Jimmy Connors - Molded By His Mother To Become A Champion
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Molded by His Mother To Become a Champion
James Scott Connors, Jr., known to the world simply as Jimmy Connors, was born on September 2, 1952 in East St. Louis, Illinois. His father, "Big Jim" Connors, worked as a toll bridge attendant and he was the son of the mayor of East St. Louis. His mother, Gloria Thompson Connors, was a tennis teacher who learned the sport from her own mother, Bertha Thompson. Gloria was determined to teach her older son, Johnny, and Jimmy to play tennis from an early age. When she was pregnant with Jimmy, she even cleared the land behind their house in Belleville, Illinois to build a tennis court.
Gloria Connors expected her older son, Johnny, to become a tennis champion. However, Johnny did not have the same passion for the sport as his younger brother, Jimmy. Johnny, who later became a tennis teaching professional in Atlanta, was raised primarily by his father, while his mother and grandmother groomed Jimmy to become a champion. These two women not only taught Connors how to play the game, but they also molded him into a feisty, passionate player. "We taught him to be a tiger," Gloria Connors told Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated in 1978. "'Get those tiger juices flowing!' I would call out, and I told him to try and knock the ball down my throat, and he learned to do this because he found out that if I had the chance, I would knock it down his."
Throughout his career, Gloria Thompson Connors was his primary coach. However, when the family moved to California to support Jimmy's budding tennis career, Connors also trained occasionally with Pancho Gonzalez and Pancho Segura. Connors played in his first U.S. Championship in the eleven-and-under division when he was eight years old. By the time he was eighteen he was ready to play against the top professionals. In 1970 he reached the quarterfinals in doubles of the U.S. Open with Gonzalez. As a freshman in college at the University of California at Los Angeles, Connors won the National Intercollegiate singles title. He dropped out of college in 1972 to play tennis full-time.
In the same year he won his first professional title at Jacksonville, Florida. He finished the season ranked number eighty-three.