Four decades after his heyday, the controversial tennis star serves up a suitably cocky autobiography.
It doesn’t take Connors long—three pages, in fact—to get to the word “arrogant,” which might have been coined to describe him. He delivers numerous reasons for why he might have been overweeningly proud, including the fact that he rose from a not-so-nice childhood in not-so-nice East St. Louis to become one of the most lauded players of the day. Repeatedly, however, he tells us that he has OCD (“Yup. I have it. Didn’t know that, did you?”), which, if not entirely effective as an excuse for some of his bad behavior—including, as he later admits, a gambling addiction—at least explains some of it. If readers soon get the feeling that Connors wouldn’t be the ideal choice of seatmate on a long plane ride, the better parts of his book describe not his prideful unpleasantness, but the business of tennis, from the importance of early coaching (in his case, by both his mother and grandmother) to the deep rivalries that exist among champions. One whom Connors says didn’t like him one bit was Arthur Ashe, who had good reason, since Connors once painted Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase in blackface before a doubles game with Ashe. (“We weren’t all that bright back then, to say the least,” he writes.) Connors is chatty, gossipy—Nastase thoroughly disliked German player Hans-Jürgen Pohmann, he writes, and even called him a Nazi after a match—insightful and often, yes, arrogant, which makes this book a solid match of object and subject.
It could have benefited from the self-reflection of an R.A. Dickey, but a readable autobiography all the same.