all, will the match with McEnroe come even close to the set-tos of the early 1980s, when they were at each other's throats week after week?

"I used to go out and play every match as if it was the final of Wimbledon," Connors said. "That will never change, and I think you can expect to see just about the same thing, tennis-wise and attitude-wise. We both want to go out and win. There's a lot of things that made that a great rivalry, to produce the kind of tennis and the atmosphere that we created. Does that ever leave totally? No, I don't think so."

He was, of course, trying to sell tickets, but the dauntless fighter in Jimmy Connors will force him to hit every ball as hard as he can. The fans at the Albert Hall will get what they have paid for, which includes a chance to grumble to no one in particular that things ain't what they used to be. And just for once, they will probably be right.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?