Sometimes you’re not best remembered for your titles, or even a dominance in a famous rivalry. In the case of Vitas Gerulaitis, his most memorable mark in the sport of Tennis is his timeless quote about finally being able to beat Jimmy Connors.
Gerulaitis, born in Brooklyn in 1954, turned pro in 1971 and played until 1986. He won the Australian Open in 1977 and reached two more Grand Slam finals during his career. He also won the doubles title at Wimbledon in 1975, and finished his career with 25 singles titles (at his best was ranked third in the world) and 8 doubles titles. He died in 1994 due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning while sleeping at a friend’s guest house in Long Island.
But back to less morbid stuff. One of the best players in the world during Gerulaitis’ heyday and probably the best for some of the time was fellow American Jimmy Connors, an eight-time singles Grand Slam champion and two time in the doubles tournament. Connors and Gerulaitis even won a doubles title together in 1974, playing in Salt Lake City.
While Gerulaitis had an impressive career, Connors is one of the all-time greats, and it sure felt that way when the two traded shots with each other. Connors won the first time they met in 1974, and went on to win the next 15 matches as well, a streak that went on from 1974 to 1979. But these things come to an end. Gerulaitis beat Connors 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinal of the Masters tournament in 1979 (he lost to Bjorn Borg in the final). He went on to beat Connors four more times to make it a 17-5 head to head record when it was all over in favor of Connors.
But after beating Connors in London for the first time, Gerulaitis provided something special, filled with self humor and fake arrogance that’s difficult not to find charming the moment you hear it or read about it: And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row. And he’s right. No one did. Borg had a 16-0 record against Gerulaitis during his career. Vitas knew what he was talking about. (However, there is some debate about his Borg record)