July 29, 1974 : The day Jimmy Connors became world no.1 for the first time

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Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On this day, July 29, 1974, Jimmy Connors became world no.1 for the first time. Jimbo was the third player to sit on top of the ATP ranking.

Irreplaceable : what happened exactly on that day

On this day, the 29th of July 1974, Jimmy Connors became world no.1 for the first time. Jimbo was the third player to sit on top of the ATP ranking, established in 1973, after Ilie Nastase and John Newcombe, and he was the first American to do so. Connors then became the first dominant player since Rod Laver achieved the Grand Slam in 1969, as he occupied the top spot for 160 consecutive weeks, knocked over in August 1977 by Bjorn Borg. In his career, he would stay world no.1 for 268 weeks, a record which would remain unbeaten from 1983 until 1990.

The guys involved & facts : inspiring and vulgar

Jimmy Connors, born 1952, was one of the greatest tennis players of his time. Coached by his mother Gloria, Connors was one of the first few players to hit the ball flat and mainly from the baseline. Hitting the ball on the rise, his game would be very influential for future generations of tennis players. He was also known for his shocking on-court behaviour in the well-mannered world of tennis. While his mum loudly cheered for him in the stands, screaming “Come on, Jimbo!”, he displayed an unusual amount of aggressivity, even in the way he encouraged himself. He was sometimes vulgar — giving the finger to a linesman or putting his racket between his legs in a crude manner. His constant quarreling with the officials made him famous in a gentlemen’s sport.

“Jimbo” turned pro in 1972, being one of the best hopes of American tennis, along with Harold Solomon and Roscoe Tanner. During his two first seasons  as a professional player, Connors managed to claim 17 titles and to reach Grand Slam quarterfinals three times. In 1974, he decided to attend the Australian Open for the first time, a decision that proved to be wise as he claimed his first Grand Slam crown in Melbourne, defeating Phil Dent in the final (7-6 6-4 4-6 6-3).

It was the start of his greatest season. In July, Connors had already won ten tournaments, including Wimbledon, where he had outclassed the Australian legend Ken Rosewall (6-1 6-1 6-4) in one of the most one-sided finals in the tournament’s history. So far, his season had only been clouded by his ban from Roland-Garros because of its participation in the World Tennis Tour, which led him and his manager to file a lawsuit against the ATP. 

After his triumph at Wimbledon, Jimmy Connors at won 90 out of 100 matches in the past 12 months, and claimed 14 titles, including two Grand Slams. Hence, it was no surprise that, a few weeks after his title in London, Jimbo became the third world no.1 in the short history of the ATP ranking, after John Newcombe, who had occupied the spot for only 8 weeks, and Ilie Nastase (40 weeks).

“There is only one no.1”, commented Connors. “It’s lonely spot, but it has got the best view of all. Being no.2 is like being no.200.”

What next : a 30-year record

His predecessor had held the no.1 spot for 8 weeks. Jimmy Connors would stay on top of the ranking for 160 consecutive weeks, until he would lose his throne to Bjorn Borg on August 23, 1977, for just one week (!), before reclaiming it for another 84 weeks, until the spring of 1979. No player would remain no.1 without a break longer than Connors for thirty years, when Roger Federer beat that record with a 237 week reign. 

In 1974, Jimmy Connors would also triumph at the US Open, totally outplaying 39-year old Ken Rosewall in the shortest Grand Slam final of the Open Era (6-1 6-0 6-1),thus remaining unbeaten that year in major tournaments. If he had not been banned from the French Open, maybe Connors would have written an even more impressive chapter of tennis history in 1974.

In total, Jimmy Connors would claim eight Grand Slam titles : the 1974 Australian Open (a tournament he would attend only twice in his career), Wimbledon in 1974 and 1982, and the US Open in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982 and 1983. 

Connors would occupy the world no.1 spot again in 1982 and 1983, setting a record of 268 weeks spent as world no.1 in his career. This record would be only beaten by only two weeks, in 1990, by Ivan Lendl.

Jimbo would remain a top ten player until April 1989, at the age of 37. In 1991, at the age of 39, he would make a memorable semi-final run at the US Open, defeated by Jim Courier (6-3 6-3 6-2). At the end of his long career, he would hold a record of 109 titles on the tour. Although he would reappear from time to time afterwards, Jimmy Connors would retire at the end of 1992.

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