It is important that, when considering Jimmy Connors’ 109 singles titles, one does not fall into the trap of just thinking of the top three or four players and say Federer faced much tougher competition (just because of Novak and Rafa).
Connors faced, in my opinion, much deeper fields than Federer, Djokovic and Rafa face today. One can see that if you look at the top 20 rankings – especially 5 to 20 – in the early-to-mid-1970s versus the last 10 years’ worth of No. 5 to No. 20 rankings.
In the early 1970s, men’s tennis showcased an even playing field with phenomenal depth: Stan Smith, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Manuel Orantes, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Ilie Nastase, Jan Kodes, Tom Okker, Andres Gimeno, and Guillermo Vilas (top five at the end of 1974), to name a few who vied for the elite titles and ranking spots.
This is the milieu into which Connors landed in 1974. He entered the top 10 in 1973 (Borg the top 20 that year) and climbed to number three by the end of the season.
Connors went 93-4 and won 15 titles in 1974. McEnroe was 82-3 in 1984, 0.006 percent better by winning percentage. (Side note: In 1984, McEnroe went 22-1 against top-10 players.) Bjorn Borg was 84-6 in 1979. Federer was 81-4 in 2005, 92-5 in 2006 (12 titles). Djokovic was 82-6 with 11 titles in 2015. Djokovic went 31-5 against top-10 players that year.
Due to his participation in World Team Tennis, Jimmy Connors was not allowed to play Roland Garros in 1974. He would have been the clear favorite had he played. He beat Bjorn Borg in their only encounter on clay that year, after defeating Manuel Orantes in the semis at that same tournament. In fact, Connors beat Borg three times on clay from 1974-1976, twice at the U.S. Open.
Since the 1950s only two Americans won majors. Connors rejuvenated American tennis.
Some randomly looked-up Connors titles from the early 1970s:
1973 Johannesburg title: Tom Okker (No. 4) in the semis, Arthur Ashe in the finals.
1973 Quebec title: Marty Riessen and Mark Cox (top-20 players, but okay, this is a weak run to the title, just like some that Roger had I am sure).
1973 Los Angeles: Stan Smith, Raul Ramirez, Tom Okker.
1973 Boston: Stan Smith, Dick Stockton, Cliff Richey, Arthur Ashe (no rankings indicated on the ATP site, which can be misleading of course). These are all excellent players at the time, and Connors had to beat them all to win the title. So, when someone looks at this on the ATP website, unless he or she knows these four names above, he/she will brush it off as an “easy title,” whereas it is at least the equivalent of the run that Nick made to win this week.
1974 London: Jauffret, Solomon, Okker, Gottfried. Solomon shows No. 15 but he is probably higher than that. Gottfried shows 37, and he is definitely higher than that, on his way to becoming top-10 player for a few years in the ’70s.
1974 U.S. Open: Jan Kodes, Alex Metreveli, Tanner, Rosewall.
1974 Wimbledon: Panatta, Fillol, Kodes, Dick Stockton, Rosewall. (Rosewall was ranked 109, but he played only seven tournaments – thus, his low ranking at the time of Wimbledon, which was his second tournament of the year). Two of Rosewall’s seven tournaments in 1974 were Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, where he lost in the finals to…