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.
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.