Born: February 16, 1959
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.
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 scholastically—although 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.
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.
As McEnroe's talent came to public attention, so did his "superstar" personality. At no tournament did his comments and disruptive
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 (1–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–7, 8–6). 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 (7–6, 6–1, 6–7, 5–7, 6–4).
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 (4–6, 7–6, 7–6, 6–4). That same year, in September, McEnroe defended his U.S. Open title once again against Borg (4–6, 6–2, 6–4, 6–3). Borg, perhaps feeling that his reign was over, retired after this defeat. McEnroe became the only man since Bill Tilden (1893–1953) to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles.
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 (6–1, 6–1, 6–2), and his fourth U.S. Open title (beating Ivan Lendl 6–3, 6–4, 6–1). 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.
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.
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.