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Friday, October 26, 2012

Stalking Jimmy Connors - Bellevue Park, Belleville, IL

Perhaps the biggest tennis star to originate from the St. Louis area was Jimmy Connors.    Many of the courts from Jimmy's childhood days in East St. Louis are forgotten.   We began our quest on a beautiful fall day with a quick stop at Jones Park where Jimmy's mother Gloria taught lessons and surely Jimmy hit a few tennis balls on these courts.   Jones Park is still a scenic spot although the tennis courts and its large swimming pool have fallen into disrepair.

It has recently been joined by the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center which is located outside the park across the street.   Only the echoes of tennis balls will be heard here as the courts are in totally unplayable condition.

Our next stop was 632 North 68th street reported to be Jimmy's childhood home with a tennis court in the backyard.   According to this Sports Illustrated article there is a monument here but we could not find it.   We decided to approach court by traversing the neighboring lot of an abandoned boarded up house.

After bushwhacking in a few feet several dogs let loose a warning that the boarded house was occupied and we were not welcome.   We regrouped and approached through a churchyard and were able to get one photo of the court which is almost completely returned to dirt.   Some asphalt remains in the shape of a court.   One wonders if the occupants know whose home this was and the significance of the asphalt in the backyard.

On to our final destination Bellevue Park in Belleville.   At some point Jimmy Connors moved to Belleville and it is usually referred to as his hometown.    We have no evidence that Jimmy ever played at Bellevue Park but would like to think he may have hit a ball here once or twice.   Bellevue Park is a quaint little park in great shape with a Bandstand, Lake, Walking trail and two tennis courts.

Unfortunately the courts are not maintained to the same level as the rest of the park.    Both courts were covered with debris - one with pine needles and one with leaves and acorns.  Both featured chain link fence nets that were about 2-4 inches too low.   We picked the pine needle court and the battle was on!  After last week's loss Stan trained by running a 13.1 miles in the Rock and Roll Marathon. The match started with a couple tough games. Scott went up 2-0.  Stan broke and held to get to 2-2.  Then it was on serve to 5-4 Scott.   Stan served and won a brutal first point after Scott lobbed over his head and pushed Stan back into 6 inch deep pine needles.

Stan retrieved the lob and worked his way back on offense and hit a cross court winner. Scott was able get a couple points and then finally break Stan with a slice backhand down the line winner to take the first set 6-4.   Pine needles were a factor as neither player could run at full speed to chase balls.

The second set was more of the same with multiple great shots. Both Scott and Stan had several netcord winners.  Stan had an amazing retrieval of one of Scott's drop shots off the deck and hit a cross court drop winner.     Both players were fighting hard and there were some very good points along with a smattering of unforced errors caused by the pine needle situation.  

It all ended with a 6-6 tie forcing a tiebreaker.   A heavy weight was on Scott's shoulders here.  In the 14 month existence of this blog the boy from NOCO had never bested the Bulgarian two matches in a row.   Could this be the one?   The tiebreaker was tight and Scott fought his way out to a 6-4 lead on the strength of some good serving.   On the 6-4 point Stan was pushing Scott back into the pine needles and producing shorter and shorter balls.

Scott threw up a desperation lob that landed at mid-court - Stan was set up to hit an overhead off the bounce and took his swing for the certain winner......  it hit the chain link fence netcord and bounced off the court.   Scott wins 6-4,7-6 for the Twopeat!

The setting for the park and courts is tree lined and pretty quiet and rates a 10.  The courts unfortunately are only a 5.  Primarily due to cleanliness, nets and cracks.   Bounces were good and courts were medium speed.  Total rating 7.5.    Fletchers Kitchen and Tap is nearby if you need a bite to eat after your match.




2 comments:

  1. Your bravery is to be commended... or ridiculed, I can't quite decide which. :)

    ReplyDelete