John Patrick McEnroe, Jr. has won more men’s tennis titles than any player in history.
Born in Wiesbaden, West Germany–where his father was stationed with the U.S. Navy and his mother worked as a hospital nurse–on this date in 1959, John was the eldest of three boys. When he was nine months old, the family moved to the Douglaston neighborhood in Queens, New York, where John, Sr. worked as an advertising agent by day while attending Fordham Law School at night. Young John started playing tennis at eight and was playing regional tournaments by nine. At twelve, he was ranked seventh in his age group and joined the Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island, where he worked under the direction of legendary tennis coach Harry Hopman [Daily Dose, January 27], who had served as captain-coach of 22 Australian Davis Cup teams from 1939 to 1967. McEnroe attended Trinity School—ranked by Forbes as the top college prep high school in America–on the Upper West Side of New York City, where he played soccer, basketball and tennis. Following graduation in 1977, McEnroe won the mixed doubles at the French Open as an 18-year-old amateur and, one month later, qualified for the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon, where he became the youngest man to reach the semi-finals before being eliminated by Jimmy Connors. He accepted a tennis scholarship to Stanford University and, as a freshman, won the 1978 NCAA singles title while helping the Cardinal earn the team title.
Following his freshman year, McEnroe joined the ATP Tour, winning five tournaments and advancing to the fourth round of the 1978 U.S. Open en route to being named Newcomer of the Year. In 1979, he won a record 177 matches [singles and doubles], was victorious in ten tournaments and beat Vitas Gerulaitus in straight sets to become, at 20, the youngest male winner of the U.S. Open singles title since Pancho Gonzales in 1948. The following year, “Mac” went 88-18, won nine titles and faced Bjorn Borg in what many consider the greatest tennis match ever played—the 1980 Wimbledon Men’s Singles final. The match–which lasted four-and-a-half hours–required five sets, including a 34-point tiebreaker in the fourth, before the unflappable Swede outlasted the American to win his fifth straight Wimbledon singles title. McEnroe exacted revenge two months later, beating Borg in the U.S. Open. McEnroe bested Borg twice in 1981, ending his 41-match run at Wimbledon to claim his first singles title at the All England Club and at the U.S. Open in September to become the first player since Bill Tilden to win that event three straight times. McEnroe enjoyed the best season of the Open Era in 1984, going 82-3 while winning 13 of the 15 events he entered, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, while also claiming his fourth WCT title, third U.S. Pro Indoor Championship and second Grand Prix Masters crown. He took a sabbatical from tennis in 1986 but never regained his form and retired in 1992.
John McEnroe is one of the best singles tennis players of all time, having won 77 career titles [4th all-time], spent ten years ranked in the top ten and was four times ranked number one in the world. He is undoubtedly the finest doubles player of all time, having won 72 career titles and three Grand Slam events. Mr. McEnroe is possibly the greatest team player never to have played a team sport, as he was part of five Davis Cup-winning teams. He won 148 combined titles [singles, doubles, mixed doubles]—24 more than Jimmy Connors, his closest pursuer, and 52 more than Roger Federer—and did so with a sublime playing style built on finesse and agility. His serve did not overpower, but quick reflexes and an uncanny court sense led to his success. Arthur Ashe [Daily Dose, September 8] said, “Against Connors and Borg, you feel like you’re being hit with a sledgehammer, but McEnroe is a stiletto.” McEnroe revived American interest in the Davis Cup, which Connors and other top players shunned, saying, “My mother made me promise her I’d always play for my country if asked,” and had a career singles record of 41-8 and 18-2 in doubles in Davis Cup matches. The volatile left-hander was as well known for his on-court antics as he was for his tennis, as his competitive fire led to acerbic outbursts that landed him in trouble with umpires and tennis authorities. McEnroe won seven Grand Slam singles titles [four Wimbledon, three U.S. Open] and ten more in doubles. “Mac” compiled career singles record of 875-198 [81.55%] and earned over $12.5 million in prize money during his 15 year career. Mr. McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999 and now works as a tennis commentator for several television networks.