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Wimbledon 2010: Wimbledon Could Use a Dose of John McEnroe About Now

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIJune 21, 2010

4 JUL 1981:  JOHN MCENROE OF THE UNITED STATES CELEBRATES AS HE WINS THE MENS SINGLES TITLE AT THE 1981 WIMBLEDON TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS. MCENROE DEFEATED BJORN BORG OF SWEDEN 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 TO TAKE THE TITLE.
Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Call me crazy, which I'm sure some will, but when Wimbledon rolls around every summer I find myself missing John McEnroe.

I'm not sure why this longing is so acute at Wimbledon. I also feel it, to a slightly lesser extent, at the U.S. Open. But, it is at the All England Club that the nostalgia really creeps in and a little sadness overtakes me.

Four of McEnroe's major wins came at the U.S. Open, and three at Wimbledon.

Those are the two sites I associate the most with this tennis legend.

His single titles in England came in 1981, 1983, and 1984. All of McEnroe's major victories, in fact, came between that short window of 1979 to 1984.

His first taste of England and, maybe more to the point, England's first taste of McEnroe, was that of frustration and loss.

His first year in at Wimbledon, in 1977, he made the semi finals, but followed that up with a first round exit in 1978, and a fourth round exit in 1979. But it was 1980 that Mac made the big stage.

In the 1980 single's final, John played a classic match against Bjorn Borg. Borg won, but John had left his mark on Wimbledon. In the semi-final he won that year over Jimmy Connors, Mac was booed by the Wimbledon crowd as he walked off, in response to his heated exchanges he had with officials during the match. Oh, if they only knew!

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A year later John got his revenge on Borg in the finals, winning his first Wimbledon title. It was during that 1981 tournament that John made famous a couple of phrases. One, "You cannot be serious," and another, "Pits of the world."

The All England Club faithful didn't warm up too quickly to John in those early years.

A loss in the 1982 finals to Connors and then, in 1983 and 1984, the love affair with Wimbledon began.

The 1983 win was over New Zealand's Chris Lewis, and in 1984 a quick destruction of rival Jimmy Connors.

So what exactly, you may ask, do I miss about John McEnroe?

You may say to me that there have been others as successful as Mac at Wimbledon. Borg, Samparas, and Federer all won more titles than Mac. Boris Becker equaled John with his three.

Borg is a player I do miss, especially the epic battles with McEnroe and Connors. Becker? Can't say I miss a lot about Boris Becker. Does anyone? Same with Sampras. Something was just missing with these guys. Sure, they played great tennis, but they didn't bring the theater to the game like McEnroe did; or even Connors. But Connors, as great as he was, won only twice at Wimbledon. And Andre Agassi, to throw another great name out there, only once.

Federer, of course, doesn't need to be missed quite yet, as he is still adding to his incredible total.

Another thing John McEnroe brought to Wimbledon (and Flushing Meadows, for that matter), was charisma. It wasn't just the theater of yelling at the officials. It was something else. I think the main thing that always drew me to McEnroe was the fact that he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Nothing was hidden.

This wasn't always good, granted, and it occasionally entered into the "uncomfortable to watch" zone, but it was what it was. Johnny Mac never held back. And it may have helped him succeed.

John's arch-rival at Wimbledon (in addition to Bjorn Borg) was Wimbledon referee Alan Mills. Even Mills said that is was a shame McEnroe was remembered more for his temper than his tennis.

"It is unfortunate he really won't be remembered for his fantastic tennis," Mills told BBC Radio Merseyside last week. "He'll be remembered for his occasional tantrum."

Mills added: "It seemed to me if something happened he got a rush of adrenaline and started playing much better for it, whereas other players would bottle it up inside them and it would affect their game."

"John and I have had a very interesting relationship over the years and I think we have a very good rapport at the moment."

Mills and McEnroe were both in Liverpool last week, as Mills was the referee at the Liverpool International Tournament, and John was playing doubles with Martina Hingis.

McEnroe and Hingis won, and John also won the legends singles title over Mikael Penfors; 7-6, 7-6, in a tense match. This was interesting, as 20 years ago McEnroe was disqualified in a match against Penfors in the fourth round of the  Australian Open for (of all things!) berating officials. Mac got his revenge over the weekend in Liverpool.

McEnroe had some of the quickest hands you have ever seen, and his vision was legendary. Perhaps his greatest asset was out-thinking his opponent. His unique ability to plot a strategy and follow through with it allowed him to beat players with harder serves and stronger fore-hands and quicker feet. McEnroe's ability to beat Ivan Lendl in his prime is a great example of this.

He has often reminded me of the great pitcher Greg Maddux. Never had the best stuff in the world, but for some reason he rarely lost.

All the things that made John McEnroe a fierce competitor and great on the tennis court are the same things that make him one of sports' best commentators. He knows tennis, and he tells it like it is. Just as when he played, he leaves nothing inside.

So that's why I miss John McEnroe at Wimbledon, and why I'll miss him later this summer in New York.

I still love the tennis of today's stars. I love the story lines with Federer and Nadal. I love the sport. But it will never quite have that same intensity. That same "wear it on your sleeve" mentality of one of Wimbledon's all-time greats.

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