"I like him. More like (I'm) his big brother. I just don't want him screwing up his place in American Tennis history. And he's on his way to royally doing that. First Wimbledon champion not to be granted an honorary membership; first to be fined. He's really going to have to turn himself around. I want him to. And he's only 22 ." -- Arthur Ashe
So there you have it. Our Davis Cup captain's bottom line on John McEnroe as a human being, done as a service for those of us who have not quite made up our minds about whether to let him serve and volley his way into our hearts.
Okay, Arthur, we'll give him another chance. Bobby Jones, after all, was a club-throwing hothead who later became golf's master, the embodiment of its virtues. You would not trust everyone in baseball's Hall of Fame with your daughter and the best runner in the history of pro football, Jim Brown, has been accused of fumbling girlfriends off hotel balconies.
If Wimbledon officials wanted to be entirely appropriate, they would have given McEnroe a silver pacifier instead of the winner's trophy. As Ashe suggests -- and hopes -- Junior has time for his personality to reach the level of his tennis. By 30, he just might act like an adult.
Ashe's assessment came after two mild surprises involving McEnroe Friday.
The first was a Davis Cup loss to Ivan Lendl, ranked fourth in the world to McEnroe's second. The second was that McEnroe did not trash Louis Armstrong Stadium after it happened.
The place still stands. Every flower remains in place. The umpire's ears are not ringing; every lineperson actually walked out alive; nobody in the crowd was offended in the least. The only person McEnroe acted as though he wanted to shoot was himself.
In truth, McEnroe is on a two-match streak of more than acceptable behavior, having capped his volcanic temper in beating Bjorn Borg last week and losing to Lendl as leadoff hitter for the U.S. on the Davis Cup weekend. Captain Ashe, wearing an authentic-looking captain's hat designed by the tennis-wear company he endorses, was disappointed but hardly crushed.
Had Ashe been writing the story of the first day's action, McEnroe losing and Jimmy Connors winning, it might well have begun: "The United States today took a commanding 1-1 lead over Czechoslovakia . . ." He assumed Stan Smith and Bob Lutz would win yesterday's doubles and that McEnroe will assure victory by bouncing a bad Czech, Tomas Smid, as dizzily Sunday as Connors did Friday.
"Strategy A has been to beat Smid twice and win the doubles," Ashe said. "By the end of the first match Sunday, it'll be all over." That would make Connors-Lendl anticlimactic.Ashe added: "If he (McEnroe) doesn't misbehave and the crowd's very supportive, he should win at 85 percent (of his ability)."
Supportive was a good way to describe the way the more than 17,000 customers reacted to McEnroe Friday. In his neighborhood, they were enthusiastic, cheering as they would any brilliant athletic mercenary. For Ashe, they were emotional. When he was introduced, there appeared high in the stands teenagers holding a block-letter, run-together announcement that stretched nearly the width of the court: "Happybirthdayarthurasheweloveyou"
As captain, Ashe's duties included trying to determine the tolerance level for McEnroe in the opening singles match; how loud and long he would rant. Ashe asked the umpire to at least communicate with McEnroe, if a fuss should develop, instead of being Wimbledon-like, playing tennis god.
Ashe also asked how long incompetence by the line judges would be accepted and was told that anyone overruled three times would be replaced. Would the 30-second rule (between the end of one point and the start of the next) be strictly enforced?
So the captain told his skittish slugger before the match: "If you must argue, get it over with in a hurry. But he will listen. Sure, there'll be awful calls out there, but three bad ones by the same person and he's gone."
"He should emote," Ashe said later. "That's a big part of his game. But he should emote in 30 seconds, and he shouldn't emote so loud. I told him that even though he's not swearing, if it's too loud it's still verbal abuse."
Following orders, McEnroe was silently sarcastic. After what he considered the worst calls, he took a ball, placed it exactly where he believed it had landed and walked away. He thought one of the calls, on an important point, erroneously favored him.
"I just don't like bad calls," he said later.
McEnroe trimmed his hair even more than his dispostion. The "hot look," he dubbed it. No longer could guerilla warriors hide out atop his head. Before anyone could inquire about the hair pare, whether it may have had a Sampson-like effect on his play, McEnroe bolted a press conference.
That was not one of Ashe's major concerns.
How to get McEnroe winning again was, and Ashe felt the combination of a day off and Smid ought to accomplish that. Then the captain's manners came under criticism, by none other than Connors.
Spiritually, Connors begat McEnroe. Jimbo is much less crude on the court these days, though Ashe simply rolls his eyes at what escapes his mouth at times. The captain and his first-day winner were enduring a press conference when Ashe was asked about playing for one's country.
He thought about it, began an answer and then said of any Davis Cup opponent: "Deep down, I want to beat the bastard."
With that, Connors leaped off the platform, staggered and said: "I'm gonna faint." He threaded his way through perhaps three dozen reporters, on hand to cover the only game in town, and through the door, where his mind no longer would be bombarded by such impurities.
"Practice at 8 a.m.," Ashe cooed.