Classic Rivalries – Guillermo Vilas vs. Jimmy Connors

AP/Dave Pickoff, file

Classic Rivalries – Guillermo Vilas vs. Jimmy Connors

Born one month apart in 1952, Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Connors were at the very top of the tennis world during the 70s and early 80s.

Both had unique styles, interesting personalities, and most of all, a big game. They will also be famously connected due to the controversy surrounding the end of the year rankings from 1977. Although Vilas won two out of the four Grand Slams, including the 1977 US Open, where he beat Jimmy Connors in the final, the year-end rankings would show Connors at the top. This has been highly contested by fans and insiders alike, and to this day there are many who argue that Vilas is the rightful owner of that number one ranking. I tend to agree. For those that want to explore more on the ranking controversy, I encourage you to watch the 2020 Netflix documentary, Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score.

Both careers are worthy of Hall of Fame status, with Vilas winning four Grand Slams and Connors winning eight. However, Connors was the one that was able to remain in the top 10 well into his 30s, while Vilas faded in the rankings.

They met a total of nine times during a ten-year span between 1972 and 1982. Their most significant matches came at the US Open where they would meet three times. The first of those meetings was at the 1976 US Open semifinals, where Jimmy Connors would come in as the number one seed, while Vilas was the number three seed. Jimmy Connors would dismantle Vilas in straight sets and then proceed to the finals where he would meet Bjorn Borg and win his second US Open title.

Their second meeting at the US Open would not result in a loss for Vilas. Vilas was the number four seed, while Jimmy Connors was the number two seed. They would meet in the final where Vilas would take revenge on his loss from the previous year. Although he lost the first set, he would take the next three, including winning the last set 6-0 to claim the title.

Their final meeting at the US Open would be at the 1982 semifinals. Jimmy Connors was going through a big resurgence, and the 1982 US Open would be the first of three Grand Slams he won in the early 80s. He would need to get through Vilas in the semis though, and he did, dispatching the Argentine in four sets.

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