Welcome to the first article in a five-part series titled Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe Resume Their Feud. As any tennis fan knows, Jimbo and Mac had one of the edgiest feuds in tennis history. Karthika M., my co-author and muse, has agreed to help me tell the story of how the two tennis legends brought their long-dormant feud to the forefront once again...
John McEnroe picked up the phone one day, bored that he had nothing much to do until the U. S. Open commenced in a couple of weeks.
“Who do I wanna prank today?” he said out loud, though no one else was around.
It only took a few seconds for him to make a decision: “CONNORS!”
He buzzed Jimmy’s house, but got no answer.
“That horse’s ass is running the streets,” he said mischievously. “But I bet he’s got his cell phone on.”
He dialed up his old nemesis and started needling him right away.
“I hear you’re about broke now and need to get back into coaching,” he sneered. “How’s that working for you?”
“Quit being a d*ck, Big Mac,” Connors retorted. “You know damn well I’m not hurtin’ for cash. So what the hell do you want, anyway? Just breakin’ my b*lls, man?”
“No, I’m just wondering what you do with yourself all day long,” Mac shot back quickly. “I don’t see you around much, now that Roddick dumped you like a pregnant girlfriend.”
McEnroe could practically hear the smoke coming out of Connors’ ears.
“Mac, you got 30 seconds. I repeat, what the f*ck do you want?”
“I just wanna do dinner with you, man,” McEnroe replied, sounding sincere. “Meet me at Nobu around 7 o’clock.”
“You buying?” Connors spat.
“Yeah, since you’re broke!” McEnroe chided.
There was no reply.
“So, we got a date?” Johnny Mac asked. “Hello? Are you still there?”
McEnroe looked at his phone and realized that Connors had hung up.
“Guess that’s a yes, you PRICK!” he exclaimed to no one in particular.
As the two tennis greats sat in a booth at Nobu, measuring each other suspiciously over sushi, it occurred to Connors that perhaps he would like to get back into coaching. What were all these struggling young studs waiting for?
Meanwhile, McEnroe was busy playing his alliance with Roger Federer to the hilt.
“I found some flaws in his groundies last week,” he bragged. “Roger is going to put a serious hurting on some poor schmuck at the U.S. Open. His backhand is money once again.”
“Uh huh, I bet,” said the obviously distracted Connors.
“And when he gets done winning the Open,” McEnroe continued, “we’re gonna hop a space shuttle and ride to Mars to get some Martian poontang.”
“Oh yeah, I bet Fed will love that,” was the dubious reply.
“And when we get back, I’m gonna get you on a tennis court, Jimmy, and kick your f*cking ass like no one has ever done before. I’m gonna beat ya like your Daddy should have.”
“Sure man, whatever you—” Connors started. He realized what he was about to agree to.
“What the hell did you just say?”
“You heard me, Connors.”
“Okay, Mac, that’s enough. Too damned much, actually. Fun time is over.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” McEnroe intoned.
“It means that you’re gonna have to get off my ass, or else pay the price.”
“Pay the price? What, you’re threatening me now?” McEnroe asked incredulously.
“I’m just warning you, John,” Connors replied forcefully. “I’m not in the mood for your bullshit right now.”
McEnroe let out a high-pitched laugh.
“And just what are you in the mood for, Jimmy? I’d love to know.”
“I’m in the mood to kick your ass on the tennis court.”
“Any time, any place,” Mac answered.
The next thing you know, Connors and McEnroe are on a plane, preparing to touch down in a mystical land called Wa’Carthikos, according to Connors.
“I found out about this place from Lendl,” he started. “He called me up one day and asked me if I would enjoy playing tennis like I did in my prime, with none of the pressure that I had back then?
“I told him, ‘Hell yeah, man! But how?’ That’s when he filled me in about this place.”
“So I can hit with anybody who’s ever played tennis?”
“NO, McEnroe, he or she HAS to be alive!” Connors scolded. “This place isn’t the Twilight Zone. But they are able to restore your body and mind to optimal condition, and it’s pretty safe, too.”
“PRETTY safe?” McEnroe asked with an arched eyebrow. “What kind of side effects am I gonna have to deal with, man?”
“Come on, McEnroe, do you think I would be coming here with YOU if your b*lls were gonna fall off or some weird shit like that?”
“I’m still waiting for my answer, Jimmy.”
“Nothing serious will happen to you, John. When you return home, you will sleep for about 24 hours straight, and you will need extra sleep for a couple of days after that. Small price to pay for what I’m about to show you.”
Connors took McEnroe with him to the Wa’Carthikos Fountain of Youth Mind & Body Treatment facilities. By the end of the grueling yet oddly relaxing four hour session, Mac sat up and grinned at Connors.
“Man, I feel better than I have in well over 20 years!”
That afternoon, Jimmy Connors played doubles with Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, and Ivan Lendl. He and Lendl were defeated by Borg and Laver, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4.
John McEnroe, meanwhile, played in a fascinating mixed doubles match. He and Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs and Martina Navratilova in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
Big Mac was superb all day, and he was clearly the best player on the court. Yet, John, who is as in tune with his body as perhaps anyone else on earth, knew something was not quite right.
After he showered, right before he hopped the plane back to New York, he quietly approached Laver and asked to have a word.
“Mr. Laver—” he started.
“Don’t be so formal, John. You are a tennis legend in your own right, not some pimply-faced groupie,” Laver interrupted with a warm smile. “Call me Rod like everyone else here.”
“Okay, Rod,” Mac said deliberately, just to get used to the sound of it. “Why do I get the feeling that something’s up with Connors?”
“What do you mean, John?” Laver said, puzzled. “I don’t follow.”
“Well, it’s like this,” he began. “Connors and I are kind of working up to a mano-a-mano on the courts, and I don’t wanna lose.”
“We’re all competitors, John. NO ONE here likes to lose. So what’s your point?”
“My point is, I think Connors is up to something.”
“Do you know all the rules of Wa’Carthikos, John?”
“I don’t know any rules. That’s why I’m wondering if Jimbo is conning me.”
“Well, as I said, we’re all competitors, we don’t like to lose,” Laver explained. “And the founders of this place will brook no rivalries or long, drawn-out series of matches. Such interactions create internal tension that reverse the processes that make Wa’Carthikos so magical.
“Once you and Jim play a singles match, you will never be allowed to play one another here, ever again. You will not be allowed to antagonize the loser once you come through the front gates. Do or say whatever you like once you go back to your own life, but you cannot bring it here.”
“That’s pretty interesting,” McEnroe said contemplatively. “So he is trying to job me.”
“Perhaps he is. That is between the two of you.”
“Well, is there like, a loophole around that, Rod?”
“No, John, there is not,” Laver replied quickly and somewhat forcefully. “You may play doubles with or against anyone else as often as you like. With the wonderful processes that they perform here, you can play five, six times a day if you like. But no rivalries!”
“Well tell me this, Rod,” John said slyly. “What if I bring an active player here?”
“Though I use the term “magic”, John, you won’t find Merlin or Aleister Crowley running around here,” Laver answered. “Everything here is real, even down to the reproductions of the hallowed Centre Court at Wimbledon, and Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.
“Here in Wa’Carthikos, you have to train for a period of time to return to peak condition. It took me daily treatments for three weeks before I was back to my prime.
“But of course, I am much older than you. It might only take you a week. Your first day is always super, then you have some fall-off, and once you reach your peak, you still have to battle the fact that you are human, and nothing is ever perfect.”
McEnroe was silent for a few moments.
“Okay, then just one more thing, man, one more question for you,” Mac replied at length.
“Sure, John. What is it?”
“How long has Jimmy been coming here?”
“Once a day for about two weeks.”
“That stinkin’ rat!” Johnny Mac hissed under his breath.
“He tried to snooker you, mate.”
McEnroe decided right then and there that he would wait before he indulged in his singles match with Connors. He was going to challenge Jimbo to a doubles match, instead, and there was only one man to have on his team...