Once Jimmy Connors was just the bratty kid next door, with a knack for turning strangers into enemies. Now Jimmy is 22, still not very lovable—and after this year scandalously rich. His 1974 winnings will approach an unprecedented $300,000. In his third season as a professional tennis player, the left-handed power hitter from Belleville, Ill. has won all but six of the 22 tournaments he's entered, and has made a near sweep of the world's major championships. Thrashing gritty little Ken Rosewall in humiliating straight sets at both Wimbledon and Forest Hills, Connors proved himself almost indisputably the world's finest player. Probably only his disqualification from the French Open, as punishment for playing in the newly formed World Team Tennis League, prevented his achieving a tennis grand slam—in the Australian, British, U.S. and French championships.

Connors' meteoric rise is enough to earn his fellow pros' antagonism; his public personality insures it. He is that phenomenon of the 1970s, the superbly skilled postadolescent jock who picks up the check with one hand and immaturely thumbs his nose with the other. When illness kept Connors out of a recent tournament in Australia, Aussie John Newcombe accused Jimmy of ducking him. The accusation seemed about as dubious as Connors' ballyhooed engagement to tennis queen Chris Evert. Though both insist their marriage has merely been postponed, Chrissie is no longer wearing his ring. If heartbroken, Connors conceals it well as he prepares to take on Australia's Rod Laver, the two-time grand-slam winner he has never played before, in a high-stakes February showdown. The purse: $100,000, winner take all. The place: Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The network: CBS. And Newcombe will be waiting to take on the winner, for at least $100,000, etc.