McEnroe, John

views updated May 18 2018

John McEnroe


American tennis player

One of most successful tennis players of all time, John McEnroe was a dominant force whose reputation was built just as much on his personality as it was on his fantastic play on the court. Known for his violent verbal abuse of ballboys, line judges, chair judges and himself, the McEnroe tirades became just as common as McEnroe victoriesand he had plenty of those. During his career as a professional, John McEnroe won 17

Grand Slam titles, 77 career singles titles and 77 doubles titles. He has also been a mainstay of United States Davis Cup play, holding the American Davis Cup records for most wins, ties played, years played and singles wins (41). When he retired from the professional tour in 1992, he had an incredible singles record of 856 wins, 158 losses and 75 titles. Though he left professional tennis, John McEnroe remains a great presence in the sport as one of the mainstays on the Seniors Tour, as well as in the tennis broadcast booth.

Growing Up

John Patrick McEnroe, the eldest of three McEnroe boys, was born on February 16, 1959, in Wiesbaden, Germany. His father John Sr., served in the United States Air Force at the time and was stationed overseas, where McEnroe's mother, Kay, was a surgical nurse. But the family soon moved back to the United States, settling down in Douglaston, Queens, New York. The young McEnroe's athletic prowess showed up early. Whether it was on the basketball court or the tennis court, it was evident that this was a kid who played smart, but who also had superior hand-eye coordination and razor-sharp eyesight.


1959Born February 16 in Weisbaden, Germany
1959Family returns to Queens, N.Y., when McEnroe is nine months old and settles in Douglaston
1970Placed under instructorship of Tony Palafox and Harry Hopman at Port Washington Tennis Academy (at Long Island)
1975Receives a six-month suspension from Tennis Academy for a prank. His parents switch him to Cove Racquet Club
1977Graduates from Manhattan's Trinity School
1977Qualifies for Wimbledon at age of 18 and becomes youngest player and first qualifier to reach semi-finals
1977Enters Stanford University
1978Wins NCAA Championship
1978Turns professional
1979Nicknamed "superbrat" by British Tabloids, later shortened to "McBrat"
1979Starts playing guitarrock and roll will become one of his passions
1979Wins first U.S. Open, beating Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets
1980Lost Wimbledon to Bjorn Borg in what has been called the greatest match in sports history
1980Wins U.S. Open
1981Prevails this time and beat Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon; wins U.S. Open
1981Important member of winning U.S. Davis Cup team
1982Defeats Mats Wilander in a six hour 22-minute match at 1982 Davis Cup
1983Wins Wimbledon
1984Compiles an 82-3 record and wins a career high 13 tournaments, including his third Wimbledon and fourth U.S. Open
1986Takes a sabbatical from Tennis; marries actress Tatum O'Nealthey have their first child, Kevin, three months prior (will later add another brother, Sean, and a sister, Emily)
1987Fails to win a title for the first time since turning pro
1990Disqualified at Australian Open for using abusive language at officials
1992Divorces Tatum O'Neal
1992Final year on ATP tour
1993Meets Patty Smyth at a Christmas party
1995Kicks off his broadcasting career at the French Open
1995Opens the John McEnroe Gallery in SoHo
1997Records album with his band, The Johnny Smyth Band. McEnroe wrote the lyrics and music
1997Marries musician Patty Smyth
1999Named captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team; performs poorly at it and quits after barely a year in the position
2001Continues to lobby to become "Commissioner of Tennis" (a position that does not exist)
2002Publishes autobiography, You Cannot Be Serious ; has a bit part in Adam Sandlar movie Mr. Deeds
2002Tries his hand at a game show, The Chair, on the BBC

McEnroe's parents supported their son's tennis dreams. John Sr. earned enough money (he was a lawyer for a prestigious Manhattan law firm) to put his son into the well-known and expensive Trinity School in Manhattan (an Ivy League prep school). John fit in with the other students and was remembered for his sharp wit and the jokes he made. At the prep school he played soccer, tennis and basketball. But his interest in tennisand perhaps the reason the Davis Cup would become so important to himwas spurred on in part by his association with coaches Tony Palafox and Harry "Hop" Hopman. Tennis soon rose to the top of the McEnroe list of sports. He seemed a natural talent on the court, and though often recognized as one of the top junior players in the country, he would never attain a ranking of number 1 on the National Junior circuit.

Palafox, a former Davis Cup player from Mexico, and Hopman, who had coached the Australian Davis Cup team, took McEnroe on as a student at the Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island. He remained at the academy until he was 16, at which time he was suspended for pulling a prank. His parents switched him to the Cove Racquet Club, where Palafox also went to continue working with the budding star.

McEnroe graduated from high school in 1977. At the time he was able to play in Europe, winning the French Juniors Tournament, and then qualifying for the men's competition at Wimbledon. In an amazing feat, McEnroe (who prior to qualifying for the men's tournament had been vying for the Wimbledon juniors) made it into the semi-finals. Though his inexperience prevented him from beating then-powerhouse Jimmy Conners, his performance caught the attention of the pros on tour.

Who was this McEnroe? People were intrigued by this skinny young kid with pasty skin and wild curly hair. They were fascinated (some appalled, some entertained) by his mouth, which was just as quickif not quickerthan Conners to holler at the judge or the audience. McEnroe, true to form, had given fans a taste of what was to come, and he did so as the youngest man ever to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

Quickly from College to Pro

McEnroe did not collect any money for his participation in the 1977 Wimbledon tournament. He chose instead to retain his amateur status and returned to America to attend Stanford, remaining there only long enough to bring Stanford an NCAA Championship in tennis, in 1978. He turned pro after his freshman year, in 1978, going on to reach the semi-finals of the U.S. Open that first year, ascending in the world rankings to sixth and making his way onto the Davis Cup team. It was not often that such a young player handled the intense international competition of Davis Cup play so well. But young McEnroe did, helping his team beat England and securing the first U.S. Davis Cup victory in six years. By the end of the season McEnroe had received the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Newcomer of the Year Award and finished ranked number four in the world.

McEnroe's fame seemed to rise in conjunction with his attendance at Wimbledon. Though he was eliminated in the first round in 1978just one year after making it to the semi-finals as an amateurhe returned in 1979 and made it to the fourth round. His disappointment at not winning was relieved a few months later when he won the U.S. Open, the youngest player to do so since 1948. At the end of the season he again led the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory, keeping the cup in America for a second straight year (he also served on the winning cup team in '81 and '82, as well as in 1992).

Awards and Accomplishments

On winning Davis Cup team: (as player) 1978-79, 1981-82, 1992. In Davis Cup play he holds American Davis Cup records for wins, ties played, years played and singles wins (41). McEnroe retired with a singles record of 856 wins, 158 losses and 75 titles.
1977Tennis magazine's Rookie of the Year
1977Wins French Open mixed doubles
1978Wins NCAA Championship singles; Italian Indoor Championship doubles
1978All-American; Association of Tennis Professionals Newcomer of the Year
1978-84, 1987-91Member of United States Davis Cup Team
1979Wins U.S. Open singles; Italian Indoor Championship doubles
1979-81, 1983-85Ranked #1 in the world by Association of Tennis Professionals
1980Wins U.S. Open singles; U.S. Indoor Championship singles; The Masters doubles; WCT Tournament of Champions doubles; U.S. Indoor Championship doubles; U.S. Clay Court Championship doubles; U.S. Pro Indoor doubles
1981Wins U.S. Open singles; U.S. Open doubles; Wimbledon singles and Wimbledon doubles; WCT Tournament of Champions doubles; ATP Championship singles and ATP Championship Doubles
1981Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1982Wins ATP Championship doubles; U.S. Pro Indoor singles
1983Wins U.S. Open doubles; Wimbledon singles and Wimbledon doubles; U.S. Indoor Championship singles; U.S. Pro Indoor singles
1983Association of Tennis Professionals Player of the Year
1983-84International Tennis Federation Player of the Year
1984Wins U.S. Open singles; Wimbledon singles and Wimbledon doubles; Canadian Open singles and Canadian Open doubles; The Masters singles; U.S. Pro Indoor doubles; U.S. Pro Indoor singles
1985Wins The Masters singles; U.S. Pro Indoor singles; Canadian Open singles
1989Wins Hardcourt Championship singles
1999Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame

Whatever Happened to? John McEnroe

For some sportsmen there is no such thing as retirement, not really. Their game has usually chosen them, rather than the other way round, and they never lose respect for that fact. McEnroe's forthcoming autobiography is not called Serious for nothing. Out on court at the Albert Hall he is giving a full house a perfect impression of the man and the player he always was: creating every angle, arguing every call, staring at every line, making every volley, torturing himself over every missed ball.

Source: The Observer (London, England) (February 3, 2002)

McEnroe's return to Wimbledon in 1980 culminated in one of the more famous finals in the history of tennis. Many felt it was one of the best moments in sports history. In the forth set of the Wimbledon finals McEnroe launched an intense rivalry with Swedish tennis superstar Bjorn Borg. McEnroe and Borg entered a tiebreaker in the fourth set. Neither man would break, and it finally took McEnroe 34 points (22 minutesone of the longest tiebreakers in Grand Slam history) to win the set. It was not enough, however, as Borg came back to win the match (1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6), taking his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. McEnroe recaptured his pride later that year when he took his second U.S. Open title, beating Borg 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4.

Victory at Center Court

Johnny Macwhom the British press preferred to call "Superbrat"showed up at the 1981 Wimbledon championships ready to win. This time he beat Borg in only four sets (4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4), then went on to defend his U.S. Open title against the Swedish superstar. McEnroe was the first person to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles since Bill Tilden.

In 1982 he was unable to secure victory in a Grand Slam event, but came back in 1983 to defeat Chris Lewis at Wimbledon in an easy final (6-2, 6-2, 6-2). The year led into one of McEnroe's best on tour. 1984 was a banner year for the champion, who won 82 of his 84 matches, including a fourth U.S. Open title. It was the last Grand Slam victory of his career.

Beginning to Descend

Though he would remain on tour for another eight years, finally retiring from professional tennis in 1992, McEnroe's meteoric rise to fame did not have the staying power that most had expected. Many fans had expected to see the skinny kid with the big mouth dominate the Grand Slam events throughout the eighties, but it was not to happen. In 1985 he won only eight singles titles, and his critics began attributing his decline to the McEnroe attitude.

McEnroe was notorious for a lifestyle not befitting that of a tennis star. At 20, McEnroe had developed a passion for rock music, and he often spent his free time (of which most tennis superstars do not have much) practicing and hanging out with rock stars. He was also sporadic in his training, relying on his natural talent to get by out on the court. This served him fine for when he was young, but in a world where the top players devote every minute to staying on top of their games, McEnroe's ways may have contributed to his early decline in the sport. In an article in Sports Illustrated, Sally Jenkins wrote that "McEnroe's seven Grand slam titles amount to about half of what he could have won had he bothered to train properly and gain control of his temper." It was about this time that he fell in love with the actress Tatum O'Neal, whom he married in 1986. Twice in the late eighties McEnroe would take sabbaticals from tennis, emerging after many months away, compiling some singles victories, then disappearing from the circuit yet again.

Davis Cup Mistake

McEnroe played in the Davis Cup the year he retired from the game, but 1992 was his last time as a playing member of the team. Throughout the 1990s he pled his case for the head coaching spot, but he was repeatedly turned down. In typical McEnroe fashion, he blamed the U.S. Tennis Association, telling Sports Illustrated that, "If they want somebody who is going to suck up to the suits, they're never going to give it to me."

But they did give it to him in 2000, after years of pressure. It proved to be an unwise choice. According to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated, "When he finally got the job, he alienated the top American players, trashed opposing athletes and coaches and blew off meetings and press conferences." At one point he even "showed up at a captains breakfast in a bathrobe." McEnroe quit as Davis Cup coach within a year.

Still an Impressive Player

These days McEnroe, when he is not commentating or involved in one of his many outside interests, is playing on the Seniors Tour, which serves players who no longer compete at the professional level but who still hunger for the competition of their peers. According to London's The Observer, "It is fair to say that without McEnroe, there would be no Seniors Tour." McEnroe is still the player out there who is most passionate about the game; his attitude is the same at 41 as it was at 21.

Continuing Presence

One of most successful tennis players of all times, John McEnroe was a dominant force whose reputation was built just as much on his personality as it was on his fantastic finesse play on the court. Though he was not overpowering physically, his temper and attitude made up for any lack of physical strength. Often verbally abusive of ball boys, line judges, chair judgesand just about anyone else who came in his line of sight during a matchthe McEnroe way of playing was something to see. His style brought more people to their television sets to watch tennis, and more often than not, in addition to watching the McEnroe outbursts, they witnessed a McEnroe victory.

During his professional career, McEnroe won 17 Grand Slam titles, 77 career singles titles and 77 doubles titles. He has also been a mainstay of United States Davis Cup play, holding the American Davis Cup records for most wins, ties played, years played and singles wins (41). He retired from the professional tour in 1992 with a singles record of 856 wins, 158 losses and 75 titles. John McEnroe is still visible as one of the mainstays on the Seniors Tour, as well as in the tennis broadcast booth.


Address: c/o International Management Group, 445 Wells, Suite 404, Chicago, IL, 60610.


(With Richard Evans) The Davis Cup: Celebrating 100 Years of International Tennis. Universe Books, 1999.

Where Is He Now?

Since retiring in 1992, McEnroe's been anything but absent from the game or from public scrutiny. In 1995 he started as a color commentator for Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open. Still contentious, McEnroe has been known to rub his co-commentors the wrong way, claiming at one point that women do not know how to comment on the men's game, as well as saying that someone who has never played a final on center court (referring to commentator Bud Collins) can ever know what is really going happening in a tennis match.

McEnroe remains an avid rock fan, playing in his own bandthe Johnny Smythsnamed in honor of his second wife, Patty Smyth, the rock star of "I Am the Warrior" fame, with whom he lives in New York City with their children. In the true Renaissance spirit, McEnroe tries to do a little bit of everything. He opened an art gallery in New York in the early nineties; he has hosted his own game show on the BBC (The Chair, which received poor reviews), and, in 2002 he penned his tell-all biography, You Cannot Be Serious! which brought him into the news once again because of its revelations of drug use by Tatum O'Neal when they first started going out in the mid-eighties.

(With James Kaplan) You Cannot Be Serious. Putnam Publishers, 2002.



Evans, Richard. McEnroe: Taming the Talent, 2nd ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

"John McEnroe." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. St. James Press, 2000.

"John Patrick McEnroe, Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1998.

McEnroe, John and James Kaplan. You Cannot Be Serious. New York: Putman Publishers, 2002.

McEnroe, John and Richard Evans. The Davis Cup: Celebrating 100 Years of International Tennis. Universe Books, 1999.


Axthelm, Pete. "McEnroe: The Champ You Love to Hate." Newsweek (September 7, 1981).

Lidz, Franz. "An Invasion of Privacy." Sports Illustrated (September 9, 1996): 66.

McCann, Graham. "Be Still, My Pounding Heart." The Financial Times (September 4, 2002): 14.

Phillips, B. J. "Fire and Ice at Wimbledon." Time (July 13, 1981).

Price, S. L. "Captain Mac." Sports Illustrated (September 13, 1999): 82-83.

Sandomir, Richard. "You're Kidding, McEnroe is Blunt?" The New York Times (June 6, 1995).

Wertheim, L Jon. "Too-Big Mac." Sports Illustrated (September 17, 2001): 31.

"Whatever Happened to? John McEnroe." The Observer (London) (February 3, 2002): 40.

"You May Hate Him" Sports Illustrated (December 21, 1992): 94.


"Being John McEnroe." Sports Jones (January 20, 2003).

"John McEnroe: Player Profile." Tennis Corner (January 20, 2003).

Platt, Larry. "John McEnroe." (January 14, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

McEnroe, John

views updated Jun 08 2018

John Mc Enroe

Born: February 16, 1959
Wiesbaden, Germany

American tennis player and television commentator

John McEnroe was one of the most successful and high-profile players in the history of tennis. Throughout his career, McEnroe won seventeen Grand Slam titles, seventy-seven career single titles, and seventy-seven doubles titles.

Childhood on the court

John Patrick McEnroe Jr. was born on February 16, 1959, in Wiesbaden, Germany, where his father, John McEnroe Sr., was serving in the United States Air Force, and his mother, Kay McEnroe, was a surgical nurse. He was the oldest of three sons. In 1963 his family moved to Queens, New York, where he was raised. At an early age he showed advanced hand-eye coordination and athletic ability. According to his father, when John Jr. was only two years of age, he could strike a ball with a plastic bat, and at age four he could hit it a considerable distance.

It soon became obvious that McEnroe possessed a great deal of natural ability on the tennis court. Oddly, although he won several junior tournaments, and moved steadily upward in rank, he was never rated number one on the National Junior circuit. In 1970 McEnroe began training with Tony Palafox, a former Davis Cup (an international team tennis tournament) player for Mexico, and Harry "Hop" Hopman, a former Australian Davis Cup coach, at the Port Washington (Long Island) Tennis Academy.

McEnroe attended Trinity School, a well-known and expensive Ivy League preparatory school in Manhattan, where he was known to be funny, witty, and rowdy. He did above average scholasticallyalthough by his own admission, he could have done better if it weren't for his many sports activities: four years of soccer and tennis as well as two years of basketball.

Youngest win in Wimbledon finals

In 1977, after McEnroe graduated from high school, he was given the opportunity to play in Europe, where he won the French Juniors Tournament. Aiming for the Junior's title at Wimbledon, he had to pull out of the event when he qualified for the men's senior competition. Not only did he qualify for this important tournament, but he advanced to the semi-finals, where he was beaten by the more experienced Jimmy Connors (1952), who won in four sets. At that time, McEnroe became the youngest man ever to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals. He also solidified his reputation as one of tennis's "bad boys" along with Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase (1946). His disturbing, emotional outbursts were directed at linesmen, opponents, and himself. 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 professional. In the summer of 1978 McEnroe was eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon but reached the semi-finals of the U.S. Open. By the end of that year, he was ranked sixth in the world in singles and fifth in doubles.

Temper tantrums and superstardom

As McEnroe's 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. Whether there was any truth to his claims or not, McEnroe believed that the Wimbledon umpires were out to get him. Although McEnroe lost in the fourth round at the 1979 Wimbledon tournament, later that year he bounced back and won his first U.S. Open Championship, defeating fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis. McEnroe became the youngest player to win the U.S. Open since 1948.

At Wimbledon in July 1980 the world watched as one of tennis's greatest rivalries developed between McEnroe and Bjorn Borg(1956). The highlight of the match took place in the fourth set, which went into a tiebreaker. It took twenty-two minutes and thirty-four points for McEnroe to finally win the set. But Borg emerged victorious (16, 75, 63, 67, 86). It was Borg's fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, but it also showed the world that McEnroe had the endurance 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, who had yet to win the Open. In a match with as many games as their famous Wimbledon final, McEnroe emerged the winner (76, 61, 67, 57, 64).

The 1981 Wimbledon tournament saw McEnroe and Borg once again in the final. This time McEnroe ended Borg's five year reign as he won in four sets (46, 76, 76, 64). That same year, in September, McEnroe defended his U.S. Open title once again against Borg (46, 62, 64, 63). Borg, perhaps feeling that his reign was over, retired after this defeat. McEnroe became the only man since Bill Tilden (18931953) to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles.

McEnroe's decline and comeback

In 1984 McEnroe won eighty-two of eighty-four matches, including his fourth World Championship of Tennis final, his third U.S. Pro Indoor Championship, and his second Grand Prix Masters title. He captured his third Wimbledon title, soundly defeating Connors (61, 61, 62), and his fourth U.S. Open title (beating Ivan Lendl 63, 64, 61). This victory was to mark the last major title of his career.

In 1986 McEnroe took time away from tennis and married actress Tatum O'Neal, his girlfriend of two years (after the birth of their first child, Kevin), and retreated to his Malibu, California, home. His break from tennis did not last long as he came back in August to face Boris Becker in a tournament in Stratton Mountain, Vermont. The match invited comparisons to the earlier Borg-McEnroe rivalries. Unfortunately, his comeback never fully took shape. He continued as a Davis Cup player and his successes in Cup play earned him more press than his occasional singles titles. McEnroe, who has four children, divorced O'Neal in 1992. He married singer Patty Smyth in April of 1997. The couple has two daughters.

Sports broadcasting and charity work

In 1995 McEnroe began to call matches with the USA Network's coverage of the French Open. This began his present broadcasting career. He is a network television commentator for both NBC and CBS at Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open. He currently competes in a select number of tournaments and special events, largely for charity. In 1999 McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and was named captain of the Davis Cup team.

Although McEnroe's 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 him that was not seen during his reign as champion. An avid rock fan and guitar player, McEnroe 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.

For More Information

Evans, Richard. McEnroe, a Rage for Perfection: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Evans, Richard. McEnroe: Taming the Talent. Lexington, MA: S. Green, 1990.

McEnroe, John. You Cannot Be Serious. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2002.