Fire and Ice : The ‘Jimmy and Chrissy Show’ at Wimbledon Appears Headed for One of Its Last Curtain Calls
When the big iron gates of the All-England Croquet and Tennis Club creak open this week, Wimbledon’s faithful will woefully watch the curtain coming down on the “Jimmy and Chrissy Show.”
To sports fans, it is a distressing prospect.
James Scott Connors and Chris Evert Lloyd, with their two-fisted backhands and grim fighting qualities, were the game’s whiz kids of the ‘70s -- Connors, the brawler out of Belleville, Ill., and Lloyd, then just plain Chris Evert, the classy shotmaker from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In their own separate ways, they were the catalysts of an explosive era. They were the center court of the world. The new, burgeoning pro tennis game bounced off them.
Now Jimbo is 32 and Chrissy is 30. Both are facing the crossroads in their respectively brilliant careers. Their sport is being ruled by Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe--a pair of powerful, agile left-handers capable of taking a tournament by the throat and shaking it to death.
Check the legal London bookies. Navratilova and McEnroe are odds-on favorites to maintain their dominance of Wimbledon’s hallowed Center Court.
Connors and Lloyd are ready to give it at least one more shot--perhaps a couple or three more. The string, however, is growing shorter.
Connors has confided privately that he is wearying of Wimbledon and may just kiss the old lady good-by. He never liked the place anyhow--the 19th century stuffiness, the emphasis on tradition and propriety--just as the old lady never cared much for him. He is more at home among the rowdy, barracking buffs at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow, N.Y..
Five years ago, Lloyd said she planned to play five more years. Two years ago, she said she would play a couple more before fulfilling her desire to start a family with her tennis-playing British husband, John Lloyd.
But now that the deadline is here, she may change her mind.
This indecision apparently was prompted by a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Navratilova in the Virginia Slims of Florida final in Key Biscayne in January--her first triumph after 13 straight losses to her longtime adversary--and then buttressed by her dramatic triumph in the French Open earlier this month.
“I proved to myself that I am still capable of beating her,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think I have been in better shape then now. I look forward to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.”
It’s one thing to win an ordinary tour event in Key Biscayne or even on the red clay of Paris’ Roland Garros Stadium--Lloyd’s favorite surface--and another to beat Navratilova on Wimbledon’s fast grass or Flushing Meadow’s equally fast cement.
“I like grass and am comfortable on it,” Lloyd said. The record supports her. It was on turf that she won the 1984 Australian Open, which now gives her two of the four Grand Slam titles going into the last two big ones.
The inside word is that winning either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, or both, would facilitate rather than delay Lloyd’s homemaking plans. Fiercely proud of her record, she would cherish the thought of ending her career as a winner.
“I don’t intend to stay around just to be playing tennis, as much as I like the game and the life,” she said. “Nobody likes to see a champion slide downhill. I would love to finish on top.
“The clock is ticking away.”
If success proves to be the formula for Lloyd’s retirement, just the opposite may speed Connors’ departure.
Winner of three Wimbledon and five American crowns, he has failed to win a Grand Prix event all year and has struggled to remain in the Top Ten. Ivan Lendl has replaced him as chief challenger to McEnroe’s throne and he now is getting further heat from a whole pack of Bjorn Borg clones out of Sweden, headed by the new French champion, Mats Wilander.
Connors acknowledged that his court intensity has exacted a heavy mental and physical toll.
“I don’t point to Grand Slam events,” he said. “I consider regular tour events just as important. My attitude is that no match is as important as the one I’m playing. I play every match like it’s my last.
“I have subjected my body to a lot of punishment, but it’s been worth it.”
It’s this fierce, unshakable spirit that has distinguished Connors and Lloyd. Neither is equipped with extraordinary physical assets. Neither possesses the power serve and net-storming game that has become the style of the 1980s.
They have been content to remain largely backcourt strategists with a toughness that helped them dominate the past decade. McEnroe not only has power but also instincts and natural skills that baffle the smartest students of the game. Navratilova is much the same.
Yet McEnroe is so gifted he finds it hard to constantly apply himself. He can lose matches by lapses of concentration and temper tantrums. Navratilova’s prowess has been pierced by a tendency to panic under pressure. Special coaches, dietary experts and instructors have failed to erase the problem.
So Lloyd, with her iron will, can still shake Navratilova’s confidence enough to pull off upsets, as at Key Biscayne and Paris. Connors, on the other hand, hasn’t beaten McEnroe since the Queens Cup final two years ago, losing nine straight, including a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 wipeout in last year’s Wimbledon final.
Connors and Lloyd, once engaged, have had parallel careers, both turning pro in 1972--Connors at age 20 and Lloyd at 18--and made their debut at Wimbledon the same year, although Connors lost as an amateur in the first round in 1971.
Fire and ice, thunder and grace, petulance and poise -- contrasts in so many ways yet similar in others--they stroked their way to tennis greatness and left marks that will long endure.
Staid, century-old Wimbledon hated the one at times but never quit adoring the other. The world’s most knowledgeable fans appreciated Connors’ court tenacity and skill although they deplored his rakish behavior and particularly resented his 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 rout of their beloved Ken Rosewall in the 1974 final.
That was the year that Jimmy and Chris won their first Wimbledon singles titles, embraced in the traditional first dance at the Wimbledon ball and--holding hands and giggling like childhood sweethearts--announced they were in love.
The romance stunned Wimbledon.
Connors along with nasty Ilie Nastase was the bad boy of tennis--a maverick raised by a doting grandmother and mother who took him from his Illinois home to put him under the tutelage of Pancho Segura on the West Coast. He joined Bill Riordan’s rebel tennis troupe, refused to play Davis Cup tennis, feuded with the establishment and became the villain of the courts--loud, cocky, contentious and profane.
He was always just an epithet away from a fine or suspension.
Evert, on the other hand, was the darling of the galleries--an All-American girl, with a shock of blondish hair tied into a pony tail, moving gracefully around the court like a ballerina. She was the epitome of decorum.
Connors bought her a 1 1/2-carat engagement ring, which they had picked out during a tennis tour in South Africa. Plans were announced for a wedding.
The wedding never took place. First it was postponed, then canceled, apparently the result of parental pressure from both sides. They announced that marriage was impractical while both were continuing their careers.
Both have since married others--Chris to Lloyd, Jimmy to Patti McGuire, a former Playboy playmate of the year. They have a son, Brent, whom Connors says has changed his life.
Quite a change, really, from a decade ago.
Playing with a trampoline-strung steel racket, Connors held the No. 1 national ranking from 1973 through 1978 before seeing his throne usurped by McEnroe in 1979, paving the way for a new era. In McEnroe he found a foe who could not only outstroke him but even overshadow him in court behavior.
Meanwhile, Lloyd was compiling a women’s record that marked her as one of the all-time greats.
She began the game at age 6, coached by her professional father, and at age 16 led the U.S. Wightman Cup team to a victory over the British. At age 17, she was the sensation of the U.S. Open at Forest Hills.
She was steady as a clock’s tick from the backcourt, threading the needle with her ground strokes down the line and driving her competitors--Navratilova most of all--to distraction with her unerring accuracy and unflappability.
She has driven herself to more than 130 singles titles, in excess of 1,000 match victories and 17 Grand Slam titles, compared with 11 for Navratilova, over a 14-year period. She had 55 straight match victories, broken by Navratilova, and compiled a streak of 125 consecutive victories on clay, snapped by Tracy Austin.
This marks the 12th straight year that she has won one of the Grand Slam events.
Lloyd acknowledges that Navratilova, a super athlete at 5-feet-7 1/2 and 140 pounds, is big, strong and intimidating.
“My trouble has been failure to maintain concentration,” Lloyd said. “But this year I have worked hard and am in the best physical and mental shape of my life.
“To beat Martina, I have to play my best. But if I can put doubts in Martina’s mind, I can win.”