MAC: THE LIFE | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 30, 2015
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MAC: THE LIFE

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 November, 1999, 12:00am
 

He took on 'Darth Vader' in the Wimbledon version of Star Wars. He indulged in Patriot Games as a Davis Cup hero. And he starred with the leading lady of tennis as the final credits rolled on his epic career.


John McEnroe's life reads like a Hollywood script - and A Man For All Seasons would have been the ideal title.


SCENE ONE begins with a 17-year-old New Yorker with attitude swashbuckling his way through the Wimbledon qualifying rounds and all the way to the semi-finals.


He pinched a set off the legendary Jimmy Connors and sparked a fierce rivalry that is still going strong.


'We don't see eye to eye too often,' admits Mac the Knife. 'It's up and down and it's not particularly up at the moment. It depends which way the wind is blowing. I don't expect you'll be seeing us at dinner a whole lot.


'Jimmy and I clashed a lot - not only in the way we acted but in the way we played. The rivalry with Jimmy worked, even though our personalities were similar.


'We played very different games so our styles made for a good match. There was a lot of intensity out there. That was the idea. I think we succeeded pretty well.' If McEnroe and Connors were the feuding tough guys of the Centre Court, Wimbledon legend Bjorn Borg was the shining knight in white.


McEnroe liked him. 'I got along well with Bjorn. It was particularly disappointing when he stopped at such an early age. I felt like I was still improving and that the rivalry was getting better.


'Certainly I felt those two players brought my play to another level.' SCENE TWO switches to the Reagan years. McEnroe is now an All-American hero, carrying the Stars and Stripes into battle against a new foe from the Eastern Bloc - Ivan Lendl.


'Ivan was basically the Darth Vader of the tennis world, the bad guy from the Communist country,' says 40-year-old Mac.


'He was another guy with a totally different personality. He was there to be liked or disliked, just like I was. After Bjorn retired Ivan came in and eventually he took over the number one ranking.


'He was someone else I wouldn't see at too many social gatherings. But I appreciated the effort level he put in and his work ethic.


'I respected the fact that people had strong feelings about him as well as me and that is something you need in an individual's sport. That is something people want, even now.


'They feel like they want to know you in some way, even if they don't really. They need to see some personality out on that court.


'So for better or for worse, you had to appreciate Ivan's intensity and you had to respect his results.' SCENE THREE of the drama brings us to the caring Nineties, and Mr Angry has given way to Mr Cool.


Mac mellowed and spent more time at home. No more verbals and no more volleys - at least that was the plan.


'I took some time off at the end of '92 when I finished playing, probably a couple of years where I cooled out.


'Over the course of the next four or five years I got back into it and now over the last year or two I've become more busy in terms of the number of tournaments I'm playing.


'This year it's about 12 tournaments. So along with the TV commentaries that I do for the big events I'm keeping pretty busy.' Part-time player, part-time commentator and full-time father - McEnroe found raising a family to be a whole new ball game.


'Being a father is very exciting and it certainly covers both ends of the spectrum as far as your emotions are concerned. It is the ultimate test. It makes tennis appear a lot easier than I thought it was before I had kids.


'It certainly helped me put things in perspective in general.' From 'Superbrat' to superstar, to superdad, McEnroe had come a long way. All his story lacked was an emotional ending on court.


SCENE FOUR sees him rolling back the years with another Oscar-winning performance - this time with a leading lady, Wimbledon golden girl Steffi Graf.


An unlikely run at the All England Club this summer took the odd couple to the brink of mixed doubles glory before Graf pulled out with a leg injury.


'It just seemed like the right time to play again. I'd been playing quite a bit more and felt more confident about my game. Steffi had expressed an interest in playing and certainly she's one of the greatest players ever, so it seemed like the time was right.


'I'd been hoping to get back on the Davis Cup team, that hadn't happened. I felt like my schedule was reasonable enough before Wimbledon, so at least I would be semi-prepared to play.


'During the tournament, I felt like I was doing pretty well and holding up my end of things. So it was too bad when she pulled out because I felt we would have won the event.


'The mixed doubles was actually my first title, at the 1977 French Open, so it would have made great bookends to my career to have started and finished with mixed doubles titles. It's just unfortunate that we didn't finish the job.' But while 'THE END' flashed up on McEnroe's Wimbledon career, he was already planning a sequel.


This involved dusting off an old script, called Davis Cup, and hiring the leading players of tennis to star in it - with McEnroe sitting in the director's chair.


His appointment two months ago as US Davis Cup captain was seen as a massive boost for the competition and America's chances of winning it again. His presence is expected to entice superstars like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi back to the team.


'Tennis is a very individualistic game. I grew up playing other sports and after I took up tennis I missed the team aspect of soccer, football, baseball or basketball.


'So I really enjoyed playing in the Davis Cup. Certainly if you were a tennis player and you wanted to play for your country then the only way to do that was to play Davis Cup. So it's been quite surprising to see the lack of interest in it in recent years.


'So one of my goals as captain is obviously to win the Davis Cup for the United States, that goes without saying, but also to create more interest in the competition. I have to get all the players to realise that it is very important for the sport.


'There are times when players are thinking of themselves before they are thinking of their sport and their country. They need to change that attitude because they've got a lot out of tennis.


'It's a great way to make a living and they need to put their priorities in order.' And the signs are looking good for the new Captain America as he plans his blockbuster.


'I've had an indication. Obviously it is important that all the best players play, including Andre, who has already committed, and Pete.


'I don't have a definite commitment from Pete yet. I certainly hope to have one and I hope that he enjoys the experience and wants to do it. To be honest I don't want to push someone into something that they don't want to do, but I've already expressed my opinions to Pete.' In the meantime, 'THE McENROE STORY' continues this week in an exotic new location - Hong Kong.


The Cathay Pacific Champions tournament, being staged from Wednesday to Sunday at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, thrusts Mac back into the limelight.


His supporting cast for the seniors tournament includes some household names - Mats Wilander, Guillermo Vilas, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte.


Yet if the script goes according to plan, it will be Supermac having the final word. He says: 'I'm going to Hong Kong with high hopes. It's been a while since I competed there. I'm looking forward to it and I hope to win it.'

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