Tennis Players That Changed the Game: John McEnroe

R LSenior Analyst ISeptember 8, 2008

"You cannot be serious."

The famous John McEnroe quote was directed toward umpires that made calls during his matches. Not all the time, just when he disagreed with a decision.

McEnroe was well known for getting fired up and having a bad temper. At the same time, he was one of the greatest tennis players in the 1980's.

McEnroe reached the finals of Wimbledon in 1980 for the first time, where he took on Bjorn Borg. As I mentioned in my piece about Borg, the two had some classic matches.

Fans booed John at the start of the match because he got into a little conflict with officials during his semifinal match against Jimmy Connors.

The American won a tough fourth-set tiebreaker, 18-16. However, Borg was able to prevail in the fifth set and win the title.

McEnroe defeated the Swede at the U.S Open that year and the following year to get a little payback. Those two victories contributed to his three straight U.S Open wins from 1979 to 1981.

He also defeated Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon final, but lost to Connors in the following year's championship. From 1980 to 1984, McEnroe made the finals of Wimbledon and was the victor on three occasions. That includes a win against Connors in the 84 final—exacting some revenge.

The same year, he came closest to winning the French Open in his career. McEnroe was up two sets to love against Ivan Lendl. Conditioning turned out to be a killer for John, as Lendl stormed back to win in five sets through some rough temperature. Like it always seemed, the American got his payback against Lendl in the U.S Open final that year.

The Czechoslovakian (at the time) had the last laugh though. He defeated John in straight sets at the 1985 U.S Open final—McEnroe's last major singles final.

It was 1984 when he showcased his talent the most. He compiled an 82-3 record and appeared in the finals of three majors (winning Wimbledon and the U.S Open, but losing the French Open).

The pressure of being the top player got to him in 1986. He took a leave of absence and returned six months later. Still, he wasn't able to regain the form that saw him dominate at times in his career.

On 14 separate occasions between 1980 and 1985, he was ranked the top player and finished the year ranked No. 1 for four straight years (1981 to 1984).

McEnroe also won nine Grand Slam doubles tournaments—seven with Peter Fleming. A big part of his game was the serve-and-volley. He could hit serves down the line or slice them out wide.

Combine this with some great shot placing, an attacking style of play, and incredible reflexes when facing a serve, and you've got yourself one of the greatest to ever play the game of tennis.

I don't know if anyone ever played with as much emotion as John. His anger and impatience with the umpires had to fuel him during his greatest matches. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.

Bjorn Borg

Ivan Lendl