Powerful play and a fiery temper won audiences and angered umpires. A bitter showbiz divorce kept him in the headlines and today he’s commentating for TV. Can he really be serious?
Born John Patrick McEnroe Jnr., at an army base in Germany to American parents, John McEnroe appeared on the tennis scene in 1977, after being coached by the legendary Harry Hopman at Long Island’s Port Washington Academy.
The 18-year-old amateur won the first of his 17 major titles in the mixed doubles at the French Open.Qualifying for Wimbledon, he reached the semi-finals, before being knocked-out by Jimmy Connors.A left-hander, McEnroe combined a strong serve with great accuracy. Naturally aggressive, he also had the patience and artistry to master the game.Together with Peter Fleming, he dominated men’s doubles, winning nine Grand Slam tournaments. 1980 brought his most memorable match. A dramatic five-set Wimbledon final with Bjorn Borg saw McEnroe rescue the fourth set, after facing five championship points. Borg triumphed, but the following year McEnroe defeated him. Further victories followed in 1983 and 1984. His final triumph at Wimbledon came in 1992, when he and Michael Stich won the men’s doubles.
However, he will probably be best remembered for his behaviour at Wimbledon in 1981. Warned by the umpire after smashing his racquet, McEnroe responded, “Man, you can not be serious!”. Later on in the match he demanded to see the tournament referee, before shouting, “You guys are the absolute pits of the world, do you know that?”. He also called another umpire “an incompetent fool,” incurring a $10,000 fine.
A six-year marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal, with whom he had three children, ended acrimoniously in 1992; she has recently accused McEnroe of using steroids. Whilst angry, he has not denied the allegations. Now married to the rock singer Patty Smyth, with whom he has had two daughters, McEnroe is a commentator and presenter, playing occasional exhibition matches. He met Smyth while pursuing a career as a rock star learning to play guitar with the help of Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton. He was the lead singer and guitarist of the John Smyth Band and toured small cities for two years before suddenly quitting ahead of the release of a first album in 1997.
He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999 and was selected as the US Davis Cup captain in September 1999 – a position he held for 14 months citing frustration with the schedule and format.
McEnroe regularly plays on the ATP Tour and made his latest tennis appearance on 13 February 2012 at the SAP Open. He played an exhibition doubles match with young American Jack Sock and beat Gael Monfils and Steve Johnson in the light-hearted match.
He has also appeared in a few films and TV shows, notably his own talk show called ‘McEnroe’, which ran for five months from July 2004. He has appeared as himself in the films ‘Mr Deeds’ (2002), ‘Wimbledon’ (2004) and ‘You Don’t Mess With The Zohan’ in 2008.
McEnroe appeared in two episodes of ’30 Rock’ in 2007 and 2009 as well as in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. He also works as a sports commentator for Grand Slam tennis matches on CBS, NBC, USA and ESPN as well as on the BBC for Wimbledon in the UK.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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