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What I did on my winter-spring-summer vacation, by John McEnroe:
Settled in a new house. Played in the sand. Grew a beard.
Discovered yoga. Found happiness. Watched the Lakers with Jack. Had a
baby . . . well, Tatum did. Talked to the New York Daily News (three
parts). Got married. The neighbors hated the curtains outside the
church . . . we almost cared. Honeymooned in Vermont. It rained. Hit
a few balls. Oh yeah, and saved American tennis from the next me,
some weirdo teenager from Vegas with a peroxide rat's-nest haircut I
haven't seen since I gave away my Cyndi Lauper albums. What is this
sport coming to?
What tennis came down to last week was a showdown between McEnroe
and Boris Becker, who won a bathed-in-animosity, soaked-in-dramatics,
10-8 third-set / tiebreaker in the semifinals of the Volvo
International at Stratton Mountain, Vt. You may have read about it in
the mileposts section. Under ''Already Legendary Classics.'' For that
is what the match was, the combatants taking but a couple of days to
build a nasty hate for each other and only a couple of hours to
concoct a rivalry recalling the best of Borg-McEnroe.
''Brilliant . . . the greatest . . . a genius,'' Becker said
of McEnroe early in the week. But that was before Becker was apprised
of what McEnroe had said about him. Before the remarkable West German
had shaken off four McEnroe match points in the tiebreaker, not to
mention some ugly McShenanigans -- the new and improved, mature and
serene, warm and gracious husband and father still found the
inspiration to shout '' -- -- you'' and ''eat -- -- '' at his
18-year-old opponent. And before Becker gutted out the gripping,
rain-interrupted match by the score of 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 on the second of
his own match points.
Then Becker elaborated. ''I never said McEnroe was a great human
being,'' boomed Boom Boom. ''He is always talking, always thinking
everybody is being bad to him and cheating him. Even though he's been
off six months, he's still the same guy, which is sad.''
Out of the mouths of babes. . . .
Equally sad were two events that took place before McEnroe even
played his first match in Stratton. No sooner did the Mac clan
announce a pretournament press conference than Mac Junior stiffed
the working stiffs and Mac Senior showed up instead. And no sooner
did the prodigal son take the practice court than he swatted a ball
into the body of a British photographer named Tommy Hindley, who had
earlier camped out near Mac's condo.
McEnroe Senior's press conference may have been unprecedented for
its nonsense quotient. The major news to emerge from the initial
Stratton Mountain symposium came when he was asked if any celebrities
were at his son's wedding, namely Johnny Carson. And he actually
answered, ''No, I don't know what your definition of celebrity is,
but Mick Jones was there, who I understand is a member of the rock
group Foreigner.'' Nobody ventured the obvious follow-up -- did Poppa
have a brand-new bag? -- but one brave soul did inquire why none of
the bride's family had attended. ''Inappropriate question,'' snapped
To his own vast credit, if not for the good of the junk-food
retailers of Malibu and New York, Junior diligently prepared for his
comeback by remaking his body, theretofore a pasty, undefined,
Sluggo kind of thing, which, combined with his magnificent natural
athletic gifts, had nevertheless served him well enough to win three
Wimbledons and four U.S. Opens. Last week he said he even used to
pride himself on ''the fact that I didn't work hard, that I was able
to become Number One without doing the nutritional part, the
stretching or working extra hard. I think people don't give me credit
for what I have done, considering what I hadn't done. Now I want to
take pride in doing that.''
Right. Say goodnight, Gracie.
For starters, McEnroe hired Paul Cohen, a California pro, to be
his coach and trainer. The best-known players Cohen has advised are
Harold Solomon, the feisty mighty mite who is attempting his own
comeback at age 33, and Howard Schoenfield, 28, the Beverly Hills
prodigy who wound up in a mental hospital. ''Howard and John were the
two greatest junior talents of the age,'' says Cohen. ''The thing
was, Howard had mental problems; John, uh, didn't.''
Cohen introduced McEnroe to yoga, light free-weights, the rowing
machine and strenuous stretching exercises, not to mention to a
nutritionist who put the fallen champion on to vitamins, vegetables,
whole grains and all those other scrumptious delicacies that have
given McEnroe a lean, mean look. Cohen rejects the label of teaching
pro. He prefers to be known as a ''pure competition teaching coach.''
On the court he put Mac through brutal drilling sessions -- ''busted
him,'' Cohen says, ''to ultimately create a moving machine.'' But
Cohen says he deserves no credit: ''What should be emphasized is
Mac's monumental internal motivation to change his life, his
commitment to become a better human being.''
Also, Cohen got Mac chomping away at the soon-to-be-famous Fiber
Energy Bar, which happens to be manufactured by a company Cohen
represents, United Sciences of America. It is ''the fastest-growing
company in the history of this country,'' according to the pure
competition teaching coach. ''The Fiber Energy Bar contains 12
different grains.''
Both sides of the long gravel path from Stratton Mountain's
clubhouse down the hill to the stadium were packed four deep with
spectators shouting encouragement as McEnroe emerged for his opening
match against Marko (Waldorf) Ostoja on Tuesday. Many tour players
broke practice to sit in the stands, including Brad Gilbert, the man
who had sent McEnroe on his leave with a , whipping in January's
Masters. Of Gilbert, McEnroe recently told the New York Daily News,
''There I was in New York. . . . And everybody was clapping for a
guy like that, a jerk. And I thought, It's gotta be me.''
''He called me that?'' said Gilbert. ''Well, John's been nice to
me here. He can say what he wants, it's a free press. But it's great
to have him back.'' And it was. The only negative was that on the
very day that Oil Can Boyd returned to baseball a few hours down the
road, this skin-and-bone lefthander returning to tennis looked like
Rusty Can McEnroe. He was tentative, off his rhythm -- a moving
machine gone bust. ''It's amazing to me, I'm so mediocre,'' Mac said.
''My chances to win the Open just went from two to one to a million
to one.''
That's not all he said. Over the next few days, while he regained
much of his extraordinary form knocking off palookas -- including one
Andre Agassi, l6, a brother-in-law of Pancho Gonzales, a son of the
head captain in the showroom at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and
a proud possessor of the damnedest forehand as well as the most
outrageous tricolored locks anybody ever blew a Conair through --
McEnroe simply wouldn't shut up.
His first press conference lasted more than an hour, and so
mind-boggling were McEnroe's starts and stops, wanderings, half
thoughts and Val-speak, three staffers needed eight hours to
transcribe it. His succeeding interviews were also lengthy,
practically psychoanalytical in tone and substance -- one New England
columnist thought about headlining his piece ''Mac on the Couch'' --
and teeming with an array of feelings, ranging from anger to
optimism, self-pride to mass disapprobation, confusion to confession.
It seemed as if McEnroe had squirreled away six months' worth of nuts
or Fiber Energy Bars or something, and here they came.
On Wimbledon: ''Not having grass courts would help. There is no
more than one or two rallies. I don't think people really want to see
On policemen and firemen: ''Those are the people that should get
more money and should be getting tested for drugs -- not someone that
loses a match because he was wacked out and didn't hit the ball over
the net.''
On Bjorn Borg: ''His comeback was a charade.''
On Jimmy Connors: ''I don't think I could ever be that phony.''
On Ivan Lendl: ''I could have my personality up my a -- -- and
still be more popular than him.''
On Mats Wilander: ''He has just turned off to tennis.''
On Tim Mayotte (Tim Mayotte?): ''He's won two tournaments in his
whole career. I don't call that proving himself.''
On himself: ''No other athlete in any sport has ever had to go
through what I have to. What I stand for has nothing to do with
tennis anymore. Tennis is just a vehicle. I don't think anyone has
ever come close to me mentally on a tennis court in my era. Tennis
people should support one of the greatest players who ever played the
game. It's becoming crystal clear I'm not being welcomed back with
open arms. It's like: What're you gonna do now? I need some help and
understanding. I never thought I'd yell at the umpire out of fear of
losing or not accepting responsibility. I don't do this consciously,
but the result is the same. This self-control, me coming to grips
with myself . . . I'm never sure I can pull this off.''
On Becker: ''It bothers me he won Wimbledon. . . . Basically, he
has been blown up. I mean the guy hasn't really said anything about
anything, and supposedly he is an interesting person. I don't
understand how it has gone to that stage. . . . It's like he's one of
the great players. The other side should be shown that this is a kid
trying to figure out what the hell is going on.''
Uh-oh. It was just as tour player Bud Schultz said upon observing
McEnroe's re-entry: ''Same strokes. Same twitches. Give him time and
he'll light a fire.'' Only now the entire North Woods were up in
''Wimbledon, reaching the Masters final, a couple of Davis Cup
wins -- that's not too bad for me,'' said the congenial Becker.
''McEnroe is such a different personality. He should stick to
(worrying about) himself. Other players are not his business,
Maybe Becker was reviewing all this on Saturday while he was
winning a remarkable 91% of the points on which he put his
suffocating first serve in play. Or perhaps he remembered McEnroe's
gibes as he rocketed groundies whenever Mac approached the tape, much
of the time directly at his glowering face. Normally peerless on the
volley, McEnroe's net game glared with inefficiency from lack of
match play. He had only 12 winners up there and 15 errors. Becker's
winner/ error ratio at the net was 13 to 1. Still, McEnroe's
curling, skidding deliveries kept Boris on his heels until the 21st
game, when Becker nailed a couple of backhand returns to break serve
for the first time and even the match.
From the first point, when Becker and McEnroe stalled and stared
like a , pitcher and batter in a long-count situation, bad blood was
dripping all over the lines. Becker's Svengali, Ion Tiriac -- away on
business, perhaps negotiating to buy East Germany -- had warned Boris
not to answer when Mac yammered at him. But in the third set
McEnroe's ''slang'' (as Becker called it) grew preposterous, and
Becker asked the chair to tell McEnroe to cut it out. ''I thought,
What the hell is this guy doing?'' Becker said. ''We're playing
tennis, not trying to intimidate.''
Hold it, pal, McEnroe surely thought. Aren't you the same stud who
glares and boogies and almost knocked Anders Jarryd on his butt
during a changeover at the All England Club? Aren't you Boom Boom?
Later McEnroe would claim seniority, saying he was only demanding
''respect. I don't need him stalling on me. (Becker's) been pampered.
I didn't do that to him. I certainly didn't do it when I was 18. I
looked up in awe to the pros.''
Let's get this straight now. Becker should look up to the old pro
when McEnroe is serving at 6-3 in the tiebreaker? Double fault. He
should wait in awe for the next McEnroe serve, at double match point?
A lefthanded volley falls just over the baseline, and McEnroe bitches
like a fishwife. The ''pampered'' Becker is supposed to roll over on
his own serve on match point number 3? Boom. Ace down the middle and
it's 6-6. While serving to save a fourth match point at 7-8, Becker
should ''respect'' a graceless whiner who has been shouting
obscenities at him? Boom, service winner. Sorry. One last
unreturnable serve by Becker and one last backhand drive off
McEnroe's jittery approach and the match was over.
McEnroe called his play ''lousy,'' thereby demeaning his own
enviable performance, after such a long layoff, as well as Becker's.
He said the unfavorable crowd reaction ''devastated'' him, that
''they're looking to get on me. They need a bad guy, and there I am
again.'' He said the week ''wasn't what I wanted.'' Then he said, ''I
wonder what I put out to people that causes that. When I was young .
. . (I wonder) where it got lost.''
McEnroe may have squandered far more than a match in what was
supposed to be a joyful reopening of his career. Toward the end of
the Becker match he had shouted at his opponent, ''Who do you think
you're dealing with?'' Becker knew exactly. The question is, after
six months of rest and relaxation, thinking and training, fatherhood
and marriage, why doesn't this exquisitely talented athlete, yet
bitter and confused young man, have a clue? END


PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Mac held four match points against Becker,who wasn't intimidated by his cussing.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Coach Cohen has Mac eating his way.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Tatum and her new mother-in-law (in red) were on hand for their man's return.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN Becker, who lost to Lendl in the finals,wants McEnroeto mind his own business.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN The police conferred with Hindley after McEnroe (above, in hat)hit him with a ball.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN ''It's becoming crystal clear I'm not being welcomed back with open arms,'' said Mac. ''I need some help and understanding.''