May 10, 2013 at 9:25 AM ET
Jimmy Connors has drawn an angry response from former fianceé Chris Evert for claiming in his new book that she had an abortion when they were together, but Connors has no regrets about including it.
"It was a big part of my life back then,’’ the tennis legend told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Friday. “We were young, and it was 40 years ago. It was an emotional and painful time for both of us, and we had to deal with the effects."
In his new memoir, “The Outsider,” Connors, 60, writes about breaking his engagement to fellow tennis star Evert in 1975 and says that she had an abortion shortly before they broke up. He did not speak with Evert about including it in the book before it was published.
“In his book, Jimmy Connors has written about a time in our relationship that was very personal and emotionally painful,” Evert said in a statement to Reuters. “I am extremely disappointed that he used the book to misrepresent a private matter that took place 40 years ago and made it public without my knowledge.”
“I didn't ask anybody at any time about what I was going to put in my book,’’ Connors told Guthrie. “It was my time, I looked back and reflected on what we went through, and the decisions we had to make were very important, and they affected my life.”
Connors and his wife of 34 years, Patti, will appear in a longer interview with Harry Smith on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” at 10 p.m. ET on Friday. In his book, which comes out May 14, Connors details his public infidelity during his marriage, his obsessive-compulsive disorder, a gambling addiction, and his long-standing rivalry with fellow tennis great John McEnroe.
The two began one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history in 1977, and in the prime of their careers, Grand Slam singles titles were often at stake. “We had some fun,’’ Connors told Guthrie. “We’re not having dinner together. I think we’ve gotten over a lot of that, but there’s still a little tension, which makes it nice.”
During his career, Connors also dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder while playing, often furiously bouncing the ball before a serve until it felt right.
“When you’re young, you just think it’s something else, twitches or superstitions or something,’’ he said. “I remember playing my first Wimbledon and bouncing the ball and I couldn’t get off of it. I just kept doing it until it felt right. I didn’t really understand it until I went home that night and actually practiced bouncing the ball and tried not to bounce it so many times.
“Later on, I saw a program on it and the effects and what it was and almost what caused it, and I just realized, ‘I got that.’ It was tough at times. It wore me out quite a bit, but that’s all part of it.”
Connors is also candid about his extramarital affairs in the book, and about his wife’s forgiveness and willingness to keep their marriage intact.
“I tried to write the book like I played tennis,’’ he said. “I was always very honest the way I played tennis, and the people knew that, and I think that’s what they had come to expect from me, so I tried to write the book the same way. It’s very easy to put only the good things in your book, and my life was filled with some not-so-good things. The way I approached those and the way I tried to be honest with myself, and the way I put it in there was sometimes very difficult, but that’s the way it was.”
The usually forward-looking Connors decided to write the book after having some time to reflect while recovering from two hip replacements last year.
“As I look back, it gave me a different perspective on my life and what it was all about -- the ups and the downs, the goods and the bads,’’ Connors said. “It gave me a chance to go back. I almost had amnesia for everything that happened in my past. I was so busy living in today and looking towards the future that I had to go back and really resurrect a lot of things.’’