John McEnroe has not been singing in the rain this past week at the French Open.
Playing erratic, subpar tennis, he has struggled unsuccessfully to get his game together on the slow, red clay courts here. Against three unimpressive, low-ranked opponents, he has been tested severely before advancing.
His temper, though, did not survive the tests. Playing the ugly American to the hilt, McEnroe fought with the crowds, the press, his opponents and himself. For his various indiscretions, he was fined a total of $3,350, leaving him just $1,750 away from an automatic six-week suspension from Grand Prix tournaments that would disqualify him from Wimbledon.
As a multimillioniare, these monetary penalties obviously mean little to McEnroe unless they are tied to disqualifications. There is growing anger among the men here that McEnroe already should have been thrown out of the French Open. The suspicion is that his reputation has become so large that tournament officials are afraid to give him a substantial penalty, such as a suspension.
"He's treated differently," said Drew Gitlin after losing to McEnroe Saturday in four sets. "No one wants McEnroe to walk out of your tournament and never come back. He's too big a drawing card."
McEnroe's reply: "I don't get preferential treatment on the court."
Marshall Happer III, International Tennis Federation administrator, agreed with McEnroe, who is seeded second here.
"Last year we collected $150,000 in fine money," he said. "The authorities are not scared of McEnroe's reputation."
In any event, they certainly have not controlled his on-court behavior. The problems here started in his opening match against Ben Testerman, ranked 149th in the world.
Throughout the five-set match, McEnroe punctuated his game with insults aimed at all around him. He kicked a camera into the face of a base line photographer and reportedly called a linesman a moron.
Afterward, umpire Philipe Boivan said he warned McEnroe about abusing the tennis balls and for wasting time (which also cost him $350), but that he did not hear any insults or swearing. "It could have been worse," Boivan said. "Four or five arguments in a match lasting more than four hours is not bad."
The outburst continued in McEnroe's second match, against Alberto Tous. After vigorous complaint against the slowness of calls, McEnroe asked for the dismissal of the umpire, Patrick Flodrops. The supervisor, Roy Dance, refused.
But when Flodrops was ready to penalize McEnroe points for throwing his racket, Dance dissuaded him.
"He did not throw the racket in an abusive way, but most out of frustration," Dance said. As for the obscenities that McEnroe clearly shouted during his first-round match, Dance said he hadn't heard them.
By this time, McEnroe's failure to be severely punished was being strongly criticized by other players. Ivan Lendl had the strongest words. Although he did not mention McEnroe by name, his target was clear. After all, he had been subjected to a McTantrum last month in Dallas when McEnroe threw his racket the length of the court.
"It's the fault of the umpires," he said. "If they would fine or suspend players, everyone would be saying 'Mr. Umpire' in a few days. They are at fault because they just penalize low-ranking players. Top-ranking players get away with it because the officials are afraid of them."
Gitlin also called for suspensions, saying, "The umpires are incredibly slow to respond." He added that about 50 percent of the men on the tour "would like to be alone in a room with McEnroe, without the press, so they could get at him."
The French also have taken a hearty dislike to McEnroe. Evan the normally reserved Le Monde was writing about "his scowling face and his ugly mouth, which is twisted out of shape even when it isn't open."
This was the atmosphere surrounding McEnroe's third-round match against Gitlin, ranked 90th on the tour and better known for his comic appearances on the Johnny Carson show. McEnroe, it seemed, worked harder trying to control his temper than his opponent, whom he finally defeated in four sets.
The tension was evident from the beginning. Once in the second set when he was losing, McEnroe screamed sarcastically to the crowd, "Can you make some more noise?" The response, in English, was an equally sarcastic, "Come on John."
McEnroe is obviously upset and angry about the situation. "It would be helpful if there was less noise from the stands," he said. "A mechanical line-caller would be great."
The officials and the noise are probably not really the cause of McEnroe's outbursts, however. His poor performances are.
The slow clay of Roland Garros is not suited to his aggressive game. Even though he is talented enough to win on the surface--he recently routed clay-court specialist Guillermo Vilas at Forest Hills for his first significant title on the surface--his competitive spirit does not support the second-rate tennis he has been playing.
So if his tennis improves, his behavior might, too. In the final set against Gitlin, he finally began hitting shots on the rise deep into the corners and moving in to put away volleys. There were no tantrums, and even the sullenness of his face slackened a bit.
"The same thing happened at Wimbledon," Gitlin said. "In his opening . . . matches, he was terrible. But as the tournament went on, and he played better, he was in perfect behavior." CAPTION: Picture, Some players say John McEnroe should be suspended rather than just fined for his tantrums, which already have cost him $3,350. AP