McEnroe attained the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles, finishing his career with 77 singles and 78 doubles titles; this remains the highest men's combined total of the Open Era. At the majors he won seven singles titles (four US Open, three Wimbledon) and nine men's doubles titles. He also excelled at the year-end tournaments, winning eight singles and seven doubles titles, both of which are records.
McEnroe contributed to five Davis Cup titles for the U.S. and later served as team captain. He has stayed active in retirement, often competing in senior events on the ATP Champions Tour. For many years he has also worked as a television commentator during the majors.
McEnroe was born in Wiesbaden, Hessen, West Germany, to American parents, John Patrick McEnroe Sr. and his wife Kay, née Tresham. His father, the son of Irish immigrants, was at the time stationed with the United States Air Force. In 1960, the family moved to the New York City area, where McEnroe's father worked daytime as an advertising agent while attending Fordham Law School by night. He has two younger brothers: Mark (born 1964) and former professional tennis player Patrick (born 1966).
McEnroe grew up in Douglaston, Queens, New York City. He started playing tennis when he was eight, at the nearby Douglaston Club. When he was nine, his parents enrolled him in the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association, and he soon started playing regional tournaments. He then began competing in national juniors tournaments, and at twelve—when he was ranked seven in his age group—he joined the Port Washington Tennis Academy, Long Island, New York. McEnroe attended Trinity School and graduated in 1977.
As an 18-year-old amateur in 1977, McEnroe won the mixed doubles at the French Open with Mary Carillo, and then made it through the qualifying tournament and into the main draw at Wimbledon, where he lost in the semifinals to Jimmy Connors in four sets. It was the best performance by a qualifier at a Grand Slam tournament and a record performance by an amateur in the open era.
After Wimbledon in 1977, McEnroe entered Stanford University and won the National Collegiate Athletic Association singles and team titles in 1978. Later in 1978, he joined the ATP tour and signed his first professional endorsement deal, with Sergio Tacchini. He again advanced to the semifinals at a Grand Slam, this time the US Open, losing again to Connors. Following which, he proceeded to win five titles that year, including his first Masters Grand Prix, beating Arthur Ashe in straight sets.
In 1979, McEnroe and partner Peter Fleming won the Wimbledon Doubles title, the duo later adding the 1979 US Open Doubles title to their haul as well. McEnroe won his first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open. He defeated his friend Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets in the final to become the youngest male winner of the singles title at the US Open since Pancho Gonzales, who was also 20 in 1948. He also won the prestigious season-ending WCT Finals, beating Björn Borg in four sets. McEnroe won 10 singles and 17 doubles titles that year (for a total of 27 titles, which marked an open-era record).
At Wimbledon, McEnroe reached the 1980 Wimbledon Men's Singles final—his first final at Wimbledon—where he faced Björn Borg, who was gunning for his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. At the start of the final, McEnroe was booed by the crowd as he entered Centre Court following heated exchanges with officials during his semifinal victory over Jimmy Connors. In a fourth-set tiebreaker that lasted 20 minutes, McEnroe saved five match points and eventually won 18–16. McEnroe, however, could not break Borg's serve in the fifth set, which the Swede won 8–6. This match was called the best Wimbledon final by ESPN's countdown show "Who's Number One?"
McEnroe exacted revenge two months later, beating Borg in the five-set final of the 1980 US Open.
McEnroe remained controversial when he returned to Wimbledon in 1981. Following his first-round match against Tom Gullikson, McEnroe was fined U.S. $1,500 and came close to being thrown out after he called umpire Ted James "the pits of the world" and then swore at tournament referee Fred Hoyles. He also made famous the phrase "you cannot be serious", which years later became the title of McEnroe's autobiography, by shouting it after several umpires' calls during his matches. This behavior was in sharp contrast to that of Borg, who was painted by the press as an unflappable "Ice Man." Nevertheless, in matches played between the two, McEnroe never lost his temper.
However, despite the controversy and merciless criticism from the British press (Ian Barnes of the Daily Express nicknamed him "SuperBrat"), McEnroe again made the Wimbledon men's singles final against Borg. This time, McEnroe prevailed in four sets to end the Swede's run of 41 consecutive match victories at the All England Club. TV commentator Bud Collins quipped after the Independence Day battle, paraphrasing "Yankee Doodle", "Stick a feather in his cap and call it 'McEnroe-ni'!".
The controversy, however, did not end there. In response to McEnroe's on-court outbursts during the Championships, the All England Club did not accord McEnroe honorary club membership, an honor normally given to singles champions after their first victory. McEnroe responded by not attending the traditional champions' dinner that evening. He told the press: "I wanted to spend the evening with my family and friends and the people who had supported me, not a bunch of stiffs who are 70–80 years old, telling you that you're acting like a jerk." The honor was eventually accorded to McEnroe after he won the championship again.
Borg and McEnroe had their final confrontation in the final of the 1981 US Open. McEnroe won in four sets, becoming the first male player since the 1920s to win three consecutive US Open singles titles. Borg never played another Grand Slam event. McEnroe also won his second WCT Final, beating Johan Kriek in straight sets.
McEnroe lost to Jimmy Connors in the 1982 Wimbledon final. McEnroe lost only one set (to Johan Kriek) going into the final; however, Connors won the fourth-set tiebreak and the fifth set.
In 1983, McEnroe reached his fourth consecutive Wimbledon final, dropping only one set throughout the tournament (to Florin Segărceanu) and sweeping aside the unheralded New Zealander Chris Lewis in straight-sets. He also played at the Australian Open for the first time, making it to the semifinals, before being defeated in four sets by Mats Wilander. He made the WCT Final for the third time and beat Ivan Lendl in an epic five setter. He took the Masters Grand Prix title for the second time, again beating Lendl in straight sets.
1984 was McEnroe's best season, concluded with an 82–3 match record that remains the highest single season win rate of the Open Era. He won a career-high 13 singles tournaments, including Wimbledon and the US Open. He also played on the winning US World Team Cup and runner-up Davis Cup teams.
He began the year with a 42-match win streak, winning his first six events of the year and then his first French Open final against Ivan Lendl. McEnroe won the first two sets, but Lendl's adjustments of using more topspin lobs and cross-court backhand passing shots, as well as McEnroe's fatigue and temperamental outbursts, resulted in a demoralizing five set loss. In his autobiography, McEnroe described this as his most bitter defeat and implied that he's never quite gotten over it.
He rebounded at Wimbledon, losing just one set en route to his third Wimbledon singles title. This included a straight-set rout over Jimmy Connors in the final. He then won his fourth US Open title by defeating Lendl in straight sets in the final, after defeating Connors in a five-set semifinal. He also won his fourth WCT Final, defeating Connors in five sets, and took his third Masters Grand Prix, beating Lendl in straight sets.
The year did not end without controversy. While playing and winning the tournament in Stockholm, McEnroe had an on-court outburst that soon became notorious. After questioning a call made by the chair umpire, McEnroe demanded, "Answer my question! The question, jerk!" McEnroe then slammed his racquet into a juice cart beside the court. He was suspended for 21 days for exceeding a $7,500 limit on fines that had been created because of his behavior.
In 1985, McEnroe reached his last Grand Slam singles final at the US Open. This time, he was beaten in straight sets by Lendl.
By 1986, the pressures of playing at the top had become too much for McEnroe to handle, and he took a six-month break from the tour. It was during this sabbatical that on August 1, 1986, he married actress Tatum O'Neal, with whom he had already had a son, Kevin (1986). They had two more children, Sean (1987) and Emily (1991), before divorcing in 1994. When he returned to the tour later in 1986, he won three ATP tournaments, but in 1987 he failed to win a title for the first time since turning pro. He took a seven-month break from the game following the US Open, where he was suspended for two months and fined US$17,500 for misconduct and verbal abuse.
A left hander, McEnroe played a Continental forehand. His backhand was similarly Continental and one-handed. His service motion is unique in tennis, with its biggest advantage being disguise in terms of placement. Known for very quick reflexes and deft hands, he possesses a superior net game.
McEnroe became the top-ranked singles player in the world on March 3, 1980. He was the top ranked player on 14 separate occasions between 1980 and 1985 and finished the year ranked World No. 1 four straight years from 1981 through 1984. He spent a total of 170 weeks at the top of the rankings.
It has been written about McEnroe that he might have been "the greatest doubles player of all time" and "possibly the greatest team player never to have played a team sport." He was ranked the World No. 1 in doubles for 270 weeks. He formed a powerful partnership with Peter Fleming, with whom he won 57 men's doubles titles, including four at Wimbledon and three at the US Open. Fleming was always very modest about his own contribution to the partnership – he once said "the best doubles partnership in the world is McEnroe and anybody." McEnroe won a fourth US Open men's doubles title in 1989 with Mark Woodforde, and a fifth Wimbledon men's doubles title in 1992 with Michael Stich. He also won the 1977 French Open mixed doubles title with childhood friend Mary Carillo.
More than any other player in his era, McEnroe was responsible for reviving U.S. interest in the Davis Cup, which had been shunned by Jimmy Connors and other leading U.S. players, and had not seen a top U.S. player regularly compete since Arthur Ashe. Connors's refusal to play Davis Cup in lieu of lucrative exhibitions became a source of enmity between him and Ashe. In 1978, McEnroe won two singles rubbers in the final as the U.S. captured the cup for the first time since 1972, beating Great Britain in the final. McEnroe continued to be a mainstay of U.S. Davis Cup teams for the next 14 years and was part of U.S. winning teams in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1992. He set numerous U.S. Davis Cup records, including years played (12), ties (30), singles wins (41), and total wins in singles and doubles (59). He played both singles and doubles in 13 series, and he and Peter Fleming won 14 of 15 Davis Cup doubles matches together.
An epic performance was McEnroe's 6-hour, 22-minute victory over Mats Wilander in the deciding rubber of the 3–2 quarterfinal win over Sweden in 1982, played in St. Louis, Missouri. McEnroe won the match, at the time the longest in Davis Cup history, 9–7, 6–2, 15–17, 3–6, 8–6. McEnroe nearly broke that record in a 6-hour, 20-minute loss to Boris Becker five years later. Becker won their match, the second rubber in a 3–2 loss to West Germany in World Group Relegation play, 4–6, 15–13, 8–10, 6–2, 6–2.
McEnroe also helped the U.S. win the World Team Cup in 1984 and 1985, in both cases defeating Czechoslovakia in the final.
McEnroe struggled to regain his form after his 1986 sabbatical. He lost three times in Grand Slam tournaments to Ivan Lendl, losing straight-set quarterfinals at both the 1987 US Open and the 1989 Australian Open and a long four-set match, played over two days, in the fourth round of the 1988 French Open. Rumors of drug abuse had begun during his second sabbatical. McEnroe denied them at the time, but acknowledged that he had used cocaine during his career in a 2000 interview that implied that the use occurred during this period, although he denied that the drug affected his play.
Nevertheless, McEnroe had multiple notable victories in the final years of his career. In the 1988 French Open, McEnroe beat 16-year-old Michael Chang 6–0, 6–3, 6–1 in the third round; Chang went on to win the title the next year. In 1989, McEnroe won a record fifth title at the World Championship Tennis Finals (the championship tournament of the WCT tour, which was being staged for the last time), defeating top-ranked Lendl in the semifinals. At Wimbledon, he defeated Mats Wilander in a four-set quarterfinal before losing to Stefan Edberg in a semifinal. He won the RCA Championships in Indianapolis and reached the final of the Canadian Open, where he lost to Lendl. He also won both of his singles rubbers in the quarterfinal Davis Cup tie with Sweden.
Controversy was never far from McEnroe, however; in his fourth-round match against Mikael Pernfors at the 1990 Australian Open, McEnroe was ejected from the tournament for swearing at the umpire, supervisor, and referee. He was warned by the umpire for intimidating a lineswoman, and then docked a point for smashing a racket. McEnroe was apparently unaware that a new Code of Conduct, which had been introduced just before the tournament, meant that a third code violation would not lead to the deduction of a game but instead would result in immediate disqualification; therefore, when McEnroe unleashed a volley of abuse at umpire Gerry Armstrong, he was defaulted. He was fined $6,500 for the incidents.
Later that year, McEnroe reached the semifinals of the US Open, losing to the eventual champion, Pete Sampras in four sets. He also won the Davidoff Swiss Indoors in Basel, defeating Goran Ivanišević in a five-set final. The last time McEnroe was ranked in the world top ten was on October 22, 1990, when he was ranked 9th. His end-of-year singles ranking was 13th.
In 1991, McEnroe won the last edition of the Volvo Tennis-Chicago tournament by defeating his brother Patrick in the final. He won both of his singles rubbers in the quarterfinal Davis Cup tie with Spain. And he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon (losing to Edberg) and the third round at the US Open (losing to Chang in a five-set night match). His end-of-year singles ranking was 28th in the world.
In 1992, McEnroe defeated third-ranked and defending champion Boris Becker in the third round of the Australian Open 6–4, 6–3, 7–5 before a sell-out crowd. In the fourth round, McEnroe needed 4 hours 42 minutes to defeat ninth ranked Emilio Sánchez 8–6 in the fifth set. He lost to Wayne Ferreira in the quarterfinals. At Wimbledon, McEnroe reached the semifinals where he lost in straight sets to the eventual champion Andre Agassi. McEnroe teamed with Michael Stich to win his fifth Wimbledon men's doubles title in a record-length 5-hour-1-minute final, which the pair won 5–7, 7–6, 3–6, 7–6, 19–17. At the end of the year, he teamed with Sampras to win the doubles rubber in the Davis Cup final, where the U.S. defeated Switzerland 3–1.
McEnroe retired from the professional tour at the end of 1992. He ended his singles career ranked 20th in the world. He played in one tournament in 1994 as a wildcard at the Rotterdam Open he lost In the first round. This was his last ever Singles match on the ATP Tour.
McEnroe was married to Tatum O'Neal, Academy Award-winning actress and daughter of Ryan O'Neal, from 1986 to 1994 and the two had three children, Kevin, Sean and Emily. After their divorce, they were originally awarded joint custody of the children, but in 1998 McEnroe was awarded sole custody due to O'Neal's drug problems.
In 1997, McEnroe married rock singer Patty Smyth with whom he has two daughters, Anna and Ava, and a stepdaughter, Ruby from Smyth's previous marriage to musician Richard Hell.
After retiring, McEnroe pursued his post-tour goal of becoming a working musician. He had learned to play guitar with the help of friends like Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton. During his divorce, McEnroe formed The Johnny Smyth Band with himself as lead singer and guitarist, began writing songs, and played small gigs in cities where he played with the senior tour. Although Lars Ulrich complimented his "natural instinct for music", a bar owner where McEnroe's band played said that "he couldn't sing to save his life." The band toured for two years, but McEnroe suddenly quit in 1997 just before finishing his first album.
McEnroe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999. He now is sports commentator at Wimbledon for the BBC in the UK. He also provides commentary on lesser ATP tennis tournaments in the US on networks such as CBS, NBC, USA, and ESPN, as does his brother Patrick.
McEnroe became the U.S. Davis Cup captain in September 1999. His team barely escaped defeat in their first two outings in 2000, beating Zimbabwe and the Czech Republic in tight 3–2 encounters. They were then defeated 5–0 by Spain in the semifinals. McEnroe resigned in November 2000 after 14 months as captain, citing frustration with the Davis Cup schedule and format as two of his primary reasons. His brother Patrick took over the job.
In 2002, McEnroe played himself in Mr. Deeds and again in 2008 in You Don't Mess with the Zohan. McEnroe played himself in the 2004 movie Wimbledon. In July 2004, McEnroe began a CNBC talk show titled McEnroe. The show, however, was unsuccessful, twice earning a 0.0 Nielsen rating, and was cancelled within five months. In 2002, he hosted the American game show The Chair on ABC as well as the British version on BBC One, but this venture also was unsuccessful.
In 2004, McEnroe said that during much of his career he had unwittingly taken steroids. He said that he had been administered these drugs without his knowledge, stating: "For six years I was unaware I was being given a form of steroid of the legal kind they used to give horses until they decided it was too strong even for horses."
McEnroe is active in philanthropy and tennis development. For years he has co-chaired the CityParks Tennis charity benefit, an annual fundraiser produced by the City Parks Foundation. The charitable event raises crucial funds for New York City's largest municipal youth tennis programs. He collects American contemporary art, and opened a gallery in Manhattan in 1993.
McEnroe still plays regularly on the ATP Champions Tour. His most recent victory came at the Jean-Luc Lagardere Trophy in Paris in 2010, where he defeated Guy Forget in the final. Playing on the Champions Tour allows him to continue his most iconic rivalries with old adversaries Ivan Lendl and Björn Borg.
In charity events and World Team Tennis, he has beaten many top players, including Mardy Fish and Mark Philippoussis.
In 2007, McEnroe appeared on the NBC comedy 30 Rock as the host of a game show called "Gold Case" in which he uttered his famous line "You cannot be serious!" when a taping went awry. McEnroe also appeared on the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm.
In 2009, McEnroe appeared on 30 Rock again, in the episode Gavin Volure, where the title character, a mysterious, reclusive businessman (played by Steve Martin) invites him to dinner because he bridges the worlds of "art collecting and yelling."
In 2010, he founded the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall's Island in New York City.
In 2012, McEnroe, commentating for ESPN, heavily criticized Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic for "tanking" against Andy Roddick at the US Open. However, Tomic was cleared of any wrongdoing, saying that he was "simply overwhelmed by the occasion" (this was the first time that he had ever played at Arthur Ashe Stadium).
McEnroe was part of Milos Raonic's coaching team from May to August 2016.
McEnroe returned to the ATP Tour in 2006 to play two doubles tournaments. In his first tournament, he teamed with Jonas Björkman to win the title at the SAP Open in San Jose. This was McEnroe's 78th doubles title (No. 5 in history) and his first title since capturing the Paris Indoor doubles title in November 1992 with his brother Patrick. The win meant that McEnroe had won doubles titles in four different decades.
In his second tournament, McEnroe and Björkman lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Stockholm. McEnroe also won at the French Open in 2012 for the over-45 legends doubles competition. He was partnered with his brother Patrick. They beat Guy Forget and Henri Leconte 7–6, 6–3. McEnroe and his brother Patrick also won again at the 2014 French Open in the over-45 legends doubles competition. They beat Andres Gomez and Mark Woodforde 4–6, 7–5, 1–0 (10–7) These records were attained in the Open Era of tennis.
ITF World Champion:1981, 1983, 1984
ATP player of the year: 1981, 1983, 1984
ATP most improved player: 1978
World Number 1 Male Player
Davis Cup Commitment Award
McEnroe's fiery temper led to him being parodied in pop culture.In 1982, British impressionist Roger Kitter and Kaplan Kaye, under the name of "The Brat", recorded the single "Chalk Dust: The Umpire Strikes Back" in which Kitter parodied McEnroe losing his temper during a match. The single reached the UK Top 20 and was a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa.
His bursts of rage were parodied in the satirical British program Spitting Image, on which he and wife Tatum frequently screamed and threw things at each other.
Another parody was in the satirical British program Not the Nine O'Clock News, portrayed by Griff Rhys Jones, showing him as a boy arguing with his parents over breakfast.
Punk band End of a Year references his famous temper in the song "McEnroe".
He mocked himself in a PETA ad promoting spay and neuter, by launching into one of his famous tirades when challenged about his decision to have his dog fixed.
Sir Ian McKellen used McEnroe as a model when playing Coriolanus for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984.
In preparation for some aspects of the title role of the film Amadeus, actor Tom Hulce studied footage of John McEnroe's on-court tennis tantrums.
In 2006, McEnroe appeared in a television ad campaign for National Car Rental, expressing one of his outbursts, saying "Any Car? You cannot be serious!" The following year, McEnroe appeared in an advertisement for Telstra in Australia.
In late 2013, he starred in a television commercial campaign for the UK based gadget insurance company Protect Your Bubble. In the TV spot, he emulates his infamous on-court outbursts.
In 2014 he appeared as a guitarist on the solo debut album of Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders.
Swedish biopic Borg/McEnroe is scheduled to be released in 2017 depicting their rivalry and in particular 1980 Wimbledon final.
The Wimbledon Collection – Legends of Wimbledon – John McEnroe Standing Room Only, DVD Release Date: September 21, 2004, Run Time: 52 minutes, ASIN: B0002HOD9U
The Wimbledon Collection – The Classic Match – Borg vs. McEnroe 1981 Final Standing Room Only, DVD Release Date: September 21, 2004, Run Time: 210 minutes, ASIN: B0002HODAE
The Wimbledon Collection – The Classic Match – Borg vs. McEnroe 1980 Final Standing Room Only, DVD Release Date: September 21, 2004, Run Time: 240 minutes; ASIN: B0002HOEK8
Charlie Rose with John McEnroe (February 4, 1999) Charlie Rose, DVD Release Date: September 18, 2006, ASIN: B000IU3342