The other day I caught a documentary on tennis player Jimmy Connor’s epic run and last hurrah at the 1991 US Open. I have never been much of a fan of tennis but I could appreciate the head to head battle that it occasionally is while watching the footage. But there were a couple of things that stood out to me.
First of all, Connors is a real prick who did anything to win. Anything. I have to admire that. Connors is good at being a man, and he was spectacular at being competitive and turning that into a tool for winning when he didn’t have a right to be victorious. He used the crowd to his advantage, and he used conflict, often invented, to rev up himself and by default the spectators, inevitably bringing them onto his side of the court. Even though everyone hated Jimmy, in the end you wanted him to win.
The first thing in the documentary that caught my attention was a snippet of an interview with John McEnroe. Many former players and sportswriters were interviewed and the documentary did a good job of cutting from one to another. In one passage there is a cut from McEnroe to Connors, and then back to McEnroe. They are each separately discussing the feud that they had back when they were playing each other.
Now keep in mind that the two of them were not being interviewed together. They were probably on different sides of the planet. But the filmmakers were obviously passing onto the interviewees what was being said about them by others in the film. There is a shot of each of them commenting on their rivalry, and then the film cuts back to McEnroe and he has obviously just been told what Connors has said about him. McEnroe smirks and makes an offhand comment intended as a rebuttal, but as he finishes talking he does something interesting.
He looks down.
So twenty years after the events, and he’s not even in the same country as the guy, let alone the same room, and he’s still intimidated enough that in the moment he involuntarily looks down. That’s some serious bad-ass fuck with your head alpha male shit going on there. Which is what makes it interesting.
Looking down is death to the human male. It means that you’re intimidated and that you don’t want to have the encounter. Guys do it with chicks all the time. You can watch this behavior on any day and in any street. A guy will be walking towards a good looking girl and at the last minute he will look down. And so the girl knows not to bother with him as he’s weak in her presence. A stronger man will keep his head up and not avert his gaze. An interesting man will stare her out and make her look away. It’s all animal instinct, people. You just can’t escape it.
There was one other interesting takeaway from the film for me. The most memorable match of Connor’s run was his game against Aaron Krickstein. It was an interesting match because Connors won it and Krickstein lost it. In the sense that it was Krickstein’s match to lose and Connor’s to win. A lot was made out in the film about how the two of them were friends. Krickstein had been to Connor’s ranch; they hung out together; they trained together; they were buddies.
At the end of the film it is revealed that after their 5 set epic Connors has never spoken to Krickstein again. Several other interviewees are blown away by this news when it is revealed to them by the documentary makers. Connors is nonchalant about it all, while Krickstein is obviously still devastated and reduced to working as a tennis pro at a country club. A week after the match Krickstein even lost his coach who quit and went to work with Ivan Lendl.
And that’s when I realised that Connors had never been Krickstein’s friend. He had recognised that the younger player was his main threat and so he had befriended him where he both influenced his game but also planted the seed of doubt that would emerge when they would inevitably come up against each other in a critical match. Krickstein had never beaten Connors up to that match because Krickstein considered their friendship to be more important than tennis. Connors planted and cultivated that seed and then he took advantage of it. That’s some epic level brutality right there.
Poor old Krickstein admits on camera that he would still like to catch up with Connors for old times sake. Connors doesn’t even entertain the idea for a second. This is a man who has never looked down. He is a winner and a champion, but at what cost? The cost as far as Connors is concerned is to others. He is happy with his lot in life as he has always been the one in control. Take from that what you will.