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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spill your guts

Jimmy Connors was ranked as one of the top five tennis players in the world beginning just before my birthday in 1973. He would remain in the top five for a still-record 659 consecutive weeks. That's over twelve years.

Let that sink in.
Wimbledon Champions - 1974

The closest a modern player has come to equaling that mark? Roger Federer, in the top five for 543 consecutive weeks. Connors won 109 (or 110, depending on your source) singles titles. Any modern players close to that? Federer, again, with 77. Perhaps even more astounding, Connors was runner-up another 54 times. He won 8 Grand Slams and spread his titles around quite a bit - winning on clay, grass, hard court and indoor carpet surfaces.

Gallons of ink have been spilled in support of - and attacking - Jimmy Connors. Writers who make me look like Judas Iscariot compared to Jesus have extolled the virtues of the champion while decrying the personality of the L'Enfant terrible.

In 1971, I remember watching my first Wimbledon. I lived in England and the BBC covered The Championships live. After watching players like Stan Smith, John Newcombe and Rod Laver, I'd go outside with an old wooden racket and hit against an uneven rock wall in our garden, trying to emulate the graceful and powerful strokes I'd seen on television. Up until that point, the Aussies - Ken Rosewall, Laver, Newcombe, and Roy Emerson - had dominated the men's tennis circuit. But that was about to change.

1972 Wimbledon Runner-up - Stan Smith

What in the world has made me go down this rabbit hole? I just finished watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary This is What They Want. The film touches on Connor's career in general but focuses almost exclusively on his run to the U.S. Open semi-finals in the age of 39.

Can you imagine a 39 year-old playing Federer or Nadal or Djokovic? The days of Connors, McEnroe and Borg dominating tennis were gone, weren't they. But ranked somewhere north of 150 in the world, Connors had battled injury and age to make one final run in our championships. I won't bore you with my wooden attempts to capture those two weeks in yourself a favor and watch the film. If you've ever played tennis or even watched it, this documentary directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien is worth every minute.

Willpower, guts, craft and guile on the way to the semifinals

New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. You spill your guts out at Wimbledon, and they make you stop and clean it up.” [Jimmy Connors]

As the credits rolled on ESPN I began thinking about the career of Jimmy Connors. What did he achieve? Who was he? In one of the closing scenes, Connors seems bemused that people considered him an ***hole. He thought about it for a minute, and as he walks off he says, "But I'm a happy ***hole."

Connors lived life, in a sense, as an outsider. He fought and scraped for everything. He won - and lost - on his own terms, by his own strength, through his own will and wisdom. While I admire the man for his sheer tenacity and for the accomplishments that seem destined to stand the test of time - in a world where every record falls - I can't help but wonder how much all that achievement will matter in the end.

In one of His harsher messages, Jesus told of a man who focused on his own achievements and his own accomplishments. Luke 12:16-31 paints a dire picture for those who might spend their lives piling up achievements and awards, striving for the next brass ring, building an even bigger house...

Jimmy, I admire your drive, sir. Imagine how many you could win for the Kingdom with your tenacious dedication.

Unlike the picture some might paint, Christianity isn't us vs. them. Connor's career was fought in just that way; it was always Jimmy vs. everyone else. Perhaps the most poignant moment in This is What They Want, is when Aaron Krickstein says that, after being friends with Connors, staying at his home, acting as a hitting partner, etc. he never heard from Jimmy again after Connors beat him in the fourth round of the 1991 U.S. Open.

2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."

Jimmy, life isn't about getting to a place where you can be a happy ***hole. It's about helping each other win the only trophy that counts.

What do you think?


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