‘This Is What They Want’
[The film’s co-director] Brian Koppelman is a friend. Over dinner a couple years ago, he asked my thoughts on a film about Jimmy Connors’ US Open run and if I could reach out to Connors.
I was like a lot of tennis fans, drawn in by the story of Jimmy’s run as the momentum began to build. I was a Connors’ fan as a kid in the ’70’s and it came full circle to be able to yell and shout for a 39-year-old battler. I was in the crowd for the [Aaron] Krickstein and [Paul] Haarhuis matches. I will never forget the primal energy Connors created in Armstrong Stadium. We haven’t seen anything quite like it since. The film captures that perfectly.
The film has so many wonderful moments. [ESPN analyst] Patrick McEnroe and particularly Krickstein sharing their long-supressed feelings about the pain and repercussions of letting their matches with Connors slip away was powerful. Aaron is really a star of the film, opening his soul and revealing painful stuff. [/box]
Sports fans were amazed at Jimmy Connors’ remarkable and surprising run at the 1991 US Open, eight years removed from his last major title. The future Hall of Famer fought his way all the way to the semifinals of the event he had won five times.
Those two weeks are the focus of tonight’s ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 This is What They Want (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). One very interested observer was Connors’ son, Brett. Then 12 – and now a freelance tennis producer who works for ESPN at the four Grand Slam events – Brett sees that Open as the climax of a year-plus road he travelled with his father.
This Is What They Want is directed by Hollywood film veterans Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The film’s title comes from the fourth-round match against Krickstein. It was Labor Day, with a packed house, a national TV audience and it was Connor’s 39th birthday.
While getting out of his courtside chair at 6-6 in the fifth and final set, Connors, ever the showman, memorably turned to the TV camera and declared, “This is what they paid for. This is what they want.” He then walked out onto the court and won the tiebreak 7-4 against his 24-year old foe.
Interviewed at the 2013 US Open in the video above, Brett relives those days. He provides his personal perspective, including giving up on his dad when Jimmy was down two sets to current ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe in the first round. Brett even recalls going to church to light a candle with his mom and sister during the Krickstein marathon.
The video below is an excerpt from This Is What They Want. It features vintage footage of the epic McEnroe-Connors US Open match and their recent reflections on it.
Video above produced by Dave Nagle
Jennifer Cingari and Rachel Siegal contributed to this post