John McEnroe

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John McEnroe
Country: United States
Residence: New York, New York, USA
Height: 5 ft 11 in (180 cm)
Weight: 165 lbs. (75 kg)
Plays: Left
Turned pro: 1978
Highest singles ranking: 1 (3/3/1980)
Singles titles: 77
Career Prize Money: $12,539,622
Grand Slam Record
Titles: 7
Australian Open SF (1983)
French Open F (1984)
Wimbledon W (1981, 1983-84)
US Open W (1979-1981, 1984)

John Patrick McEnroe, Jr. is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player from the United States. During his career, he won seven Grand Slam singles titles – three at Wimbledon and four at the US Open. He is well remembered for his shot-making artistry, for his series of classic encounters with Björn Borg, for his fiery on-court temperament (which frequently got him into trouble), and for the catchphrase "You cannot be serious!".


Early success

McEnroe was born on February 16, 1959 in Wiesbaden, Germany, where his father was stationed with the US Air Force. He is of Irish Catholic descent. When he was less than a year old, his family moved to New York City, and he grew up in Douglaston, Queens.

McEnroe first took the tennis world by storm in 1977 when, at the age of 18, he made it through the qualifying tournament into the main draw at Wimbledon, and then proceeded to make it all the way to the semi-finals where he eventually lost in four sets to Jimmy Connors. It was the best performance ever by qualifier at a Grand Slam tournament, and a record performance for an amateur in the open era.

Shortly after, McEnroe entered Stanford University and won the NCAA singles and team titles in 1978. After that, he joined the professional tour.

McEnroe signed one of the first professional endorsement deals in tennis with Nike in 1978.

McEnroe's game combined shot-making artistry, deft volleys, and a fast, attacking style of play. His sharp reflexes enabled him return the biggest serves and passing shots masterfully, and the variety, delicacy and quickness of his play delighted crowds. However McEnroe also quickly became known for his competitive fire and volatile temper. Verbal outbursts seemed to be a key way in which he motivated himself to battle through tough situations during matches, but this frequently got him into trouble.

McEnroe won his first Grand Slam singles title in 1979 at the US Open. He defeated Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets in the final to become the youngest winner of the championships in 31 years (since Pancho Gonzales, who was also 20, won in 1948). He won 10 singles and 17 doubles titles that year (for a total of 27 titles, which marked an open-era record).

Famous battles with Björn Borg (1980-81)

In 1980, McEnroe reached the men's singles final at Wimbledon for the first time, where he faced the legendary Swedish player Björn Borg, who was gunning for his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. At the start of the final, McEnroe was booed by the crowd as he entered centre court following heated exchanges with officials during his semi-final victory over Jimmy Connors. But the final itself is remembered for all the right reasons - it was arguably the greatest Wimbledon final ever. In a titanic fourth-set tie-breaker that is often simply called "that tie-breaker", which lasted 20 minutes, McEnroe saved five match points from Borg and eventually won the tie-break 18-16. However in the end McEnroe could not break Borg in the fifth set, which the Swede won 8-6.

Revenge for McEnroe came quickly. The pair met again in the final of the US Open two months later, and this time it was McEnroe who emerged the victor in another outstanding five-set encounter.

Controversy dogged McEnroe from the start when he returned to Wimbledon in 1981. Following his second round match against Tom Gullikson, McEnroe was fined $1,500 and came close to being thrown out of the championships as a result of an infamous blow-up in which he called umpire Ted James "the pits of the world", and then swore at tournament referee Fred Hoyles. The phrase "you cannot be serious", which several years later would become the title of McEnroe's autobiography, was also made famous during the 1981 Wimbledon campaign as a retort McEnroe frequently made in response to umpires' calls during his matches. This behaviour was in sharp contrast to that of Borg, who was painted by the tabloid press as an unflappable "ice man".

But despite the controversy and merciless criticism from the British press, McEnroe again made the Wimbledon men's singles final against Borg. And this time he prevailed, beating Borg in four sets to end the Swede's run of 41 consecutive match victories at the All England Club.

But the controversy did not end there. In response to McEnroe's on-court outbursts during the championships the All England Club did not accord McEnroe honorary membership of the club, an honour normally given to first-time singles champions immediately after their victory. McEnroe responded by not attending the traditional champions dinner that evening. He told the press: "I wanted to spend (the evening) with my family and friends and the people who had supported me, not a bunch of stiffs who are 70-80 years old, telling you that you're acting like a jerk." The honour was eventually accorded to McEnroe after he won the championships again.

Borg and McEnroe had their final confrontation in the final of the 1981 US Open. McEnroe won in four sets, becoming the first male player since the 1920s to win three consecutive US Open singles titles. Borg retired very shortly after 1981 US Open.

In 1982, British impressionist Roger Kitter made a record called Chalk Dust: The Umpire Strikes Back in which he played a parody of McEnroe losing his temper with an umpire during a match. The record was made under the nomenclature "The Brat" and reached the UK Top 20; by this time the British tabloids had dubbed him "superbrat".

Continued success (1982-85)

McEnroe was in the Wimbledon final again in 1982, where he lost to Connors in another excellent five-set match.

In 1983, McEnroe reached his fourth consecutive Wimbledon final and swept aside the unheralded New Zealander Chris Lewis in straight-sets. He also played at the Australian Open for the first time, making it to the semifinals before being defeated in four sets by Mats Wilander.

McEnroe blew away the competition in 1984, compiling an 82-3 record and winning a career-high 13 singles tournaments, including his third Wimbledon and fourth US Open titles. He also reached the final of the French Open that year, and seemed to be on the verge of beating Ivan Lendl when he won the first two sets. But this time his temperamental outbursts got the better of McEnroe, and the ice-cool Czech capitalized to win a dramatic five-setter. The loss ended a 39-match winning streak, and was the closest McEnroe would ever come to winning the French Open. McEnroe was, however, victorious in his fifth consecutive Wimbledon final, playing a virtually flawless game to defeat Connors in straight-sets in just 80 minutes, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. He went on to beat Ivan Lendl in the subsequent US Open final by winning in straight sets.

In 1985, McEnroe qualified for what turned out to be his last Grand Slam singles final at the US Open. This time he was beaten in straight sets by Lendl.

Taking time out

By 1986, the pressures of playing at the top had become too much for McEnroe to handle and he took a six-month break from the tour. During this sabbatical, he married the actress Tatum O'Neal; they had 3 children together (Kevin, Sean, and Emily). He returned to the tour later in the year and won three titles. However McEnroe never seemed to be able to recapture his very best form again. In 1987, McEnroe failed to win a title for the first time since turning pro. He took a seven-month break from the game following the US Open, where he was suspended for two months and fined $17,500 for misconduct and verbal abuse.

World No. 1 ranking

McEnroe first reached the World No. 1 singles ranking in March 1980. He would be ranked World No. 1 on no less than 14 separate occasions between 1980 and 1985, and finished the year ranked World No. 1 for four straight years from 1981-84. He spent a total of 170 weeks as World No. 1 singles player.

Success in doubles

McEnroe was also ranked the World No. 1 in doubles for a record 257 weeks. He formed a powerful partnership with Peter Fleming, with whom he won numerous men's doubles titles including four at Wimbledon and three at the US Open. (Fleming was always very modest about his own contribution to the partnership – he once said "the best doubles partnership in the world is John McEnroe and anybody else.") McEnroe won a fourth US Open men's doubles title in 1989 with Mark Woodforde, and a fifth Wimbledon men's doubles title in 1992 with Michael Stich. He also won the 1977 French Open mixed doubles title with childhood pal Mary Carillo.

Representing his country

More than any other player in his era, McEnroe was responsible for reviving American interest in the Davis Cup, which had been shunned by Connors and other leading US players. In 1978, he won two singles rubbers in the final as the US captured the cup for the first time since 1972, beating Great Britain in the final. McEnroe continued to be a mainstay of US Davis Cup teams for the next 14 years, and was part of US winning teams again in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1992. He set numerous US Davis Cup records, including years played (12), ties (30), singles wins (41), and total wins in singles and doubles (59). He played both singles and doubles in 13 series, and he and Peter Fleming won 14 of 15 Davis Cup doubles matches together.

An epic performance was McEnroe's 6-hour, 32-minute five-set victory over Mats Wilander in the US's 3-2 quarter-final win over Sweden in 1982. He won the match 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6.

McEnroe also helped the US win the World Team Cup in 1984 and 1985.

Final years on the tour

Controversy was never far away from McEnroe, even in the later years of his career. In his fourth round match against Mikael Pernfors at the 1990 Australian Open, McEnroe was disqualified for swearing at the umpire, supervisor and referee. He was warned by the umpire for intimidating a lineswoman and then docked a point for smashing a racket. McEnroe was apparently unaware that a new Code of Conduct which had just been introduced to the game meant that a third code violation would not lead to the deduction of a game, but instead would result in immediate disqualification. So when McEnroe unleashed a volley of abuse at umpire Gerry Armstrong, he defaulted there and then and was thrown out of the championships.

McEnroe retired from the professional tour in 1992. His last year on the tour was filled with some notable highlights. He made a stirring run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where he eventually lost to Andre Agassi. He teamed up with Michael Stich to win his fifth Wimbledon men’s doubles title in a record-length five-hour, one-minute final which the pair won 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 19-17. And he teamed up with Pete Sampras to win the doubles rubber in the Davis Cup final, where the US defeated Switzerland 3-1.

Career statistics

McEnroe won a total of 155 top-level titles (a record for a male professional) during his career – 77 in singles, 77 men's doubles, and one mixed doubles. His career singles match record was 849-184. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles, and also captured the season-ending Masters championships three times in 1978, 1983 and 1984. In terms of his great rivalries, he had the edge on Connors (31-20), was even with Borg (7-7), but did not get the better of Lendl (15-21) who won nine of their ten encounters after 1985.

After retirement from the tour

McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1999.

He took on the role of US Davis Cup captain in September 1999, but was not especially successful. His team barely escaped defeat in their first two outings in 2000, beating Zimbabwe and the Czech Republic in tight 3-2 encounters. They were then defeated 5-0 by Spain in the semi-finals. McEnroe resigned in November 2000 after 14 months as captain, citing frustration with the Davis Cup schedule and format as two of his primary reasons. His brother Patrick McEnroe took over the job.

McEnroe now fills his time by playing on the senior tour and being a TV commentator at major tournaments. He is always the star turn for the BBC during their extensive coverage at Wimbledon and, after initial spells of cynicism at the UK's great hope Tim Henman's chances of winning the men's title, he has become one of the British player's biggest fans.

In July 2004, McEnroe began a CNBC talk show, simply entitled McEnroe. However the show was not successful, twice earning a 0.0 Nielsen rating, and was cancelled within five months. He also hosted quiz show The Chair in both the UK and the USA but this was unsuccessful as well.

McEnroe played himself in the 2004 movie Wimbledon.

McEnroe divorced Tatum O'Neal in 1992 and married musician Patty Smyth in 1997. He has six children (three with O'Neal, two with Smyth, and one from Smyth's previous marriage to rock star Richard Hell). He has full custody of his children from his first marriage.

Never at a loss for words, in 2002 he wrote a book entitled "You Cannot Be Serious", an autobiographical account of his life during and after tennis. This was published as "Serious: The Autobiography" in the UK & Ireland. In it he shared many interesting stories about the realities of the tennis tour, the role of corporations in pro tennis, and his off-court, drug-induced escapades. He is active in philanthropy and tennis development. McEnroe currently owns an art gallery in Manhattan.

Grand Slam singles finals

Wins (7)

Year     Championship            Opponent in Final          Score in Final
1979     US Open                 Vitas Gerulaitis           7-5, 6-3, 6-3
1980     US Open                 Björn Borg                 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4
1981     Wimbledon               Björn Borg                 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4
1981     US Open                 Björn Borg                 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3
1983     Wimbledon               Chris Lewis                6-2, 6-2, 6-2
1984     Wimbledon               Jimmy Connors              6-1, 6-1, 6-2
1984     US Open                 Ivan Lendl                 6-3, 6-4, 6-1

Runner-ups (4)

Year     Championship            Opponent in Final          Score in Final
1980     Wimbledon               Björn Borg                 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6
1982     Wimbledon               Jimmy Connors              3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 
1984     French Open             Ivan Lendl                 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
1985     US Open                 Ivan Lendl                 7-6, 6-3, 6-4

See also

External links

Association of Tennis Professionals | World No. 1's in Men's tennis
Andre Agassi | Boris Becker | Björn Borg | Jimmy Connors | Jim Courier | Stefan Edberg | Roger Federer | Juan Carlos Ferrero | Lleyton Hewitt | Yevgeny Kafelnikov | Gustavo Kuerten | Ivan Lendl | John McEnroe | Carlos Moyà | Thomas Muster | Ilie Năstase | John Newcombe | Patrick Rafter | Marcelo Ríos | Andy Roddick | Marat Safin | Pete Sampras | Mats Wilander
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