If American pro athletes, especially those who won't talk to the press, think they have problems, they should have been at Wimbledon today and seen what happened to John McEnroe.
Two denizens of the nefarious Fleet Street "comics" whipsawed the already frazzled McEnroe into a public cursing rage by buzzing him with questions about his long-time girlfriend, Stacy Margolin. A California tennis pro, Margolin has been eliminated in singles and doubles at Wimbledon.
"Is it true what we hear that Stacy will be going back to America and not staying for your next match?" asked the correspondent of the Sun, one of the two prominent scandal sheets here that make the National Enquirer seem almost stuffy and responsible by comparison.
"I don't even want to waste time talking about that," said McEnroe, who reached the semifinals today by beating Johan Kriek in straight sets. "It's people like you who drive nice people away."
"Well, we've heard she's not been well," interjected the journalist from the Star, the 12-pence sheet that exists for pestilence and holocaust.
"It's none of your damn business," shot back McEnroe.
"Wimbledon being Wimbledon, people are as much interested in your private life as in your tennis," continued the Star man, who had been released from his regular beat of inspecting Prince Charles and Lady Diane's trash cans for any stray scoops.
"That's why its called a private life," retorted McEnroe. It's you guys who should understand why we want a private life."
The Fleet Streeter's badgering continued, machine-gun style, at this international press conference until McEnroe's fuse blew.
"You're a disgrace to the press," said McEnroe, cursing the man. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, mister. Go stick your head in the sand. That's where it belongs."
McEnroe stuck out the interview -- after other reporters had growled and threatened the Sun and the Star into submission -- but he had been harpooned once more by the go-for-the-jugular journalism and gets to him every time he comes here.
"It's the headlines that bother me," says McEnroe, who has been superbrat, the Incredible Sulk and McTantrum here for years and who, on this visit, has seen banner headlines screaming, "The Shame of John McEnroe."
Of course, McEnroe's outburst pleased the representatives from what the British call "the comics."
"It's good he hasn't heard all the questions I've asked in my life," said the Star's Jimmy Whittaker. "I'm just as glad he hasn't been asked to do a critique of my work on the prince. Shouldn't think he'd like it a bit.
"I was only trying to get him to stop driveling on about tennis and talk about something more interesting. Should think perhaps I succeeded."
American athletes are always shocked to come here and discover that, suddenly, a sick girlfriend or a lover's quarrel or a crumbling marriage or even suspicion of a drug habit, is fair game for headlines, or, at least, for innuendo.
"I'm used to the lies," says McEnroe, who was in a car driven by doubles partner Peter Fleming that was ticketed last week, for speeding, then, the next morning, read stories saying that he was the culprit.
In America, the sporting press is generally less inquisitive about the private lives of celebrity athletes.
Without question, one of McEnroe's worst enemies at Wimbledon -- perhaps only second to Bjorn Borg -- is the paparazzi-styly press that torments him, knowing he has a short fuse.
Today, McEnroe gave his taunters more fuel. But, in the process, he had his say -- a rather accurate one.That in itself may relieve some of the building pressure within a 22-year-old who seems as dangerously explosive as a bottle of shaken champagne.