John McEnroe – A Brief Biography (1959-Present)
John McEnroe. Bert Verhoeff / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
John McEnroe is an American former professional tennis player, who is considered among the greatest tennis players of all time.
Even though McEnroe became infamous for his confrontational on-court behavior which frequently landed him in trouble with umpires and authorities, his achievements in the sport of tennis are unparalleled, making him one of the greats of the sport.
John McEnroe was born on 16th February 1959 in the city of Wiesbaden, West Germany (present-day Germany), to Joh Patrick McEnroe and Kay McEnroe.
McEnroe’s father was the son of Irish immigrants and served in the US Air Force.
When McEnroe was about 9 months old, the family moved from Germany to the Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, New York, after his father was transferred back to the US.
In 1961, when McEnroe was just 2 years old, the family moved to Flushing, Queens, New York City. Two years later, they moved to Douglaston, Queens.
In 1964, McEnroe’s younger brother Mark was born, and in 1966, his brother Patrick (who would also go on to become a professional tennis player) was born.
John McEnroe first began playing tennis in 1967, aged 8, at the Douglaston Club.
The following year, his parents enrolled him at the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association, where he soon began participating in regional tournaments. He progressed quickly and soon began competing in national juniors tournaments.
In 1971, McEnroe, aged 12, was ranked 7th in his age group. He joined the Port Washington Tennis Academy located on Long Island, New York.
While he focused on tennis, McEnroe also simultaneously attended Trinity School, from which he would graduate in 1977, aged 18.
Early Professional Career
In 1977, John McEnroe, while still an amateur, competed in and won the mixed doubles title at the French Open, along with American tennis player Mary Carillo. It was the first Grand Slam victory of his career at 18 years of age.
The same year, McEnroe made it through the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon and entered the main draw. He managed to make his way to the semifinals, where he lost to Jimmy Connors in four sets.
However, McEnroe’s performance was considered one of the highlights of the tournament, as it was a record performance by an amateur in the Open Era and the best performance by a qualifier at a Grand Slam tournament.
After his stellar performances at the 1977 French Open and Wimbledon, John McEnroe was recruited by Stanford University’s tennis coach Dick Gould.
In 1978, McEnroe, aged 19, led the Stanford team to an NCAA Championship, while also winning the NCAA singles title.
The same year, he joined the ATP tour and signed his first professional endorsement deal with Italian fashion designer of sportswear and former professional tennis player Sergio Tacchini.
At the 1978 US Open, McEnroe reached the semifinals, where he lost to Jimmy Connors. But he would go on to win five titles that year, including his first Masters Grand Prix and Grand Prix events at Wembly and Stockholm.
McEnroe’s late-season successes led him to finish as the No. 4 ranked player of the year.
1979 Season: Beginning of a Successful Career
In the year 1979, John McEnroe, aged 20, and Peter Fleming went on to win the Wimbledon doubles title, which was followed by winning the US Open doubles title as well.
The same week, he went on to win the US Open men’s singles title. Aged 20, he became the youngest male tennis player to win the US Open singles title since Pancho Gonzales in 1948, who was also aged 20 then.
The 1979 season was a good season for McEnroe. He also went on to win the season-ending WCT Finals, beating Bjorn Borg in four sets.
By the end of the season, McEnroe had won a total of 10 singles titles and 17 doubles titles, thereby marking an Open Era record. He ended the year at No. 3 in the ATP rankings.
John McEnroe reached his first Wimbledon men’s singles finals in 1980, where he faced Bjorn Borg.
Coming into the finals, Borg was looking for his 5th consecutive Wimbledon title and was the favorite to win.
McEnroe was booed and jeered at by the crowd as he entered the court, which was mainly due to his heated arguments with officials during the semifinals against Jimmy Connors.
The highlight of the finals was a fourth-set tiebreaker that lasted for 20 minutes, as McEnroe saved five match points and eventually ended up winning it 18-16.
But Borg proved to be the better man on that day and ended up clinching his 5th consecutive Wimbledon title.
This final is often regarded as one of the best Wimbledon finals ever.
At the 1980 US Open final, Borg and McEnroe faced each other once again. But this time it was McEnroe who came out on top and got the better of Borg, winning in five sets.
McEnroe was also a finalist at the season-ending WCT Finals. He finished the year at No. 2 in the ATP rankings, behind Borg.
On-Court Outbursts and Controversies
Coming into the 1981 Wimbledon, John McEnroe was a controversial and dividing figure in the world of tennis.
After his first-round match, he was fined and came close to being thrown out after he called the umpire the pits of the world and then went on to swear at a tournament referee.
After this controversy, McEnroe was attacked and criticized by the British press, who referred to him as a brat.
Borg and McEnroe met once again in the 1981 Wimbledon final, where McEnroe won in four sets to end Borg’s run of 41 consecutive match victories at the All England Club.
But in spite of his victory, the All England Club did not grant him an honorary club membership (an honor usually given to single champions after their first title win) due to his on-court behavior. In response, McEnroe refused to attend the traditional champions’ dinner.
McEnroe also ended up winning the Wimbledon doubles title that year.
Making History at the US Open
At the 1981 US Open final, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg met once again.
McEnroe won the match in four sets, thereby becoming the first male player ever since the 1920s to win three consecutive US Open titles. He also won the US Open doubles title.
The same year, McEnroe went on to win his second WCT Finals. He finished the year as the No. 1 ranked player and became only the second men’s tennis player to be named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
1982 and 1983 Seasons
At the 1982 Wimbledon, John McEnroe lost to Jimmy Connors in the final, having lost only one set while on his way to the final.
He lost in the semifinals of the 1982 US Open and was a finalist in the 1982 WCT Finals.
Although he failed to win a Grand Slam trophy in 1982, he went on to win several season-ending tournaments at Wembley, Philadelphia, and Tokyo, due to which he was able to retain his No. 1 ATP rankings.
1983 was another successful season for McEnroe. He reached his 4th consecutive Wimbledon final and clinched the title. He also ended up winning the Wimbledon doubles title.
At the US Open men’s single, he was out in the fourth round, his earliest exit since 1977. But he managed to clinch the doubles title.
Playing at the Australian Open for the first time, he was defeated in the semifinals in four sets.
He then went on to win the 1983 WCT Finals and the 1983 Masters Grand Prix, defeating Ivan Lendl on both occasions. He also retained his No. 1 ranking by winning tournaments at Philadelphia, Wembley, and Forest Hills.
1984 – McEnroe’s Best Season
John McEnroe began the year with a 42-match winning streak, winning the first six events of the year.
He reached his first French Open final that year but ended up losing to Ivan Lendl in five sets. In his autobiography, he described this loss as his most bitter and difficult defeat.
However, McEnroe went on to clinch his 3rd Wimbledon singles title, losing just one set throughout the tournament. He defeated Jimmy Connors in the final in straight sets. He also won the Wimbledon doubles title once again.
McEnroe then went on to win his 4th US Open singles title by defeating Lendl in straight sets in the final. He also picked up his 4th WCT Finals and 3rd Masters Grand Prix by defeating Connors and Lendl respectively.
Even though McEnroe was having a great run, his on-court antics continued to attract controversy. While playing in Stockholm, he had one of his most infamous on-court outbursts.
After questioning a call made by the chair umpire, McEnroe shouted at the umpire, ‘Answer my question! The question, jerk!” He then slammed his racket into a juice cart beside the court. The crowd jeered and booed him.
McEnroe was suspended for 21 days for exceeding the $7500 limit on fines. Due to the suspension, he was unable to compete in the following week’s Wembley Indoor tournament.
During his suspension, he also injured his left wrist in practice, forcing him to withdraw from the Australian Open.
But in spite of these setbacks, McEnroe compiled an 82-3 match record that season, which remains the highest single-season win rate of the Open Era. And once again, he ended the year as the No. 1 ranked player in the ATP rankings.
Break From Touring
The 1985 season did not start as expected.
John McEnroe failed to win a single Grand Slam or the WCT Finals or the Masters Grand Prix. He did win tournaments in Philadelphia, Canada, and Stockholm, but finished the year as No. 2 on the rankings.
By 1986, he had grown tired of years of continuous touring. The pressures of playing at the highest level had gotten to him, making it difficult for him to handle it.
He decided to take a six-month break from touring in order to unwind and relax.
On 1st August 1986, he married Academy Award-winning actress Tatum O’Neal. The couple would go on to have three children together.
Brief Return to Touring
Upon returning from his sabbatical, John McEnroe went on to win 3 ATP tournaments.
The following season would be his worst season since turning pro, in which he failed to win a single title all season.
At the 1987 US Open, he was suspended for two months and fined for misconduct and verbal abuse.
After the 1987 season, McEnroe took a voluntary seven-month break from touring.
Final Years of McEnroe’s Career
After his 1986 sabbatical, John McEnroe was never the same again. He would never win another singles Grand Slam title again.
In 1989, he won the US Open doubles title for the 4th time and the WCT Finals for the 5th time, which was a record.
McEnroe continued to get into trouble due to his on-court outbursts against umpires, referees, and supervisors, resulting in him being disqualified and fined on many occasions.
In 1992, McEnroe won his 5th Wimbledon doubles title in a record-length match of 5 hours and 1 minute.
At the end of the 1992 season, John McEnroe retired from professional touring.
His last singles match on the ATP tour was a first-round loss at the 1994 Rotterdam Open (which he entered as a wild card).
After he retired from professional tennis, John McEnroe began pursuing his new goal of becoming a working musician. Friends like Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen had taught him to play guitar.
In 1994, McEnroe and Tatum O’Neal divorced. And in 1997, he married singer-songwriter Patty Smyth, with whom he would go on to have two daughters.
McEnroe formed The Johnny Smyth Band with himself as lead singer and guitarist. He began writing songs and the band performed small gigs in cities where he played with the senior tour.
McEnroe toured with his band for almost two years before suddenly quitting in 1997, just before finishing his first album.
Since then, he became a sports commentator at Wimbledon for the BBC and gives commentary at the US Open, Australian Open, and other ATP tournaments in the US on networks like ESPN, NBC, CBS, USA, etc.
McEnroe also tried his hand at acting. In 2002, he played himself in the American comedy movie Mr. Deeds. In 2004, in the romantic comedy movie Wimbledon. And in 2008, in the comedy movie, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
McEnroe also tried his hand at hosting a talk show and a game show, neither of which were successful.
He is an active philanthropist and promotes the development of tennis. For a number of years, he co-chaired the City Parks Foundation’s annual CityParks Tennis fundraiser.
McEnroe continued to play in the ATP Champions Tours (a tennis tour intended for former tennis professionals who have retired from mainstream professional tennis). He also plays at various charity events and exhibitions.
From May to August 2016, McEnroe was part of Milos Raonic’s coaching team.
John McEnroe is one of the most decorated and celebrated tennis players of all time and is often referred to as the greatest player of his generation.
In 1999, McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In 2006, he briefly returned to the ATP to play two doubles tournaments. In the first tournament, he teamed up with Swedish player Jonas Bjorkman to win the title at the SAP Open in San Jose. This was his 78th doubles title, meaning that he had won doubles titles in four different decades.
In 2007, he received the Philippe Chartier Award (the International Tennis Federation’s highest accolade) for his contributions to tennis both on and off the court.
McEnroe is widely regarded as the greatest doubles player of all time. Peter Fleming, with whom he won 57 men’s doubles titles, once said, “the best doubles partnership in the world is McEnroe and anybody’
McEnroe was ranked No. 1 in doubles for a total of 270 weeks and spent a total of 170 weeks at the top of the singles rankings.
Without a doubt, McEnroe is a tennis legend, and one of the most iconic, controversial, and beloved athletes in history. His achievements in the sport of tennis are a testament to the fact that he is among the greatest tennis players of all time.