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By Alberto Amalfi | Tuesday, November 28, 2017

 
John McEnroe, Roger Federer

"Johnny Mac. It’s no secret we butted heads—a lot," said archrival Jimmy Connors. "The first time I played him, I knew he was gonna be a star."

Photo credit: Zimbio

Before professional tennis became a sport about power, special technology and brute strength it used to be a sport of finesse and touch and varied tactics and styles.

Tennis used to be an art. And no player personified an artist on the court better than John McEnroe.

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With his elegant serve and strokes and magically soft hands at the net, McEnroe's play style looked like an artist at work on his canvas.

Called a genius by more than a few, McEnroe also possessed a dark side, a flagrant temper which made him even more appealing and attractive to watch. When it comes to sports, everyone loves the unpredictable and the unexpected.

“Johnny Mac. It’s no secret we butted heads—a lot," said archrival Jimmy Connors. "The first time I played him, I knew he was gonna be a star. The way we fit into each other’s games and minds brought out the best in me.

"There’s still tension…It was a true, hard-fought rivalry. Even today, I still feel some sort of rivalry with Mac. I wonder ‘Why is it still in me?’ I tell myself ‘Let it go, Jimmy’ but [I can’t].”

Nobody did it quite like John McEnroe and the book, Facing McEnroe, celebrates this incomparable champion through over fifty exclusive interviews with various players who played the bombastic New Yorker, ranging from junior, high school, college and professional matches in singles and doubles.

A life-history perspectives is shared even including some hilarious anecdotes from tennis insiders and newspaper reporters like Steve Serby and Harvey Araton who had their own memorable encounters with "The Rebel With A Cause."

Just about all the major rivals of McEnroe have their say in this book—Connors, Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Gullikson, Gottfried, etc.—but the best insights seem to come from the lower-tier opposition like Tim Mayotte who said playing McEnroe "was on the edge of having a brawl."

Mayotte and McEnroe played a fierce final in Philadelphia, which included a verbal volley of McEnroe "screaming at me, screaming at my sister, telling her to go to hell!"

Pat Cash praised McEnroe as an ultimate competitor but also expressed some slight disgust at how tenaciously the legend, now in his late 50s, still battles in senior competitions.

"He plays like it's still 1981," said the former Wimbledon champion who has been nominated for election to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2018.

There are countless recollections about McEnroe's ferocity, drive to succeed and his mastery of a tennis ball. But also interestingly, there are also vivid memories of his kindness, compassion and generosity.

Bryan Shelton said, "He couldn't have been nicer to me. Always came to ask me if I needed anything. Gave me coaching advice. Scouting advice when I played against Connors or some of the other guys. Couldn't have been nicer."



My criticism of the book is this: It can be a bit redundant at times and the photography is not as vivid as Mac's superb touch.

Overall, Facing McEnroe is an entertaining read and most tennis players will find it enjoyable and insightful. It's a very special, rare experience to play against a legendary champion like John McEnroe and this book captures the essence successfully.

Facing McEnroe is available at amazon for $9.99 and the Kindle version is $5.99.

 

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