At the end of his self-titled documentary, John McEnroe He wonders out loud what made him such a time bomb.
“Why was I crazy in court? Thirty-seven psychiatrists and psychiatrists could never have figured out,” he says.
“What are you? Stupid, moron king?”
“I’m not at peace. I don’t even know what that looks like. Does this even exist?”
McEnroe is still searching for inner calm 63 years later, after one of the most turbulent and explosive careers in the history of not just tennis, but sports.
This fascinating documentary – simply called McEnroe – begins by delving into the player’s childhood in Douglastown, New York, wandering the city streets in the middle of the night.
It’s where he and his dad – John the Elder (you’re not allowed to call him that on his face. It’s John and his son “John Jr”) – have “high decibel conversations”.
The child is a perfectionist — still agonized over the minus A on an early report card — and there is little affection or warmth from the man he wants to impress, his father.
He’s channeling all that rage, all that rage, to become the greatest tennis player in the world.
Perhaps, he thought, he and his father, who became his agent and charged him by the hour, would bring him closer.
The opposite happens, the chasm widened after McEnroe replaced his father with another manager capable of handling the most talked about athlete on the planet.
“It was like I stabbed him in the back,” McEnroe says.
“Some things have not been resolved.”
John McEnroe Tennis Lessons from Borg and Connors
The documentary, by British director Barney Douglas, charts McEnroe’s difficult relationship with tennis officials, especially at crowded Wimbledon, and his famous encounters with Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.
He adored Borg and felt empty and robbed when he called the Swede out at age 26, just as their rivalry was reaching its climax.
McEnroe explains that Connors had very little time for him and the feeling soon became mutual.
“I said ‘Mr. Connors, he’s kind to me.’ He totally blew me away,” McEnroe says of the 1977 Wimbledon semi-final.
“Why is this guy such an anal hole? He won’t even admit I exist.”
“I was petrified. My legs were trembling and he treated me like I was a divorcee.
“I actually learned from him. You must be a bit prickly there.”
It was a lesson that McEnroe cared about, especially at Wimbledon.
“They were a perfect fit,” he says. “It was like a strange country to me.”
“If I win it, I can really tell them for themselves.
“If I win this f**king tournament, I will never go back.”
McEnroe won Wimbledon three times, the last victory in 1984, which helped him sustain an impressive 170-week run to become the world number one.
But he still felt very empty.
“I’m the greatest player ever played. Why shouldn’t I be surprised?” McEnroe says about that period.
It took another decade, away from a game of tennis, a broken marriage to actress Tatum O’Neill, a drug lord, and finally the untimely death of his dear friend and former professional Vitas Girolaitis to deliver his biggest wake-up calls.
“I was going down this potential cliff of sorts and hopefully I’ll find out before I do anything stupid,” he says. “It was a huge turning point in my life.”
McEnroe works hard in the fourth and fifth sets of his life to fix some of his mistakes.
Repairing shattered family relationships was the first priority.
Recalling the controversy over his father’s commitment to his children, Son Kevin reveals: “He (John) said ‘At least I’m consistent.’ I said ‘constantly anus.'”
McEnroe admits, “I’m not very sympathetic. That’s a huge flaw.
“I was talking about tennis matches when I could have been a better dad.”
But at the end of McEnroe’s documentary, we see the grumpy tennis man who once seemed comfortable with his skin while enjoying some laughs with his daughters in the café.
“I married a bad boy who turned out to be a very good man,” says his wife, singer Patti Smith.
It’s McEnroe’s favorite line from the documentary.
Perhaps he found some form of peace after all.
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