Interview with PowerShares Series Player Jimmy Connors

The following is the transcript of Friday’s PowerShares Series media conference call with JIMMY CONNORS.

An interview with:

RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining us today. We’re pleased to be joined by the one and only Jimmy Connors. Jimmy is set to play in next week’s PowerShares Series events in Nashville on Wednesday and Charlotte on Thursday. Each event will feature the rematches from the Super Saturday men’s semifinals from the US Open 30 years ago in 1984, Ivan Lendl playing Pat Cash and Connors playing John McEnroe. Tickets and “Play with the Pros” and backstage experience opportunities are still available at Jimmy won eight major singles titles in his career, including five US Open titles on three different surfaces. He also won a record 109 ATP singles titles, which we should note is 31 more than Roger Federer’s current tally. Before we open it up to questions, Jimmy, I’ll ask you if you could tell us how you’re hitting the ball these days.

JIMMY CONNORS: I guess you try to go out and do what you remember that you’ve always done. You go out and try to put forth the right kind of effort, try to get the most out of the amount of practice you put in. The first thing I try to do is keep it inside the lines, keep the ball in play, try to have the same strokes and the same work ethic that I always did, even though it’s quite not as long as the old days. I still get the same pleasure going out and working for whatever I do, 45 minutes or an hour, getting a good sweat, putting forth that kind of effort as I did 30, 40 years ago. But that’s what tennis does for you. Tennis gives you all that. To still be able to go out and do it, to be a part of it’s still an awful lot of fun.

RANDY WALKER: We’ll turn it over to questions.

Q. Have you ever played in Charlotte before?  Could you describe your relationship with McEnroe and how it’s evolved over the years.

JIMMY CONNORS: I have played in Charlotte before, many times. Always enjoyed it there. The crowds were great. They enjoyed the tennis. Hopefully they come out and are part of the event next week. I guess my relationship with Mac, ever since when we stopped playing, I guess that’s documented how it was when we played. I guess the further you get away from being what you used to be, the calmer things should get. But there’s no guarantee about that I don’t get around as much, see a lot of the guys as much. I’m sure there will always be a quiver when we’re around the tennis, which is normal. Even though things have gone on in the past, the days of playing for US Open and Wimbledon championships are gone, there will always be that little feeling of anxiousness that you run into somebody that you had such a great rivalry with. To slough that off, that will never happen for me. That was pretty special. To slough that off and say it’s something we had and move on, I mean, it is, but there’s still that little feeling of something about it.

Q. Is there any particular memory in Charlotte, any one tournament you played here?

JIMMY CONNORS: You’re asking a guy who is 61 and has a bad memory (laughter). It’s probably better that I do let those things go. But, no. I know I played some matches, a lot of matches there, spent some time in the Charlotte area. Karen, do we have a senior event there?

KAREN HAPPER: We do. It’s at the lovely country club.

JIMMY CONNORS: The Old Providence Club.

KAREN HAPPER: We were there about 15 or 20 years ago.

JIMMY CONNORS: I don’t know. Did they have a TeamTennis team?

Q.  Yes.

JIMMY CONNORS: I played TeamTennis there also.

Q. Why do you think PowerShares Series remains so popular with fans in the U.S.?

JIMMY CONNORS: You don’t really want to get me started on that, do you?  Or maybe you do. This is just my own personal opinion. I think that a lot of fans in tennis, even though they love the tennis today, they can identify a little bit more with the tennis of maybe yesteryear. I say that because they feel that they can go out and be a part of that and play that kind of tennis also. I’ve always said that. To watch a Nastase, a McEnroe, Borg, even leading up to the Sampras, Courier, and Andy now, to see guys like that play, the kind of tennis they play, they feel they still can muster up that kind of energy to hit a shot like that once in a while, go back and say, Geez, I saw Borg or whoever hit that shot one time, and look at me, I can do that. It’s very difficult to play the kind of tennis that these guys play today, with the equipment, the way they play, their athleticism, as hard as they hit the ball. It’s all right to try to go out and hit a good serve, but can you hit it 150 miles an hour without your shoulder ending up in San Francisco? That’s just my feeling. Maybe that’s the names they know also. As much as they identify with the players today, they like remembering days of past. They like remembering Jordan sinking a basket in the playoffs, Bird and Magic going at it, Pete Rose sliding into third base. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing. Certainly my best days are behind me, but maybe they like remembering that. As much as I like remembering how I used to play, going about it that way, which keeps them coming out and being a part of events like the PowerShares Series, to come out and watch whether it’s their heroes, maybe it was the devil when they played, but they like being a part of it, which is great for the guys that are still playing.

Q. Getting back to the Super Saturday at the US Open, that moment when the whole nation was transfixed on that day in tennis, do you think that could ever happen again at the Open even though it’s 30 years later?

JIMMY CONNORS: As far as that kind of tennis?

Q. Just the tennis, and obviously there was so much attention that one day. Do you think it was because things were back to back to back or because it was that era?

JIMMY CONNORS: I think it was an important day because look at the amount of U.S. players you had in it, who you had playing. Let’s go back. I played Mac. Smith played Newcombe. Chrissy played Martina. Tell me the schedule. Ivan played Pat Cash. The amount of U.S. players you had in the day was pretty special also. Can it happen? I mean, I certainly would like to see some American players in there to make it happen at the US Open certainly. But the schedule is so different now. I don’t think they would ever have that many important matches on one day, especially in the semifinals and finals. I think things have changed too much for that to happen again. Certainly the kind of play they have with some of the names they have up there should be able to create that kind of interest to have something like that happen, whether it’s at the US Open or anyplace else.

Q. Jimmy, you referenced earlier sort of mixing it up with McEnroe over the years. Who knows, maybe that will still come to the surface when you play on Wednesday. Do you feel like the current crop of players have become kinder and more gentle, lacking some of the sizzle that was there in your day?

JIMMY CONNORS: Look, I mean, I can’t do one interview without being led down a bad road (laughter)? You know, it is what it is. What you had back in the day, I say it’s something special because I was a part of it. I played with a lot of great guys that were great players and had their own charisma and personality. But at the time you didn’t like it, you didn’t want it, and you criticized us for being like that, for trying to lead tennis down a different path, to create more interest in a game that needed a shot in the arm. So now you have what the game has produced. You have a lot of guys who are great players, go out and give everything every time they walk out there. They might be a little bit different in the way that they approach things. Not that it meant more to me or Mac or Borg or whoever, but the way you said it, kinder and gentler. Might be a sign of the times. I don’t know. I’m not that privy to everything that goes on in the game anymore, so I don’t know exactly what that is. I just go back and say it. It would be very hard to believe that if Mack ever beat me in the finals of a major event that he’d come over and give me a hug. I just don’t see that happening.

Q. It would be more like what?

JIMMY CONNORS: Well, I don’t know. Didn’t you see it? It was all part of it. The controversies, the rivalries, the attitudes, all that that the guys had back in the day. Maybe it’s because tennis was different back then. It was fighting for some notoriety, a spot among the major sports. A lot of guys understood that and liked where it was going, liked where it was leading, understood that, weren’t afraid to play that. I don’t know. That doesn’t mean it’s not what tennis turned out to be. Obviously where it’s gone, the growth, everything like that has certainly been something that the guys, even way before me, would be astounded at, but it’s great. Different characters in a different time.

Q.  I know you said a 61 year old memory is not the greatest, but do you have memories of playing in Nashville?

JIMMY CONNORS: Yeah, I played in Nashville. I played my junior tennis all around that area, in Memphis, all through the Missouri Valley, the Nashville area. I played some exhibitions and some specials back in Nashville in the day. I have a lot of friends still in that area that hopefully will come out to the match and I can regroup with them a little bit, too. Memphis used to have one of the biggest tournaments, the indoor event, the U.S. Indoor, which was great. I’m looking forward to going back and playing some tennis in Nashville. I’ll be playing Mac, which will be great. So the excitement of the tennis is there. But also I’ll reconnect with some friends, which will be great.

Q. Jimmy, in the wake of your book in which you were very candid in terms of the people you played with and talked about in the book, what kind of response did you get?  As you talk about the contemporary game, if you were in your prime now, how would you approach playing some of these top guys like Nadal and Federer?

JIMMY CONNORS: Since the book I haven’t played much. It would be interesting to walk in and to see some of the guys, which would be great. As far as playing today, my game is what it is and what it was and what it will always be. I guess I got criticized an awful lot for never changing my game. But I liked the way I played the game. I liked to try to figure out a way when I was out there to win and overcome a lot of obstacles. I would probably try to continue to play that way today if I was playing. But you have to remember, if I was playing today, I’d be playing with this equipment, I would have been able to have taken away a lot of the perks of what goes on today with the training and everything. I wouldn’t want to go into today’s tennis being 30 or 40 years behind. But if I could go in today being up to date on everything, still being able to play my style of game, with my attitude, what I had to offer, which were the intangibles, certainly would have enjoyed that.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about your current health. What will people see in Charlotte? How well do you move. I heard you had a hip thing or

JIMMY CONNORS: Well, we’ll see that, won’t we? I’m kind of interested in seeing how that goes. Going through what I’ve gone through the last four or five years hasn’t been real easy. To come back, to try to give it a go, see what happens, I’m certainly working on it on a daily basis. What I need to do every day is to take care of it and to try to make it work better every day, to try to strengthen it, try to get the mobility and everything back. I guess we’ll see, won’t we? It’s not rocket science, I don’t think. If I can go out and play and move, reach a level that I think I can attain, then I will enjoy it. If I don’t, I might not enjoy it so much. But we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.

Q. You had hip surgery?

JIMMY CONNORS: I’ve had three hip replacements. But I’m still standing (laughter).

Q. I bet you can still hit it.

JIMMY CONNORS: I can do that. I can still hit it. But the movement is getting better every day. I’ll be honest with you, it hasn’t been an easy trail. What the hell, I still enjoy the tennis. That to me is the key. I get everything out of the tennis that I always did. It’s just a matter of going out. I mean, I’m not 25 years old anymore. There’s no secret about that. What I get out of it now is what I put into it. I try to put in as much as I can.

Q. Would you ever consider coaching another player again?

JIMMY CONNORS: No (laughter). I say that quickly because, whew, wow, I could write a one page book off of that.

Q. Just one page?

JIMMY CONNORS: One page (laughter). I say that laughingly. I shouldn’t say that so quickly. I would prefer to get a young kid that’s eager and willing to listen, has had no success. That would be the ultimate, I guess. As much as I enjoyed being with Andy, traveling around, he was a major champion. When you hit that height Maria also things change, things are different, attitudes are different. As much as you want it, it’s still a different way of thinking. So for me to say it, I would rather find somebody young that’s moldable would probably be the best way to say it.

Q. You might consider a junior player if it was the right situation?

JIMMY CONNORS: Yeah, I’d probably do that.

Q. Have you followed any of the news about this new IPTL league trying to start up in Asia?  Do you have any thoughts about it?

JIMMY CONNORS: I haven’t been following it much. Actually don’t know much
about it. What’s happening over there?

Q. It’s kind of like a World TeamTennis setup in Asia with the top stars, some recently retired players like Sampras and Agassi. They would play one night. There was actually a draft in Dubai last week. It would happen at the end of the season in December.

JIMMY CONNORS: I think anytime tennis is being played, it makes the game that much better, right? Getting guys that have the credentials, that aren’t still on the tour but have the credentials, the notoriety, hopefully drawing power, to come in and play some matches, I think that’s nothing but good.

Q.  Did you follow Brian Baker’s story much, a lot of surgeries?  If so, how impressed are you at his stick to it tiveness?

JIMMY CONNORS: I know his story, haven’t followed it on a daily basis. I know what he’s been through. To come out and the stick to it tiveness, to go through all that, still want to put your body on the line, tear your body up, beat it up while you’re playing tennis, that obviously shows that he loves the game. Sometimes you do go beyond to want to play.  Maybe a lesser man would have walked away from it and said that it’s just too much, can’t go through it.  But to go through that, to have to push yourself, to recover, to rehab… Before, if you would have asked me this when I was playing, I would have said, Whatever. But I’ve been through it, know what it’s like the last five, eight years, whatever. Then to still want to go out, put your body on the line, play matches, train, go through all that. Tennis doesn’t come with that label. Tennis should come with a label: Caution, may be hazardous to your health. What a tennis athlete does is really go out on a daily basis and tear his body apart. For some reason we think it’s fun. It is, and that’s why we do it. But to stick to it like he did, to want to go through all that, still want to go out and play, man, oh, man, I’d like to find a 14 year old about like that, that’s willing to do all that, and also listens. Boy, oh, boy, that would be something. I hope he finds nothing but success in anything he does. He’s not going to walk away from any fight, no matter what. That’s pretty special there.

RANDY WALKER: I want to thank everybody for joining us today, especially Jimmy.


RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining us. We’ll see you all next week in Nashville and Charlotte.