“That was some match. Borg served better in the fifth set than the first. But then John came back that summer and beat Borg at the U.S. Open. And then the next year John beat Borg in both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. So three out of four ain’t bad!”
John’s ascension to world number one hastened the graceful Borg’s exit from the stage. But competition on the men’s tour remained plentiful, and McEnroe has an encyclopedic knowledge of all his son’s matches.
He’s no fan of another rival, Jimmy Connors, whose fiery personality could easily match John’s. Not only that, McEnroe and Connors were also known to exchange words with each other during the heat of battle, with Connors remarking that “the boxing gloves are going to come out” after one tense confrontation.
“Their matches could be nasty,” said McEnroe. “John lost to him a couple of times, and then he beat him at the Master’s in Madison Square Garden. Jimmy retired during their match, claiming an injury to his foot and that his doctor said he should stay off it. Then Jimmy was in another tournament the following week and won it. So much for staying off the foot. Jimmy was a phony of the first order.”
These days John offers color tennis commentary for ESPN and CBS, and plays on the senior tour alongside other notables like Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. He also won the senior doubles title at this year’s U.S. Open with his brother Patrick. Naturally, Mom and Dad were in the stands.
John – now 54 and father of three grown children from his marriage to Tatum O’Neal, and two teenage daughters with his current wife, singer Patty Smyth – also launched the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in 2010 at Randall’s Island in Manhattan, hoping to nurture the next generation of American tennis greats.
Patrick McEnroe, the youngest of John and Kay’s three sons, was quite the tennis professional in his time too – not at John’s level but hardly a slouch, his father points out.
“Patrick’s best result was a 27th ranking in singles and three in doubles,” McEnroe says. “And he was the longest serving Davis Cup captain in U.S. history, 10 years. John did it for one and it drove him nuts. Patrick is very laid back and calm.”
Patrick is now general manager of player development for the United States Tennis Association, and like John he too is grooming up and coming tennis stars. He also provides tennis commentary for ESPN.
Mark McEnroe is the middle son. “I like to call him my normal son, the lawyer,” jokes his father. Mark is an attorney and also general manager of John’s tennis academy. He spent his junior year of college abroad at Trinity College in Dublin where he met his future wife, also an American student.
“He liked it over there, but for two-thirds of the year he had a cold,” McEnroe says. “As a youngster Mark won the eastern Ireland tennis championship. Patrick won Irish championships too.”
John and Kay McEnroe divide their time between their homes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Southampton, Long Island. John is a frequent traveler to Ireland – he was there earlier this year to watch the Ireland vs. France rugby match – and says that John Junior has enjoyed his trips to Ireland too – for the most part.
Father and son traveled to Belfast a few years ago for a tournament, and John Junior wasn’t too pleased with the press coverage.
“The tabloids made everything up,” McEnroe says. “They said John was making all kinds of demands to play and what not and it was totally false. But people read this stuff and they believe it.”
On another occasion many years ago when John played in Dublin, Bono was in the stands. “He’s from U4, or U2, right?” McEnroe laughed. “Bono is a very nice guy. John liked him a lot.”
Glancing at the walls of his office – photos of the McEnroes with the Reagans, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson and the like abound, not to mention scores of family photos and magazine covers featuring John – it’s clear to see that John and Kay McEnroe were deadly serious when it came to raising their family. The patriarch is one proud father and grandfather, happily bragging about the academic achievements of all his grandchildren. John’s eldest, Kevin, is 27 and a graduate of Columbia.
“That’s the next generation,” McEnroe Senior said. “I couldn’t be prouder of their fathers."