Thursday, September 13, 2007

YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS by John McEnroe (A Book Review)

Tennis was the only sport that I wasn’t introduced to through my father. I picked it up during summer vacation in the late 1970s when Wimbledon highlights would come on right after the Johnny Carson show. Jimmy Connors was my favorite. I asked for a racket for Christmas and I would bang tennis balls against the garage door for hours letting my sweaty bangs hang over my eyes like Connors. Everything about the sport I learned on TV, I never had a formal lesson. I practiced enough on the driveway that I was decent competition for my friends, even the guys who were better athletes.

Connors was my favorite but I borrowed McEnroe’s serve. The traditional form I learned later was to face your opponent and serve straight ahead. McEnroe pointed his toes 90 degrees from the net before winding up and serving the ball. I played like this for so long that when I later tried the other way, I couldn’t hit the ball with any accuracy.

Over the weekend I read McEnroe’s book, YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS, and it turns out he developed that serve because it put less pressure on his sore back. So my technique is based on Johnny Mac’s bad back.

The book was insightful. I learned that he and Connors hated each other in their playing days. They played Davis Cup one year together and hardly even spoke. Now they get along a little better playing the Senior Tour. He still doesn’t think much of Ivan Lendl. He calls Brad Gilbert a complainer.

McEnroe is an extremely patriotic guy, who played Davis Cup in his prime despite the weak money simply because he wanted to win for his country. He speaks harshly of other Americans who don’t make it a priority, namely Connors in his day and Sampras in the 1990s.

McEnroe idolizes Bjorn Borg and the great loss of his career was the Borg retired early and he couldn’t play him anymore. Borg gave McEnroe motivation like few others did. He never lost his temper in a Borg match, he never yelled at an umpire, because he needed all of his strength to beat this worthy adversary.

He also talks about his personal life in the book being married to Tatum O’Neill and now Patty Smyth. He doesn’t say so directly, but the Tatum relationship certainly drained his energy away from tennis much like the Brook Shields relationship cost Agassi.

He speaks well of Reagan in the book and his one time meeting him, but he didn’t make it back in time from Europe to vote in the 1984 election, presumably for Reagan. He said his first ever vote came in the 2000 election though he doesn’t tell us his leanings. I seem to remember McEnroe at a 2000 Bradley rally in NYC. Was it just a jock connection or was Mac a full fledged supporter? I’m pretty sure he’s a Dem these days.

A candid book and worth the time of any tennis fan.

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