Tennis legend John McEnroe captured seven Grand Slam singles titles and nine doubles championships. For his career, McEnroe earned $12.5 million.
After winning the NCAA singles title his only year in college at Stanford, McEnroe burst onto the tennis scene as an 18-year-old amateur who reached the Wimbledon semifinals. Overall, McEnroe won 71 pro tour events, including four U.S. Open titles in his hometown. He also won three times at Wimbledon.
Now a father of six and one of the game’s top analysts, McEnroe plays the guitar, is a regular on Jim Courier’s senior tour that made a stop in Oklahoma City in February and admits he’s grateful he no longer has to play the role of the obnoxious rebel who argues with officials.
Some people compare Wimbledon to The Masters in golf. Wimbledon is a huge spectacle, so there are a lot of similarities starting with such a great tradition. The way everyone treats the event it’s definitely different than any other tournament, not just the fans, but the players as well.
The All England Club in London has some aesthetic beauty similar to Augusta. Plus, it’s the only tournament still left that’s played on grass. I love the fact they’ve preserved a grass surface from the past but updated the event with modern amenities. It’s special they’ve been able to keep many traditions that date back to (the 1870s). That’s why it has always been the premier event in tennis.
My most memorable Wimbledon moment was 1980, my match with (Bjorn) Borg. We had the famous tiebreak. In our sport it was one of the more historical matches. Even though I lost I was proud to be part of history. It was one of those matches you could feel the significance of every point.
Many countries have made tennis better accessible to their better athletes, so it’s gotten higher up on the totem pole compared to other sports whereas here in the United States most of our top athletes generally play football and basketball.
If there was one thing I could change to benefit tennis it would be to find a way to allow more kids to play. It’s a sport that can be really expensive.
Tennis also needs to find ways to make the game sexier, more attractive. Ultimately it’s a competition. One example is what David Stern did in the NBA. He did a great job marketing the sport. He made sure players understood what they needed to do to help their game succeed to reach more fans. He branched out and their sport went worldwide.
In tennis, we have to do the reverse of what the NBA does, and conquer America again. The Williams sisters changed the way people perceived the sport, but we didn’t do enough to take advantage. I’m hoping the sport can become popular again in the U.S. because worldwide it’s one of the most popular sports in a lot of countries.
Women’s tennis is more of a level playing field than any other sport. The top couple of female players in the world make as much money as athletes in other sports, so those countries get their best athletes to play tennis. That’s good. That’s what has changed. That’s good for the sport but we need to develop something similar with the men.
I had so many great memories from the (U.S.) Open it’s really hard to pick just one year or pick only one match. Having been a ball boy at the Open when I was kid, obviously it was a goal to have success there. The fact I won there four times was huge. Pick any one of them.
If I picked just one Open highlight, it would probably be that late-night match against (Jimmy) Connors when they featured three matches, calling it Super Saturday. I played until 11:30 at night and then had to come back and play Ivan (Lendl) in the finals the next day at 4. Everyone thought that might make it tough to win. That 24-hour period was my most satisfying tournament at the Open.
We chose “You Cannot Be Serious” for the title of my book because that’s what people remember. I definitely don’t take myself as seriously as I used to. In some ways that was always the case but I didn’t do a very good job of showing it. People remember (the tantrums).
Evolve is a good word. As you age, you look at things differently. You start to appreciate things that happened in the past and appreciate things that are happening now. I still love being involved in a sport that has so much to offer.
Tennis legend and commentator
Hometown: New York