During the week I posted this message on my Facebook account. I remember this incidence on January 21, 1990 as if it was yesterday. John McEnroe was playing Mikael Pernfors on the stadium court at Flinders Park – yet to be named Melbourne Park – and for me it was a no-brainer that I’d be front-and-center watching.
25 years ago today I was at my first Australian Open and watched live as John McEnroe was defaulted out of the tournament. I’ll never forget the moment or the next day when my colleague sent me off to the airport to await Johnny Mac, then wife Tatum O’Neal, and the rest of their party leave. As a fellow Queens kid I was a bit uncomfortable with the assignment and hung in the back. Mac just walked by the reporters with nothing to say. Years later when I told my colleague what his instructions were for me he seemed shocked, although not that surprised, that he was so callous. He told me not to leave the airport until I was sure the plane took off as if it crashed it would be a better story. Fortunately, nothing like that happened!
Surprisingly, it was the only time in McEnroe’s career that he was defaulted, although not the only time that his behavior deserved action. But it was a different time and era – back in those days tennis was an important sport in the U.S. and McEnroe was a vibrant bad boy that fans followed intently whether to embrace or to chastise the outspoken New Yorker. So often the powers that be looked the other way, likely not wanting to upset the apple cart.
Part of that decision to ignore the tantrums had to be directly tied to the fact that McEnroe was a champion – he won seven Grand Slam singles titles and 10 in doubles. And even today he takes part in veteran doubles at the majors, often with younger brother Patrick.
It was fun times and as someone involved in the game for so many years I only wish that those days could be replicated here at home in the USA. It’s the sports fans who are missing out because tennis today is a different, heightened game with star athletes that are far and above those of yesteryear. Tennis is worthy of shining in this country once again – tell your friends to watch, help them get hooked on the game.