‘But Seriously,’ Tennis Great John McEnroe Says He’s Seeking ‘Inner Peace’ – NPR

 In Sports

John McEnroe reacts during a Men’s Legends match against Jim Courier at the Connecticut Open in August 2015.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images


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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

John McEnroe reacts during a Men’s Legends match against Jim Courier at the Connecticut Open in August 2015.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, tennis great John McEnroe triumphed three times at Wimbledon and four times at the U.S. Open. But all his achievements on the court did not prepare him for life off of it. After his professional career ended, he dabbled as a talk show host and as an art collector and appeared in movies and TV shows.

Above all, McEnroe wanted to be a rock guitarist in his wife’s band, but, he admits: “That was not going to happen.”

His wife, singer Patty Smyth, told him, “I want to play mixed doubles with you at Wimbledon.” To which he replied, “Well, you don’t play tennis.”

And she said, “Exactly.”

During his tennis career, McEnroe became known for outbursts on the court when he thought umpires had missed a call. In one classic exchange, he yelled at an official, “You cannot be serious! That ball was on the line!”

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That line has followed him for decades. “If a day goes by where I don’t hear that at least a couple times, it’s a miracle,” McEnroe says. So he has decided to embrace it: His first memoir was called You Cannot Be Serious, and his new memoir is called But Seriously.

Interview Highlights

On not taking himself too seriously

Believe it or not, I didn’t take myself too seriously back then. … Even though I’m extremely disappointed that the last seven years of my career I didn’t play as well as I thought I was, or get better, or keep improving, I didn’t want to quit tennis at 26 or 27.


On reinventing himself after his pro career ended

I was actually going through what turned out to be a separation and divorce from my first wife, [actress Tatum O’Neal], so I was unable to really think about anything else. We had three kids together and my head was all over the place and I couldn’t even think about … the transition that I was anticipating I was going to be making. …

I was sort of lost, but was open enough to experiment … so that I can find myself again, which isn’t easy when you’ve peaked in your career at 26 years old.

On why there aren’t more great male American tennis players right now

There’s a lot of reasons, but the biggest one to me is the cost of it: the cost of play, the cost to train, the cost to get a court. All of this factors into the difficulty of getting a champion. The truth is … the game has become more athletic than ever, and quicker, you need to be more athletic, and our best athletes mainly are playing in basketball or football. …

If you take a court the size of a tennis court and you decide you want to use it for a soccer field, say, you could fit a lot more kids. … When you talk about schools, they say: Well, it’s better if we put a little soccer field in there and we get 20 kids running around kicking a ball. … Whereas tennis doesn’t come as easily.

Listen: John McEnroe on Serena Williams

On calling Serena Williams the best female tennis player in the world

Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

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