IT IS UNLIKELYthat any woman has ever played such a role in creating a male champion in anysport as did Gloria Connors, who died last week at 82. Her involvement beganbefore the beginning. Even as she was carrying Jimmy in her womb, she laboredby herself to carve out a tennis court behind the humble family home in EastSt. Louis, Ill.
There, the mothertaught the son from the time he was old enough to hold a racket—giving him whatwas then the rare two-handed backhand. Perhaps more important it was Glo whoinfused Jimbo with an extraordinary competitive spirit, one backlit byantagonism. Even when he was a junior player, she cautioned Jimmy to holdhimself aloof from his rivals, lest amity dull the ferocity she had bred inhim. Nor did Jimmy's father, James, a toll-booth operator, or any male coachhelp guide him. His only other mentor was Gloria's own mother, her sidekick,whom the boy called Two Mom.
"You madehim, Glo," Two Mom said, as Jimmy became champion of the world. "Don'tever hand him over to anybody." But he was grown now and no longer a mama'sboy. The truth is, though, that while Connors, now 54, remained a star, he wasnever again so good as he was when he was young and still in the thrall of hismother.