This week has been a tough one for Fred McNair IV. It is the first time in nine years that he has not played Wimbledon. It was never the most successful of tournaments for McNair and his former doubles partner Sherwood Stewart, once the top-ranked tandem in the world. But it was Wimbledon.
"The itch was definitely there," said McNair, who grew up in Chevy Chase and now lives in McLean. "One of my three dreams growing up was to play Wimbledon."
Another of those dreams was to win a major tournament, which he and Stewart did in the 1976 French Open. McNair turned his third dream into reality by representing the United States in three consecutive Davis Cups beginning in 1976. He and Stewart were 4-1 in Davis Cup play, and helped the U.S. to the 1978 title. It all goes to make this week that much tougher.
"I had originally planned my schedule to participate at Wimbledon with Ray Moore," McNair related yesterday. "But basically I got into a situation now where I'm 31, I've been on the tour for eight years, and have been contemplating changing my life style for the last two years."
So instead of talking about it, McNair, who already had been working six months as a consultant for Washington Tennis Services, became part of "the 9-to-5 regimen," as he refers to it, and started anew. He is now executive vice president of the company's hotel recreation and marketing division, trying to sell to various hotels the need for tennis pros, whom WTS would be happy to place.
Tennis is now McNair's sideline, filling the void he often feels for competition. So, he has returned to his roots. This weekend, for instance, he will travel to Lynchburg to play in a tournament that he hopes will prepare him for next week's Mid-Atlantic Championship at the Aspen Hill Racquet Club in Silver Spring.
While expressing some remorse over not being at Alexanders, his favorite London restaurant, at this time--"It's the place to be after hours there"--McNair in no way regrets his decision.
"Once you arrive at the pinnacle of your sport or profession, it's difficult to reduce your expectations of performance," said McNair, who split with Stewart in June 1978. "You grow accustomed to that level. Until the last couple years, I was never lower than four or five in the (doubles) rankings. But lately I didn't derive the same satisfaction I always had. Although my knowledge and physical condition were still at a peak, it wasn't enough. You have to have the right partner. A doubles team is like a marriage."
McNair's doubles proficiency developed in his youth, when he and his father won seven national father-and-son titles, the first coming when McNair was only 11. He was also a first-rate singles player then, defeating Roscoe Tanner for the 1969 national interscholastic crown.
After graduating from North Carolina, McNair borrowed $2,500 to buy a plane ticket to Europe, to play in the tour there, and eight weeks' room and board. He soon discovered that his quick hands and confident volleys were tailored for doubles. And in 1975, he came across Stewart, also a struggling singles player.
"Sherwood had been playing with Dick Dell, who was a good friend of mine," McNair explains. "Dick took some time off and I filled in one day. The turning point came that day when we were trying to decide who would take the forehand court. We were both backhand players. We spun the racket and I lost so I took the forehand. We won the tournament, beating (Stan) Smith and (Bob) Lutz, and then (Arthur) Ashe and Tanner in the final."
McNair later teamed with Raul Ramirez and ranked in the top five in the world in only six months of play.
"Playing tennis you are like a horse with blinkers," said McNair. "You cannot be distracted by anything; tennis must dominate."