Nostalgia is in and nowhere is it more evident than in the world of tennis. While oldies but goodies such as the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys continue to rock the music world, Jimmy Connors and his back-up band, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, are providing tennis fans with the most entertaining show the sport has seen in years.
We've all heard and read about the decline of tennis' popularity over the past few years. Spoiled, selfish brats who are only interested in making as much money with as little effort as possible are how many of today's "stars" are characterized.
While top players such as Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis are among the most talented to ever play the game, and may in fact break all of their predecessors' records, the fact remains that many feel that they lack the charisma to draw, and hold, the public's attention. Enter Jimmy Connors.
Arguably the greatest and most charismatic tennis player of all time, Connors ruled the tennis world for much of the 70's and 80's.
Known for his passion and love of tennis, Connors won 109 professional titles, including 8 Grand Slam events, and was at the top of the world rankings for an astonishing 268 weeks, 159 of which were consecutive.
As Connors approached his fortieth birthday, injuries and declining results forced him to come to grips with the fact that his tremendous ride might be nearing its end.
Much like a kid at an amusement park, Connors did the obvious. When one ride was over he decided to climb up onto another. The only difference being that Connors, along with long-time friend Ray Benton, would invent this ride themselves.
But before that would happen, Connors still had one more great run in him. Who can forget the 1991 U.S. Open when Connors, at the age of 39, mesmerized not only the tennis public, but the entire world, by advancing to the semi-finals with one gritty comeback performance after another.
Not only was this an amazing athletic achievement, it was a great career move. Connors became the poster boy for all of us aging athletes who still think we have one more great run left in us.
Commercial endorsements, books and personal appearances put Connors back in front of the public and served as the perfect springboard to his dream of a competitive senior tour.
An avid golfer, Connors was impressed with the success of the seniors golf tour and felt that there was no reason that tennis couldn't do the same.
There had been several "senior tours" in the past but these largely consisted of rolling the great names of yesterday out onto a court and watching them, many pounds heavier, play what amounted to extremely casual exhibition matches. Quite often the players didn't even take off their warm-ups.
They were tennis' version of baseball card shows where heroes of the past show up, sign a few autographs, and reminisce about the good old days.
Connors wanted something different. A competitive tour for players over the age of 35 where the players would compete for circuit points and prize money. In other words, a real circuit.
Conventional wisdom was against the idea. Tennis, being a highly movement-oriented sport, was not conducive to "aging athletes." The prevailing thought was that it would not be particularly appealing to the public to watch 35 year-old men attempting to move around a tennis court. Connors strongly disagreed.
He felt that there was most definitely a market for competitive "senior" tennis and that he, and his fellow players, could fill the void for those fans who, for whatever reason, were turned off by the players of today.
Connors recruited long-time rivals John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg and the three now form the core of what is called the NUVEEN CHAMPIONS OF TENNIS TOUR. Joining Connors, Borg and McEnroe are players such as John Lloyd, Johan Kriek, Mel Purcell, Guillermo Vilas and Jose Luis Clerc.
The tour is serious business. Any player wishing to join must be in tournament shape. Rumor has it that Illie Nastase, Connors long-time friend, was booted from the tour because of his expanding waistline and declining level of fitness.
Beginning with three events in 1993, the tour has now grown to between 15-20 events around the world each year. The tennis is fabulous and while the atmosphere is competitive, it is competition at its finest.
The players, while out there to play their best and win, also understand that they are providing the public with entertainment and go out of their way to support the effort. It is not unlike the early days of professional tennis when the players had to "sell" their sport to the public.
Player clinics, Pro-ams and cocktail parties are the norm at every event and the public gets the chance to rub elbows with their heroes.
Though the players on the Nuveen tour come from different backgrounds and achieved varying levels of success during their "first" career, they all have one thing in common, a love for the game.
The tour fills many needs. First, it keeps the tennis stars of yesterday in front of the public who still, based on the packed houses at every event, loves to watch them play.
It also allows us to dream. After attending a tour event you can almost hear all of us "over the hill athletes" saying to ourselves that if "Connors can still run around the court at his age, maybe I can, too." Finally, it allows these "legends" to continue to do what they love most, play tennis and compete.
As one who has been involved with tennis for almost thirty years, I can honestly say to you that I would rather go to a NUVEEN tour event than the U.S. Open, and Flushing Meadows, the site of the Open, is right in my backyard.
While Connors is the headline attraction and plans to continue to play until he turns 50, the future for the seniors tour looks bright with legends such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker waiting in the wings. When they celebrate their 35th birthdays they will become eligible to join the tour.
The tour travels around the world and will almost certainly come to a place near you. To view a schedule, visit the Nuveen Tour web site or request one by writing to:
The NUVEEN TOUR
1205 Westlakes Drive
Berwyn, PA 19312-2405