For John McEnroe, playing at the U.S. Open was coming home. He is a native of Douglaston in Queens, New York, about a 20-minute drive from the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center. So playing at the U.S. Open, for him, was both a blessing and a curse.
McEnroe won the U.S. Open four times, and each contained epic battles along the way. Some of the tournament’s most memorable moments included the fiery kid from Queens. Now an analyst with ESPN and CBS, McEnroe and I talked about a few of his favorite memories from the U.S. Open.
JW: Your first U.S. Open title was a unique one.
McEnroe: ”Yes, I faced my dear friend and mentor, the late Vitas Gerulaitis in the 1979 finals. He was of course from Howard Beach, Queens, New York, so it was the first time that two guys from Queens ever played for the U.S. Open title. I was 20 at the time and I was able to beat him in straight sets. It is such a special memory for me because of what a wonderful friend Vitas was to me and the fact of course that he is no longer with us.”
JW: What about the next year in 1980?
McEnroe: ”That was the year that I beat Jimmy Connors in the semifinals in a really hard-fought match and that set up a meeting with my rival Bjorn Borg. To be honest that final with Borg in 1980 which I won in five sets (7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4) was to me the most satisfying win I ever had at the U.S.Open. To beat Jimmy in the semis then Bjorn in the finals and to do it at the U.S. Open in Queens, that was the best.”
JW: To many tennis fans, the 1984 semis and finals were the best ever.
McEnroe: ”Well I remember that the semifinals match did not start until 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. I was facing Jimmy Connors and we had brutal five-set match that I was able to win (6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3) and advance to face Ivan Lendl in the finals.
I know that many tennis experts and fans consider the 1984 Super Saturday such a great day of tennis and it was. I mean you had Ivan beat Pat Cash in five sets (3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4) then you had Martina Navratilova beating Chris Evert in U.S. Open women's singles championships in three sets (4–6, 6–4, 6–4). Finally it was me and Jimmy, so yes it was an outstanding day of tennis without question.
But the Sunday win for me in straight sets over Ivan (6–3, 6–4, 6–1) was great and it turned out to be my final U.S. Open Championship. However, beating Borg in 1980 was still the highlight for me at the U.S. Open.”
All quotes used in this story were obtained first hand via a phone conference call done last week through CBS Sports.