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Jimmy Connors

Gloria Connors in the family backyard court with sons Jimmy, 10, and Johnny, 12. Post-Dispatch photo.

East St. Louis native Jimmy Connors is one of the greatest players in the history of tennis, winning eight Grand Slam titles in his career. In June of 1963, the Post-Dispatch ran this profile of 10-year-old Jimmy.

When Jimmy Connors holds his tennis racquet in front of him, the handle comes to just below his knees and the top of the bow just above his shoulders -- if he slants it and doesn't stoop.

But when the 10-year-old East St. Louisan gets his knees, shoulders and racquet going the way his tennis-playing mother taught him, the size people notice is the size of the trophies which come his way.

Jimmy already owns 22 trophies. He will seek another starting today when he begins first-round competition in a field of 135 in the St. Louis District junior tennis championships at Washington University.

Jimmy is seeded fourth in the boy 14 division, behind Bob McKinley, Bill Simpson and Larry Parker.

Jimmy is coached by his mother, the former Gloria Thomson, who in the 1940s retired the St. Louis District women's singles trophy by winning it four years in a row.

Jimmy has made the most of the personal instructions he receives from his mother, the family's backyard tennis court and the cheering of his father, James. Jimmy won the Orange Bowl 10-and-under division of boys singles last Christmas and also won the district open and closed singles championships for his age division in St. Louis.

"We've heard comments at the various tournaments that Jimmy seems to have the potential to be one of the better young players in the country," said Mrs. Connors. "So we're going to develop him to go as far as he can, and if that means the pros, fin. He loves to play and has a natural ability for tennis."

Mrs. Connors, Jimmy and brother Johnny, 12, are on the backyard asphalt courts almost every morning, and in the afternoon, head for Washington University to exercise the day's instruction. Beating his older brother was one of Jimmy's first big goals, and last summer he did it twice in St. Louis tournaments. Johnny also pitches for St. Phillip's school baseball team and plays golf.

Jimmy has been playing tournament tennis since he was 7 and drew upon this three years' experience in considering his fortunes in the St. Louis District meet.

"When I get to the semis I think I'll really have to buckle down and beat this boy Billy Simpson," Jimmy said, squinting hard in thought.

His mother quickly stepped in to play out the volley.

"What Jimmy means is he hopes he'll get to the semifinals," said Mrs. Connors. "My goodness he has three matches before then and he's playing out of his age group. In tournaments such as the Missouri Valley, he'll only enter the 12-and-under divisions."

Mothers make pretty good coaches, but than can sure be a pain when a guy's trying to talk to a reporter.