With a touch as gentle and joyous as any he has ever shown on a tennis court, John McEnroe kissed the goldern urn that is Wimbledon's trophy for the winner of the gentlemen's singles championship. Over and over, he kissed it. He did not know how many times.
"Not enough," he said.
The scowl was replaced by the beatific smile of a man who had just won his second Wimbledon. He did exactly what he was expected to do, exactly what he wanted to do. He beat unseeded Chris Lewis 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, in 1 hour 25 minutes, the fastest final in the open era.
He was in total control of the match from the moment the first ball was served. And he was in total control of himself. The match, never competitive, will be remembered as much for the quality of McEnroe's behavior as for the quality of his play. Both were impeccable. "I was glad I was able to win it the way people wanted me to win it," McEnroe said.
This brief, sunny, afternoon on Centre Court may be the day that McEnroe came to terms with Wimbledon. "As best as can be hoped for," he said.
It has been such a stormy relationship. Four straight years, he has been to the final. The last time he won, beating Bjorn Borg in 1981, he called an umpire "the pits of the world."
In the second round this year, the only time he lost a set, he calledtournament officials to the court twice. Ever so politely, he questioned the competence of the umpire, Malcolm Huntington. Huntington was in the umpire's chair today. McEnroe shook his hand.
Eight times during that second round match, he was called for footfaults. He moved half-inch back. Twice during the tournament, conciliatory stories written under his byline appeared in the News of the World, the last one today. "What did it say?" he asked impishly.
Someone said, "You seemed to have regained . . ."
"My humor?" McEnroe interrupted, smiling. "I made a conscious effort," he said. "I'd appreciate it if people write that and write about my tennis. Early in the tournament, I said that. Why can't they write about that? Why can't they write about other players? Some guy comes on (television) and said, 'He's got a point there but why can't he just do it the way we want it? The way it should be done?'
"I thought about it and said, 'Maybe that's fair enough.' That's the way I went about the rest of the tournament."
There are those who argue that McEnroe needs the sturm und drang to play his best.
"In the long run, I can play better if I learn to harness it completely," he said. "Not that I don't play well at times now. If I want to get as close to my peak as I can, I need to control it all the time."
McEnroe served as well or better than he did against Lendl in the semifinal, making 63 percent of his first serves (he had not been broken since the quarterfinals). Lewis never knew where they were going, whether they would kick wide to his backhand, come straight at him, or have him lunging the other way. "He's an artist with a racket," Lewis said.
The points were never long enough for Lewis' speed to be a factor. McEnroe volleyed with precision and angles that Lewis could not reach. He gave Lewis few second chances. But the semifinal against Kevin Curren had taken more out of Lewis than he realized.
McEnroe broke for the first of six times in the third game of the first set, shortly after Lewis had broken the racket he had used throughout the tournament. The game set a pattern for the match.
Lewis doublefaulted for 0-15, and netted a backhand volley off a forehand pass for 0-30. He was caught flatfooted by a forehand topspin lob off a weak second volley for 0-40, a shot indicative of McEnroe's limitless repertoire. Then, he was passed by a soft perfectly placed, forehand down the line. McEnroe had the touch and the break.
"I knew he'd be nervous," McEnroe said. "I remember how I felt in my first final. It's double the pressure. I knew it was important to get on top early. Otherwise, he might get into the match and think he had a chance to win. I think that's what happened, he just felt he had an uphill battle."
Too often Lewis' volleys lacked depth, pace, and placement. They sat up interminably, giving McEnroe time to consider his options. A topspin lob? A passing shot?
"His returns were so well-placed, I was always scrambling for the first volley," Lewis said. "I was not able to do much because I was all stretched out. That's the pressure he puts on you. Not only is he able to return but he can direct it." McEnroe directed the match as if he had choreographed it. He changed pace, rarely made an error, won virtually every exchange at net. Like the women's final the day before, it was an stunning exhibition by a player so dominant that it was almost hard to grasp the excellence of what you were seeing.
The case was made in such points as a reverse backhand return winner off Lewis' best serve in the fifth game of the second set: McEnroe received the serve in the air, his racket almost below his feet, and ricocheted the ball across the net. He went on to break for 3-2. He won the last point of the set with a forehand cross-court drop volley as soft as a baby's cheek.
By the third set, the crowd of 18,354 (part of a Wimbledon record of 363,639) was restive. There was nothing to root for, nothing to hope for. It was as if they didn't want to embarrass Lewis by applauding MeEnroe too much.
Lewis rightly refused to be down on himself for his performance and seemed to relish McEnroe's instead. "You have to be on the court to see just how great he is," Huntington said. "He takes the hardest shot and just feathers it. Lewis is the quickest thing on two legs and he couldn't read him."
Before today, Huntington counted four greats: Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Lew Hoad and Pancho Gonzalez. "McEnroe, I think, belongs with them," he said.
McEnroe said he had never played a bigger match better though, of course, he said, "I didn't play Borg or Connors."
He refused to guess how he would have fared against them. They were not there. For one day, all his talent and all his emotion was harnessed "the right way."
"I'm an emotional person," he said. "I need to get involved in what I'm doing. I can't act like Borg and expect just to be ready for every point. Everybody has different ways of getting psyched for points. As long as I can do it without hurting anyone's feelings, then it will be all right."
He has said things like this before. Only time will tell whether he has come to terms with himself, whether he will keep this promise to keep his promise. The last time he won Wimbledon, he skulked off, refusing to attend the champion's dinner. "I must go now and celebrate," he said, as he left today.
To the dinner? "Absolutely," he said.