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Tennis legend to be honored in St. Louis — the city where he felt like an ‘outsider’

Jimmy Connors celebrates during the US Open in Flushing Meadow, New York in 1991. The tennis hall of famer was raised in East St. Louis and Belleville.
Jimmy Connors celebrates during the US Open in Flushing Meadow, New York in 1991. The tennis hall of famer was raised in East St. Louis and Belleville. Associated Press

The St. Louis Tennis Hall of Fame is putting out the welcome mat for a tennis legend who once felt unwelcome in the city.

On Saturday evening, April 22, Jimmy Connors will be inducted at the Hall of Fame Festival at Frontenac Racquet Club.

Growing up in East St. Louis and then Belleville, the product of Althoff Catholic High School was often taken across the river by his mother and coach, Gloria Connors, in search of stronger competition and, in winter, the area’s only indoor tennis facility, the National Guard Armory at 3676 Market Street.

In his 2013 autobiography, “The Outsider,” Connors conveyed his sense of not belonging when he went to St. Louis to play.

“I was from the wrong side of the Mississippi River,” he wrote. “I wasn’t a member of the clique of kids from the good side of the river. In their eyes, I was an outsider.”

By the same token, Connors has acknowledged that he was not mistreated — “a lot of people were very nice,” he said a 1991 interview, referring to pros such as Bill Gatlin and Larry Miller — and that playing in St. Louis at the Armory and the Triple A Club was an important part of his development as a player.

So now, 21 years after his career on the ATP Tour ended and 19 years after he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Connors will be coming from his home in Montecito, Calif., to be honored here.

What took so long?

Terry Ward, a St. Louis Tennis Hall of Famer and one of the people who have tried in previous years to have Connors inducted, said the timing was never right, often because of Connors’ busy schedule. The Hall didn’t want to induct him if he couldn’t be present to receive the honor.

Connors’ induction will take place at about 7 p.m. It will be preceded at 6 p.m. by a tennis exhibition by top local players, and another exhibition will follow the induction ceremony. Tickets will be $20 at the door. Go to www.stltennishall.org for more information.

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