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John McEnroe - Growing Up

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John Patrick McEnroe, the eldest of three McEnroe boys, was born on February 16, 1959, in Wiesbaden, Germany. His father John Sr., served in the United States Air Force at the time and was stationed overseas, where McEnroe's mother, Kay, was a surgical nurse. But the family soon moved back to the United States, settling down in Douglaston, Queens, New York. The young McEnroe's athletic prowess showed up early. Whether it was on the basketball court or the tennis court, it was evident that this was a kid who played smart, but who also had superior hand-eye coordination and razor-sharp eyesight.

Chronology

1959 Born February 16 in Weisbaden, Germany
1959 Family returns to Queens, N.Y., when McEnroe is nine months old and settles in Douglaston
1970 Placed under instructorship of Tony Palafox and Harry Hopman at Port Washington Tennis Academy (at Long Island)
1975 Receives a six-month suspension from Tennis Academy for a prank. His parents switch him to Cove Racquet Club
1977 Graduates from Manhattan's Trinity School
1977 Qualifies for Wimbledon at age of 18 and becomes youngest player and first qualifier to reach semi-finals
1977 Enters Stanford University
1978 Wins NCAA Championship
1978 Turns professional
1979 Nicknamed "superbrat" by British Tabloids, later shortened to "McBrat"
1979 Starts playing guitar—rock and roll will become one of his passions
1979 Wins first U.S. Open, beating Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets
1980 Lost Wimbledon to Bjorn Borg in what has been called the greatest match in sports history
1980 Wins U.S. Open
1981 Prevails this time and beat Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon; wins U.S. Open
1981 Important member of winning U.S. Davis Cup team
1982 Defeats Mats Wilander in a six hour 22-minute match at 1982 Davis Cup
1983 Wins Wimbledon
1984 Compiles an 82-3 record and wins a career high 13 tournaments, including his third Wimbledon and fourth U.S. Open
1986 Takes a sabbatical from Tennis; marries actress Tatum O'Neal—they have their first child, Kevin, three months prior (will later add another brother, Sean, and a sister, Emily)
1987 Fails to win a title for the first time since turning pro
1990 Disqualified at Australian Open for using abusive language at officials
1992 Divorces Tatum O'Neal
1992 Final year on ATP tour
1993 Meets Patty Smyth at a Christmas party
1995 Kicks off his broadcasting career at the French Open
1995 Opens the John McEnroe Gallery in SoHo
1997 Records album with his band, The Johnny Smyth Band. McEnroe wrote the lyrics and music
1997 Marries musician Patty Smyth
1999 Named captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team; performs poorly at it and quits after barely a year in the position
2001 Continues to lobby to become "Commissioner of Tennis" (a position that does not exist)
2002 Publishes autobiography, You Cannot Be Serious; has a bit part in Adam Sandlar movie Mr. Deeds
2002 Tries his hand at a game show, The Chair, on the BBC

McEnroe's parents supported their son's tennis dreams. John Sr. earned enough money (he was a lawyer for a prestigious Manhattan law firm) to put his son into the well-known and expensive Trinity School in Manhattan (an Ivy League prep school). John fit in with the other students and was remembered for his sharp wit and the jokes he made. At the prep school he played soccer, tennis and basketball. But his interest in tennis—and perhaps the reason the Davis Cup would become so important to him—was spurred on in part by his association with coaches Tony Palafox and Harry "Hop" Hopman. Tennis soon rose to the top of the McEnroe list of sports. He seemed a natural talent on the court, and though often recognized as one of the top junior players in the country, he would never attain a ranking of number 1 on the National Junior circuit.

Palafox, a former Davis Cup player from Mexico, and Hopman, who had coached the Australian Davis Cup team, took McEnroe on as a student at the Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island. He remained at the academy until he was 16, at which time he was suspended for pulling a prank. His parents switched him to the Cove Racquet Club, where Palafox also went to continue working with the budding star.

McEnroe graduated from high school in 1977. At the time he was able to play in Europe, winning the French Juniors Tournament, and then qualifying for the men's competition at Wimbledon. In an amazing feat, McEnroe (who prior to qualifying for the men's tournament had been vying for the Wimbledon juniors) made it into the semi-finals. Though his inexperience prevented him from beating then-powerhouse Jimmy Conners, his performance caught the attention of the pros on tour.

Who was this McEnroe? People were intrigued by this skinny young kid with pasty skin and wild curly hair. They were fascinated (some appalled, some entertained) by his mouth, which was just as quick—if not quicker—than Conners to holler at the judge or the audience. McEnroe, true to form, had given fans a taste of what was to come, and he did so as the youngest man ever to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

John McEnroe - Chronology [next]

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