Perhaps coincidence, two of the greatest American men’s tennis players in the past 40 years, who created one of the most storied rivalries of their generation, were both Irish-American. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were so successful, so competitive and so iconic that they could not be separated on this list.
Both acknowledge that their Irish descent contributed to their fiery personalities on and off the court, as well as their heated rivalry.
As Connors put it in an interview with Inside Tennis magazine last year: “It was natural with myself and Mac. I had to fight. He was trying to take my position away as the best. He was seven years younger. He was American and he’s Irish. I’m Irish. It was natural.”
There was so much that bound these two legends together, including the fact that they were both left-handed and both incredibly gifted and triumphant throughout their respective careers.
Connors finished his ATP career with eight Grand Slam singles titles, including five U.S. Open titles. He also holds the records for most career titles (109) and most career matches played (1,479).
Meanwhile, Johnny Mac had his own Hall-of-Fame run on the ATP tour. Though potentially more famous in this generation for his ornery personality, McEnroe finished his career with seven Grand Slam singles titles—three at Wimbledon and four at the U.S. Open.
His contributions to the men’s game extend far beyond his wins on the court, however.
McEnroe is considered to be one of the main reasons for the rejuvenated interest in the Davis Cup, a tournament series that was not high on the radar of many high-profile players on the tour. McEnroe’s passion for playing for his country reached levels greater than his interest in playing for money and titles.
Make no mistake, Connors and McEnroe will eternally be tied to the hip when it comes to American tennis players. But they will also be bound by their Irish-American heritage.