I remember the first time I set eyes on the Gladiatorial sport of tennis. It was the summer of 1972 when each day I came home from school, I later learned to be the Wimbledon Championships, was being played.
That years mens final was between the charismatic Ilie Nastase from Rumania and Ex army Stan Smith from the US.
It was a brilliant final where Nastase being the flair player had every shot in the book, but sport being the nail biting, heart thumping unpredictable pastime we know and love threw a spanner in the works and Smith emerged the winner.
I was devastated as I took Nastase to my heart even though he was the bad boy of tennis at the time. My fate was sealed because thereafter I would always support the player who wore his heart on his sleeve.
McEnroe didn’t appear on the Wimbledon scene till 5 years later in 1977 when as a 18 year old, he reached the semi-final only to succumb to another bad boy and favourite of mine Jimmy Connors.
The world was warned of the coming of a master and he was still an amateur at that point.
Most players would have turned professional soon after with so much money to be had and an abundance of talent to boot, but John McEnroe was a different breed of tennis player. He took a year off virtually and continued studying at Stanford University California.
His first Wimbledon final didn’t come until 1980 and his opponent was the enigmatic Bjorn Borg who was going for his 5th straight Wimbledon title.
It turned out to be a classic and still holds the record for the longest tie breaker in a mens final. The tiebreaker lasted over 20 minutes and McEnroe won it 18–16, though Borg emerged the victor in a very tight and tense 5th set 8 games to 6.
We would only have to wait another 12 months because the pair of them were the finalists once more, with Borg going for an unprecedented 6th in a row.
Between those finals McEnroe beat Borg in the 1980 US Open Final which turned out to be one of two of the Grand Slam events to evade the magnificent Swede.
So McEnroe had tasted victory over his nemesis and knew how to beat him albeit on a hard court surface. Borg hadn’t tasted defeat on grass in almost 6 years, he was at home on it and had hardly been tested in all that time.
But the old guard was about to change, there was a new kid on the block and he was very hungry for success and ran out a comfortable 4 set winner.
Borgs run was at an end and sadly it was to be his last Wimbledon, retiring at the ripe old age of 26. He lost his #1 position in the world and his fight for it went with it. He collected 6 French singles titles but neither he or McEnroe ever won the Australian slam.
For the next 3 years up to the end of 1984 McEnroe dominated mens tennis winning 82 matches in 1984 losing only 3, unfortunately one of those was to Ivan Lendl in the final of the French open in Roland Garros after having the Czech at his mercy.
Altogether John McEnroe the greatest player to have played the game in my view, went on to win 7 Grand Slams and many other prestigious titles around the world. He was very passionate about representing his country in the Davis Cup always giving 100% for his team.
I have watched tennis for many years as you have read and I know there will be many of you who will say Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Raphael Nadal and even Novak Djokovic were better players and would have beaten McEnroe.
Your argument would be a strong one, because all of the above are or were in some cases very fine players, but when McEnroe wanted to win he would win he had something special as Borg found out in their 1981 encounter.
He was Box Office and put bums on seats not always for the right reasons illustrated below, but I love the guy he was a winner and never quit.