The new Jimmy Connors, say the U.S. and London sportswriters, is more mature, sensible and mellow, and is almost agreeable.
"Le Neuf Connors" proclaimed the Paris newspapers at the French Open last month.
Nonsense, retorted Connors here the other day.
"The only new things are my wife Patty and son Brett, and my daily routine. I get up at 6 a.m. with the kid and I go to bed around 9:30 or so. My on-court attitude has not changed at all."
Indeed, in Paris, he was fined $1,000 for vulgar language. But in general, he is more relaxed. After all, he said "I've won everything there is to win except the French (Open)."
After eight years on the tour, Connors, 27, has few friends among the players. "Now that (Iiie) Nastase is not playing as much as he used to, I don't even see him as much. I spend my free time with my family."
Being No. 2 or 3 definitely bothers him. But he still insists he can reach the top again -- and without changing his style. Most excellent athletes have this sort of confidence, and Connors' borders on arrogance. When some things were suggested that he might try if he meets Bjorn Borg, Connors listened and said, "You might be right." But the impression he left was clearly that any outside help would only tarnish any victory over Borg.
Many of the players are fascinated by the Borg-Connors rivalry. While John McEnroe wins occasional matches against Borg, watching Borg playing Jimmy is like watching hand-to-hand combat. And they both know it. In fact, Connors would like nothing better than to meet Borg in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and win each, 12-10, the fifth set.
Does Connors now believe that Borg is the best tennis player ever?
"I never thought about it too much," he replied. "And besides, Bjorn plays all his best tennis in Europe. He still hasn't won the Open. And he has just this year won the Masters."
Neither the so-called new nor the old Connors intends to play Davis Cup for the U.S. "I don't play Davis Cup. And I don't see me changing my outlook about that. I just never could connect with the Davis Cup people."
Even as a youngster, he never dreamed about winning Davis Cup matches. It's much more important for him to play and win (or lose) alone. Yet he will chauvinistically point out that the U.S. Open is more important to him than Wimbledon.
Not at all. "I'm American and my own national titlt is more important than any other event -- even Wimbledon," he said.
He has few, if any, regrets about his stormy past. When asked if he could change anything, he replied, "Yeah, just one, but I can't tell you what it is. But it's not a major thing anyway. I don't try to redo the past. It's finished. I've got Patty and Brett to think about now."
There is no question that he is at least more approachable now. Asked what they thought of the "1980-model Jimmy Connors," the consensus among some writers was the that his relationship with the media is good when he wins and not so when he loses. Six years ago, he was more apt to intentionally bait the press. At 21, one can get away with glib statements.
Some people still believe those comments in the early '70s may have locked him inside a false image. Could a professional tennis player really feel as irreverent as some of Connors' past statements indicated? Only Connors knows.
Is there anything in tennis he reveres?
"Well, 'revere' is a pretty strong world," he said, "but the U.S. Open comes about as close as anything. And even though I didn't talk to the press after my matches last year I still consider the Open my favorite tournament. New York City brings out the best in me for some reason. I get charged up out there. It's just me against the other 127 players. I love the challenge.
"Hell, I even like to play golf by myself. I can play nine holes in 52 minutes. And I don't lose too many balls, 'cause I hit it pretty straight. I play right-handed even though I'm a lefty. There's not much difference between hitting my two-handed backhand and a three-iron."
But there is a difference in his maturity. Whether it be marriage, or age, or both, Jimmy Connors, 1980, is not the Jimmy Connors of 1974.
At this stage in his tennis career, Connors simply states that he is not finished. "Jack Nicklaus proved in four days he is still No. 1. A win here and at the Open would put me back at No. 1, too. And I intend to do just that -- my way."