United States of America
February 16, 1956
Left-handed, Single-handed backhand
The New Yorker with the famous touch and infamous temper, John McEnroe is one of the most naturally gifted players to ever pick up a tennis racquet. He was just 18 and still an amateur when he burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 1977, surging from the qualifying draw to become the youngest semi-finalist in a century before losing to compatriot Jimmy Connors.
“The important thing is to learn a lesson every time you lose.”
McEnroe was a prolific serve-volleyer and said to possess the best hands in the business – something that his status as the last player to win a tournament with a wooden racquet would support – but the southpaw more than held his own with the game’s greats from the baseline. In 1979 he claimed the first of four U.S. Open titles and in 1981 the first of three Wimbledon crowns. Four major finals escaped his grasp, too – most notably at Roland Garros in the midst of his stellar 1984 season, where he squandered a two-set lead against Ivan Lendl.
“My greatest strength is that I have no weaknesses.”
No evaluation of Big Mac’s career is complete without reference to his on-court volatility –notorious enough to inspire the title of his autobiography, “You Cannot Be Serious,” a reference to his outburst following an out call during a first-round match at Wimbledon in 1981 that earned him a point penalty. Even during his unmatched 82-3 win-loss season in 1984, he served a three-week suspension for another explosion directed at the officials en route to a title win in Stockholm.
“That’s one of the best sets I’ve seen him play although I should preface that by saying I haven’t seen him play before.”
With a sparkling doubles career and five Davis Cup titles to his name, some consider McEnroe the ultimate team player to play an individual sport. But while his ability to inspire those around him was the stuff of legend, it was McEnroe’s ability to inspire himself that assured his standing among the finest the sport has ever seen.
“I’ll let the racquet do the talking.”
“The greatest compliment I ever got was when people called me an artist,” he once said. “I understand that solo aspect of being an artist, when you’re in there by yourself, trying to do something great.”
“We respect each other. I respect John, he respects me. In the beginning when we started to play our first three or four matches, he felt like I was not the bad guy. We built something in tennis in a positive way. That I was part of that, I am very happy about that. We lifted tennis on a different level.”
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The combined total of McEnroe’s titles in singles (77) and doubles (72), an Open era record. McEnroe’s doubles prowess cannot be overstated: he spent 270 weeks as the doubles No.1, claiming nine majors in all – seven with fellow American Peter Fleming, making them one of the most formidable teams of all time – and won his first major title in mixed doubles at Roland Garros in 1977 alongside Mary Carillo.