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.



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 – )






Roland Garros Daily Preview: Djokovic, Alcaraz, Wawrinka, Thiem Play on Monday



Court Suzanne-Lenglen has a new look in 2023, as it’s been fitted for a roof starting next year (

Day 2 in Paris is the second of three days featuring first round singles action.


Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will make their 2023 Roland Garros debuts on Monday, with both being heavy favorites in their opening rounds.  So this preview will dive deeper into the first round matches of two other Major singles champions: Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem, both of whom are fighting to regain their form of yesteryear.

Two of the day’s other most appetizing matchups include two Italians with previous success at this tournament.  Fabio Fognini will look to upset a top 10 seed when he takes on a struggling Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Martina Trevisan plays a resurgent mother in Elina Svitolina.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (10) vs. Fabio Fognini – Second on Court Simonne-Mathieu

Auger-Aliassime is a meager 13-9 this season, and just 1-2 on clay.  Felix has not been fully healthy, as only a few days ago, he withdrew from Lyon due to a shoulder injury.  A year ago at this event, he pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets, while being coached by Uncle Toni.  But in this match, FAA is on upset alert, against a former Roland Garros quarterfinalist.

That result for Fognini occurred 12 years ago in Paris.  The biggest title of Fabio’s career also came on this surface, when he won Monte Carlo in 2019.  The 36-year-old Italian is only 4-9 on the year, though two of those victories took place recently on clay in Rome, when he defeated both Andy Murray and Miomir Kecmanovic.

Their only prior encounter also occurred and clay, which was four years ago in Rio.  Felix prevailed in straight sets on that day.  But on this day, the unpredictable Fabio may be a slight favorite to eliminate the tenth seed in the opening round.

Stan Wawrinka vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas – Second on Court 14

Wawrinka’s French Open title run took place eight years ago.  Stan reached the quarterfinals or better at this tournament in five of the last 10 years.  But injuries have derailed the 38-year-old’s career in recent years, and he’s just 12-10 this season at tour level.

35-year-old Ramos-Vinolas was a quarterfinalist in Paris seven years ago.  His only Masters 1000 final also came on this surface, six years ago in Monte Carlo.  A year ago here, he gave Carlos Alcaraz a scare, going up two-sets-to-one before losing in five.  But in 2023, Albert is just 6-16 at tour level.

Wawrinka has dominated their history 7-0, but they haven’t played since they met in the quarters of this tournament in 2016.  Can Stan recapture some of the magic he’s displayed in the past at this event?  On Monday, he’s the favorite to advance against a tough clay court opponent.

Elina Svitolina vs. Martina Trevisan (26) – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu

On Saturday, in just her third WTA tournament since becoming a mother for the first time, Svitolina became the champion in Strasbourg.  Elina is 22-9 at Roland Garros, having reached the quarterfinals three times. 

Trevisan equaled that result back in 2020, then she surpassed it a year ago, reaching the semifinals of this event.  Yet in 2023, Martina is only 11-13 overall, and 4-4 on clay.

In their first career meeting, Trevisan should be favored.  This will be a quick turnaround for Svitolina from Strasbourg, and she is not yet re-accustomed to playing so many matches within a short time span.

Dominic Thiem vs. Pedro Cachin – Third on Court 6

Between 2016 and 2020, Thiem reached two finals, two more semifinals, and another quarterfinal in Paris.  But since a serious wrist injury sidelined him in 2021, Dominic is 0-2 at this event.  The Austrian is 11-15 this season at all levels, and is coming off two Challenger events on clay earlier this month.

Cachin is a 28-year-old from Argentina who reached the final of a Challenger event on clay in April, before advancing to the round of 16 at the Madrid Masters thanks to impressive victories over Francisco Cerundolo and Frances Tiafoe.  Pedro advanced to the second round of this event in his French Open main draw debut a year ago.

They have never played at tour level, but they did meet at a Challenger tournament last year on clay, with Cachin prevailing in straight sets.  However, it’s worth noting that was Thiem’s first event in nearly a year after returning from injury.  On Monday, I expect the two-time finalist to rediscover enough of his form to prevail.

Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Karolina Pliskova (16) vs. Sloane Stephens – This is a matchup between two players who have each achieved two Major finals, with Stephens winning the 2017 US Open, yet neither arrives in Paris with much form.  Pliskova got off to a strong start on the year, but is just 2-2 on clay, and has been dealing with a knee injury.  Sloane is 9-11 at tour level, though she is coming off a semifinal run this past week in Rabat.  Stephens leads their head-to-head 4-1, which includes a straight-set win at this event in 2021.

Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Aleksandar Kovacevic – Djokovic is a two-time champion of this tournament, and is 85-16 here lifetime.  He’s reached at least the quarterfinals for 13 straight years, though he’s been battling an elbow injury, and is just 5-3 on clay this season.  Kovacevic is a 24-year-old American who has never been ranked inside the top 100.

Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Flavio Cobolli (Q) – Alcaraz is an excellent 30-3 this year, and won back-to-back titles on clay in his home country before suffering a shocking loss to qualifier Fabian Marozsan in Rome.  This will be Carlitos’ first match at a Major since winning last year’s US Open, as he missed the Australian due to injury.  Cobolli is a 21-year-old Italian qualifier making his main draw debut at a Slam.

Arthur Fils (WC) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (29) – Fils is an 18-year-old French standout who on Saturday won his first ATP title in his home country, defeating Francisco Cerundolo in the final of Lyon.  Davidovich Fokina is just 17-13 on the year, but was a quarterfinalist here two years ago. 

Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Jessica Pegula Looking To Overcome Physical And Mental Obstacles At Roland Garros

Jessica Pegula talked about a challenging last couple of weeks after winning her opening match at Roland Garros.



Jessica Pegula (@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Jessica Pegula is looking to overcome recent physical and mental obstacles at Roland Garros after advancing to the second round.


The American began her Roland Garros campaign in fairly comfortable fashion with a 6-4 6-2 victory over compatriot Danielle Collins.

Despite losing her serve on three occasions, Pegula overcame the former Australian Open finalist in straight sets to reach the second round where she will face Camila Giorgi.

Although the match may have been fairly straightforward, the last few weeks have been anything but easy.

As Pegula revealed in her post-match press conference the American has had to overcome mental and physical obstacles in the build-up to Roland Garros, “No, it’s definitely been tough. I think Rome was tough. Yeah, I had a little bit of a nagging injury in Madrid and Rome,” Pegula admitted.

“Then the two-week tournament. Then I got food poisoning last week. There’s been a lot of obstacles, I feel like, the last couple of weeks specifically that have been really tough physically and then taking their toll mentally because of that.

“So it hasn’t been easy, and I saw I have a really tough draw as well, now playing Giorgi, who did well here last year? Yeah. I don’t know. She does well here.

“It’s not easy, especially playing Danielle today I was just happy I was able to really, like, hunker down and focus. Because I don’t think I came in this week feeling my best or feeling the most prepared, but sometimes that happens.

“I’m glad I got through today. Like you said, it’s been a long few years of a lot of matches. I still feel good, but the last couple of weeks have been definitely interesting. The first time, too, playing Madrid and Rome two weeks and being American, we don’t really love being in Europe that much. So it’s definitely been different I think than last year.

“Yeah, I’m happy that I was able to kind of shift my perspective at least today and be able to play really great tennis. Hopefully now that I have two days off I can kind of take that into the next match.”

It’s clear that Pegula hasn’t had the ideal preparation heading into the second Grand Slam of the season as the American looks to establish herself as one of the main contenders.

Speaking of main contenders, Pegula was asked whether it bothers her that she’s not one of the main favourites to win the title in Paris alongside Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

The world number three said she’s unfazed and is just focusing on the task at hand, “They’ve earned that right,” Pegula claimed.

“They’ve been playing really solid tennis. Iga, we already know from last year. Aryna I felt like broke through in Australia as far as like winning a slam, but I think her results have always been up there. Then Elena at the end of last year as well.

“I mean, to see them being so consistent, I think they’ve earned that right. Obviously ranking-wise I’m still 3, but I’m sure that could change. I could go up or down, whatever. It depends on results.

“But, yeah, I think they’ve earned that title, and I think it’s nice to see three girls dominating. Hopefully I can be part of that conversation, but I think either way it’s still great for women’s tennis. Especially because everyone always talks about the inconsistency and all this stuff.

“I just tend to think it’s because we have a lot of really great depth. It’s nice to see them, yeah, playing really, really good tennis, and I feel like it’s good for the sport as well.”

Pegula will hope to put herself in the conversation with a win over Camila Giorgi, which the American leads their head-to-head 7-2.

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Maria Sakkari Knocked Out By Muchova In Round One At Roland Garros

Karolina Muchova knocked out Maria Sakkari to reach the second round at Roland Garros.



Maria Sakkari has suffered a first round exit at the hands of Karolina Muchova after losing 7-6(5) 7-5.


The Greek had high hopes for a deep run in Paris after an encouraging clay court season.

However Muchova’s variety and power was too strong as she came from a break down in both sets to seal the straight sets victory.

Next for Muchova will be Nadia Podoroska, who reached the semi-finals in Paris in 2020.

It was a promising start for Sakkari who had reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros before as the Greek took a 3-0 lead with some powerful shot-making.

However Muchova gradually built her confidence from the baseline and used her variety to grind the errors from an inconsistent Sakkari.

The eighth seed had lacked control on her shots and after a long game, Sakkari conceded the break back as the match was back on serve at 3-2.

Sakkari’s service games continued to be tested as she lacked confidence with her first serve as well as lacking effective point construction.

After saving two break points in the eighth game, Sakkari aimed to break down Muchova’s game with depth and angles.

However there was no consistent danger on big points which Muchova took advantage of in the eleventh game, comfortably breaking the world number eight’s serve.

This scrappy set of tennis would have another twist in the tale as Muchova lacked conviction on her own serve.

An aggressive return game from Sakkari saw her claw the break back as the opening set went to a tiebreak.

The tiebreak just like the rest of the set was full of momentum swings which saw Muchova manage to be the more consistent player.

A shanked forehand from Sakkari gave Muchova the advantage as she claimed the opening set in 67 minutes.

The second set was similar the first with Sakkari claiming the break in the opening game with authority before Muchova came back to level the set at 2-2.

As the set went on, the more tense both players became with opportunities being wasted.

However it was Sakkari who was the more error-prone and after three match points being wasted, Muchova struck the fatal blow on her fourth to claim victory.

For Sakkari, it’s her worst Grand Slam result since the Australian Open in 2021 as analysis will go on until Wimbledon.

As for Muchova, she celebrates another big win in 2023 with a match against Nadia Podoroska awaiting.

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