Welcome to some background information on one of the most provocative, yet greatest tennis players of all time. John McEnroe is a former tennis champion who was famous for his temperamental outbursts. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.
Born on February 16, 1959, in Wiesbaden, West Germany, tennis player John McEnroe made a splash by advancing to the 1977 Wimbledon semifinals at 18 years old. He went on to win several Grand Slam championships, earning fame for both his impressive skills and emotional outbursts. After retiring in 1992, he forged a successful second career as a television analyst.
John Patrick McEnroe Jr. was born on February 16, 1959, in Wiesbaden, West Germany, where his father, John Sr., was serving in the United States Air Force and his mother, Kay, was a surgical nurse. The oldest of three sons, his youngest brother, Patrick, also grew up to play tennis professionally.
The family moved to the New York City borough of Queens in 1960, and McEnroe primarily grew up in the community of Douglaston. At an early age, he exhibited unusually developed eye-hand coordination and athletic ability. According to his father, when John Jr. was only 2 years old, he could strike a ball with a plastic bat, and at age 4 he could hit it a considerable distance.
McEnroe quickly solidified his reputation as one of tennis' "bad boys," along with Connors and Ilie Nastase. His emotional outbursts were directed at linesman, opponents and himself. Pete Axthelm from Newsweek noted later, "He is a young man who raised perfectly placed strokes to a high art form, only to resort to tantrums that smear his masterpieces like graffiti." Although McEnroe played somewhat inconsistently for the remainder of the year, he was voted Tennis magazine's Rookie of the Year for 1977.
That fall, McEnroe attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, on a tennis scholarship. He led the school's tennis team to the NCAA Championship in 1978. After his freshman year he decided to turn pro. In the summer of 1978, McEnroe was eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon but reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open. By the end of that year, he was ranked sixth in the world in singles and fifth in doubles.
After decisive victories over both Connors and Borg in 1979, McEnroe's playing style matured. It was an interesting contrast to the machine-gun like attacks of Connors and Borg. Like his idol, Rod Laver, McEnroe used finesse to keep his opponents off guard. His serve did not overpower, but he had extremely quick reflexes and an uncanny court sense—he seemed to know instinctively where to place his shots. Arthur Ashe, the late tennis champion, summed up his style in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick: "Against Connors and Borg, you feel like you're being hit with a sledgehammer, but McEnroe is a stiletto."
As his talent came to public attention, so did his "superstar" personality. At no tournament did his comments and disruptive actions stand out more than they did at Wimbledon, which was run by the traditional All England Club. The volatile McEnroe believed that the Wimbledon umpires were out to get him; whether or not this was true, he was stopped in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1979. However, he bounced back to win the U.S. Open, defeating fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis to become the youngest player to win the tournament since 1948. Shortly after the triumph, he led the U.S. to victories over Argentina, Australia and Italy to allow the team to retain the Davis Cup championship.
In 1980, one of tennis' most notorious rivalries between McEnroe and the unflappable Swede, Björn Borg, took shape. It began in July of that year at the Wimbledon final. Although Borg started the first set erratically, the remaining four sets saw both players in top form. The highlight of the match took place in the fourth set, which went into a tiebreaker. It took 22 minutes and 34 points for McEnroe to finally win the set. Borg eventually emerged victorious (1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6) in the epic match, though it showed the world that McEnroe had the stamina and mental toughness to be a top player.
The rivals met again at the U.S. Open, where McEnroe found himself defending the title against a determined Borg. In a match with as many games as their famous Wimbledon final, McEnroe emerged the winner (7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4). The two squared off again in the 1981 final, with McEnroe pulling out a four-set win (4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4) to end the Swede's five-year reign. That September, McEnroe defended his U.S. Open title once again against Borg (4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3) to become the first man since Bill Tilden to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles.
McEnroe was unable to add to his Grand Slam collection in 1982, but he was back in top form the following year, winning his second Wimbledon by crushing Chris Lewis (6-2, 6-2, 6-2). He also set a record by capturing his 28th singles victory in Davis Cup play. In 1984, McEnroe won 82 of 85 matches, including his fourth WCT final, his third U.S. Pro Indoor Championship and his second Grand Prix Masters title. He captured his third Wimbledon title, soundly defeating Connors (6-1, 6-1, 6-2), and his fourth U.S. Open title, beating Ivan Lendl (6-3, 6-4, 6-1), and finished with the No. 1 ranking for the fourth consecutive year.
Although McEnroe won eight singles titles in 1985, none of them were Grand Slam events. He took a six-month sabbatical in 1986, and stepped away for several months again after drawing a suspension for an outburst in 1987.
McEnroe remained a highly competitive doubles player, winning the U.S. Open in 1989 and Wimbledon in 1992, but he struggled to keep pace with the successive generation of talent in singles play. He called it quits in 1992, retiring with seven career Grand Slam singles championships, nine Grand Slam doubles titles and one more in mixed doubles.
In 1986, McEnroe married actress Tatum O'Neil, his girlfriend of two years. They had two children together before divorcing in 1994. Three years later, McEnroe married singer Patty Smyth, with whom he had two more children.
In 1995, McEnroe began a second career as an acclaimed television broadcaster. He continues to compete in a select number of tournaments and special events, largely for charity. Most of his charity work targets children's causes and he devotes a good deal of time to the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the defeat of AIDS. In 1999, McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and was named captain of the Davis Cup team.
Unlike many top tennis players, McEnroe has always enjoyed a wide range of activities. An avid rock fan and guitar player, he occasionally plays at charity events. His interest in art led him to open the John McEnroe Art Gallery in New York City, which features up-and-coming young artists. Although his lack of single-minded devotion may have brought his tennis career to a halt, his charitable activities have brought to the public eye a side of McEnroe that was unseen during his reign as champion.
McEnroe debuted his eponymous talk show on CNBC in 2004; the show was canceled six months later due to poor viewership. In 2010, he founded the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York.
Clancy's comment: Although he often sounded like a brat on court, the same man was a master.
Words of one of my favourite songs!