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pc1 10-09-2011 06:42 AM

Is Jimmy Connors actually underrated?
 
I've been watching some old videos of Jimmy Connors recently and it amazes me even now how purely he hits the ball, how beautiful his preparation was and the power, consistency and depth of his shots.

In a way I often think Connors is very underrated. The man won 140 plus tournaments in his career and many majors. That's more total tournaments won than Nadal, Federer and Djokovic combined to put it in perspective. And yes I know Connors "officially" won 109 tournaments in his career but the ATP doesn't count many WCT tournaments and other tournaments he won in his career. He played at a very strong level up to a very late age in tennis. He is arguably the best pure ball striker in the history of tennis with super mobility and he is also arguably the greatest service returner in the history of tennis. He also had arguably the greatest backhand in history.

One of the reasons I think he is underrated is his relatively small majors total considering how great he was. One of the reasons is that I believe some of the majors were not as important as it is considered today. He didn't played the Australian and the French for many of his prime years but he won tournaments that essentially were majors like the WCT championship and the Year End Masters tournament.

Connors won about 82% of his matches for his career. That's incredible considering how many years he played past his best years. He was number one in the world for five years in a row plus he was top ten in the world from 1973 to 1978. He won over 90% of his matches over a five year span and if you don't think that's impressive, Pete Sampras never won 90% of his matches in any ONE year.

Connors also played in an extremely competitive time, against older legends like Rosewall, Newcombe, Ashe, Smith and Nastase. He played younger legends like Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Cash, Edberg, Wilander, Agassi and even Sampras.

Do I think Connors is the greatest ever? No I do not but he is one of the few who has a record that you can at least argue reasonably that he is the greatest ever.

Please discuss.

Ramon 10-09-2011 07:20 AM

Connors was always my favorite player growing up. If it wasn't for the fact that Borg completely dominated him after 1976, Connors would have been better respected in tennis history. Look at what happened right after Borg retired. His competitveness and the way he hit the ball with such precision are this trademarks. Most of us cannot emulate his unorthodox straight flat style, but certain fundamentals of the game like footwork, concentration, bending your knees, court sense and anticipation are all things we can learn from him.

Still, I would have to put him behind Borg and McEnroe among his contemporaries. It's hard to really put him among the all time greats when there were 2 players who were better during his time. It's unfortunate.

urban 10-09-2011 07:30 AM

Yes, sometimes it seems that he is underrated - in an age, where only the majors count. Like Mac, Borg or Lendl, Connors has great numbers in overall titles, win-lost -percentages, years at the top, and like them his major count is relatively small, compared with those overall numbers. As pc 1 wrote, in those early open years the whole tour counted, not only the majors segment. Maybe also his negative head-to-head records against Borg, Mac and Lendl, which are to be studied very closely, have a negative effect on his standing.
In open era Connors is by far the most consistent performer over the longest stretch, in history only Tilden, Rosewall and maybe Gonzalez have comparable careers. In a scientific study this year (with emphasis on top matches played), Connors was indeed named the greatest of the open era. Ashe called him the most significant player of all times. Like nobody else, he changed the perception of tennis as a popular sport in the Tennis Boom years.

Ramon 10-09-2011 07:45 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by urban (Post 6052826)
Maybe also his negative head-to-head records against Borg, Mac and Lendl, which are to be studied very closely, have a negative effect on his standing.

Negative head-to-head against Lendl? Lifetime yes, but I would argue that when Connors was in him prime he dominated Lendl, especially when it counted. Connors did stay around a bit longer than he had to, but that's part of his trademark; his love for the game.

falkenburg 10-09-2011 07:46 AM

I saw him play, and that year in '74 where he won 3 Slams, wasn't allowed to play the French, and twice slaughtered Rosewall in winning two of them, was something to see; on the other hand, he was victim to two of the sport's greatest upsets, at Wimbledon '75 vs Ashe (who was president of the organization that he, Connors, had sued, so there were other factors besides "only" winning a Wimbledon final), and a few months later to Orantes (for the latter's one and only Slam) in one of the dumbest losses ever-plus, he was dominated by two other players, Borg, and Lendl, so I think he was only slightly underrated, if he was underrated at all.

urban 10-09-2011 08:00 AM

I wrote, that those head to head are to be studied closely. Age is a factor, Mac and Lendl were younger than Connors, and got the better of him, when he was declining. In big matches, he won over Lendl on Lendl's best surface at the USO 82 and 83. With Mac he was quite on par if not shlightly better until 1984. In his historical standing, i would rate him behind Borg, but a fraction ahead of Mac and Lendl. It can be also argued, that he would have won 7 USOs, if hard courts would have been implemented earlier.

Mustard 10-09-2011 08:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ramon (Post 6052821)
Connors was always my favorite player growing up. If it wasn't for the fact that Borg completely dominated him after 1976

Not strictly true. Borg completely owned Connors after 1978, but between 1976-1978, it was very even. Connors owned Borg between 1974-1976. In 1982, however, when Borg was off the tour, Connors' game did look improved, particularly the serve.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ramon (Post 6052821)
Still, I would have to put him behind Borg and McEnroe among his contemporaries. It's hard to really put him among the all time greats when there were 2 players who were better during his time. It's unfortunate.

I can't put McEnroe ahead of Connors at all. Connors has more majors (8 to 7), and in 3 different slam tournaments, and he has big wins over all his biggest rivals on the biggest stages. Connors also has a longevity at and near the top level that is unprecedented in open era tennis. Borg, and even McEnroe, were burned out while Connors' enthusiasm was as strong as ever going into his 40s.

Ramon 10-09-2011 08:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by falkenburg (Post 6052849)
I saw him play, and that year in '74 where he won 3 Slams, wasn't allowed to play the French, and twice slaughtered Rosewall in winning two of them, was something to see; on the other hand, he was victim to two of the sport's greatest upsets, at Wimbledon '75 vs Ashe (who was president of the organization that he, Connors, had sued, so there were other factors besides "only" winning a Wimbledon final), and a few months later to Orantes (for the latter's one and only Slam) in one of the dumbest losses ever-plus, he was dominated by two other players, Borg, and Lendl, so I think he was only slightly underrated, if he was underrated at all.

Connors did have a couple of sloppy finals in '75, but I think history shows he recovered from that, and that's what really counts in my book. Ashe also beat a young Borg in that same Wimbledon, in which a commentator said he will never be able to play on grass. Also, give Connors some credit for beating Borg on clay in the '75 US Open and also in the '76 Final. Borg was young, but clay was his best surface. When was the last time an American could beat the world's best clay court player on clay? Orantes beat Vilas in the other semifinal, which was no small task. Orantes was a one hit wonder, so I would chalk up his win as a fluke.

Ramon 10-09-2011 08:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mustard (Post 6052897)
Not strictly true. Borg completely owned Connors after 1978, but between 1976-1978, it was very even. Connors owned Borg between 1974-1976. In 1982, however, when Borg was off the tour, Connors' game did look improved, particularly the serve.



I can't put McEnroe ahead of Connors at all. Connors has more majors (8 to 7), and in 3 different slam tournaments, and he has big wins over all his biggest rivals on the biggest stages. Connors also has a longevity at and near the top level that is unprecedented in open era tennis. Borg, and even McEnroe, were burned out while Connors' enthusiasm was as strong as ever going into his 40s.

You raised some good points. Connors did have a couple key wins against Borg before '78 (US Open in particular), and he seemed to edge ever closer to Borg before Borg retired. Still I gotta put Borg ahead because of his overall record and total domination after '78.

McEnroe's longevity was not as good, and you do have a point. My heart was always for Connors because I admired his tenacity. The reason I put McEnroe ahead is simply because if McEnroe was playing his A-game, I just can't imagine Connors beating him no matter where they played or how well Connors was playing. Mac was just that good.

falkenburg 10-09-2011 08:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ramon (Post 6052900)
Connors did have a couple of sloppy finals in '75, but I think history shows he recovered from that, and that's what really counts in my book. Ashe also beat a young Borg in that same Wimbledon, in which a commentator said he will never be able to play on grass. Also, give Connors some credit for beating Borg on clay in the '75 US Open and also in the '76 Final. Borg was young, but clay was his best surface. When was the last time an American could beat the world's best clay court player on clay? Orantes beat Vilas in the other semifinal, which was no small task. Orantes was a one hit wonder, so I would chalk up his win as a fluke.

It can be strongly argued that the results of the '80 Olympic hockey semifinals, the '76 NCAA basketball final, and the Patriots-Giants Superbowl were all flukes as well; I doubt that's much solace to the USSR team, the Georgetown Hoyas, and the New England Patriots, respectively, and the loss to Orantes, in particular, is a black mark on Jimbo's record and one of the reasons I referred to it as "one of the dumbest losses ever." Remember, back then they played men's semi, women's final, men's semi, so, in addition to being a far superior player, Jimbo had a large rest advantage. It became even larger when Vilas played late into the night, by virtue of the fact that he dug out of a 2 sets to 1, 5-0 forty love hole to win, on clay, against Vilas. He then had plumbing problems in his hotel room and reportedly didn't get to sleep until around 3am. Connors couldn't have known about the hotel problems, of course, but should have realized that trying to blast somebody off the court on clay (and thus making countless unforced errors) when they weren't likely to have a lot of gas in the tank was NOT in his best interests. He did nothing to adjust when it quickly became obvious that this wasn't going to work, and lost in straight sets. Ugh. On the other hand, I forgot to give him props for the '91 US Open result. In an age where players approaching 30 are talked about like they're in free fall, it was a helluva result to reach the semifinals at 39. I can still see that point against Haarhus(sic?), throwing up those 3 lobs, each one seemingly higher than the one before, when suddenly, like Ali started to tell George Foreman in the latter stages of their rope-a-dope fight, "Now it's MY turn!" ending with a running winner on the down the line pass, followed by whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Good stuff.

pc1 10-09-2011 09:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by urban (Post 6052874)
I wrote, that those head to head are to be studied closely. Age is a factor, Mac and Lendl were younger than Connors, and got the better of him, when he was declining. In big matches, he won over Lendl on Lendl's best surface at the USO 82 and 83. With Mac he was quite on par if not shlightly better until 1984. In his historical standing, i would rate him behind Borg, but a fraction ahead of Mac and Lendl. It can be also argued, that he would have won 7 USOs, if hard courts would have been implemented earlier.

Very well thought out. Objectively I would also rank Connors ahead of McEnroe and Lendl, although Lendl is I believe a bit closer. I don't see how people can rank McEnroe ahead of Connors if you look objectively at the career record. Even the best years of Connors and McEnroe are close. Connors in 1974 and McEnroe in 1984 both had incredible records and similar percentages with Connors at 99-4 and McEnroe at 82-3.

Ramon 10-09-2011 09:06 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by urban (Post 6052874)
It can be also argued, that he would have won 7 USOs, if hard courts would have been implemented earlier.

Possibly, but then again, Connors would not have the distinction of being the only player to win the US Open on 3 different surfaces. He is extremely proud of that, and that's one of the truly big accomplishments that separated him from the rest of the field.

Limpinhitter 10-09-2011 09:16 AM

My take on it is that the difference between Connors and the top 5 all time GOATs was his serve. He had every other shot, arguably the best backhand ever, was doggedly competitive, was a great natural athlete, and was lucky to be as healthy as he was. If his serve was a weapon, like Federer, Sampras, Gonzales, Borg or even Laver, then, IMO, he would have been regarded in that tier. In any event, once again, IMO, he's still a top 10 all time great along with Lendl and Mac. It's hard to think of a top ten GOAT as underrated.

bigmatt 10-09-2011 09:27 AM

Whether Connors is the greatest or not, he did as much, or more, to popularize tennis than anyone.
I saw him play live numerous times in the 70s, and his return was awesome. His footwork is still as good as I've ever seen, and his intensity up close was almost scary.
Got to string for him at a tournament in 87, and really enjoyed his company.

pc1 10-09-2011 12:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Limpinhitter (Post 6053037)
My take on it is that the difference between Connors and the top 5 all time GOATs was his serve. He had every other shot, arguably the best backhand ever, was doggedly competitive, was a great natural athlete, and was lucky to be as healthy as he was. If his serve was a weapon, like Federer, Sampras, Gonzales, Borg or even Laver, then, IMO, he would have been regarded in that tier. In any event, once again, IMO, he's still a top 10 all time great along with Lendl and Mac. It's hard to think of a top ten GOAT as underrated.

Funny thing is that if we examine the Connors' record against some so called GOATs, we could easily find that Connors has a superior record to some of them or at worst Connors has a superior record to many of them in at least several categories.

pc1 10-09-2011 12:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ramon (Post 6053013)
Possibly, but then again, Connors would not have the distinction of being the only player to win the US Open on 3 different surfaces. He is extremely proud of that, and that's one of the truly big accomplishments that separated him from the rest of the field.

That's is obviously a fantastic accomplishment by Connors. The Forest Hills grass was just so bad, with awfuls bounces if it bounced at all and yet Connors' great groundstrokes enabled him to win there. The har tru was much slower and yet he defeated great clay players like Borg, Orantes, Vilas and Gerulaitis over the years he played there on that surface.

BTURNER 10-09-2011 01:05 PM

I agree that Mac very best tennis, surpassed Connors, but day in day out, for their careers, Connors is better and when i look at champions, I look at their best days and their worst and everything in between. Connors is right behind Borg and equal to Lendl better than Mac or Wilander.

Rubens 10-09-2011 01:58 PM

Yes, he is underrated, especially when people compare him to Agassi and say that they're in the same tier. I'm an Agassi fan, but Connors is easily top 5, not Agassi.

Ramon 10-09-2011 02:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rubens (Post 6053505)
Yes, he is underrated, especially when people compare him to Agassi and say that they're in the same tier. I'm an Agassi fan, but Connors is easily top 5, not Agassi.

I agree he's definitely a level above Agassi. Maybe if Agassi took the game more seriously when he was younger, things would have been different. It's a sharp contrast when you compare the "image is everything" guy to the guy whose name conjures up words like "competitiveness", "determination", and "killer instinct".

Ramon 10-09-2011 02:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BTURNER (Post 6053426)
I agree that Mac very best tennis, surpassed Connors, but day in day out, for their careers, Connors is better and when i look at champions, I look at their best days and their worst and everything in between. Connors is right behind Borg and equal to Lendl better than Mac or Wilander.

That's sounds like a reasonable analysis. You do have to give Connors credit for longevity, and Mac has to be penalized for retiring so early because of his personal life. It's just so hard to get over the paradigm from the late 70's and early 80's that Connors was always a solid #3.

I would personally rank Connors above Lendl. Lendl never won a major on grass, and Connors won majors on all 3 surfaces. Lendl only started beating Connors when Connors was on the decline. When they were both good, and it counted, Connors came out on top.


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