Grand Slam Stories: 1977 Wimbledon, The Unstoppable John McEnroe! - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam Stories: 1977 Wimbledon, The Unstoppable John McEnroe!

Ubitennis presents a new segment that will be part of our journey to each Grand Slam event. We will share tales and stories about the four major tournaments that wrote the history of our sport. In this first instalment, we relive the summer of 1977, during which an unknown teenager from Brooklyn became the genius of modern tennis.

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By Raffaello Esposito

Damn it, how did that happen? Or at least, when? To many of us, events from forty-one years ago are almost ancient history. That’s when white tennis balls, tight shorts and wooden racquets were still the norm, and touch, talent and finesse made the difference instead of power. The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan used to sing. In 1977, things were changing for good. Jimmy Connors was taking the game to levels of power and aggressiveness that were previously unknown, while Borg was hitting the forehand with top spin and adding a new dynamic to the two-handed backhand. The battle for the tennis throne was a duopoly between the Brash Basher of Belleville and the Swedish Iceman. But a third contender was about to rock the boat.  

A few months before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Wimbledon Championships, Brooklyn native John Patrick McEnroe Junior had just turned 18 and was getting ready to start his first semester at Stanford University. He had ginger hair, a great deal of tennis talent and a very controversial Irish temperament. In the spring of 1977, the United States Tennis Association allowed him to play a few tournaments in Europe. Before making the trip overseas, John turned to the coolest guy at the Port Washington Academy, where McEnroe was training with Harry Hopman and Tony Palafox as head coaches.

John’s confidant was also from New York and had a thick blond mane to go with his Lithuanian origin. A few months later, the world would start calling “Broadway Vitas.” These were his words:  “Here’s what’s going to happen on your first trip to the French—you’re going to play some guy from Europe that you’ve never heard of, and you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

John spent the evening before his departure with his long-term friend Doug Saputo. The two were unusually quiet, as if they felt that something was about to change and nothing would have ever been the same. It was a strange evening in limbo between the present and the future.

John landed at De Gaulle airport in Paris with a sports bag, five hundred dollars in his pocket and a bundle of racquets. He suddenly felt lost, like any teenage boy that finds himself in a foreign country. “I felt as if I was in a National Lampoon Vacation movie—Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are eating their lunch in a restaurant; he’s saying, “God, honey, aren’t they nice?” and the waiter is saying (in French, with English subtitles), “You stupid American asshole.”

At Roland Garros, he won his last qualifying round after a sleepless night. The match was scheduled for 8:45 AM and he was afraid that he would not have woken up on time. “Could I be awakened?” I asked the man at the front desk. He answered me in French – “Screw you”, probably.

While competing in the main draw, John won his first round match with ease before falling to Phil Dent of Australia in the second round. During the five set clash with the Australian, McEnroe – who at that point was used to competing in smaller tournaments where players were in charge of the calls on their side of the court – learnt that the umpire and line judges could make tons of mistakes. “From the moment our match began, the line calls were abysmal. Dent would hit a shot that was in by six inches, and the linesman would call it out.”

McEnroe also tried to speak to his opponent during the match while questioning line calls. The Australian didn’t blink, avoided any sort of confrontation and won the match. As the two were shaking hands, Phil told John: “Sonny, this is the pros now. You play the calls, and if you have something to say, you tell the umpires.”

Dent wasn’t aware that his words would have been followed to the letter in a very painful way a few weeks later.

In Paris, McEnroe won the boys’ singles event in front of three spectators and also captured the mixed doubles trophy with his friend Mary Carillo. He spent the rest of his time discovering Paris, before crossing the English Channel and arriving in Church Road where “…at least the language seemed roughly similar to mine.”

London was more expensive than Paris and John shared a room with four other young players for three pounds a night. It was almost like an indoor camping site where the players’ diet consisted of pizza and ice-cream.

In the first round of the qualifying tournament at Queen’s Club, McEnroe’s match against his countryman Pat DuPré was moved to an indoor wooden facility due to the persistent rain. McEnroe used his great talent to dominate the first set, but at the beginning of the second a lady in the stands started to heavily insult him. The incident confused the young American, who ended up losing the match 7-6 in the third. John later found out that the lady was none other than his opponent’s wife. Everything happens for a reason. “What the hell. My loss to DuPre had actually turned out to be a great thing—had I made it in, I don’t think I would have had enough time both to play the tournament and to try to qualify for Wimbledon. So thank you, Mrs. DuPre!”

The qualies for the Wimbledon Championships were contested at Roehampton Club and it didn’t matter if the weather was sunny, windy or rainy. Mac was in big trouble during his final qualifying match against Gilles Moretton of France, but he emerged unscathed despite the rain and muggy conditions. Mary Carillo vividly remembers those days: “He was so great at improv, he had that amazing first step. As soon as I saw him on grass, I remember thinking to myself, ‘This could go very well.’ I just didn’t know how well.”

Once granted access to the Wimbledon main draw, players were allowed a reimbursement of sixty pounds a day. As soon as he qualified, John moved to the Cunard Hotel with Eliot Teltscher and Robert Van’t Hof. “We chose that hotel because it had two ice distributors”. At the time, you didn’t need a nutritionist or a masseuse to be a champion.

McEnroe absolutely shocked the Wimbledon main draw. Pictures from that magical fortnight show him a little chubby in his Fila outfit while he’s screaming “Are you sure?” to the umpire. His service stance was still frontal in 1977; he would have developed his trademark lateral stance a year later to safeguard a bad back. His impeccable timing and pure creativity were already in full display though.

El Shafei, Dowdeswell, Meiler and Sandy Mayer were swept aside by McEnroe, who advanced to the quarter-finals to face Phil Dent, in a rematch of their previous encounter in Paris. The two squared off on Court 1 in the afternoon of June 28, 1977. McEnroe didn’t seem to be intimidated by the occasion and captured the first set 6-4. Dent was the kind of player that never gave up and the Australian ended up winning the second set in an enthralling tie-breaker. As McEnroe walked towards his bench for the changeover, he literally broke his Wilson racquet in two and kicked it all the way to his chair. It was not something that could be tolerated at Wimbledon and the spectators started booing the young American. Dent almost couldn’t believe his eyes as he started to realize that he had probably created a monster.

The Australian took advantage of the situation and won the third set.  “It was definitely a tight spot, but then I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts.” At this point, McEnroe showed his true champion quality and was able to capture the last two sets of the match, unexpectedly advancing to the semifinals.

No other player was able to reach the semis after advancing to the main draw through the qualifying tournament. McEnroe’s semifinal opponent was none other than James Scott Connors. In the lobby of the Gloucester Hotel – the home of the champions – McEnroe spotted the bookmakers’ odds for the tournament champion:

Borg 2-1

Connors 3-1

Gerulaitis 7-1

McEnroe 250-1

McEnroe probably lost half of his semifinal match in that very moment. The other half was lost in the locker room before the match. Connors was famous for approaching his tennis matches with a boxer’s mentality, as he felt that he needed to hate his opponent to play at this best. When John approached him before the match to greet him and shake hands, Connors pretended that McEnroe didn’t exist, picked up his bag and took off.

A few decades later, Supermac still recalls the thoughts that went through his mind: “Do I even belong here with this guy?” And so, at that moment, I pretty much decided I did not want to win this match. Don’t want to win”

While his Dad and Tony Palafox were watching him from the stands, McEnroe easily lost the first two sets and even if he captured the third, it was too late to prevent Connors from advancing to the final. Game, set and match Connors.

McEnroe avenged that defeat against Connors many times in the following years, while the fire brigades often had to intervene and extinguish the flames between the two.

Since that semifinal day in June 1977, McEnroe never had to be asked again if he was a tennis player. He went home and reconnected with his old friend Doug, while realizing that nothing would have ever been the same.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global – www.t-lglobal.com )

 

 

 

 

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David Goffin Slams Hostile French Open Crowd

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A fan at the French Open spat out their chewing gum at David Goffin during a tense first round clash at the tournament on Tuesday. 

Goffin, who is a former quarter-finalist in Paris, described the reception he received from the crowd as ‘total disrespect’ during his clash against home player Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard. A 20-year-old wild card who recently claimed his maiden Tour title in Lyon. The Belgian managed to oust the home player 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, after more than three-and-half hours of play. 

During one stage of the match, Goffin was seen holding his hand to his ear towards the rowdy crowd. A gesture he felt he had the right to do considering the atmosphere.

“When you are insulted for three and a half hours, you have to tease the public a little,” The I quoted Goffin as saying.
“Clearly, it goes too far, it’s total disrespect. It’s really too much. It’s becoming football, soon there will be smoke bombs, hooligans and there will be fights in the stands.
“It’s starting to become ridiculous. Some people are there more to cause trouble than to create an atmosphere.
“Someone spat out their chewing gum at me. It [the match] was getting complicated. That’s why I wanted to stay calm. IfI started to get angry about it, it could have destabilised me.”

The French Open crowd has a reputation for being highly animated during matches with there being numerous examples throughout the years. Nicolas Jarry received booing when he walked on the court to play Corentin Moutet after an incident between the two earlier this season. 

“This is repeated a lot in the locker room and among the ATP authorities. We’re going to have to do something about that,” Goffin continued.
“I think it only happens in France. At Wimbledon, obviously, there’s not that. Or in Australia either. And at the US Open, it’s still rather quiet. Here [at Roland Garros], it’s really an unhealthy atmosphere.”

However, former French Open junior doubles champion Mpetshi Perricard has praised the support he got from the fans during his match. It was only the second time in his career that the world No.66 has played in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament.

“It was really nice to have so much support,” he said.
“I had a lot in Lyon as well, but that was different because here the guys are really with you from first to the last point. It’sreally very pleasant to have such an audience.
“I like it that they encouraged me. It helped me when I was broken in the fourth [set], and I would like to thank them for it. It’s really fantastic to have these guys there.”

Goffin will be hoping to get more support in his second round match against Alexander Zverev on Thursday. He is making his 13th main draw appearance in Paris at the age of 33. 

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Holger Rune Beats Evans in Straight Sets and Moves into Round 2

Danish 13th seed praises improved mentality; aims to get back to the top five

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Ubitennis/Francesca Micheli

Thirteenth seed Holger Rune came through in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 over Dan Evans in cold indoor conditions under the roof on Suzanne-Lenglen and goes on to face Italian Flavio Cobolli in round two.

The defeat for Evans meant that there are now no British men left in the singles draw after disappointing first round losses for Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie.

Rune, who once shared a practice session with Evans, admitted it took time to figure out his opponent’s game style: “It’s not that I know his game inside and out. He likes the slice obviously, and he’s a very good grass court player as well so he plays pretty flat over the net. So, yeah, it took a lot of time to adjust.”

Rune, a two-time former quarter finalist at the French Open, broke serve with the score tied at 4-4 in the first set and then served out to take the opener. A single break of serve was enough again in the second, while he had to dig much deeper in the third set when he went 4-2 down but managed to maintain composure to win the last four games to seal victory. The 21-year-old was very satisfied with his first-round performance and was pleased his intense practice sessions had been paying off.

“It was a good start, I think. Very solid match from start to finish. We had a good preparation, I would say. We had obviously time after Rome to really prepare with my game and physically and mentally, as well. I think we used the time right. So now is just to perform and put everything together. We are working always on my game. I think my game is good. My physicality felt great today, so it’s a thing we have really been working on to be able to stay out there and not feel fatigued and feel explosive even after hours of playing, and I definitely felt that today.”

Rune finished the match with eight aces, and more than double the number of winners (44 to 21), while Evans struggled with his serve making less than 50% of first serves in play along with five double faults. Whilst approaching the net numerous times throughout the match, he was passed sixteen times by some wonderful strokes off both wings by his Danish opponent. Rune was impressed with his mentality afterwards: “Mentally I just had to stay composed. You know, there is always challenges in the matches. Today was a call here and there. I thought I stayed composed. Been working on that, as well.”

Rune, who won 75% of points on his first serve definitely felt like he is on the right path to get him back inside the top five of the rankings: “I feel like I’m kind of back on track, have stability in my team, which is nice in my life. So, it’s going in the right direction. I’m improving on court. Now it’s just about getting that few match wins under the belt, to get some rhythm and gain some confidence in the matches as well. Then, I believe, you know, I’m fitter than last year. I’m playing better and improved. I just need to put everything together.”

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Casper Ruud Downplays French Open Chances After ‘Best start’ To Season

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Casper Ruud says he doesn’t rank himself among the favourites for French Open glory despite a successful clay swing.

The Norwegian comes into Paris with two titles under his belt after winning the Barcelona Open in April followed by the Geneva Open last week. He also reached the final in Monte Carlo, the semi-finals in Estoril and the fourth round in Madrid. Ruud is without a doubt a threat on the surface, especially at the French Open where he has finished runner-up the past two years. 

Although the world No.7 is keen to distance himself from any talk about being a title contender despite his credentials. This year’s men’s draw is being described by some as the most open in recent years with Novak Djokovic yet to find his top level consistently. Meanwhile, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner have both been troubled by injury issues.

This season has been the best start for me, the best kind of five months that I’ve ever had to begin the year,” Ruud told reporters on Sunday.
“Then Madrid and Rome were two disappointing results for me, and that’s also a little bit why I decided to go to Geneva. 
“I wanted to build up some momentum playing matches again. Obviously winning the tournament is a good feeling. It gives you confidence, but it feels like it’s anyone’s tournament and anyone’s game really. 
“If you look at it’s been several different winners on the clay this year, and in the three Masters 1000 alone there’s been three different winners.
“To me even though Novak hasn’t had the best year as he typically has or at the same level, I think he is still the favourite. He is the No. 1 seeded, and he has 24 slams under his belt, so if there’s anyone who knows when to find their peak and form, it’s probably him.”. 

As for his chances of claiming a maiden major title, Ruud says he doesn’t want to consider himself a favourite as it would put too much pressure on him to perform. He is the seventh seed in this year’s draw.

I wouldn’t put myself in the list (of title favourites) because I don’t want to kind of put pressure on myself, but I would put Novak up there definitely.” He said.
“It’s not a big if, but depending on how Carlos, Jannik, and Rafa feel, I feel like those three are also worth mentioning. If they are injury-free, I would consider them, well, four then. I would go with four guys. 
“It’s tough to kind of leave any of those out due to the fact that Rafa has won here 14 times and then Jannik and Carlos have been the sort of best of the younger generation in the past year or two. So I think that’s a good list of four.”

Ruud will begin his French Open campaign against Brazil’s Felipe Alves.

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