John McEnroe has won four tennis matches at Wimbledon in the last week without losing a set. His behavior on court has been almost impeccable. His play has improved with each match.
Yet, his 12 days here have been anything but pleasant. From the moment he arrived two weeks ago Thursday and photographers from the British tabloid newspapers began demanding to know where his girlfriend, Tatum O'Neil, was, he has been under siege. (O'Neil stayed home because of the media madness.)
Today, one newspaper reported he had cursed at a female member of the Queens Tennis Club during a practice session last week. Another paper went on at length about McEnroe spitting during his third match with Christo Steyn. Not at anybody, just spitting. He skipped the Queens Club warmup because he can't deal with the media here.
Today, he ended his news conference after his 6-0, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Andres Maurer by calling one British reporter "a liar." The reporter, Michael Herd of the London Evening Standard, called McEnroe "a verbal bully."
McEnroe has tried. He has achieved a tenuous peace with the All England Club. Fans greeted him warmly when he walked to Centre Court for his opening match and he paused to wave to them.
Yet, he is dogged by his reputation. He is lonely here and admits that playing the tournament is not fun. The only reason he plays is that this is Wimbledon.
Each day, there is a pattern to his press conferences: the U.S. media asks about the tennis and his feelings about what has gone on here in the past. His responses are polite, articulate and reasonable.
Then, inevitably, the circus begins. These are some of the questions he has faced:
"John, is it true that you have said that if you win this tournament you are going to dedicate it to Tatum and then marry her?"
"John, is Tatum coming over? . . . Why not?"
"John, you say you don't think you're concentrating that well, is that because you're in love?"
"John, you say you've matured, but don't you agree there's still room for improvement?"
The first day, he kept his cool. When the All England Club member running the press conference told him he didn't have to answer personal questions, he said he would answer them and get them over with.
Next day, when the subject of O'Neil again came up, McEnroe said, "I answered all those questions already."
He had been talking about not getting the respect here he believes he deserves as a three-time Wimbledon champion. He was saying he thinks English fans -- who treat him warmly every time he goes on court -- like him but that the English media does not.
There is a genuine schism between the U.S. and British media on the subject of McEnroe. Although there has been nothing resembling the fight that broke out between reporters in 1981, there have been several exchanges between reporters.
The Americans believe that British reporters, Herd for example, want nothing more than to prompt an outburst leading to headlines. The British think the Americans ask, as Herd put it, "innocuous questions."
There are exceptions on both sides, British reporters who think McEnroe is being mistreated and Americans who thinks McEnroe is a boor.
"I don't let them bother me anymore," McEnroe said. "Six years ago, I couldn't have handled this. Now, for the most part, I just ignore it. I don't read the papers here anymore. I just try to worry about the tennis."