Much more of this from John McEnroe and lots of us will tromp in off the golf course a bit more often to watch him. Not a McFoul word from his McMouth the entire semifinal victory over Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon today. The double-t that followed him off Centre Court this time was for terrific tennis instead of terrible tantrum.
When he bowed toward the royal box at the end of the 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4 victory that put him in Sunday's final, the prime minister and her companions could have returned the courtesy. Pity good manners won't last as long as we'd like.
Unless they do.
"We will be playing lots more matches," McEnroe said, "and when I win, I'd like to get credit for it."
Nobody ever underrates his skills. But here and close to everywhere else, McEnroe often has acted foul enough to make spoiled brats wince. And until somebody with clout, if such a creature exists in tennis, hits him with some monumental, lesson-learning penalty, McEnroe very likely will reduce other, less-grand courts to sandboxes.
What we are talkin' here is not the $500 or so fine he gets now and then. That's like telling a child who has misbehaved badly he can have one fewer french fry at dinner. McEnroe won't change until one punishment gets meted out that fits his accumulated crimes. Wimbledon this year would have been the perfect time for him to be house-broken. If this tournament had half the courage it claims, McEnroe's first breach of civility would have brought this warning from the chair: "One more stunt like that, young man, and you're out of here."
Yep, gone from the tournament.
Told to go off in the corner and not to come out until he starts acting his age, 24.
If the most prestigous tournament in tennis won't handle him, who will?
Jimmy Connors brought vulgarity to tennis; McEnroe frequently takes it to unimagined lows. His ultra-sensitive rabbit ears again got him going here during a doubles match. A fan baited him and McEnroe turned on him with an obscenity.
"An unfortunate situation," referee Alan Mills wrote in his report. " . . . The $500 (fine) will be deducted by the tournament from his prize money . . . "
Let's see. McEnroe very likely will whip the plucky, lucky unseeded Chris Lewis in the men's singles final Sunday. And $500 from $90,000 leaves him with a large smirk on his face. And another lost chance for tennis to wipe some of the pro-wrestling stain off its image.
You don't see Jack Nicklaus flinging his club, though you often do see Craig Stadler bury his. You don't hear either cussing somebody in the gallery. Or telling a PGA official he's blind and batty if he won't allow a favorable drop. This is not to suggest Tour golfers are saintly, that they're not inwardly eager to toss entire bags in a lake and the nearest official with 'em.
This isn't even meant to suggest that golf has fewer McEnroes; but someone ought to knock a bit of sense into them before they can embarrass themselves and their sport. At the very least, pro tennis ought to have a sort of school to help youngsters with the transition from amateur.
A young golfer knows what to expect on Tour. He knows not to act a fool on the course; he knows to tolerate the press; he knows that anything untoward will be acted on quickly and heavily.
A young tennis player, with no direction, looks at Connors dropping his pants at tennis and McEnroe yelling invective that would make sailors faint. He sees them get away with it and thinks to himself: why not?
Connors begat McEnroe. We can hardly wait to see what McEnroe begats.
For this day, McEnroe interrupted his wailing and struck out at nothing outside the line. He flicked his racket twice, but that's more than acceptable. Any player who refuses to show emotion might be in more trouble with himself than a McEnroe should be with tennis' titans.
Lendl-McEnroe figured to be nasty. They have not been anywhere near friendly, Lendl even threatening to leap across the net and declare marshal law on the young punk if the officials stayed cowed. Many have wondered why that has never happened.
Thankfully, only the the ball got volleyed. No abuse of racket; no abuse of balls; no abuse of our ears and patience. What McEnroe showed most was a will as powerful as his first serve. Give him this: if your life ever depended on one man winning one point, you'd hire McEnroe to get it done.
On serve early in the first-set tie breaker, it was Lendl who sliced a shot that seemed headed out back and into the net. The games Lendl won that first set seemed easier than the games McEnroe won. It only took one mistake to lose. Lendl made it.
McEnroe was down, 0-30, in the second game of the third set, and won the next four points. He immediately broke Lendl, falling just a point short of doing it in love. The highlight of that break was McEnroe berating himself for missing a shot at 0-40.
When McEnroe needed an ace, one came trickling out of that short red sleeve. Lendl walked away knowing what a Steve Carlton slider looks like at warp speed. McEnroe once broke Lendl with three service-return winners.
"Someone who serves like Lendl should be good on grass," McEnroe said. "But sometimes he gets a bit lazy on the volleys. That's what let him down."
McEnroe once rifled a shot directly at Lendl, but Lendl said it was meant as nothing more than what he would have done given the chance. A champion nails his grandmother on the knees with a return if it means Wimbledon. If only this one had manners a grandmother could stomach.