Jimmy Connors, photo courtesy of jimmyconnors.net
(KSDK / NBC Sports) -- There have been many legendary athletes to come from the St. Louis region, but few match the success and interest of tennis legend Jimmy Connors. Connors grew up in Belleville, Illinois and played in his first U.S. Championship, the U.S. boys' 11-and-under of 1961, when he was only eight years old.
Connors won eight Grand Slam singles championships: five U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.
Now, after remaining out of the limelight for decades, Connors is releasing his memoirs, and revealing intimate details of his most public relationships including a broken engagement to Chris Evert and keeping his marriage together after a public affair with another woman.
Connors, 60, writes about breaking his engagement to fellow tennis star Evert in 1975. He writes that Evert, who was 19 at the time, had an abortion shortly before they broke up.
"Well, that was a certainly a decision that needed to be made,'' he told NBC's Harry Smith in a "Rock Center With Brian Williams" interview that will air in its entirety at 10 p.m. ET on Friday. "To face that together and to go through that together was a necessity."
Connors, who will also appear live on TODAY Friday morning, told Smith he was willing to become a father.
"I was, but, you know, accepting responsibility was something that I've always done,'' Connors said. "I have never ever apologized for anything. I have felt if I do it, it's done. That's the way I've always gone about it, and I was brought up that way."
In his book, "The Outsider," Connors writes: "I was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come. Chrissie, however, had already made up her mind that the timing was bad and too much was riding on her future. She asked me to handle the details.
'Well, thanks for letting me know. Since I don't have any say in the matter, then I guess I'm just here to help.' "
Evert has expressed her displeasure about Connors' choice to reveal the details of their relationship in the book.
"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."
Connors has been married to his wife, Patti, since 1979. In his book, "The Outsider," which comes out on May 14, he writes about an affair he had that was was so public he even brought the woman to meet his mother in Illinois. Patti took him back, despite his infidelity.
"I think that it's been written many times that Patti Connors was a saint to put up with Jimmy Connors,'' he told Smith.
"Bottom line is I loved him,'' Patti told Smith. "I loved him. I came from a broken family. My mother and father were divorced when I was 19 months old. No one's infallible. We all make mistakes, and there is one word that is in the vocabulary, everyone who gets through life has to use, it's called forgiveness."
Connors, who won eight Grand Slam singles titles in his career and was once ranked No. 1 in the world for 160 consecutive weeks, also spoke with Smith about his struggles with gambling.
"I had a problem,'' Connors said. "I didn't know when to quit. I either had to break the bank or break me, and, you know, there's only one winner there, and it's not me. If I won two games, I had three or four. If I won four, I had to win six. So I'd just keep until, you know, I'd explode."
Unlike many other gambling addicts, Connors didn't go broke.
"No, there's somebody that wouldn't let me do that,'' he said. "Patti would not let me do that."
Connors said he has no regrets about including intimate details in the book.
"Well, I guess the best thing to say about that is I wrote the book as honest as I played tennis,'' he said. "Now, you know, I was right straight in your face, and I didn't complain about the way I played tennis. So I'm not complaining about the way I wrote the book."