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Tue, Oct. 15

Column: The tennis world against Johnny Mac

Recently we had a group of local tennis players go to the Surprise Tennis Center to watch the likes of John McEnroe play Jim Courier and other semi-retired professionals in a quaint stadium that keeps you up front with eye-level viewing and easy earshot of what the players say.

Both Courier and McEnroe are former No. 1 ranked players with games that are still amazing.

Courier, 40, is 11 years younger than McEnroe, but other than the gray hair, you wouldn't know it as both are in terrific physical condition.

The play was fantastic to watch.

Especially McEnroe's, with superb volleys and artistry, he does things in fractions of a second that are beyond most professional's comprehensive skills, let alone the lesser tennis masses.

Unfortunately this iconic 51-year-old player who could have his way with the crowd in a pleasant manner explodes in a tirade of insults that get many of his fans against him.

No one is safe, ball kids, trainers, opponents, the audience, and especially the officials.

From the beginning of his professional tennis career beginning in 1977 when at the age of 18 he teamed with Mary Carillo at the French Open and won his first Grand Slam title.

A couple weeks later at Wimbledon, as a qualifier made it all the way to the main draw semis.

With that, McEnroe surprised everyone...especially himself.

He came back to the states and entered Stanford University, and the following year won the NCAA singles and took its tennis team the college championships.

That was enough to show he had the stuff to turn pro, and in doing so, ended up winning five singles titles his very first year on the tour.

But it didn't take long for his fiery temper and confrontational on-court behavior to show through.

The British tabloids titled John the "SuperBrat" and "McNasty." His antics gave the other bad boys of tennis a little wiggle room.

New rules were put in place to deal with these outbursts that many times were sadly tolerated.

Even though bureaucrats of the game hated these juvenile tantrums, many fans and non-tennis players kind of enjoyed the raw emotion displayed and were drawn to the tournaments to see what might happen next.

More than a couple times Johnny Mac reached a point of suspension/fines.

In 1990 he was ejected from the Australian Open. More recently he's been defaulted from senior events due to his tantrums.

McEnroe went on to win seven Grand Slam singles title, nine doubles titles, a mixed doubles title as well as eight year-end titles.

McEnroe, who had 170 weeks as the No. 1 men's singles player, also played 12 years of Davis Cup, with four championships.

He entered the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.

Nowadays when he's not competing, he commentates for CBS, NBC, USA Network, ESPN and the BBC in the UK.

His interesting commentary is generally thought of as outspoken, smart and funny.

This somewhat self- destructive, tortured genius says inwardly he hates many of the things he does, although he also said, "Some of these out-of-line explosions are expected of me now."

Formerly married to actress Tatum O'Neil and now singer Patty Smyth - the father of six, has recently opened the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in NYC.

The 20-court facility, which is managed by his younger brother Mark, is looking for a more balanced approach to changing the model of what it takes to produce tennis champions.

The United States Tennis Association was asked to partner in this venture, but turned him down, and it seems there isn't a lot of lost love between the two.

He says he'll continue to say things honestly and will not play politics.

McEnroe will probably never be conventional in his outlook toward life, its endeavors and certainly not his tennis game.

Lets hope this elder statesman of the game finds the personal peace we all strive to obtain, there's no doubt we'll all be watching.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

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